February 8, 2018
23 Sh’vat 5778
Dear AJA Community (and beyond),
I’m back from what was a most meaningful trip to Israel. To say I’m still floating on the clouds would be an understatement. I keep replaying moments, discussions, debates and connections from the week - and I find myself smiling. (Note...if you want to skip right to the insights from my trip - scroll down to the photo!)
When the Federation invited us to join this Community trip for Atlanta area leaders, I wondered how this incredibly diverse group of us would interact. Each of us came from very different places - geographically, religiously, spiritually - and yet we were heading to Israel together to tackle the problems and challenges facing Atlanta Jewry. How do we create a community of belonging? How do we overcome the challenge of so many unaffiliated Jews? How does American Jewry connect with the very different/complex/political Israel Jewry? These are but a few of the intense challenges we dove into. I’ll elaborate on those another time, I promise.
As you see from the questions above, we have some large challenges to address. It’s always so interesting how relevant the Parsha is - and how the timing is so often perfect. Let me explain.
Last week, in Israel, we read Parsha Yitro - in part about how the Jewish people received the Torah (or more precisely, the Aseret HaDibrot - the 10 principles or utterances). That is where we accepted the brit or covenant. A covenant is like the signing of a contract. Both parties commit themselves to do something in the interest of the other party. It was our peoples’ first step, namely to accept the sacred charge and to internalize it.
Last week, our team of 70 accepted our charge while in Israel. We accepted our “covenant” to enter our week-long work by being present, setting aside any preconceived notions and engaging with each other with curiosity, candor and grace.
This week, our Torah portion - Mishpatim - deals with laws and behaviors that manifest from the covenant we have accepted. The continuity with last week’s parsha is seen with the opening words of Mishpatim “and” these are the laws (Shemot 21:1).
This coming week, our team of 70 will now continue its work to wrestle with the big questions. We do this work to assure that we keep Atlanta Jewry something special for the next 50 years.
The connection between these two parshiyot reminded me that first we must have our own covenantal clarity, purpose and revelation. We need to accept upon ourselves our Jewish covenant, a sacred purpose. Only after that can one (and collectively) understand what our responsibilities and obligations are. This leads me to…Revelations from Israel Part I.
My first “aha” moment in Israel.
We were all coming into this trip from very different places - literally and figuratively. There were some moments that were tough. We didn’t leave a stone unturned - we raised every challenge, issue and dream we have for the community. Difficult private and public conversations that lead to heartfelt, respectful, challenging and uplifting discourse. Can you imagine having a slew of Rabbis and Leaders from across all shuls and institutions each offering their opinions and views? Oy vay - sounds like a recipe for disaster and ego-clashing, yes? It was the exact opposite of that. When we engage directly and focus on what unites us - not on what divides us - that’s when the magic begins.
As Jews, we all shared the Sinai experience and are all charged with the same sacred mission - to bring G-d’s light into our community and our world. We all connect and rally around this one basic goal. I was overwhelmed with this realization as to how blessed we are as an Atlanta Jewish Community - the institutions, resources and the people we have in our midst - it was a profound moment for me. To continue strengthening and growing the Atlanta Jewish Community, we simply cannot do this alone. We need to engage each other, understand each other, be a light unto each other before we can be a light unto other nations.
Regardless of where we each are on our Jewish Journeys - we are mishpacha (family). We are not simply a people with a shared history or shared goals - we are connected. We are committed to Jewish values. We are a community. There is a reason why we each feel personal pain when any Jew is a victim of terror, when there is a struggle amongst Jews in Israel. There is a reason why we take immense pride when an Israeli wins an Olympic Medal. It’s in our DNA. We are connected with one another - we are mishpacha!
We talk at AJA about being a Committed. Connected. Community. Sitting in Israel, with this incredible mix of folks, it was so clear to me that the Committed Connected Community is not only at AJA...but should be an overarching goal for the entire Atlanta Jewish Community. We are mishpacha and need to engage from a place of inherent love and respect for one another. When we interact, we need to assume the best and engage one another with grace and curiosity and trust that we are all committed to the same end result. We need to continue creating relationships all across Atlanta without judgement of that person’s Jewish Journey. There is no journey or accomplishment without true connection and understanding.
I am grateful to the Federation for having the foresight to propose this trip. I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! Our Atlanta community is unique and yet inclusive - there must be something special about the leaders in our city to allow this trip to happen and for it to be so successful. We in Atlanta share some of the DNA of our overseas mishpacha - our Israeli brothers and sisters - who truly believe they can solve any problem or challenge.
I plan to stay on these clouds for one more beautiful Shabbat. I am ready to celebrate what unites us - our Committed. Connected. Community - in the contours of our sold out AJA Family Shabbaton. I look forward to seeing so many of you there! It’s going to be a special time together as an AJA Mishpacha.
And, in other news...as soon as the AJA Family Shabbaton comes to a close, I will leave my perch up here in the clouds and head back down to reality.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Revelations from Israel...
Rabbi Ari Leubitz