There is probably no parashah that speaks to me more than Lech L’cha, which literally means “go forth.” This is God’s injunction to Abraham to journey from his father’s homeland to a land that God will show him. The journey is physical and spiritual. Abraham puts his faith in God and receives God’s covenant for his and Sarah’s descendants.
I associate Lech L’cha with my life journeys… from leaving my New York birthplace to venture out to the Midwest away from friends and family, to finding my place in an MBA program where women were less than 10% of the class - and many professors did not think we belonged there- to being among the few pioneers dedicated to applying marketing concepts to financial and professional services businesses and nonprofit organizations, to taking leadership roles in organizations that mentored and trained women, and to embarking on my spiritual path and love affair with Reform Judaism. I would like to be able to say that this was all part of a plan with specific goals, but it all happened more from an intrinsic need to “go forth.” Moving ahead keeps my life vibrant and meaningful.
Many of us think about journeys related to the physical ones our ancestors took to make a life for us in North America. I think of my father’s parents leaving Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, escaping by bribing border officials with gold coins sewn into buttons. And I think of the Jewish people fleeing Nazi-occupied countries during World War II. In the historical photos of those attempting to flee, I cannot help but see what I imagine are the faces of those trying to immigrate to the United States today. While the news coverage has hidden their faces, I know we would see the same fear, pain, and hope for a better life.
While “immigration” has political overtones (as does much in our world today), I give thanks to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other sanctuary cities that have not turned their backs on those going forth to a new land. These cities see immigration as a positive process and human rights issue and consider it their duty to help protect all people. This includes people who are fleeing wars, poverty, and famine.
Chicago’s sanctuary policies – also known as the “Welcoming City Ordinance” – state that Chicago officials will not help investigate or prosecute individuals based solely on their resident status. Chicago also does not discriminate against non-citizens for city services intended for those in need, and even offers a local ID to use for transportation and library access. While supporting the recent busloads of immigrants has had its challenges, our city agencies and nonprofit community organizations are working hard to provide the assistance these individuals need.
WRJ has stood for immigration reform for many years. On our website, we state “… we face the enormous challenges posed by our nation’s broken immigration system. We can no longer delay its reform… WRJ stands up for the immigrant as a core part of Jewish tradition.” There are resolutions dating back to 1915.
Perhaps my greatest journey has been, and continues to be, my spiritual one. It is not a destination, but a mindset. To be one with God and my loved ones. Today, it is my life’s purpose. I think of the faith I have in God, after being a non-practicing Conservative Jew for more than twenty years, all spurred on by the beauty of Reform Judaism where inclusivity - and even individuality - are at its very core. WRJ has also played a big part in my spiritual journey. No matter where I journey in ‘WRJ-land,” I am home. This is the blessing that you all have bestowed on me, and I know on each other as well. We are sometimes challenged, and often delighted, to serve as a support system for our sisters. Support systems that lead me to think about and acknowledge a different type of journey. Many of us have experienced, and conquered, health issues and personal loss this past year. We are here to help each other on that journey. To listen, to provide emotional and physical sustenance.
Go from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house to the land which I will show you"—Genesis 12:1.
May we all “go forth!