During a visit to South Africa last summer, I stopped at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, hoping to better understand how so despicable a system could dominate that country for nearly half a century, from 1948-1991, and why any comparisons to Israel are ridiculous. I came away humbled, wondering whether there might just be a little residue of apartheid in us all.
There were times, when I was one of three students that would stay awake late enough to hear Rabbi Shlomo Riskin when he would stop by our beit midrash at Yeshivat Hamivtar to give a late night class. What I was so profoundly moved by was the fact that Rav Riskin would speak to the three of us as if there were 200 people present. He offered his normal passionate and engaging class since we were the right people in the room.
I found myself consumed in the liturgy by the phrase “HaYom harat olam” (today the world is created) and with questions about the purpose of creation and of my personal existence. As we reflect on the direction of our lives between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we might ask ourselves why humans, generally as well as individually, were created.
News of the death of Apple’s founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, spread across the Internet just as quickly as reviews of the brand new iPhone 4S. The man, who President Barack Obama called “among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it,” was loved by the world. I found myself saddened upon learning of his passing. It’s not just because of my addiction to my MacBook, iPhone and iPad – some of the revolutionary technology he designed in recent years.
I was fortunate to be invited as one of 50 participants in a two-day retreat last month called “The Conversation.” Sponsored by The Jewish Week, the program is an annual opportunity for a diverse group of Jews from across the country to come together to dialogue about Jewish issues in a comfortable and casual environment. There is no agenda other than to stimulate communication and create bonds between segments of the Jewish community that are not always in contact or in concert.
The quintessential Jewish joke takes place on the eve of Yom Kippur. The elderly rabbi arrives first at the small synagogue early in the morning, long before services, walks to dark corner of the sanctuary and begins to plead quietly with his Maker.
“Oh Lord, have pity on me, I am like the dust of the earth, a speck in the universe…”
The college campus, in its ideal, is revered as a place where the free exchange of ideas is not only exalted but protected. In recent decades that ideal has been sorely tested, perhaps no more so than in the realm of discussions about Israel, both inside and outside the classroom.
Discussions? If only it were that. Disruptions are increasingly likely when pro-Palestinian activists seek to silence speakers who are supportive of Israel.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was quite right to observe this week that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Mideast. What’s unnerving, though, is to suggest, as he did, that Jerusalem is at fault for this situation.
“Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength,” Panetta said en route to the region for the umpteenth U.S. effort to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.