God Was in This Place

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, our Board of Directors returned to the Kraft Family Building for our first in-person gathering in more than 20 months. With gratitude to my colleagues who have worked extremely hard on every detail, especially the technology, we were able to hold a fully hybrid meeting complete with a guest scholar, breakout groups, and lots of interactivity.

I know everyone is returning to in-person work at different paces and with varying comfort levels, and that so many people were required to be in person throughout the entirety of the pandemic. Given the nature of our work, we have been fortunate to be conservative and cautious while adapting, delivering on our most critical work and serving the community (in some cases even better than before).

The process of adjusting to and living in our new reality of remote work brings learning and opportunities, including the increased flexibility and productivity that remote work makes possible (positive developments that I hope we will bring with us into a post-COVID world). As we adapt and learn to live with the hard stuff, we can forget much of the good that we no longer realize we are missing, such as meaningful and valuable human connection stemming from day-to-day informal interactions.

As I stood to close the meeting with a toast to this “shehecheyanu moment” (the blessing celebrating the arrival to this first moment), I was overcome with emotion. It was incredibly moving to look at a room of board members, colleagues, and friends after three hours of learning, strategizing, and wrestling together, and to realize how much we have lost during this time apart and how much we will rebuild moving forward. What a blessing to love these people, this work, and this place so much.

There’s nothing quite like the experience of being together with the right people in the right place at the right moment. Sometimes you just feel it and know that something special is happening here. You sense that this is a milestone on a journey — even when you’re not exactly sure where that journey will lead you.

I’m reminded of the scene of "Jacob’s Ladder" at the opening of this week’s Torah portion. This is one of the more famous stories in the Bible and interpretations often focus on the enigmatic image of the ladder with angels rising and descending on it. But, as I reflect on my experience yesterday, I’m struck by Jacob’s utterance when he wakes up from his dream in awe: "God was in this place and I did not know it."

This line can make you cry.

Jacob's Ladder by Marc Chagall, via WikiArt

It can refer to geographic or physical places — sacred places where memories and meaning are made — that can stay with us and shape who we are for years, even generations to come.

We may think immediately of Israel, of course, or other historic or natural wonders we have visited. There can also be a sacredness to what may otherwise seem like more common, or everyday places — the theater, a college campus, our homes, and yes, even our offices. Places where great things happen and where memories are made. Places that change us if we let them.

But Jacob’s realization is not just about physical places. It is about relationships, experiences, and how we make our way through the world. Adjusting to the realities and challenges of day-to-day life can make us desensitized to the beauty and the wonder of the very things that make life so precious. How many moments and experiences are we missing because we’ve forgotten, or just don’t know, or aren’t taking the time to see and appreciate that "God is in this place?"

For me, our board retreat was one of those powerful moments that I believe will be a meaningful part of our continued emergence from this pandemic. May these coming months and years be ones of slowing down, remembering, reconnecting, and waking up to the sacredness that is all around us.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Marc Baker

Marc Baker

About the Author

CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.