Ask Yourself These "Audaciously Hospitable" Questions During Elul

September 10, 2019C.E. Harrison

Many Jews see the month of ElulElulאֱלוּלThe Hebrew month preceding Rosh HaShanah during which one engages in self-reflection and evaluation in preparation for the High Holidays. Traditionally, the shofar is blown each day during the month.  as an opportunity to reflect before the High HolidaysHigh Holidaysיָמִים נוֹרָאִיםRosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur . When we take the proper time to think about the past year – instances in which we excelled and those where we could’ve done better – we honor ourselves by taking the time to properly prepare to start the next year off right.

Part of that reflection means taking stock of how audaciously hospitable we’ve been to others and how much we’ve focused on the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our Jewish communities. To begin this challenging but fruitful exercise, we’ve prepared a few questions to ask yourself and to consider both thoughtfully and honestly during this season of reflection.

These questions are intended to honor all of us by helping to identify and acknowledge our missteps so that we may, ultimately, do better going forward. Additionally, celebrating our successes empowers us to move closer to the diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities we seek to build.

1. When have I committed microaggressions? When have I committed microaffirmations?

Microaggressions are often unintended slights, invalidations, and insults directed toward members of marginalized communities; in Judaism, such microaggressions can be considered lashon hara, “bad speech.”

Even with our best intentions, we’ve all committed microaggressions in some way or another – and there’s a chance we’ve committed them this past year. It’s important that we not block these instances from our minds due to guilt or denial, but rather acknowledge them, reckon with them, and determine how we can do better.

Inversely, we can also use this time to identify times when we’ve done well at the micro level by speaking microaffirmations – that is to say, times we’ve been inclusive or acted as a resource for others, corrected others’ microaggressions, etc. These instances serve as a reminder that we are capable of committing small but meaningful good deeds concurrently – so just imagine what else we are capable of when we act even more mindfully.

2. When have I given in to my “sense of urgency”? When have I remembered to slow down?

In our pursuit of audacious hospitality, we can sometimes develop a “sense of urgency,” a malady that pervades leadership in some Jewish spaces: When we see a problem, we often want to fix it immediately, which has the unfortunate side effect of limiting inclusion, democratic decision-making, and overall benefit to the marginalized communities we aim to serve. We must ask ourselves, then: When have I unintentionally sacrificed the long-term benefit of others for a quick win to meet a quota or check a mark off a short-term goal list?

Inversely, it’s vital to recognize when we’ve overcome this inclination and instead embraced a concept sometimes called “nonclosure” – not rushing to find quick solutions and instead understanding that implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion takes concentrated time and effort.

Think back: When might you have you embraced this concept in your work? Doing so is usually a struggle – especially at first – but when we take time to center ourselves and plan ahead, to consult sacred partners, and to understand that everything in life is in a constant state of process, we see beautiful results, and we know what’s possible in the new year ahead, as well.

3. How have I used my privilege? Where could I have used my privilege differently?

“Privilege” isn’t a dirty word! While not all privilege is the same, we all have it in some varying degree. Therefore, the question we should ask ourselves this month is not whether we have privilege but rather how we have used our privilege – and when we have fallen short.

Some examples to get you thinking: Maybe you’re a cisgender person who called out casual transphobia in conversation with a fellow congregant or during a board meeting. Maybe you’re a white person who worked to combat systemic racism through protest, donation, or legislative action. Maybe you’re a U.S. or Canadian citizen who got involved in an immigrant justice campaign in an effort to better “love the stranger,” which the Torah commands us to do no less than 36 times. Maybe you've taken time to understand the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on Black and Brown communities.

In short, when have you practiced genuine allyship when others have needed it the most? When might you have been able to act differently or do better? Regardless of what our individual answers are and how well we’ve succeeded in using our privilege to uphold the rights and dignity of others, we can still grow and improve, and this time of year is the perfect time to make that happen.

May this Elul be a month of healing and empowerment as we move – together, as a united Jewish community – into the new year ahead.

Want to learn more about the concept of audacious hospitality and how you can apply it in your Jewish community? Download the Union for Reform Judaism's Audacious Hospitality toolkit to begin.

Related Posts

A Liberatory Elul Journey

August 31, 2022
The month before the High Holidays, Elul, is a time of spiritual preparation and t'shuvah. This year, as we conclude a Shmita, or sabbatical year, after focusing on taking time to pause, rest and reflect, I feel a sense of urgency and the need to act.