Stepping into the Unknown
June 4, 2021
By Shira Jacobson

What does it mean to have faith: to be open-minded and open-hearted? This week’s Torah portion is Shelach, which tells the story of 12 Jewish spies being sent by Moses to scope out the land of Canaan for potential inhabitation. Unfortunately, the majority of these Jews are scared of the unknown and believe that they will not be able to conquer the land as G-d has instructed because the current inhabitants are more powerful. They don’t have faith and for this, they are punished by G-d; they are punished for being close-minded and unwilling to see the possibilities in front of them.

Unlike the spies, we are not conquering land and facing physical battles with enemies in our daily lives.   Yet we are often faced with situations where there’s a lot we don’t know or understand. So, what should we do in these situations? Should we stay close-minded and walk away out of fear and misunderstanding?  Or, should we be open to learning and exploring the possibilities ahead? I think we all know the answer to this.

This week, The Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning (CJEL), powered by the Buffalo Jewish Federation, launched Project Belonging: a series of Jewish learning experiences featuring Rabbi Becky Silverstein (he/him/his). Rabbi Becky is a transgender, gender-queer Rabbi who grew up in New York and became the first openly transgender Rabbi to be hired by a Conservative synagogue. He is very active in the Jewish community and uses his knowledge and expertise to encourage people to bring all of their identities to their spiritual practices. Rabbi Becky works to open up conversations about gender and sexuality within Judaism and demonstrates that there’s a place for this within Jewish studies. After all, the Jewish tradition teaches B’tzelem Elohim, the belief that everyone was created with the spark of the divine.

These topics can be tricky ones for many people. There is a lot that many don’t know when it comes to gender and sexuality, and these concepts as we know them are evolving on a daily basis. But just because we don’t know or understand something doesn’t mean we should avoid it or run away from it. Shelach teaches us that; G-d’s disappointment in the Israelites for running away from Canaan tells us how important it is to have faith in the unknown and be willing to explore it and learn from it.

CJEL is working towards making Jewish Buffalo a more inclusive and welcoming space where everyone feels that they belong. To do this, we all must do as G-d commands in this week’s parasha and be willing to learn and see the possibilities in front of us. Project Belonging is a start to the conversation about gender and sexuality within Judaism. How can Jewish Buffalo continue to be more welcoming to a diverse array of individuals and families who identify as Jewish?  As Shelach teaches us, we must take steps towards the unknown in order to grow.

Shira Jacobson just completed her sophomore year at the University at Buffalo studying English and psychology and serves as an Intern at the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning.


You are invited to participate in:

Project Belonging: Ritual Innovation in the lives of Queer and Trans Jews
Monday, June 7 at 7:30
Register at

Project Belonging: This is Yours: A SVARA-method Talmud Exploration
Tuesday, June 8 at 6 pm
Register at

Stepping into the Unknown - Jewish thought of the week graphic