Posted on August 27th, 2015

D’var Torah: Continuing on Our Journey

I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Joshua 2: 9-11

These are the words of Rahab, an inhabitant of the city of Jericho. They were spoken to the spies Joshua sent there to scout out the land. They tell the story of a people of power, a people who have God on their side and cannot be defeated. How different they are from the words the spies Moses sent into the land of Canaan.

We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large … We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are … The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height … We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them. Num. 13: 27-33

Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine how others really see us. We doubt ourselves and our abilities and; therefore, see ourselves as incapable and assume that is the way others see us as well. We let ourselves be guided by fear rather than faith. I am so very grateful this has not been the case for the ARJE over the last two years. Together we have traveled through a complicated wilderness. As I often say, “We have watched the landscape around us change.” But, we have decided to forge a new path through this wilderness and have had the courage to think differently about who we are as an organization, the power and strength we have to bring our voice into this wilderness and begin to create some clarity amid the chaos.

In his commentary on Shelach Lecha this year, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says:

One of the fundamental tasks of any leader from president to parent is to give people a sense of confidence: in themselves, in the group of which they are a part, and in the mission itself. A leader must have faith in the people he or she leads, and inspire that faith in them. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School writes in her book Confidence, “Leadership is not about the leader, it is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else.” Confidence, by the way, is Latin for “having faith together.”

It is my sincere hope that over the last two years we have all grown in our confidence. Stan often reminds me that at the beginning of my term I said that I hoped we would take risks; that we would try things knowing that we would sometimes fail. By working together, by trusting ourselves and each other we have taken some great risks and had some amazing successes! It has been my distinct and humbling honor to serve in the role of president as we have undertaken to create a new mission in which we can all have faith and to take on a new name that is fully descriptive and yet still aspirational.  I’m proud that we have begun to think differently about our how we learn together and how we build community; how we lead in our institutions and how we can be leaders in our movement and in our field. I so pleased that we begin each of our meetings with a prayer, reminding ourselves that this field of endeavor is no ordinary profession, but is sacred in all its pursuits.

I’m so very honored to pursue and lead this work with an amazing group of committed leaders. Not only do we, “have faith together,” but we also have faith in each other! I am deeply indebted to all the members of the executive committee and board, to the lead team, our operations team leaders, committee chairs and all the members who do the work of our committees. I am grateful to the hundreds of people who have said yes when asked and whose willing commitment and countless hours make us the strong association we are today!  I am especially grateful to Rabbi Stan Schickler, RJE, our executive director, for the patience, courage and quiet strength with which he leads the ARJE. We are better because of his dedication. On a very personal level, I am forever indebted to my beloved husband, Rabbi Andrew Paley, and my dear friend Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE, who have stood by my side and encouraged me throughout my journey when I lacked courage in myself.

At a time when so many Jewish education organizations are shrinking or disappearing, we continue to push forward with passion. We are expanding and looking to embrace and include others as we continue our journey. We are setting a bold agenda for the years ahead and under the leadership of our incoming president, Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE, we will continue to be seen by others as brave leaders and daring professionals who lead our movement and continue to reshape the landscape of Jewish education by our holy endeavors.

Thank you for the honor of serving as your president.

Debbie Niederman, RJE, is NATE/ARJE’s immediate past president.