The Journey is the Destination
by Marilyn Price
Last week, Thursday through Shabbat, I had the privilege of attending my first URJ North American Board meeting in Brooklyn, N.Y. That set of meetings was bookended with three days hiking the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and New York (“strolling” would be a better term, though no one calls it a “stroll in the woods”). It was an interesting and relevant partnering of the two experiences.
Although I knew many of the URJ board members through a variety of activities over the years, it was a new kippah for me and required more concentration than I had previously enjoyed at Biennials, regional events, and even on my more than occasional visits to congregations as a teller of tales or teacher of Torah.
I learned a lot. I learned of the astonishing commitment of the membership and of the amount of time spent on projects by the lay leadership and of course the staff. I learned of the remarkable staff. I learned that the tasks were numerous and the vision huge, and I left with several thoughts on the way to find my place on this journey. For me, as a teacher and teller, the process has always been more important than the product. I still agree with that premise in the workings of a board of this size, but now I have a different vision of how to make the destination more of the journey.
On all boards, there are no doubt a variety of people that gather for community and friendship. As a matter of fact, that part of the journey is, for most, what keeps them returning. The sociability and the camaraderie are tantamount to the light at the end of the tunnel – and this piece is so similar to the hiking of the Trail that the parallels are ripe for the exploring.
The Appalachian Trail is more than 2,000 miles long. It starts in Georgia, continuing through 14 states and ending in Maine. It is, for the most part, unpaved – definitely not a street in Brooklyn. I believe we saw more people in the lobby of the Marriott for the board meeting than we saw walking the trail in one month. It is, for through hikers, an arduous journey that most make not just for a healthy walk but as a mark of fortitude, stubbornness, and strength. The backpacks many of them carry weigh as much as 50 pounds and include everything one needs for the entire trip, which could last up to six months. There are no Starbucks on the trail, no restaurants, no motels. There are shacks set up (some of the time) for sleeping, and, of course, one can get off the road and have a night in a motel, a good meal, and, ah, yes, a shower, if needed. There are wonderful sights to see along the trail. At one signpost, a supporter had left snacks, water bottles, and messages of encouragement. Maybe, I thought, if I were 40 or 50 years younger, that would be a good thing to do – a challenge, an adventure. But alas, I am not.
The Union of Reform Judaism spans North America, though I do not know the mileage. A few Board members have backpacks, but more have briefcases and piles of papers and computers and cell phones. They have challenges and promises to themselves and to the things they care about. They have a range of theologies and ritual practices, as diverse as the trees in the woods. But they are all rooted in the belief that they can help to change what needs changing and to move along that which they feel should be moved along. It is a journey of challenges – but a journey whose destination can be determined by the leadership, both staff- and lay-driven.
It was fascinating to be on both of these journeys within the course of one week. And sandwiched between, for me, was a trip to a Reform congregation to help celebrate 170 years of existence. Their journey continues on a different path than their founders started those years ago, but it continues, and each milestone is celebrated.
While on the Appalachian Trail, we wandered off and got lost or had difficulty finding the starting points – but eventually we found our way. At the URJ Board of Governors meeting, I did the same. At those lost junctures, it was the kindness of strangers and, of course, the kindness of friends that helped to guide the way.
I look forward to the hike!
Marilyn Price, storyteller/puppeteer author and educator travels across the country telling and teaching and listening! A member of Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston Illinois and a recent new trustee on the URJ’s North American Board, she visits many congregations and communities. Visit her on any of her travels or at www.marilynprice.com.