Thank you, Bill. It's a great honor to receive this prestigious award, especially considering the previous distinguished awardees. And special thanks to Barry Citrin for his generous help in preparing me for this event
My association with WRT goes back over many years. Jack Stern married my daughter Susan to John Gevertz, who is Joan's Mark's son. Rick Jacobs married my son Alan to Karen Lipson, and was there for us at the funerals of my first wife, Harriet, and of Joan's son Bruce and her husband Stan. Three years after Harriet died, Rick married me to my second wife, Pat Waldeck; and along the way he Bat Mitzah'ed my granddaughters Rebecca and Annie Gevertz. And, I am lucky enough to be around to be thrilled with the leadership of Jonathan Blake. This may all sound like the "begetting" part of Genesis, but this Temple has played an important role in my life.
While most of my volunteer activities have been in venues other than WRT, I am a great believer in the importance of volunteerism wherever it is exercised, not only for the good it can do for the world, for Tikkun Olam, but for the enhancement of the spirit of the volunteer. WRT is a place where that spirit abounds. Most organizations would give a great deal to be supported.... with the zeal and pure ergs of energy .....that are daily in evidence in the increasingly varied activities here.
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Bill gave you the laundry list of my volunteer activities, but the one I want to speak about briefly tonight is my Middle East Peace Prize.
A bit about its origin. in 2004, I was completing 25 years on the board and 13 years as vice chairman of the Institute of International Education...best known for administering the Fulbright scholarships and 250 other international exchange programs, ....and I wanted to do something in gratitude for how that experience had enriched my life. The CEO there asked what was important to me, and Israel immediately came to mind.
As a young American Jew in 1948, (I was 15 years old), I lived in Chicago next door to immigrants with numbers on their forearms, near a parochial school whose students thought I killed Christ, and I was totally drawn to this new nation, a safe place for Jews which embodied the cultural and moral values with which I was raised.
Now here I was in 2004, having watched nothing but strife in the Middle East for all my adult life, wondering what if anything could bring peace to this Jewish Homeland I had cherished all my life. Clearly political leadership had failed, ..... and maybe only work at the grassroots level could form the basis of lasting peace down the road.
And so I established a Middle East Peace Prize, to which IIE appended my name. I said they should have called it the Don Quixote IIE prize because to win it you had to have two people, one Israeli Jew and one Arab Muslim, working together at the grass roots, and one of them had to have a connection to an IIE program. ....and we worried there would be no viable candidates. As it turned out, we were never short of wonderful candidates, and a week from tomorrow, Pat and I will go to Jerusalem to present our 9th annual award.
The winners of the first prize in 2005 dealt with the issue of conflicting narratives. Dan Bar On and Sami Adwan were both college professors, Dan at Ben Gurion University and Sami at Bethlehem University. They had constructed a middle school history textbook for four historical periods: the Balfour declaration, the 1948 war, the Yom Kippur War and the first Intifada. On the left hand side of each page was the Israeli narrative, on the right was the Arab narrative, and the middle was composed of the blank lines of a workbook. To develop this textbook they sometimes had to meet across checkpoints; and to train 10 Israeli and 10 Palestinian teachers, they eventually had to fly them to Crete for joint sessions. To this day, neither the Israeli Ministry of Education nor the Palestinian Ministry of Education have approved this textbook. But with the book's intervening historical periods now complete, it is being used at the University level.
The 2006 Prize went to an all Israeli team, one Jewish, one Muslim, that established an Arab/ Jewish Community Center In Jaffa.
2007 to a team that established the first integrated school in Israel, with student enrollment, and faculty, each balanced 50/50, and with Jewish and Muslim Co-Directors.
2008 to founders of a bereavement group called Parents Circle: a Jew who lost his daughter to a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, and a Palestinian whose brother was released from an Israeli prison... beaten so badly that he died shortly thereafter.
2009 to the founders of a Young Professionals Alliance between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
2010 to a former member of an elite IDF army unit, and a Palestinian intifada fighter who had been in Israeli jails for 10 years, who formed a group called Combatants for Peace.
2011 to two women working in Be'er Sheva for the civil rights of Bedouins.
and 2012 to two Israeli lawyers, one Jewish, one Muslim each heading an organization devoted to civil rights within Israel, who file joint briefs to the Israeli Supreme Court on civil rights issues involving women, Muslims, gays, ...and Jews striving to live their lives unrestricted by Haredeem and other Orthodox forces.
Pat and I go to Israel each year to present the prize, and each year are in awe of what the winners have done. In some years, the winning teams have been composed of one Palestinian and one Israeli. In other years, both winners have been Israeli citizens. Where both have been Israeli citizens, the work has been focused on civil rights, ....and it strongly evokes the civil rights struggles in the United States in the last half of the 20th century.
I remember as a boy on a trip to the American South seeing the water fountains and bathrooms with signs designating “white only.” I remember the tumultuous years in which African Americans fought to get equal rights.
I also remember the active role many American Jews, including Rabbi Jack Stern, played in those historical efforts. And well we should have. Having for centuries been the victim of discrimination, it was only proper that we help others to be freed from it. That lesson sometimes seems lost in the Israel of today, but I think the same progress we made here, can happen there, and it will require very similar effort. Action ....by citizens who are conscious of the disconnect between their moral heritage and the realities of their society,… and who are willing to pressure their government and their society for change. It's a challenge, but in this area of Israeli civil rights, I see some progress and am somewhat optimistic.
In the area of finding peace with the Palestinians, my optimism had pretty much vanished until very recently. In past years, the necessity and inevitability of a two-state solution seemed to be a given. But in the last few years, the secular Israeli liberals have seemed dispirited, ....an increasingly powerless portion of society, and the actions of the government have seemed to presage an irreversible turn away from a two-state solution, .....which has been the cornerstone of hope for those who seek long term peace in the Middle East.....indeed, the only solution that will allow a state that is both Jewish and democratic.
I believe that failure to establish a separate Palestinian state will still leave us with a Jewish state, ....but given birth rates of the Palestinians and the Orthodox Jews, not one that is democratic. We cringe at the term "apartheid state," but that is pretty descriptive of what would be.
It doesn't seem that the Israeli government has really digested the lessons of the Arab Spring, or the ramifications of Palestinians adopting, ....not arms which the IDF could crush, ....but massive Martin Luther King-type peaceful protests. Nor it seems has it really focused on the effect of possible international sanctions, like those in the 1970's that forced well-intentioned employers like IBM and Ford, .....who were hiring, training and promoting blacks and coloreds in South Africa,.... to leave that country when major U.S. pension funds threatened divestiture of their stock. I was close to that one, and it happened very fast!
Personally, I believe that failure to achieve a two-state solution will be disastrous for Israel,.... bad for the United States, ....and bad for Jews in general. And I am particularly concerned because the past couple of years have seen the Israeli government flirting with (destructive) actions that can't be undone.
Last week Secretary of State Kerry, in a speech before the American Jewish Committee, made a powerful plea for the American Jewish community to lend its collective voice in support of a two state solution. The URJ, the reform movement led by Rick Jacobs, has come out publicly in support, and I was really encouraged at that very clear statement. But I have the feeling that too many of our fellow American Jews are afraid of speaking out because we fear being thought disloyal to Israel. But friends don't let friends drive drunk! I would hope that all of us, in whatever way we can, will make our voices heard.
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It's true that there has been some cause for optimism in the past couple of months, but this is the Middle East; and it's full of tribal lunatics who spout personal and state-condoned hatred; and the Palestinians and the Israelis continue to take turns missing opportunities for peace. So we'll have to see.
Whatever happens now, I still believe that grass roots efforts between Arabs and Jews,... a real Brotherhood task, ....are the best chance to one day achieve lasting change.
Brotherhood, ....empathy and action, on behalf of "The Other," ..... can be painted on canvasses large and small. And it all counts. So we must all keep at it.
I am proud to accept your wonderful award, and hope I will continue to be worthy of it.