Parshat Shelach L’cha tells the familiar story of the 12 spies whom Moses sent to scout out the land. When they returned all 12 agreed that the land was exceedingly good, but 10 thought the obstacles to occupying the land were insurmountable. They saw the inhabitants as unbeatable giants, to whom they appeared “like grasshoppers.” Only Joshua and Caleb felt that with G-d on the Israelites’ side, they could win. The Israelites themselves listened to the 10 naysayers, and as a result, G-d condemned them to wander for 38 more years and decreed that their generation would not enter the land. For their lack of faith, they did not receive the gift of entry into the promised land.
As I write this, my state, Massachusetts, is just beginning to emerge from our stay-at-home advisory. It is exceedingly difficult to predict when or how we will resume “normal” life (or even what that actually will mean). Add to that the uncertainty of the economic impact, and it is hard to imagine a way forward at all. Yet we must.
As both a WRJ leader and a congregational President, I have spent a lot of time figuring out how we move forward. I have to be like Caleb and Joshua and have faith that a way forward is possible, or else I condemn my community to stagnation. As a biologist, I recognize that all species must adapt or die. We cannot see the difficulties ahead as insurmountable obstacles. This is a time to embrace the challenges, to unlock our creativity, and ultimately, yes, to take a leap of faith. We must confront the future as it unfolds, even though we don’t know where we will end up. Change is scary, but we have no choice. Now is the time to harness all the creativity we have used during our time in lockdown—the virtual events, the online fundraisers, the online learning—and take it into the future.
Now is the time to reimagine what it means to be a Jewish community after COVID-19. We must help keep our communities connected, including the most vulnerable among us who will be the last to return to in-person events. We must, as we have been, continue to worship together, learn together, and teach together. We must continue to fight for justice, to protect vulnerable members of our society, and to support those in our communities who are suffering—whether that is physical, psychological, financial, or all three. This is a moment for WRJ. Like our foremothers, who faced their own obstacles—including, since our founding, two world wars and the great depression, we must reimagine WRJ for our changing times. And, like our foremothers, we will not only survive but flourish. Like WRJ women have always done, we will be the innovators, the leaders, and the nurturers. We will not be squashed like grasshoppers before giants; like Joshua and Caleb, we will lead forward into the future, emboldened by our faith and always stronger together.
Abigail Fisher is a member of the Executive committee of WRJ. She is a past president of WRJ Northeast District, a member of URJ’s Commission on Social Action, and chair of the Camp Council for URJ Six points Sci-Tech Academy. She is also currently serving as President of Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, MA and is a proud member of its sisterhood