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2014: A Year of Conversations

 

 

 

Jane Kaufman

Jane Kaufman

Jane Kaufman; author of Our Stories: The Jews of Western Massachusetts, Jan. 17

I was really moved by so many of my interviews, in fact, almost all of them and that to me was the biggest surprise – how inspiring it was to speak with people about their lives and about how Judaism shaped their lives and how their lives shaped their Judaism. How the two intersected and kind of formed each other.

The biggest surprise to me was the ability in this project to have an intersection in my own life between my professional life and my religious life. I have always felt that I have led a bifurcated existence. This project allowed me to feel that work at the newspaper and my life as a Jew were in some way whole.

 

 

Amram Mitzna, IDF General and member of the Knesset, Feb. 21

I think that most leaders, even Netanyahu, who is not too willing to make concessions, understand their responsibility. He understands that if [the negotiations] fail then it will start the blaming game. And who is to be blamed? It’s almost sure to be Israel. We saw a lot of signs in the last few months of what kind of isolation might happen if this negotiation stops. We have to understand that there is a lot of fruit and a lot of things that we can get once an agreement is signed or in progress – economically-wise, security-wise. 

Amran Mitzna

Amran Mitzna

There is an Arab initiative calling on Arab nations to set relations with Israel once the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is over. So this is the situation. It’s very interesting that most Israelis agree that the only alternative is a two-state solution. Most Israelis also agree that it is in Israel’s interest to achieve the situation where there is an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. But the majority of Israelis do not feel or do not assess that this is possible. This is today the main dilemma.

 

Peter Max

Peter Max

Peter Max; artist and pop icon, May 16

When we fled Germany, my parents hadn’t gone through much; they just had the intuition to leave. My mother left her mother there and my father was one of 11 siblings and lost quite a few of them. But he didn’t find out until much later.

It was a cosmic adventure: we got to China and I had no comparison to European streets or people. China was the nicest place in the world to me. Then I adjusted to Tibet high up in the mountains, with monks in orange all around me and their prayers all around me. Then I came down the mountain with my parents back to China, and then I was playing with friends on the ship to Israel. We went from Shanghai to India, tried to get through the Suez Canal but they wouldn’t let us, so we went back down around Africa, past Europe, and 40 or 50 days later, we got to Israel. I grew up there at a great age, from 12 to 16.

Steve Schuster, CEO of Rainier Communication in Westborough and member of the Massachusetts delegation to The U.S.-Israel Connected Summit in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, June 20

Steve Shuster, right, with Gov. Deval Patrick in Israell.

Steve Shuster, right, with Gov. Deval Patrick in Israell.

People will talk about – and it’s true – that working with Israelis can be difficult. It’s a culture where everything is on the table.  It’s so different from American culture, where we’re very careful to be politically correct in our conversations. Not in terms of using prejudicial language but if you want to tell someone that they did something you don’t like professionally you’d say something like ‘hey you’re doing a great job on this, but you could use some improvement on that’. For Israelis it’s more like ‘I’m really disappointed in you and you did a terrible job on that’. This can be really shocking for Americans, but over time it becomes refreshingly honest. We’ve come to appreciate it as an agency because by having a totally honest feedback loop we have become better at what we do. We’ve become more demanding of ourselves and more demanding of our Israeli clients because we know that they expect it and can take it.  Israelis are so good at thinking outside of the box that we’ve all become better at thinking outside the box.

 

Judith Frank, Amherst College professor and author of All I Love and Know, July 18

Judith Frank

Judith Frank

While it’s true that attitudes toward gay marriage have shifted in the U.S., I don’t think that’s the only pertinent arena of gay rights. We’re seeing groups seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, and I worry that the success of gay marriage will lead to a backlash akin to the roll-backs of laws protecting voters’ rights and women’s reproductive health. In some parts of the country one can live as a queer person and feel quite at home, but in others it’s still a dispiriting and even dangerous proposition.

But it’s also true that many gay and Jewish people cherish our otherness, and don’t yearn for a time when we will just blend in with everyone else. There’s a scene in the novel where Matt is reading the book Gay Dads, and hearing the dads say things like “We’re just a boring normal family,” makes him die a little inside.

 

Dr. Donna Robinson Divine, Morningstar Family Professor in Jewish Studies and Professor of Government at Smith College, Aug. 15

Dr. Donna Divine

Dr. Donna Divine

“…Hamas’ big victories are in public opinion. In the media. The media is reporting the casualties that are reported by the UN – and the UN is being handed the information on the casualties by Hamas officials. Generally, CNN and some of the other media who are reporting from Gaza are reporting from the point of view of the civilian casualties – only the civilian casualties; they don’t understand why Israel is shooting at building x or y. The reporting of CNN’s Ben Wedeman is a classic example: he’ll say something like “The Israeli military said this [target] was next to a place that was firing mortars at Israel, but we see no sign of any of that.” Then, he’ll interview people who say, “My house has been destroyed and I’m not a fighter and there were no tunnels.” So, the narrative that drives cable TV and the mainstream press is of just Palestinians as victims of major Israeli aggression – and aggression for no reason. They don’t put it into any context.

 

Ari Shavit, journalist and author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Sept. 19

Ari Shavit

Ari Shavit

Generally speaking, if you are talking about the enemies of the Jewish people, I think there are two extreme phenomena at work here. On the one hand, there are Jews – and by the way this is not only true in terms of Israelis, it’s true of many people on the left wing of the American Jewish community, as well – who overlook the fact that we do have enemies. We are a minority, and there are many people who have deep emotions regarding us that are not totally rational and definitely not justified. And many people who are critical of Israel, whether the criticism is justified or not, sometimes overlook the fact that there are enemies and dark forces out there that are after us. This is true for many people on the left and it’s definitely true of many in Israel. On the other hand, I think there is the opposite phenomenon – people who are too conscious of anti-Semitism; those who are overprotective of Israel and the Jewish people because they are aware that we have enemies.

 

Dr. Ron Wolfson, author of Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, and Fingerhut Professor of Education at the American Jewish University, Oct. 17

Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson

There is a lingering sense among Jewish communal leaders that the twentieth-century approach to engaging our people with the Jewish experience is not working as well as it once did. We spend so much time developing programs – good programs – that people come to, enjoy, and then they go home…and so what? Judaism is a religion and civilization based on relationships and, deep down, we understand that this is the key to our success. I believe Relational Judaism has resonated broadly through the organized Jewish community because it offers language to express what our “value offer” should be to those we want to engage, a clear statement of the purpose of Jewish institutional affiliation, six case studies of organizations that are already employing a relational approach, and twelve principles of relational engagement than can guide our work to recruit, engage and retain the affiliated, the under-affiliated, and the non-affiliated.

 

 

 

Rabbi Steven Greenberg, author of Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, and founder and co-director of Eshel, an Orthodox LGBT community-support and education organization, Nov. 21

Rabbi Steven Greenberg

Rabbi Steven Greenberg

Belonging is meaningful if it shapes a community with social expectations and boundaries. Welcoming the ‘other’ is also in the Jewish cultural DNA. The classical mitzvah of welcoming in strangers can shed new light on the challenges of inclusion. A group that openly welcomes everyone isn’t a group. Group identity, by definition, entails boundaries that in various ways exclude others. Often, the more naturally exclusive, the more prestigious and the more intensely fulfilling. The difference between a group of pick-up game regulars and an Olympic team come to mind. Both are groups, there are boundaries for both – but very different ones. Otherness has many faces. It can be someone not of the family, or not of the larger tribe, someone poor or handicapped, someone who does not share our affinity or someone who is just otherwise not like “us.”

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