After more than a decade of war overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, with limited results at best, Americans are deeply wary of additional military encounters. The Middle East is a mess. Hamas has attacked Israel, Syria has imploded, Egypt’s attempt at democracy is a failure, ISIS seeks to conquer wide swaths of the region, killing anyone and everyone in their way, and the list goes on.
Leonard (Leibel) Fein, who died Aug. 14 at the age of 80, was a passionate and articulate voice for social justice in American Jewish life for decades. In his prolific writing, his lectures and his organizational creativity, he preached an ancient and contemporary message: “To be a Jew,” he wrote, “is to know that you are bound somehow, to help repair this world.” (See Appreciation on page 12.)
‘I am always sorry to see a typed letter from you.” The sentiment that opens a 1957 letter from historian Hugh Trevor-Roper to his friend, the art critic Bernard Berenson, is a relic of a bygone age. Trevor-Roper explains that typing means Berenson is unwell, and he looks forward to seeing his hand on the page again. By that criterion, our entire generation is unwell.
The isolation some Israelis are feeling is a kind of grief -- an intimate and personal pain.
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‘You must be so relieved that everyone is safe,” greeted a colleague as I returned to JFK with 26 American students after their summer fellowship in Israel. As co-director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, a Jewish leadership program for young Israelis and Americans, this summer has been anything but a relief for me. I spent the first three weeks of the conflict in my home in New York, my stomach in knots about every aspect of our group’s itinerary, reassuring parents of our efforts to keep their American children safe. And then I arrived in Israel where I encountered the emotional disruption of this war as experienced by young Israelis. Spending time in Israel brought into focus the vast difference between how Israeli and American Jews are dealing with this conflict.
At least we are finally beginning to understand what we are up against.
As the war in Gaza has taken its toll and the U.S. conducts a sustained bombing campaign against ISIS in northern Iraq to save the Kurds, the battle lines in the Middle East are clearly drawn. On one side are Islamist fundamentalist, jihadist and terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al Qaeda; and, on the other, a de-facto alliance of “moderate” Middle East nations, including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Though Robin Williams and I were friendly for nearly three decades, we were never really friends. (Nor did we ever have a professional relationship.) Though he recognized me whenever we met, and we invariably kibitzed as if we had never parted, I doubt if he remembered my name, though he always pretended that he did.
The campers and staff of Camp Ramah in Nyack danced with the crazed enthusiasm of people who had just won a $100 million jackpot. It was just past 9 a.m., the last Friday of camp in Rockland County, New York, and the Hebrew song playing was fittingly called "Lo Normali." I could not help but think that this amount of energy was freakish.
With election season just around the corner we are likely to hear the same debate that usually intensifies during this part of the year, between those that promote the role of business (usually Republicans) and those that champion the functions of government (usually Democrats.) Most of us are already familiar with the argument and points of view from each political camp. The pro-business side will tell us, as they usually do, that only business’s are able to create value, wealth, and serve society in the most efficient manner. The pro-government side will dispense their own vision of the world in which it is government agencies that provide necessary services to those in need and the role of government (and taxes) needs to be increased so that everyone is cared for. What many people overlook in the business versus government debate is the role that not-for-profits play in our life.