Judaism is not a solo sport: On hosting our first Seder
By Kelly Baron
My husband and I joined Holy Blossom’s community last September, right as I was starting the Introduction to Jewish Life (IJL) classes, the entry point to Toronto’s Reform Jewish community for Jews by choice. My husband was raised in a Conservative synagogue in North Toronto; I was raised, as we joke, mostly by wolves, in a small town on the border of Quebec. He grew up with a huge family—his father is from Montreal, one of seven; his mother is from Toronto, one of three—and I with nearly none. We’ve had radically different lived experiences of what community entails.
I’ve spent most of my adult life searching for the kind of community that my husband was born into. Initially, that search led me to academia; I’m in the final stages of a PhD at the University of Toronto. To the shock of no one but me, that didn’t lead to the sense of community I’ve been seeking. PhDs are, of course, notoriously individualized pursuits, especially after the coursework is finished. What isn’t an individual pursuit, however, is converting to Judaism, especially at Holy Blossom.
The wonderful, welcoming Taylor Baruchel told us in our very first Zoom Hebrew class that we’d be starting with some introductions because, in a teaching that would become a common refrain over the next eight months of classes, “Judaism isn’t a solo sport.” This was a profoundly different learning experience for me after spending the last five years on my PhD: suddenly, I couldn’t just read the books on my own, write the essay, and pass the exam. That simply wasn’t the point. The point was developing a community connected by shared history, shared religion, and shared values.
When I realized that, I changed how I approach the coursework. I of course still do all the readings, submit my essays on time, and practice my Hebrew like a good IJL student should. But sometimes, in class, I’m what I consider to be a traditionally bad student. I’m open to distractions, to replying to people’s questions, to sending the Zoom direct message to build connections that have since led to great friendships. I’m calling this “traditionally” bad, and not IJL bad, because it’s led me to finding that sense of community that I’ve been searching for.
So this year, we hosted our first Seder. It was non-traditional, occurring on the Shabbat after the first two nights of Passover, because everyone had family commitments, and we wanted to all be together as a group. One of our dear friends made beautiful haggadot (mostly from the “Jew Belong” option on Haggadah.com, bound with a gorgeous cover of springtime flowers), complete with “meditation moments” that sparked questions about cherished memories and our values and beliefs. Our Seder plate included an orange and “Ruth’s mix” to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks and Jews by choice. The plate itself is a family heirloom from my husband’s Safta, a Holocaust survivor who was a dearly loved matriarch of my husband’s family before she passed. It was the perfect combination of history, religion, and community.
My children won’t be raised by wolves. Nor will they have to search for their community. I’m grateful that I chose to do the work of IJL and follow this path so that they can be born into Holy Blossom’s welcoming, inclusive community.