Finding Inclusive Community Within and Without

  • Team Schusterman

November 5, 2013

  • ROI Community


Joshua DeMoya, a REALITY participant, recently attended a joint REALITY, ROI Community and Schusterman Philanthropic Network (SPN) Shabbat gathering in Brooklyn, New York. The dinner was hosted by SPN Founder and Co-Chair Lynn Schusterman and featured remarks by Rabbi Andy Bachman about the rich history of Congregation Beth Elohim. Joshua shares his story to reflect on his journey to find community and the moment of clarity brought about by this Brooklyn Shabbat.

When I moved to New York in 2008, I was running away from community. Raised a Mormon, I did not feel free to explore my identity as a gay man with my community watching. I was certain that to do so would lead to rejection.

So I put 200 miles between me and my community. And while New York has been the background of a deeply fulfilling self-discovery, no one wants to feel that he doesn't belong in a community he cares about. No one wants to be judged as unworthy.

Eventually the concept of community became a lingering burn. I thought more and more about the boundaries that come with community and I resented that my identity kept me on the outside.

A couple weeks ago I was reflecting on the parsha Chayei Sarah, that stirred some of my feelings about community. In the parsha, Avraham seems to think that the most important characteristic for a potential daughter-in-law is that she be from the right tribe and instructs his servant Eliezer not to consider any daughter of the Canaanites. This struck a chord with me, because writing a woman off because she is a Canaanite feels as superficial as rejecting me because I'm gay.

I have found, however, that being gay, the very thing for which I could be excluded, has become one of my greatest sources of personal strength.

This was all on my mind when I arrived to our reunion dinner for the participants of REALITY and the ROI Community in Brooklyn on October 25. Conflicted as I was about community, I found familiar faces which I excitedly embraced. We caught up on what we had been doing since our trip to Israel last summer and shared stories from our classrooms and details from the little bit of time we have outside of work.

I found myself among people who not only shared my experience in Israel and commitment to social justice, but who cared about me. Me in my entirety. And in experiencing this new form of community, I was reminded of the magnifying power of a group that simultaneously loves who you are and challenges you to be your best self.

In the midst of all I was feeling, Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim turned my sentiments into words. After talking about the space that the congregation has created over its history, he charged us with defining community for ourselves. By empowering us with a choice, Bachman pushed me not to think of rigid boundaries surrounding community members, but rather fluid lines capable of adapting.

Since I arrived in New York, I have become a part of many communities. From the amazing friends I met freshman year of college to the debate team to Hillel to the Schusterman Philanthropic Network. In these communities I have found people who are dedicated to valuing the other members of the community and who strive to create positive change. REALITY, specifically, serves as a model of the potential of a community that is authentic and self-affirming.

With Bachman's charge in mind, I revisited the parsha that triggered my train of thought. As the story goes, Eliezer chooses Rebekah as Isaac's wife. He does not choose her because she is any woman from Abraham's homeland, but because of her overwhelming loving kindness. I had read this part last time, but somehow it had not stood out the same way. Hashem set aside a woman of such astounding chesed that Eliezer had to travel all the way from the land of Israel to Mesopotamia to find her.

All of a sudden everything came together: my experiences, my feelings, the words of Rabbi Bachman and the parsha all confirmed my ability to construct inclusive community for myself and for others.

Inspired to #MakeItHappen in your Jewish community? Visit the #MakeItHappen site for your chance to receive a micro grant to create a meaningful Jewish experience!

To learn more about Joshua, read his interview!

The Schusterman Philanthropic Network is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.