"You Must Not Go Back That Way Again"

In this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, Moses continues his final instructions to the Israelites as they prepare to cross over the Jordan River into their new homeland. This portion provides rich wisdom on the importance of justice, establishing a lawful society, and behavior during times of war and peace - concepts we would do well to remember today.

Amid these instructions, there is one line that I return to again and again. As Moses discusses the leadership structure that will guide the Israelites in their new home, he recognizes that new leaders may be tempted to return to Egypt for supplies (in this case, additional horses). Through Moses, G-d instructs the Israelites that no person is to return to Egypt for any purpose: "You must not go back that way again."
I find these words particularly appropriate today. Our planet, our nation, and our local community are in the midst of great change. At times like these, we all have the tendency to want to return to what we know and are comfortable with - what has "worked" for us in the past. But our Torah challenges us to look ahead, to find new ways of addressing the issues we face.

As many of you know, in my prior life I was a therapist. One of my former "rabbis," Sigmund Freud, was intrigued by individuals' tendency to repeat prior behaviors and experiences. He had a name for extreme cases: repetitive compulsion.  

Individuals aren't the only ones to be seduced by familiar patterns. Organizations can easily fall into the trap of repeating old habits, actions and behaviors. After all, it feels easy and familiar. But new challenges call for new responses.

For individuals and organizations, the first step in overcoming repetitive compulsion is to recognize the behavior and look for new options. At Federation, we are constantly on the lookout for new options and opportunities. For example:

  • We partnered with the Jewish Community Foundation to commission the JMAP community study; we are now unpacking the results of that study and soliciting community input on how best to meet our Jewish community's changing needs.
  • Federation is launching the Jewish Leadership Academy this fall to prepare new and existing leaders across our community to adapt and respond to an ever-changing environment. (I hope you'll save the date for the Academy's Celebration and Day of Learning on December 3.)
  • Federation leadership and our Jewish Community Relations Council continue to respond to events that impact the Jewish community. We are standing up for Jews and others under threat and we are providing constructive ways to unite around shared values. This fall, we will also offer opportunities for community members to strengthen their skills in civil discourse; more information is coming soon.

Federation's current work is founded on more than 70 years of supporting, developing, and speaking up for our Jewish community. It does not reject past approaches completely; instead it marries what we have already learned with new ways of thinking.

We are tremendously blessed to be a community that embraces change and supports new ideas. We are not afraid to confront new challenges and pursue new dreams. I believe these virtues will enable us not just to meet the challenges that lie ahead but to conquer them and to thrive.

Shabbat Shalom.


Howard Sovronsky
President and CEO


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