My grandfather loved wrestling! For a man who escaped the pogroms of Europe and worked 16 hours a day, wrestling was not only his escape but also a metaphor for his life, which was full of struggle. No matter how hard we tried to dissuade him, he always believed in the purity of the sport, the authenticity of the struggle and the power of the wrestlers.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4−36:43), we learn how Jacob, alone in the wilderness, "wrestled a man until the rise of dawn." He asked the man to let him go but insisted on receiving a blessing first. The man told Jacob that since he had "striven with beings divine and human and... prevailed, he would no longer be known as Jacob but for evermore as Israel."
Who was Jacob really wrestling? What made this altercation so significant that it culminated in a transformation impacting the future of our entire people?
Perhaps the struggle itself is the point: an intimate, personal engagement with an opponent in the hope of transforming oneself and learning a new way of relating.
I am proud to say that in many ways, the Federation is such an agile wrestling team. We are willing to engage in difficult struggles with significant opponents in order to reach a better outcome. Like Jacob, our opponents often have both divine and human qualities. They constantly challenge us with unexpected, unfamiliar moves.
I like to think of Federation as a tag team. Our professionals and lay volunteers share the ring as partners. We are willing to reach beyond the safety of our comfort zones to wrestle with the many issues that face our community. I can think of many "wrestling matches" as we struggle with:
- Forces seeking to delegitimize Israel
- The future direction of Jewish education
- Growth and change in our local community
- Engaging young families, single young adults and multi-faith families
I remember going with my grandfather to Madison Square Garden for my first wrestling match. We were transfixed, cheering and yelling - but he would never have dreamed of entering the ring. By contrast, at Federation, anyone who is committed to our Jewish community is welcome to enter the fray. We don't always agree with one another and our dialogues are sometimes passionate, but our "matches" are inclusive and respectful, and we are all invested in the same outcome: the long-term success of the Jewish people.
Maybe this week's portion is teaching us that Jews are made to wrestle; we are meant to engage one another in important battles in the most intimate ways, to produce the most powerful outcomes.
The Federation "tag team" is growing every day - and everyone who cares deeply about our Jewish community is welcome to participate. I hope you'll consider joining. Spandex wrestling suits are not required.
President and CEO