Elul 11: Welcoming the Whole ~ Diane Tobin

Diane Tobin and her son Jonah. (Andrew Esensten/Be’chol Lashon)

We are all aware of things about ourselves that we want to improve, but what about the things we’re not aware of? How can we change that which we do not even know exists, yet unwittingly guides our behavior? And how can we come to terms with the fact that even the best of intentions can be derailed by unconscious biases?

I adopted my African American son at birth. He is 21 years old now, and I am no closer to a complete understanding of his experience as an African American boy—and now man—in America today than I was 21 years ago. I am, however, much more comfortable with being in a constant state of self-reflection. I embrace the process of challenging assumptions not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself, a concept fundamental to Judaism.

I frequently receive requests from organizations seeking ways to become more welcoming to racially-diverse Jews. There are no quick and easy answers. It’s important to recognize our own individual biases in order to raise awareness in navigating race and identity.

As for how we can change what we’re not aware of, a good starting point is to accept that there is always room for improvement and to never think that this is a process that can be completed. Just as the world is incomplete, so too are individuals. And just as we understand that tikkun olam is a never-ending process of fixing the world, so too is the process of making ourselves more complete, more understanding, and more welcoming.