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Finding a New Voice
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Parshat Devarim

Finding a New Voice

Ever since hearing that The Jewish Week would be ceasing its weekly print edition, I’ve been a bit nostalgic about my own journey with this paper — even retrieving what I knew to be the second-to-last issue from my parents’ mailbox was tough. Change can be difficult, especially when the change involves unchartered territory.

In Parashat Devarim, we encounter a nostalgic Moshe, who gives the first of three farewell speeches to the Children of Israel. He recounts many of Bnai Yisrael’s experiences as they gear up to say goodbye to their desert wanderings and enter The Promised Land.

The portion begins, “Eleh ha’devarim asher diber Moshe el Kol Yisrael” (“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel”) [Deuteronomy 1:1].

According to Midrash Tanchuma, this verse sheds light on a change in Moshe’s pattern of speech. In the midrash, Bnai Yisrael quips to Moshe, “Yesterday you said, ‘Lo ish devarim anochi,’ ‘I am not a man of words’ — back in Exodus 4:10 — and now you are speaking so much?” The midrash notices how it is here in Deuteronomy that Moshe finally finds his voice. It is only now that he is comfortable sharing his own lengthy reflections with Bnai Yisrael.

In his first long address, Moshe recounts many of the steps along Bnai Yisrael’s journey in the desert, from receiving the Torah to the story of the spies to their interactions with other nations. Professor Tammi J. Schneider explains how it was in this speech that Moshe initiated “his own interpretation of Israel’s history and even law.”

By retelling and recontextualizing the Torah’s narrative, Moshe models what will occur for generations to come. His new communication strategy benefits not only the Bnai Yisrael who stood before him, but also the future generations of the Jewish people who would need to interpret the Torah for themselves.

As I think about The Jewish Week’s decision to take a hiatus from its print edition, I reflect upon Moshe as he adapted his communication style in order to set up the Jewish people for success. While I recognize that The Jewish Week is taking the steps to find its voice in the digital Promised Land, I will miss my post-Shabbat dinner ritual of reading this paper.

The Jewish Week has been a staple of my Shabbat routine from as early as I could read; it is as if the sitcom of my childhood is coming to a close. As soon as Shabbat dinner would come to a close, my siblings and I would immediately reach for The Jewish Week, and flip from page to page. We would find the names of people we recognized, schools or camps we attended or restaurants we would like to go to. There were some Friday nights when the lights on our kitchen timers went off early, so we would sit by the light of the bathroom door reading The Jewish Week.

When I moved to my own apartment, subscribing to The Jewish Week became a symbol of adulthood. In my first apartment building over a decade ago, the paper was often left — much to my chagrin — in the entryway to our building. It was through seeing who else subscribed to The Jewish Week that I became more connected to my neighbors. Sometimes we would even drop the papers off in front of one another’s apartment doors.

More recently, Shabbat has morphed into a time when binge-watching turns into binge-reading. The print edition of The Jewish Week has always been at the top of my Shabbat reading list. While I often read articles passed along on social media during the week, the print edition allowed me to read pieces I might not have read if it weren’t Shabbat — it opened my eyes to different parts of the Jewish community.

Reading The Jewish Week as a Jewish professional and mother also gave me a chance to think more about the voices that were frequently missing from its pages. When I reached out to former editor in chief Gary Rosenblatt about having more diverse voices and articles, he was receptive to my feedback and encouraged me to write more myself. It has been rewarding to contribute to the paper that is so deeply connected to my own Shabbat experience and sense of Jewish peoplehood.

I was particularly saddened to read that the hiatus would arrive during the summer months of the pandemic, when in-person shul has come to a halt and when Shabbat ends so late. At this time, extra reading material and modes of connectedness to the larger Jewish community are particularly helpful.

Just as Moshe sharpened his own style of communicating with Bnai Yisrael in Parashat Devarim, it is my hope that The Jewish Week will strengthen its own voice as it concentrates on the virtual realm. I look forward to seeing the creative new ways in which this paper will reflect upon and analyze the modern Jewish landscape. This move will hopefully preserve Jewish journalism for generations to come.

Thank you, Jewish Week, for a great print run. May you go from strength to strength.

Rabbi Yael Buechler is the Lower School Rabbi at The Leffell School in White Plains and founder of MidrashManicures.com.

Candlelighting, Readings:

Candlelighting: 8 p.m.

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 1:1-1:27

Shabbat ends: 9:05 p.m.

Fast of Tisha b’Av:
Wednesday, Fast of Tisha b’Av

Fast starts: Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.
Fast ends: Thursday, 8:45 p.m.

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