A Retirement D’var Torah From a Wexner Alum
Noah is a Wexner Heritage Atlanta alumnus. He retired from the Jewish Federation of Atlanta after 30 years of service to the community. This D’var Torah was written for the JFGA Weekly in August. Noah can be reached at email@example.com.
As we begin Deuteronomy with the reading of D’varim, we notice that for a man almost 120 years old Moses can’t always remember his facts, especially since he was speaking from memory and not reading notes from his iPad. We note that he made significant changes in earlier texts, such as one very famous example where Moses’ restatement of the Ten Commandments is in some considerations materially different from the original. Or, perhaps for Moses, the truth of God’s words was always appearing anew to him and he felt compelled to pass these new insights to his people. And given the length of Deuteronomy, we can easily understand if Moses was just savoring the moment of reflecting on the past, acknowledging the reality of the present, and presenting his vision of the future for the nation Israel.
Moses surely could acknowledge, in the words of the Grateful Dead, “what a long strange trip it’s been.” I certainly lay no claim whatsoever to any connection to Moses except perhaps that we were both given biblical names. But, I can do what Moses did and reflect a bit on the past, the present, and the future. I feel so blessed to have been a Jewish communal professional in this phenomenal Atlanta community ever since the day I started at Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta on September 1, 1981. From then to now, I have been privileged to take part in truly historic world and local events: Passage to Freedom and
Operation Exodus; Operation Solomon; missions to Israel, Eastern Europe and other Jewish communities in the world; Israel Emergency Campaigns and rallies for Israel; the Community Capital Campaign that raised $53 million for our Atlanta Jewish community; annual Community Campaigns that help care for the vulnerable and strengthen Jewish identity; community relations programs to feed the
hungry; leadership development programs; and programs to help donors find meaning in their charitable activities. And a few years ago, my life was forever enriched by my Wexner Heritage experience.
The lesson we learn from Moses is that Torah is the constant in our Jewish lives. For me, the one
constant in all these and other activities in which I worked, is the incredible people who were my partners and will always be my friends. You all have enriched my life, but infinitely more importantly, you are responsible for what our community has done, is doing, and will become. And just as you motivated me, you will motivate your children, grandchildren and all whom you touch to give of your time, talent and
treasure to help sustain our incredible Jewish heritage. Ira Gershwin said it best: “Who can ask for anything more!”
But there certainly is a lot more to accomplish. I think that’s why I stay focused on the present. There is so much to do:
We need to create truly a spirit of Am Yisrael, in which all Jews feel responsible for one another; elevate Tikkun Olam to a level that provides even more life-enhancing work in the world; open our fellow Jews’ hearts, souls and minds — men, women and children – to the sheer beauty, excitement, joy and wonder of Judaism, so much of which sadly is absent in too many people’s lives.
We need to bring Israel back into our hearts.
We need to join, donate, socialize, and participate.
We need always to recommit to building a strong, vibrant, fun, relevant, affordable Jewish community of excellence and the highest of quality.
And by learning from the past, and focusing on the present, we know that we will be better prepared for the future – what perhaps is called the Messianic age – where we envision a community and a world that ought to be; which may not be attained but which we nonetheless seek to achieve.
It’s significant that when Moses starts speaking in D’varim to sum things up, he starts not with laws but with the travels of his people. He recognizes that he didn’t do it alone. He and God didn’t do it alone. Moses did it with and for his people. That’s a lesson that truly resonates with me. Thank God I am not alone: with my wonderful wife, children and grandchildren, parents, siblings and relatives, beautiful friends, and extraordinary colleagues in the Jewish, general and Wexner communities. My prayer is that no one is alone; that we create a community that promotes enduring relationships; that we work together rather than in silos; that we embrace rather than push away. We will always be a stiff-necked people, being admonished by “the Moses” of our day, but only together will we earn respect, find salvation, and enjoy life to its fullest. And with that being said, indeed, what a long, wonderful trip it has been.