To bear witness means to see through personal presence, to see and not to be able to stop oneself from seeing. Standing in the Mauthausen concentration camp in central Austria, I could only visualize faces of those I never knew. I could see the photos of my great-grandparents and great-aunt who were murdered to the east in Auschwitz. What was wrong with me? I did not want to recall the humanity of loved ones in a place that spoke to their very dehumanization perpetrated by the Nazi regime. But I could not stop, and my tears ricocheted to the children’s trampoline standing innocuously to the side of the road. At that moment, my eyes detached from the rest of my body and I could not fathom the vestiges of a living hell.
The following is a reflection from a recent AJC and Germany Close Up trip to Berlin. To take part in our next Germany experience this August, click here to apply!
As we passed one of the numerous stores that sold “I Love Berlin” t-shirts, I turned to a few other participants in the group and joked, “They should sell shirts that say ‘I visited Berlin and I’m still sorting out my feelings.’” I received a few empathetic laughs, or maybe my new friends were just trying to humor me.
Several months have elapsed since I returned from the week-long trip to Berlin, and I continue to sort out my feelings. The trip was organized by the AJC and a program called Germany Close Up. As a group of young Jewish professionals, we spent the week exploring the city and its history trying to find out how the country has dealt with its past while also learning about Jewish life in modern-day Germany and Germany’s current relationship with Israel.
(This article was originally posted in the Jewish Week and can be found here: http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial_opinion/opinion/we_need_more_dirty_laundry_conversations_about_israel)
When I invite guests for dinner, I clean up my apartment, and put the dirty laundry in the closet. But it’s usually in full sight when I’m home with family.
Jews have traditionally acted similarly regarding Israel. In public discourse, support for Israel is forceful on issues related to war and peace. Within the family, though, there often is lively discussion of fears and hopes, with recognition that choices are very difficult and outcomes uncertain.
Conversations reveal the deep loyalty that many Jews have toward Israel and the palpable sense of their stake and role in Israel’s future.
There was a lot of talk of miracles at the Chanukah party hosted by the new Austrian Consul General in New York, Peter Brezovszky, on the second night, December 21.
The theme, of course, lends itself as we celebrate the unlikely defeat of the Romans at the hands of the Maccabees, and the oil that lasted eight nights. But on this occasion, a few other layers of history were pealed back and in the process, some tender wounds exposed along with hopes that healing may be at hand.
David Harris, AJC’s Executive Director, came to the party, which was filled to capacity with over 150 ACCESS and Austrian guests. He recalled his late father, whose work in physics as a young man in Vienna was put to an abrupt end with the Anschluss. In the 1960s, David returned to the city to help Jews in transit who were escaping the Soviet Union for safer harbors. He recalled lighting the Chanukah menorah with families who had just arrived on free soil – their first open Jewish act after hiding their faith for so many years.
(This article was originally published on Ynet on 12.11.11 and can be found here. The article below is a translation of the original article.)
Anyone who knows me knows that Jewish and Israeli pride is an important part of my life. I've always been involved in the Jewish community in Israel and abroad, and I believe that each of us must take part in activities to promote the Jewish community in general and Israel in particular.
One of the first organizations I became familiar with in New York is the AJC ACCESS program. This group, which is catered to young professionals, brings together its members to liaise with opinion-makers from different political, religious and ethnic backgrounds all for the sake of promoting Jewish global interests and universal rights.
This article was originally published in New Voices on 3/11/11 and can be found on the New Voices Blog.
Like most New Voices editors before me, I’ve felt a compulsion to criticize the Jewish Establishment. And while I may not be as contrary as my predecessor, I–along with the rest of our writers–have had no problem admonishing Hillel, AIPAC, (of course) the ADL or any other large Jewish organization.
So when the American Jewish Committee invited me to an event last year about dissidents in Iran as part of their ACCESS program for young professionals, I was wary. After all, you can’t get more “Establishment” than the AJC. They have all of the criteria down:
Most of the people I meet are reasonable by nature. Most of them are genuinely searching for the right answers to the problems that are manifest all around, from Israel to determinations on budget cuts.
And most of them understand that we operate in a complex world, and that wearing ideological glasses colors our judgment without contributing to its wisdom.
But as I look around at our country and at our own Jewish community, which is not wanting for communal resources or intellect, I am at a loss to understand the incredible degree of polarization that is so evident.
Yes, people should be passionate in their convictions – I too hold deeply felt beliefs about some of the issues that make headlines – but why only preach to the choir? Why get worked up in a frenzy without engaging the other side?
To me, this doesn’t only seem useless, it seems counterproductive. If anything, when we enclose ourselves in like-minded circles, we build a fortress around our ideas, and we start assuming the worst about people who hold different ones. And of course that builds not only a sense of false confidence, but also the barriers against anyone who thinks differently.
And to top that off, “joining the group” means accepting positions on the full range of issues. Even if we ourselves feel strongly about specific policy matters, there is no reason to swallow an ideology with all its pre-made answers whole.
In part, the problem lies in a lack of “spaces” – both virtual and real. Where exactly are the fora where we can confront our views with others? Where is there dialogue taking place? Is it still possible to learn, or have that building block of enlightenment, indeed that fundamental assumption democratic society – that it is beneficial for opposing ideas to confront each other so that the best ideas emerge – seem hopelessly naive?
There are very few places left where left and right can meet, and where people who care can listen to thoughtfully articulated viewpoints and decide for themselves.
AJC is one of them.
Yes, AJC has positions, but the process of deciding is quite unique here.
The board room is a real place of exchange and debate – we hear some of the most articulate presentations of positions head to head with the opposing views: our terrorism expert and our interreligious voice, our international relations experts and our local advocates – and of course many people who understand something of all sides and who try to figure out, on a case by case basis, what is right and best.
Often, those debates happen behind closed doors. I’m thinking we need to get the word out better, and have people share in the debate and decision making, not only in the advocacy that comes later.
Next Thursday, March 17, we’ll be holding one of those discussions. Two top academics will be going head to head on the issue of Israel today, hope vs. fear, realism vs. idealism.
And at our ACCESS conference April 29-May 1 will do the same.
The Israel track, being organized with the Reut Institute, will offer a chance for people across the spectrum to join together in the fight against the most extreme and violent anti-Israel voices. Not everyone needs to take the same tact, but everyone needs to recognize, as Reut says, that there is room for every player in the orchestra, and indeed, a real part to play. Working on human rights in Israel and focusing on BDS all have a place inside the tent.
The Civility track will bring youth leaders in from different ethnic and religious groups, primarily in the U.S., but with a smattering of international representation. Here too, there will be a chance to confront different viewpoints – with the goal of recognizing that certain principles, such as keeping disagreements civil and not hitting below the belt, are in the interests of all.
I hope you’ll join us. And I hope you’ll get in the game. We need your voice as we move forward.