Twice a month, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa shares a Shabbat greeting from a member of our Board of Directors. This Friday, we are pleased to share this personal message from Board member Marina Milyavskaya.

Please note we are currently on our summer schedule and the next message will be in mid-July when we welcome our incoming CEO Adam Silver.

Dear friends,

In this week’s Parsha Shelach, we read the story of the 12 scouts sent by Moses to Canaan (the land promised to the people of Israel). Although the scouts marvel at how bountiful the land is and bring back some of its fruits, they also note that the people who live there are mighty and would make formidable foes. Upon their return, 10 of the scouts deliver a discouraging report, saying that the inhabitants of Canaan cannot be overcome, and causing fear and doubt among the Israelites.

These days, it may seem like our foes are giant and cannot be overcome. Everywhere we look — in the news, on social media, in our streets — we hear reports and see the actions of those who set themselves against Jews and the Israeli people. The basis of these reports is (unfortunately) true, just as the scouts actually saw formidable cities and warriors in Canaan. But despite this reality, believing that we can (or cannot) overcome our challenges is all about perspective. Just like Joshua and Caleb, the two scouts who believed that the foes could be overcome despite their strength, we can choose to look at the state of the world and believe that we too can overcome it. We can focus on the positive. 

In social psychology (my area of research), this tendency to focus on the positive and believe that good things will happen is called optimism. Optimism is not about pretending that bad things aren’t there. It’s about expectations that things will eventually work out; it’s confidence and hope.

Optimists are more likely to engage in problem-solving, take proactive steps toward their goals, and maintain better mental and physical health.

Optimists even report less pain when faced with diseases that cause clinical pain (such as arthritis and cancer). Believing that we can overcome challenges is all about how we choose to interpret the situation; this in turn affects how we act and how we feel. 

When things seem bleak, it is crucial to look for the positives. Our community is thriving. This year alone, Jewish Federation of Ottawa has funded 64 microgrants, allocating more than $110K to organize community events for all age ranges and across all denominations, reaching diverse pockets of our community. There are robust grassroots movements to come together to defend Israel and fight against antisemitism. I am part of a number of Jewish community groups on various social media platforms where discussions range from good news in Israel to neighbours asking to borrow some flour and offering to help newcomers to the community move in. Most recently, at Federation’s 90th Annual General Meeting, we saw some snapshots of the community’s successes over the past nine decades. (View panels here.)

All of this gives me hope. Hope that even though the foes seem giant, we can still strive and succeed. In Parsha Shelach, the scouts brought back a cluster of grapes so large that it had to be carried on a pole between two men. This symbol of abundance should remind us to focus on the positives — the rewards to be reaped for persevering — rather than only the challenges we face. Our community's achievements, and the support we offer one another, are all reasons to be hopeful.

Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat filled with optimism and hope,

Marina Milyavskaya