One of my most vivid childhood memories is driving home from Manhattan to our home in Eastern Queens, passing a large sign on the Long Island Expressway above Lefrak City (a large apartment complex) which read, "If you lived here you would be home by now!" Thankfully, we did not live there which made our continuing ride that much more pleasant. That sign always reminded me about the journey we took along the way to our destination.
This week's Torah portion Matot-Mas-ei tells us how Moses recounted for the Israelites the detailed journey which included forty-two encampments made from Egypt to the Promised Land. This recounting is not simply a travel log showing the highlights of their trip through the desert, but something more powerful. It asks us to recognize and appreciate the numerous steps we take towards reaching our goal. While reaching the Land of Israel was their immediate goal, creating a "Promised Land" is the collective aspirational goal for all Jews in all times. It is a work in progress! Israel is about to celebrate its 70th Birthday; a mere baby in comparison to other world powers. Always mindful of the difficult steps that were taken to get us to this point, let's not minimize the hard work ahead if we are going to achieve our aspirational goal of a Promised Land for all Jews living in peace with their neighbors.
Over the past several weeks Jews around the world have been struggling with actions under consideration by the Israeli government - Jewish identity and how each of us chooses to pray. The basic question of who is a Jew is now being scrutinized as Israel debates the validity of conversions performed by certain Rabbis in Israel and in the Diaspora. Over a year ago, under the leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government agreed that it would formally recognize the rights of all Jews to pray at the Western Wall, an agreement is now in jeopardy.
These controversies are bumps along our road to our "Promised Land." However, our collective love for Israel and our commitment to Israel's original "promise" to create a Jewish homeland for all Jews remain unwavering.
This was best seen in the exuberance, inspiration and joy expressed by Dana Keller, our new Chair of Women's Philanthropy and Heather Fiedler, our Associate VP for Jewish Education and Leadership who just returned from Israel and Ukraine after participating in a national Federation mission. Even though Dana and Heather have each been to Israel many times, every visit is unique; a new step along the journey. On this trip, they met young people who left their native countries of Ethiopia and Colombia to start new lives in Israel, learn a new language and stand tall and proud as they begin their military service. Together with other Federation lay and professionals, they experienced first hand the impact we make in bringing humanitarian aid to those less fortunate. They were able to be part of yet one more step in the journey to insure that our core Jewish values of tolerance, justice and caring for others are not overshadowed by political or policy disagreements as we voice our support of the evolving State of Israel. May all its future steps lead toward peace and understanding.
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