Building Holy Places That Are Inclusive Sanctuaries For All

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, January 26, 2022

February is known as Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) — the Jewish community’s unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide. While awareness, acceptance, and inclusion is something that needs to happen year-round, February is the month in which our Jewish community spaces highlight the importance of disability inclusion. In order to create a Jewish community that is welcoming, supportive, and inclusive, and advocates for all people, we all need to grow in our knowledge and awareness.

The first Torah portion that we will read in February, Terumah, opens with the commandment to the Israelites concerning the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In Exodus 25:2 we read “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.”

The text lists in great detail all of the elements that will be needed to create the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) and all of its furnishings. This includes precious metals – gold, silver, and copper; beautifully dyed yarns in vibrant colours: blue, purple, and crimson yarns; fine linen, dolphin skins and acacia wood; and precious stones to decorate with, as well as oils and incense.

With the bringing of these gifts, God’s presence will dwell among them – “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

Traditional Rabbinic interpretation asks many of the same questions we might have: “how did this group of Israelites wandering in the wilderness have in their possession expensive precious stones and metals? And since when are there dolphin skins in the desert?

But beyond these beautiful and precious materials, we should not forget that this was a traveling sanctuary, a holy space that moved with the people throughout the wilderness. God wanted each individual to bring their own personal gifts in order to make up this sacred community. Each individual was seen as a gift. Each individual, made Btzelem Elohim, in God’s image, was unique and necessary to make up this sacred Jewish community of Jews in the wilderness. The kedushah (holiness) of this Mishkan (sanctuary) was created by the people’s bringing of their gifts, their hearts, their talents and contributions to the building of a sacred community.

As we read the text of Terumah, we also see that the gifts each person brings to creating the sacred space of the Mishkan is as rich and varied as each of the unique individuals that make up our community. How do we create a world where people’s hearts are always so moved as to be welcoming and inclusive of all? The text tells us that creating a place where God dwells among us is to accept the previous gifts that each person brings to our synagogues, our schools, and organizations. All are valued, all contribute, and all are necessary to create holy community. Let our hearts so move us to open our minds, our perspectives, and our community spaces to create a Mishkan, a holy space, where God dwells among us, where we all dwell together, where all belong.


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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