In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetzeh, we read about Jacob’s enduring love and commitment to marry Rachel. there we read, “And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.” ( Genesis 29:11) Jacob is motivated by this love to work for seven years for Lavan. Finally, Jacob has earned her hand in marriage and Lavan pulls the switch. Instead, Jacob marries Rachel’s older sister Leah. His love for Rachel persists and he has to work another seven years in order to marry the love of his life Rachel. Fourteen years in the making…that was some commitment. It is hard for me to understand Lavan’s work proposal, let alone why Jacob took it. I doubt that many of us could endure for that long.
When I used to work at Hillel the number fourteen is a very important. My goal was and in many ways is still to partner with students to help them make enduring commitments that are personally meaningful, universally relevant and distinctively Jewish. How can we ensure that these commitments will endure? This is complicated by the fact that the institutions of Jewish life are largely not relevant to students until they find their life partner and start to settle down. Realizing that we are living in a post “Sex in the City “ culture – it dawned on me that most of the students will not get married for on average 10 years from when they graduate. That is scary. We have four years with our students to help them think about how to go it alone for the following ten years. This is what I called for a “ fourteen year plan.” I am confident that the synagogues will help us endure after that point, but first we need to succeed in our fourteen year plan.
I have my theories as to why we have organized our communities in past in ways that do not speak of our current success, but for now I just want to make something that works for the future. We desperately need to pour resources into programs that deal with these fourteen years. Hillel’s need to be working with this in mind. Seeing that some of our best and brightest in this age cohort are working at camp, they too need to give some serious thought to how they will contribute to the fourteen year plan. It is not enough for camp and Hillel to say we do “young alumni development” and only mean the euphemism of raising money. Long before we will get any monetary support from these young people we need to help them see their way through this fourteen year period of their lives.
While we should hope that the descendents of Jacob have his enduring commitment, we should not bank on it for fourteen years. These peak experiences at camp, on campus, in Israel, or on Birthright are very important, but not enough. I have no doubt that many will have left by then with only the memory of a kiss. We have to plan for a longer kiss.