As we begin to gather in person more, questions arise about events involving our community that occur outside the school; questions such as “What is the school policy for birthdays on Shabbat?” and “Do I need to serve kosher food at playdates?” Within the school, our policies on such matters are guided by the principle of inclusion.
From this week’s parshah Shemini, we learn the middah: “Ask others to join you when doing important things.” Events like birthday parties and playdates are “important things” because they are core moments for building community and Derekh Eretz. When choosing the timing of a birthday party, whom to invite, or what food to serve, we are deciding not only about our own personal choices and preferences, but also about our community.
One might ask: “Can’t I have a birthday party on Shabbat since I asked the parents of the kids we’ve invited and it’s okay with them?” Although this seems like it might be a good solution, there are risks in this approach. Asking the question could easily put a person in an uncomfortable situation, not wanting his or her child to be excluded from a social event. Moreover, someone who wasn’t invited might easily think that they weren’t invited because it wouldn’t be possible for them to attend an event on Shabbat. The last thing we want is social groups forming in classrooms based on who can or cannot attend events for Jewish reasons.
We recommend the following community building best practices: Avoid birthday celebrations or class events on Shabbat or Chaggim. The likelihood of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and community fracture simply isn’t worth it.
When planning snacks and meals, take care that your decisions don’t inadvertently put another family in a difficult or uncomfortable position. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak to each other or ask each other about our practices. We encourage open dialogue among families with diverse practices. That is part of what our school is all about. It just means that we should approach such conversations from the point of view of “hakhnasat orchim“—“the welcoming of guests”—thus making people feel welcome.
When considering whom to invite, try to be as inclusive as possible. If you can’t invite the whole class, be thoughtful about feelings of exclusion. For instance, don’t invite a significant number of the class and exclude only a few people. The golden rule: Keep community in mind.
Together, we can all contribute to the joyful work of community building that is so important to all of us here at Heschel.