Friday, November 19, 2010

Looking to the Future

This week, I had the good fortune to attend a series of conversations about the Jewish future. Specifically, the group was dreaming about what a bright future for Conservative Judaism might look like.  The positive feeelings and optimism was energizing and not pollyanish.  The experience was exhilarating and uplifting.   The conversations were focused at 50,000 feet, on broad visions and new ideas, not at 3,000 feet on tactics and quick fixes.  We often spend so much time focusing on the immediate, on the problems of the day, on short-term trends and on the quick fixes that we fail to look above and beyond, to dream of the future.  Sometimes, looking to the future is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

The second morning of our sessions started with a d’var Torah, placing Torah squarely at the forefront of what we are about and where are our vision should be focused.  Commenting on the changing of names from Ya’akov to Yisrael, the speaker examined the explanation the Heavenly angel gave for this change:

כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל

...for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.
Deuteronomy 32:29

That is, Yisrael is the new name because it acknowledges the struggles Jacob experiences and his triumphs in those struggles.  Hidden in the name Yisrael is another very similar Hebrew word: Yashar or straight.  Thus, the name Yisrael can be seen to denote both struggle and straightness or directness.

Jacob has to struggle with his own identity, with other people and with the Divine.  Moreover, Jacob has to be direct in his self-examination.  He has to be honest with himself.  In exploring his identity, he cannot pretend, he cannot ignore, and he cannot whitewash.  He has to undergo the difficult process of being straight with himself.  It is only when  he undergoes the process of self-examination and struggle with his own soul in the most honest, clear and direct way that he is able to emerge as a new soul with a new vision and thus deserving of a new name.

Sitting in the discussion about visions of the future of Conservative Judaism, I found the two meanings of Yisrael to be profoundly relevant to our work.  In order to envision the future, we need to struggle among ourselves to flesh out, in clear terms, what is most important to us, what our core values are.  That struggle has to take place concerning  our humanity and our understanding of God’s mission for us, our vision of what a repaired and healed world looks like and how we are going to get there.  

Moreover, we have to be straight with ourselves and with others.  We are obligated, as the leader of the meetings instructed us, to put it all out on the table, to be honest, to disclose our hopes and dreams as well as our concerns and fears.  We are not to hold back.  We need to devote some time to assessing where we are today and how we got here but the bulk of our energy needs to be an honest and deeply struggle with visioning the brightest universe of possible futures for Conservative Judaism at the highest altitudes.

The outcome of such a process will inspire.  By stuggling and dreaming in an honest and straight way, we can set a course for a vibrant, progressive, committed, spiritual Conservative Jewish future and then we can work vigilantly and hopefully to triumph in achieving that vision.  

What is your vision of a bright future for Conservative Judaism?  What do you think our Core Values are?  Please share them with us either on our facebook page or at  I look forward to sharing the answers with you and with others.

Shabbat Shalom.

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