I’m back from 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.
When Federation invited us to join this trip for Atlanta-area leaders, I wondered how this incredibly diverse group would interact. We 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 Israeli Jewry? Those are but a few of the intense challenges we dived into.
It’s always so interesting how relevant the parshah is and how the timing is so often perfect.
In Israel, we read Parsha Yitro, in part about how the Jewish people received the Torah (more precisely, the Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 principles or utterances). That is where we accepted the brit (covenant).
A covenant is like the signing of a contract. Both parties commit themselves to do something in the interest of the other. It was our people’s first step — namely, to accept the sacred charge and internalize it.
Our Atlanta team of 70 accepted our charge while in Israel. We accepted our covenant to enter our weeklong work by being present, setting aside any preconceived notions, and engaging with one another with curiosity, candor and grace.
Our Torah portion after our return, Mishpatim, deals with laws and behaviors that manifest from the covenant.
Our team of 70 will continue to wrestle with the big questions. We do this work to ensure 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 our Jewish covenant, a sacred purpose. Only then can we understand our responsibilities and obligations.
During our Israel trip, some moments 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 led to heartfelt, respectful, challenging and uplifting discourse.
Can you imagine having a slew of rabbis and other leaders from across all shuls and institutions, each offering opinions and views? Oy-vey, sounds like a recipe for disaster and ego-clashing, yes?
It was the exact opposite. When we engage directly and focus on what unites us, 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 the realization of how blessed we are as an Atlanta Jewish community — the institutions, resources and people we have in our midst. It was a profound moment for me.
To continue strengthening and growing this community, we simply cannot work 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 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 or when there is a struggle among 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 also should be a 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 result. We need to continue creating relationships across Atlanta without judgment of each person’s Jewish journey. There is no journey or accomplishment without true connection and understanding.
I am grateful to Federation for having the foresight to propose this trip. I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities. Our community is unique and yet inclusive; there must be something special about the leaders in our city for this trip to happen and 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.
Rabbi Ari Leubitz is the head of school at Atlanta Jewish Academy.