It’s inevitable as sunset, or nausea on Yom Kippur afternoon. After every show, someone — usually a man in his 70s — will approach me at my table near the exit. While other people buy books, the man will stand at the back of the line, waving people ahead of him, until it’s just him. And me.
Three powerful, personal experiences that shaped his career in Jewish communal service.
Special To The Jewish Week
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Editor’s Note: Following is the full transcript of UJA-Federation CEO and executive vice president John Ruskay’s remarks on receiving an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew Union College on Dec. 5. He delivered the annual Fritz Bamberger lecture.
Every year, around Chanukah, Jews in synagogues worldwide read the heart-wrenching story of Joseph and his brothers. While not immediately apparent, the festival and the Torah readings that accompany it have much in common. Chanukah, although we may neglect to mention it to our children, is a holiday that commemorates a Jewish civil war. The stories of this season challenge us: How do we deal with conflict among ourselves? Where do we draw the boundaries around our communities, and how do we defend them?
The irrelevance of Modern Orthodoxy to the American Jewish experience is one of the most intriguing revelations of the Pew report on the community’s condition — yet also one of its most overlooked. While commentators galore are busy reproaching the Conservative movement for being inauthentic, accusing Reform Judaism of being hollow, and wringing their hands over the 32 percent of Millennials categorized as “Jews of no religion,” nobody seems to be paying attention to the stark fact that only 10 percent of those identifying as Jews describe themselves as Orthodox — and just 3 percent as the Modern variety.
I believe in being an agent of change. I think our responsibility — in the brief time we have on Earth — is to figure out how to make the world a better place. I’ve raised my three kids with that as their mantra. But sometimes, keeping that mission at the front of my mind can get awfully frustrating, and there are days I feel as if I’ve just set them — and myself — up for failure. Sometimes it feels as though real change will never happen and that rather than trying to make significant changes in the world, I should just cordon myself off, back into a private bunker and live my life the way I want. But doing that doesn’t feel right either.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt of the talk delivered Dec. 1 at the Touro Synagogue in Providence, R.I., marking the 250th year of its founding.
I am honored to be here to offer words on the 250th anniversary of the Touro Synagogue. As we celebrate this historic occasion, I want to take a moment to imagine what those first 15 Spanish and Portuguese Jewish families who came to Newport in 1658 would think if they could see us here today. For more than a century a small community of Newport Jews worshipped in rooms, in private homes before they could even afford to build a synagogue – this synagogue – which they dedicated on Dec. 2, 1763. The promise of that moment has been realized beyond anything those people standing right here 250 years ago could have possibly imagined. How blessed we are to be living in this moment.
I was listening to the radio the day Ed Koch passed away in February, when I heard a recording of the former New York City Mayor answering a reporter’s question about how he would like his epitaph to read.
One easily can get lost in the debate swirling around the interim — and I emphasize the word “interim” — agreement, signed last weekend in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 nations. If you are looking for a definitive answer about whether it is a good agreement, as administration officials assert, or a very bad one, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes, you have come to the wrong place. I am far more focused on the comprehensive agreement to come, hopefully, in six months.