My family lived in a little house in Skokie from the time I was born until I was eleven, and then we moved into the “new house” on the other side of Skokie. We lived in that house for many more years than the “old” house, yet it never lost its distinction as the new one. Then I moved away to school, and lived in a different place almost every year. Then I moved home. Then I moved to California, and got engaged to a guy who was living in Connecticut at the time; he had a job and I didn’t, so I moved there.
My sister has been in the same house for about thirty years, since she got married. In the first thirteen years of my marriage, I moved five times, not just across town, but across the country. (Did I mention I hate moving?) Each time we moved, I had a weekend to find a house, and each time I had to be able to tell the realtor what neighborhood I wanted to focus on, where I wanted to settle my family.
This was a question Moses was asking in Shelach L’cha, this week’s parasha, although in this case, the Almighty Realtor had already staked out a Neighborhood. The Israelites were camped at the border to the land they’ve been headed towards, and under God’s instructions, Moses chose one chieftain from each of the tribes to constitute a reconnaissance party. They were supposed to go scout out the land and then report back to the people what they found. Here’s what Moses told them:
“See what kind of country it is. Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many? Is the country in which they dwell good or bad? Are the towns they live in open or fortified? Is the soil rich or poor? Is it wooded or not?” (Num 13:17-20) Those were the things Moses wanted to know about the new place.
What would be on your list? At one point in my life, it would have included “Where are the folk clubs?”, and at another time it would have had to include, “How are the schools?” Others may need to know about access to transportation, or a gym or good restaurants, distance to a job and distance to the grocery store; for some, it would be knowing whether they’re walking distance to a synagogue.
Ultimately it comes down to: “how do you define what you need in your community ,and where do you go to find it?” What do you want to have waiting for you when you move to town? That’s what Moses wanted to know: what was waiting for the Israelites when they got there?
I think it’s not only what you want to bring to the waiting community, it’s also what the community has waiting for you. The community leaders need to be thinking about young single Jews, and older single Jews, and non-synagogue Jews, and questioning Jews, and interfaith-coupled Jews, and LGBT Jews and all the other members of the community who don’t “do” Jewish the way some people used to. How many rounder pegs are there out there for our square holes? All the while making sure that the square pegs still have a place?
The only way to make sure there’s a place for you in the community is to be in the community. Redefine, re-form, make it the way you want if it isn’t already. And if it is the way you like it, step up and show up. I recently heard an interview in which the question, “ How do you fit into the Jewish community?” was met with the answer, “We are the Jewish community.” Exactly.