B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Intown Sinai

It is said that every Jew stood at Sinai to receive the Torah–not only those just redeemed from Egypt, but every Jew yet to come into being. On Shavuot, we stand together once again at Sinai, as one people, unchaining ourselves from the worldly constraints of time and space to reaffirm our commitment to the covenant we entered there.

This moment of ultimate connection symbolizes the commandments we were given that day, and our divine purpose in carrying them out.  Rabbi Hillel boils Torah down to just a few universal words: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. The rest is commentary.”  To me, this means that our world is to be a place of inclusion and acceptance, and our Law tasks us with pushing it in that direction. We must empower individuals to embrace who they are and ensure that the world embraces them too. We must link arms with brothers and sisters from all nations and every identity to make this a reality.  But despite Rabbi Hillel’s “golden rule,” this quest is anything but simple–fittingly, Shavuot is marked with the tradition of all night, immersive Torah study.

Over the course of my short and privileged life, I have observed much progress toward that world of universal kindness, with faith and hope that this progress will continue.  And I must hold to the belief that the arc of the moral universe will continue to bend toward justice.  But recent events have disheartened me deeply, casting me off from my communities and disconnecting me from principles I used to consider fundamental.  In this bleak fog, I nearly blew off Shavuot altogether.

Instead, I managed to push myself, family in tow, out the door, and assemble with other intown folks to receive Torah in the heart of this city, on the 8th floor of Ponce City Market’s trendy and recently-rebuilt urban lofts.

A remarkable group of organizations partnered in this effort dubbed “Pursue Justice,” standing together as powerful symbols of the inclusion and acceptance for which we strive.  These leaders were a conservative shul, a reconstructionist shul, a Jewish interfaith group, a Jewish LGBT resource network, a Jewish learning community. The evening’s justice theme manifested in many ways. The offerings focused on issues facing today’s world–refugees, poverty, racial justice–led by those passionate about them.  In typical Limmud style, each time block offered multiple paths to follow, requiring difficult choices but allowing each person to chart a course. (As an aside, it also made me wistful for the days of intown Limmud, originally at Oglethorpe–some of the most powerful and inspiring experiences I’ve had and without the huge time and money investment of shlepping my two little Scorpios up to Ramah.) The lack of real barriers in the loft environment meant that enclosed spaces were smaller than the demand, and that sounds of a spiritual traditional Ma’ariv service weaved into loud, intense, piercing harmonies of the powerful chanting session–but it also meant an aura of that spread across the space.

Even though I left halfway through because my kids were expiring, I did so having re-experienced Sinai, with a renewed energy for our shared mission of a welcoming world.  I hope that you all found similar inspiration in your escapes to Sinai, and I look forward to rolling up our sleeves together in pursuit of justice.

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.