The D’var Torah below was delivered on July 20th, 2013 by Laura Taishoff, an AVODAH 2009-2010 alumna living and working in New Orleans. It inspired us and we hope it inspires you as well.
Thank you all so much for welcoming me here today for my first ever D’Var Torah. My name is Laura Taishoff and I moved here in 2009 to participate in AVODAH – the Jewish Service Corps. New Orleans has provided the first Jewish community that I have ever really felt a part of and this community at Shir Chadash has been a huge part of that. You have all been so warm and welcoming and I am really honored to be here today.
The parsha contains an image that is incredibly significant to me. In this portion, G-d takes Moses to Mount Nevo so that he can view the promised land but he is not allowed to enter it. Then the Lord says to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” This has always struck me as such an incredibly bittersweet moment for Moses. He can be comforted knowing that his people will reach the promised land and he himself can see the promised land but he will never experience it. A very wise person (Rabbi Ethan Linden) once compared this image to my experience in AVODAH. For the last four years, I have been working at my AVODAH placement, the juvenile public defender’s office- helping court involved young people get enrolled in school and mentoring them through home and school visits. At the end of our AVODAH year, Rabbi Linden told us that we, like Moses, would not get to witness the positive outcomes of the social justice work we were doing but that we needed to keep doing it anyway.
And I did. I worked there for 4 years and worked with over 500 kids. I recently resigned so that I could continue working with these young people but in a different context. I realized that I wanted to advocate for them before they ended up in the juvenile justice system so I am going to be a special education teacher at a high school in New Orleans starting in the fall.
The way I see it, these kids are the future of this city whether we decide to support and educate them or whether we are scared of them and continue to incarcerate them.
For me, the promised land is something that I hope for, very deeply, but I don’t know that I will get to see it. For me, the promised land is a place where these kids are not raised amidst shootings and violence – where every school, no matter what neighborhood it is in, provides a high quality education, and finally, it is a place where the kids of this city, and all cities, are valued and empowered – they are told, like i was when i was a teenager, that i could do anything, be anything.
Martin Luther King Jr. also references the image of looking at the promised land in the last speech he ever gave. He says that he has seen the promised land, that he knows we will get there, and he is at peace with the fact that he may not make it with us. Particularly coming off of the news of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I feel compelled to share that my promised land is a place where we focus less on the verdict of that court case and more on how many lives like Trayvon’s we lose every year and how we, as a community, have a responsibility to value those lives and fight for ALL of our children. We have a responsibility to fight injustices and we have to keep pushing, together, toward Martin Luther King’s promised land.
I don’t know that I am going to get to see that promised land become reality but it certainly feels worth fighting for.