Live the Pledge: Lifting Up A Diverse Range of Voices Throughout the Chagim

By Live the Pledge

If you live in certain parts of the internet, you may be familiar with the following cycle:

  1. An individual posts a photo/link/screenshot to a manel – an event with an all male lineup of speakers or teachers.
  2. Their community responds with outrage and frustration. “Who knows these speakers?” “I know at least one of these men is an ally – I’ll reach out and ask what happened.” “I’m so frustrated that this is STILL happening.”
  3. Feedback works its way back to the organizers and speakers. Perhaps one speaker withdraws, or a woman is added to the lineup, or the event is taken offline.
  4. The original poster and commenters are vindicated, but there is rarely an accounting for the flawed process that resulted in yet another all male lineup or a real public apology, and the community moves on.

It’s an incredibly frustrating cycle to witness and experience, because this issue isn’t new. The Jewish community has been grappling with questions of representation for decades – initially in terms of gender diversity and more recently with regard to race, sexuality, and ability. Changing our communal conception of whose voices are valued and amplified is both an urgent necessity and a deliberate educational process – and a successful shift will require multiple different interventions.

One of these interventions, Live the Pledge, launched in December 2019. Dedicated to engaging male allies in the active work of creating a Jewish community in which all genders are treated equally, Live the Pledge is both a community of allies and a resource for active allyship. Being an ally takes action, which is why we say “ally is a verb.”

Last year in these same pages, our colleagues encouraged using a framework of cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, to reflect on the work of ensuring equity in Jewish communal workspaces. This year, in the hopes of proactively disrupting the cycle of exclusion and alienation and in Live the Pledge’s spirit of allyship, we share a few key questions to ask yourself as you prepare with your community to celebrate the upcoming Jewish holidays:

  1. Whose voices are you reading/watching/listening to in order to prepare for the chagim?
  2. Who are the voices being highlighted in your high holiday programming?
  3. Who are the voices being cited in your teaching and learning?

Each of these questions is designed to probe and expose the implicit set of assumptions we make about who is an expert, which voices are valued and valuable, and whose perspectives will shape our thinking about the Jewish year to come.

Our community has created – and will continue to create – an abundance of Torah to help us prepare for the chagim. As you engage with it, we encourage you to consume a broad array of media – authors, creators, podcast hosts, etc. with varied backgrounds and experiences – to help you learn from the depth and breadth of our communal wisdom.

Check the roster for your community’s high holiday programming and think about who’s been invited to stand on the bimah – virtual or otherwise! Is the fullness of the Jewish community reflected in your programs in meaningful ways? Are diverse identities being represented equally?

Not sure where to look for voices to read, cite, or learn from? Try Svara, Ammud, Drisha, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Hadar, or the Shalom Hartman Institute – excellent Jewish community institutions supporting scholarship from thinkers and teachers of diverse backgrounds.

Ensuring that we create a Jewish community in which diverse identities are treated with equity will take time, focus, and intention. We ask that you be our partners in this pursuit by becoming the best ally you can be. We hope these questions and prompts will help you on your journey.

Have a story to share about an act of allyhood you’ve taken or witnessed in the lead up to this holiday season? Submit it here and we will spread the word.

Live the Pledge is a volunteer-led and managed space for male allies to learn about actions to take, for everyone to find resources to support their efforts, and for all of us to celebrate acts of allyhood that ultimately create a Jewish community in which all genders are treated equally.