Divine In Here: a D’var Torah for JVP
Guest Post by Emma Stout, 2016 Midwest Leadership Development Institute Participant
Two weeks ago, I traveled to Camp GUCI Indiana to participate in the JVP Midwest Leadership Development Institute, where I spent the weekend learning with 20 fellow chapter leaders from across the Midwest. Discussions on the retreat ranged from the nitty gritty to the profound, from how to effectively use social media to how to honor the wisdom and leadership of Jews of color and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in our work. I left Camp GUCI feeling inspired, humbled, and empowered to do the work of JVP with an open heart and a deepened commitment to organizing with integrity at every level.
As someone who is seriously exploring conversion to Judaism, it has been important to me to find spaces where I can live into my chosen spirituality without having to check my politics at the door. For this reason, it was deeply meaningful to me to be able to lead Shabbat services at the Midwest Leadership Development Institute. I shared the following d’var Torah on Friday evening:
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, one of the most striking aspects of the parsha is the detailed list of blessings and curses that could befall us if we do not follow the commandments that God lays out for us. If we don’t offer the first fruits of our harvest to God, for example, we will be cursed in about seventy different ways. Now, if we take this at face value, it is absolutely terrifying–and a bit of a turn-off to reading Torah. But what I think this Torah portion does is offers us the opportunity to consider the consequences of our actions.
My own concept of the divine is not “God out there,” issuing punishments and granting rewards, but divine in here–within us and between us, in the ways that we find ourselves entangled in holy community with one another. In this Torah portion, we’re asked to consider the consequences of choosing to live with holy intention–or not. What are the standards we hold ourselves and one another to, and what are the blessings and curses that could befall us if we keep our covenant, our sacred promise, to one another–or not?
In the Leadership Development Institute this weekend, and in our work at Jewish Voice for Peace more broadly, I believe we are grappling with this very question. This weekend, we are naming that there are real consequences if we do not open the circle to include the leadership and wisdom of Sephardi and Misrahi Jews and Jews of color, and allow white and Ashkenazi centrism to dominate in JVP. We are reminding ourselves that there are consequences if we as an organization do not hold ourselves accountable to Palestinians. And we are saying again and again that there are grave consequences if we see the human rights violations taking place in Palestine and Israel and do not lift our voices in outrage.
As we come together this weekend with the holy intentions of deepening our commitment to a just peace in Palestine and Israel and gathering tools to do our work with more power and more integrity, my hope is that we continue to ask ourselves the question: What are the standards we hold ourselves and one another to, and what are the blessings and curses that could befall us if we keep our covenant, our sacred promise, to one another–or not?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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