by Sherri Goldman, Administrative and Finance Director
This past April my son went to China to play jazz with his high school’s jazz band. The school year began with the exciting news of a musical cultural exchange in China. Then the fundraising kicked in. The students studied about Chinese culture and learned how to speak a few words in Mandarin. Finally, with the excitement level at an all-time high, the students boarded a plane with their instruments and they were off. After flying over the North Pole, they landed in Beijing. Then came sightseeing and a couple of jazz performances, and the students traveled to Bengbu, our town’s sister city, for homestays with Chinese families, more jazz performances, and to teach jazz in the local schools.
It was the first night of the homestay with the family my son was paired with that he realized how isolated he felt. His family spoke absolutely no English, and it hit him that he was really in a foreign culture, surrounded by nothing familiar. I realized this as well when I received a text message from him from across the world. He felt alone, separated from his friends, a bit scared, and he was very homesick.
As I read the text my son sent me I thought about Mayyim Hayyim. As my son sat isolated and alone, I thought about all the people that come to Mayyim Hayyim that are just becoming Jewish, or family members or friends who come here who are not Jewish, or anyone coming here struggling with their Jewish identity. After all the preparation and excitement that brings them to Mayyim Hayyim, some people might not fully “speak the language.” It can make anyone feel isolated, uncomfortable and alone, a stranger in an unfamiliar place.
Mayyim Hayyim operates under the principal of Petichut – Openness & Inclusivity. Mayyim Hayyim strives to be inclusive of all who wish to learn and/or immerse, regardless of sexual orientation, physical/developmental ability, or background. As Aliza Kline, former Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim, wrote in her article, Beneath the Surface: Taking Our Principles Seriously, “The converts and families (Jewish and non-Jewish) who come to Mayyim Hayyim feel welcome and safe because every aspect of our organization – our facility, staff and volunteers – is accessible to people who are unfamiliar with Judaism. There is translation for every Hebrew phrase, beautiful contemporary art on the walls, windows to let in the light, comfortable seating, tea, children’s books and snacks – everything we can think of to make our visitors feel at home.”
The next morning, when my son woke up at his host family’s house, he was in for a surprise. His host family, understanding that he felt isolated and unhappy because of the language barrier, had installed a program onto their computer that translated Chinese to English and vice versa. The apartment was filled with computer speech in English and Chinese. Some of the translations came out a bit strangely making everyone laugh. The effort for inclusion, the family’s version of Petichut, was touching and incredibly thoughtful. My son texted me later, “My family is nice. I’m OK.” He came home with a gift from his host family, a beautiful tea set, with a note “You have a wonderful son. We feel it was destiny that we meet him. We are happy he felt comfortable in our home.”
It’s Mayyim Hayyim’s purpose to always make everyone feel comfortable, welcome and included in its sacred space. I can appreciate how important that is, and especially appreciate when Petichut is practiced sometimes where you would not expect.
Sherri is responsible for managing Mayyim Hayyim’s financial and office operations, including accounts payable and accounts receivable, financial reporting, and building management. Sherri holds an M.B.A. from Suffolk University and is a registered Notary Public in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sherri also serves as Treasurer of the Medfield Music Association, supporting music education in the Medfield Public Schools.