Open Hearts/Open Minds Exploring Class Dynamics in Our Kehilla Community Workshop—Report Back

Posted by on Oct 31, 2018 in Kol Kehilla Newsletter | No Comments

We want to thank everyone who came to the workshop. It is really revolutionary for people in a synagogue to sit and talk about the dynamics of class. We recognize that class is rarely talked about in our society, let alone in our Jewish communities. We are very grateful that this conversation has begun, and we look forward to further discussion and interactions about class in our community.

In this article we will share some of the experiences of the participants in the workshop, which was both challenging and uplifting, experiences that served to further our understanding of these assumptions and divisions that exist and affect us all, often unconsciously, in our culture. You will see the basic outline of the day of the workshop as well as  some thoughts about what it means to us, as people of working class and low income, for people around us to be allies.

We acknowledged, in the workshop, how difficult it can be for people in different class and income situations to talk honestly about their experiences. We recognized how working class and low income people’s experiences can be made invisible, ignored, dismissed, or minimized, and how more high status people may become defensive. Often these outcomes are unconscious and not noticed or acknowledged, leading to shut downs between individuals and among groups. The workshop created a space in which people could begin the process of talking openly without fear of being unheard or, on the one hand, or on the other hand, of getting it wrong. We know that as we go more deeply into class and income issues at Kehilla there will be times of discomfort, conflict, and demands that may be difficult.  We believe that the workshop contributed to creating a ground of respect and compassion from which to move forward as a community into unmapped territory.

ABOUT THE WORKSHOP:

We don’t often think about the work ethics we grew up with or our access to resources and money, both as children and as adults. The workshop was an invitation for people to begin that process in our community.

We showed a powerful Eli talk by tova stabin. We encourage everyone to take fifteen minutes to watch this video. She touches on many important points about working class folks in the Jewish community, spirituality and more. Here is the link: https://elitalks.org/tova#speaker-details

The classism walk was powerful and eye-opening. In one dyad, people acknowledged that the jobs we get as adults shape a large part of where we each land in terms of class in adulthood. For instance:  a job with a salary, health benefits, sick days, retirement, etc. gives people an advantage over those of us who are paid by the job, with no health benefits, retirement, etc.

We had a fishbowl, in which working class/low-income folks sat in the center and shared stories with each other while everyone else outside the circle listened. It was powerful to hear different individuals speak their truths in a room full of Jews. Folks in the fishbowl were open and shared courageously and with deep vulnerability.

We had a panel of four working class/low income people. Again, people shared deeply with stories from the pasts, as well as about some of the hurts and challenges we have experienced in the Kehilla community.

We also spent time writing suggestions for allies about how to communicate when talking about challenging class issues.

A COUPLE OF SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR ALLIES:

If someone wants to talk to you about an interaction which they feel has classist undertones, please try to listen as non-defensively as possible, even if the person is upset or angry. If you feel badly that you upset the person and want to apologize, feel free. It is however, more important that you understand the nature of the interaction. If you don’t understand what was classist about the interaction, it is fine to ask. If you do understand, it would be good to name it, so the person knows you really understood the nature of the interaction.

We acknowledge that all people have pain in their lives in many different ways. If somebody is talking to you about their lower class experience or pain, and you come from a middle or upper middle class family, or are in that now, rather than responding about your own pain, please just try to listen and accept. Speaking of our own pain often deflects the pain of another, and may be a defensive reaction, preventing hearing the dynamic going on in the moment.

All in all, it was a powerful and moving afternoon. To see the room packed with 55 people engaged and thoughtful while listening and talking about class issues was truly amazing!

SOME REFLECTIONS FROM PARTICIPANTS:

“I loved the workshop. We seldom address class in the Jewish community, and then the topic stays invisible. How wonderful to bring it into the light of day. Several people of all classes said things to the whole group that they have never told anyone — me included! That speaks to the safety the workshop leaders created.”   (Sheela Mierson)

“The workshop opened up a dialogue about power and privilege with respect to class background and current class or income status.  What was most touching to me was how we need to become inclusive and counter the “outsider” status that so many Jews have feltamong other Jews due to class bias or other biases.”  (Carla Schick)

“The workshop revealed some of the depth and details about the varied backgrounds – and diverse current living experiences as well as histories of up-and-down class trajectories – that different Kehilla members hold in our lives and bring to the synagogue and our community.

I regularly find it important to be reminded that not everyone’s life experience and world view replicate my own.  This workshop went way beyond success in that realm.  It promoted new consciousness and accordingly lifts up opportunity and responsibility to be “there” for others.  I found the workshop one of the most transcendent experiences that I’ve had.  Thank you for bringing a new and critical understanding – and increased potential for justice – to the synagogue! “ (Richard Spieglman)

“This workshop was beyond my expectations. It was conducted from the lens of safety throughout: the title, “Open Hearts, Open Minds;” the intricate and very well-thought-through planning of the Working Class/Low Income Group; and the facilitation. Repeated encouragements of “No Blame, No Shame,” helped us move past what could have been divisive into compassion and acceptance. I especially appreciated the “Classism Walk” that enabled us to have a visceral sense of how class manifests in our lives and in some ways, in relation to each other. The whole group seemed receptive and eager to embrace this turn of the kaleidoscope and engaged seriously with ideas for working towards needed changes within Kehilla. I think this was an event that helped build a stronger sense of Kehilla community.”  (Karen Rachels)

“I want to thank you and the whole group that conceived of and planned this wonderful event.  I think that this workshop, and others that are meant to explore our diversity, help us to get to know one another in a much deeper way than we normally have a chance to do. We each have our own stories, and we can’t really be a supportive community to one another when we’re not fully able to share who we are and feel accepted in all of our various aspects. The event was very engaging, well-organized and well-facilitated.”  (Julie Litwin)

WRAPPING UP:

We in WCLIG are relieved to be bringing these dynamics to the open, and we welcome those who are learning with us, as we acknowledge our experiences and learn amongst ourselves.  We are happy about the healing and embracing of this aspect, which is another reality of the lives we lead in this class-oriented society, and in the Jewish community.  Again, we appreciate everyone who showed up ready and willing to engage in this complex topic, and especially everyone in the working class/low income group.

We will be organizing other events and we invite all who wish to join us in these future events.

B’Shalom,

—The Working Class/Low Income Group (wclig)

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