Monday, June 24, 2013

Remarks by Vic Goldberg on receipt of the Brotherhood Award

Below are Vic's remarks from Friday, June 14th. Also here is a hyperlink to his prize:

Shavua Tov!

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.
* * *
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 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 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, 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.
* * *
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.
Thank you.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Shlach Lchah 5773: The Book of Kvetching!

I look at Benjamin, my son, and I am pretty clear I understand what he’s trying to say to me. Yes he doesn’t have words yet, he is very fond of “Hiya,” his first true word. He uses it kind of like Shalom in Hebrew, something of an every-word for hello, goodbye, and what’s going on.  However, he still makes it very clear what he wants at any given time. He raises his arm in the direction of what he wants, and lets out a clear grunt, when he really wants something, allow me to demonstrate.  He will happily repeat this until he gets it, and if you wait too long, it turns into the scourge of parents everywhere: a higher pitched whine.
Now there is of course a difference between a whine and a complaint, and even the term complain can be broken into two meanings.   On the one hand to issue a complaint, is an attempt to hopefully further the social order.  We complain when we hope to increase the quality of our own service, or to better the situation overall. On the other, we have the connotation that pervades in the yiddish word: kvetch.  
We as a people have a reputation, as a people that loves to kvetch for the sake of kvetching.  The other day I was visiting one of our congregants at White Plains Hospital, and he pulled me aside, sharing that he wanted to be transferred to Greenwich Hospital as soon as possible, and wanted my help in making it happen. I said to him: “What's wrong? Is it the food?"
"No, the food is fine.” He replied. “I can't kvetch."
"Is it the room?"
"No, the room is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Is it the staff?"
"No, everyone on the staff is fine. I can't kvetch."
"Then why do you want to be transferred?"
"I can't kvetch!"
Michael Wex in his commentary on that joke in his book “Born to Kvetch,” reflected: “the fundamental idea that kvetching—complaining—is not only a pastime, not only a response to adverse or imperfect circumstance, but a way of life that has nothing to do with the fulfillment or frustration of desire."[7]
Now I have been saying this since we began the book of Numbers, but today I really want to get inside it: Numbers really should be called the book of kvetching.  My son has been turning the kvetch into an artform that we as a people have persisted to this day. The people kvetch constantly, and this week's parashah is no exception.   Listen to the severity of the kvetching in our Parashah:

Chapter 14
1. The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night.

א. וַתִּשָּׂא כָּל הָעֵדָה וַיִּתְּנוּ אֶת קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא:
2. All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert.

ב. וַיִּלֹּנוּ עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן כֹּל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם כָּל הָעֵדָה לוּ מַתְנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אוֹ בַּמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה לוּ מָתְנוּ:
3. Why does Adonai bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and weak children will be as booty. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?"

ג. וְלָמָה יְהֹוָה מֵבִיא אֹתָנוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לִנְפֹּל בַּחֶרֶב נָשֵׁינוּ וְטַפֵּנוּ יִהְיוּ לָבַז הֲלוֹא טוֹב לָנוּ שׁוּב מִצְרָיְמָה:
4. They said to each other, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!"

ד. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו נִתְּנָה רֹאשׁ וְנָשׁוּבָה מִצְרָיְמָה:

We earned the moniker, Stiff necked people for a reason, we are a people that like to whine and complain. This is a trope throughout our Torah,. that the grass is perpetually greener back in Egypt according to the Israelites.  Yet in reading this and considering it I began to wonder: What is the point of complaining? I also wonder: what are the benefits of complaining, or are there any as we as a people have earned such a reputation for complaining?
Even if you are complaining not just to vent, but in the hopes of changing your situation, what is the power of time, place, and circumstance? In the age of constant connectivity, there are countless stories of people complaining about poor service on Social Media, and seeing almost immediate reaction from huge corporations.  The goal is to increase the social welfare, even a little bit, and a bit selfishly.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes in his book, Future Tense, “Judaism is a critique of empire and the rule of the strong.” (p78) He believes, that as a people we have consistently served as the kvetching voice refusing to allow right by might, but raising our voices in protest.   Complaining has a potentially powerful role in changing our society. We complain about injustice, we complain about inequality in our world today. That form of complaining, where we are acting towards a better world and voicing what that world can be versus just kvetching about the world that is.  Now for the Israelites, it was this complaint that earned them 40 years in the desert, never able to see the promised land; yet as a people, time and again, we have stood on the sidelines of history complaining, trying to make this a better world.  
 Since we’re talking about complaints, let me not forget the humble kvetch session, a healthy expression of frustration, which everyone needs once in awhile. As researcher Dr. Barbara Held notes, it is a valuable life skill to vent constructively.  Her guidelines for any kvetch session: “Be up-front about your need to complain (rather than try to pretend you're just having a regular conversation), limit your kvetch time, and don't act as though your gripes trump everyone else's. Above all, select an appropriate listener.”
Now I know my son is a bit young to have this kind of realization about complaining.  He will continue to whine and groan at me for I would assume, years to come. Yet we as a people and as human beings need to work hard to ensure our complaining is not simply to bring others down, or to whine indiscriminately. It’s about healthily letting off some steam, and powerfully critiquing the social order to make a better world today.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gatekeepers by Sarah Friedman

I’ve been reading a lot about The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated documentary that interviews the six living heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. It’s not yet in wide release in the States, and I was happy to learn that it is playing in Israel. On Sunday evening, walked to the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and saw it.

It is an extraordinary documentary, and difficult to watch. Straightforward interviews are powerfully juxtaposed with highly edited old photos made crisp and three-dimensional and old news footage that is graphically and emotionally raw. There is mind-blowing quote after mind-blowing quote, and little background music that influences the mood of the film. The filmmaker is clearly left-wing and his rare but probing questions become irritating mostly because they are so unnecessary: all six men speak straightforwardly, often saying things that are unbelievable to hear an Israeli security chief say. They speak mostly about Israeli-Palestinian history and relations.

Throughout the film I heard sniffling and sighing in the seats around me, particularly when graphic footage of the aftermath of First Intifada bus bombings filled the screen. The build-up to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination is also rough– seeing rallies of religious Israelis burning the PM’s photo, holding a mock funeral, a small child looking full of hatred as he strained his voice to join the crowd shouting against a peacemaker, a traitor to them. Interviews touch on the planned bombing of the Temple Mount by Jewish extremists, ethical deliberations surrounding IDF assassinations of terrorist leaders, the controversial handling of the hijacking of bus 300… the window it provides into Israel’s security-related history is so valuable for anyone trying to understand the difficult security dilemmas Israel faces.

I won’t hide that the former chiefs’ conclusions mostly jibe well with my own politics. But although the film deals with fundamentally political issues and has received both commendation and condemnation for its handling of them, the overwhelming takeaway is not a political perspective. It is sadness at missed opportunities, and urgency – urgency to work toward a better future now because we won’t have the opportunity to do so in the future. It’s a perspective that is not common here. Although the majority of Israelis support a two-state solution as part of a negotiated peace, belief in its possibility is rare. The shrinking left that not only believes in it but also wants to act on it is seen as naïve. With elections one week away, current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is widely expected to retain his seat but lead a far more extremist right coalition, filled with politicians who call for annexing the West Bank – among other strategies unpalatable to proponents of a state that is both democratic and Jewish. Although there are dozens of political parties, few if any can boast politically experienced, credible leaders devoted to and able to articulate an inspiring vision for a sustainable peace. (Feel free to start a discussion in the comments section if you disagree – I hope to be proved wrong.)

None of the previews I’ve found online do The Gatekeepers any justice. You just have to see it, and see it with someone whose hand you can hold. It’s difficult to watch but extremely worthwhile as an invaluable perspective on Israel’s past, present, and future from the Israeli security apparatus’s most knowledgeable insiders.