While 2018 is not the Jewish new year, it has Jewish significance.
When converted into Hebrew letters using the system known as gematria, the number 18 is equivalent to the word “chai” – meaning “life”.
In spite of the turmoil of recent years, looking to our tradition still gives us hope that this year to come will be better than the last – a year which we can infuse life into.
So, what should our priority be to make 20-Chai a reality, not just a gematria coincidence? How can we breathe life into the year ahead?
It isn’t a new thought to suggest that we need to strengthen our communities. Last year’s JPR report showing synagogue membership falling gave new life to a conversation we have been having for decades, if not longer.
We must dedicate thought and action into giving those who choose not to join our communities a reason to change their minds – a hugely important task.
However, I believe there is another group which is easily ignored and deserves at least as much of our effort. As well as those who choose not to be members of our communities, there are those who would choose to take their place, but who find that they can’t.
We need all Jewish communities to be places of inclusion with no excuses. We like to believe we open our doors to everyone, but it is without question that there are people we are still excluding.
Are we enabling people of all abilities to access our community? Are we making accommodation for people of all gender identities? Are we being proactive in understanding what we can do to make everyone feel welcome, even if we don’t yet have a person in front of us asking for changes to be made?
Every person is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God. Judaism has always at its heart been radical in its statement of equality.
It is an equality we expect to see in the world around us and, now, it is an equality we need to take into our own hands and ensure our communities reflect.
Wherever we are not taking steps to welcome all, there are people looking at our communities and seeing our doors closed to them.
We must make the first move. 2018 needs to be a year of Chai – of Jewish life for all; especially those currently excluded from it.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism