This week’s Torah portion, Va'era, is perhaps the most recognized parashah, because it introduces Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Jewish people leave Egypt and the drama of the plagues as God’s response. The portion begins, however, with God’s revelation of God’s true name. Va'era is Hebrew for "and I appeared," the first word that God speaks in the parashah.
How well did our spiritual ancestors really know God? Va’era explains that they did not know God well enough at that moment in their journey to trust the message Moses was asked to share with them. Moses not only had to persuade Pharaoh to let go of the people but also had to persuade the people to go. We are told they were not ready to hear the message and did not listen.
With our latest Listening Campaign initiative, WRJ has taken on the challenge of leaving what is comfortable and entering into the proverbial wilderness, understanding that in order to move ahead, leaders need to understand what the group truly wants and needs. To do so we have to reveal ourselves and become better known, while simultaneously getting to know those in our group. A listening campaign is a focused effort to identify common concerns and priorities among your members which will guide programming.
God spoke to Moses and said, “I am Adonai. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name Y-H-V-H.” Just as the introduction of God’s new name represents a shift in the Jewish people’s relationship with God, a new, deeper knowledge of each other facilitates different relationships and interactions, allowing new voices and perspectives in to the mix. We conduct listening campaigns to:
Listening is the first step to connecting. Knowing that there are so many ways to “do Jewish” without joining a synagogue today, addressing the needs and interests of today’s women requires paying attention and active listening. By sharing stories, asking open questions intended to probe but not interrogate, and listening to learn rather than being polite, we are putting people over program and establishing a deeper co-ownership. When we know each other better and can share common goals, we can more confidently move into the unknown. In allowing vulnerability, we are acknowledging the discomfort and opening ourselves up to the challenge of going from the known to an uncertain future. This may be difficult but knowing the reward of knowing ourselves and each other better will lead us to a stronger future.
Deb is a member of the executive committee of the North American board of Women of Reform Judaism, where she currently serves as chair of the Individual Member Task Force. She is also chair of the Speaker’s Bureau for WRJ Pacific District, and a member of Congregation Beth Am, in Los Altos Hills, CA. She is an estate planning attorney and she and her husband, Jonathan, have 2 very active sons in college and a dog named Mitzi.