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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘oxford’

LA’s First Jewish Mayor

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Eric Garcetti has just been elected one of Los Angeles’ youngest mayors ever. Eric was a Rhodes scholar in Oxford from about 1993 to 1995. We were close friends and he was a regular at my Oxford University L’Chaim Society. One unforgettable incident defined his character for me in a moment of terrible tragedy for one of our students.

One day in the late afternoon in 1995, I received a phone call from a student who was one of my wife and my closest friends and the President of our student organization. She was crying bitterly. Her name was Jordana and she was almost incoherent with grief. Jordana, who has given me her permission to use her name, was studying in Oxford far away from her home in Canada. She had just received a phone call that her beloved father, with whom she was very close, had died in a terrible accident. She pleaded with me to come around to help her in this moment of agony and incomprehensible pain. I reached her family and we all decided the best thing would be for her to return home as soon as possible. I told them I would drive her to the airport in London.

There was one problem. That night I had already invited Eric over to our home for a private dinner with me and my wife. Given that this was before most students had cell phones, the only effective way of communicating with the students was through the University’s painfully slow “pigeon post” system. I could not tell Eric in time that the dinner was being canceled.

I drove to Jordana’s college where some of her friends were already helping her pack her things. I attempted to comfort her in the tragic news and then brought everything to the car for the trip to the airport. We drove straight to our home where my wife could speak to her and where she could eat something quickly prior to the long night ahead of her. As we walked into the house, there was Eric, smiling and looking happy to be at our home for dinner. He had no idea of the night’s events. I quickly introduced him to Jordana. Her eyes were red and was pale from grief. I said to Eric, “This is Jordana and I’m so sorry that we have to cancel dinner tonight. You see, she has just learned that her father passed away just hours ago.” Moments like this are what show the true character of an individual. Here was Eric, a young, popular Rhodes scholar at Oxford who had simply come to have dinner at his Rabbi’s home. Now, he was being confronted with a total stranger’s grief and tragedy. How would he react?

And here was an interaction that has lingered in my mind and which I will never forget. Eric looked right at Jordana and, in the softest gentlest words, said to her, “I am so sorry for your pain. I’m heartbroken to hear the news. Please tell me if there is anything I can do.” His face was contorted in agony. He spent the next few minutes speaking with her. It was not what he said but the way he said it. He spoke with extreme empathy and understanding. It is quite remarkable that nearly twenty years later I can remember the scene so vividly. What I saw was genuine human compassion for the plight of a complete stranger. I remember thinking to myself that here was a young man with a soft and special heart, that he had the ability to connect genuinely and compassionately with those who were suffering.

Jordana reciprocated the effort. Amid mind-altering loss, she kept her composure and apologized to Eric for having to cancel his dinner. She thanked him for his sympathy and did everything in her power to interact with him on a human level amid her shattered heart. She told him she looked forward to getting to know him better when she returned and under better circumstances. It was a herculean effort at composure.

Eric refused to leave the home until Jordana and I departed. He waited around, told me how he of course understands the need to postpone our dinner, and kept on emphasizing that he wanted to help in any way that he could. About 20 minutes later we departed to London.

Why Bibi is Not Intimidated by Obama

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I’m sure Jeffrey Goldberg got it right. Whatever the reason the President leaked his unhappiness with Bibi to Goldberg just a few days before the Israeli election – whether in an effort to influence the vote against Bibi, serve payback to Bibi for a perceived preference for Romney, or because the President could simply no longer suppress his dissatisfaction – it must indeed be unnerving to be the most powerful man on Earth and have the elected leader of a tiny Middle Eastern country defy you.

That’s especially when that country, in your opinion, owes you so much! You are their only reliable friend who watches helplessly as that little nation continues to isolate itself through its self-destructive policies. According to Goldberg, Obama has “become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart… Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are… Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.”

If only Israel would recognize the President’s genius. If only it would stop building in Jerusalem and E1 and allow the President to sprinkle his magic peace dust, then Hamas would beat its rockets into ploughshares and Hezbollah would turn its bombs into pruning hooks. But no. Ungrateful to the last, Bibi insists on disobeying the President and claiming all of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capitol.

No doubt the President is likewise mystified at the Israeli people as well. How could the polls show that they will this week re-elect the intransigent Prime Minister who is doing so much to harm their country? The most powerful man on Earth is reduced to watching from the sidelines and complaining to journalists that he knows how to protect Israel far better than the Israelis themselves.

Such an ungrateful nation.

And yet, perhaps the Israelis have finally figured out that they are a sovereign people whom, while immensely grateful to America for its friendship and support, are still best qualified to judge their security needs better than anyone else. Perhaps they have come to understand that another Democratic president named Bill Clinton, whom no one would argue has a sincere love of the Jewish people and a Jewish son-in-law, still pushed Israel into the Oslo agreements that left a thousand Israeli civilians blown to bits. Perhaps they have come to understand that if Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, was correct that, as a legislator from Nebraska he was “not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator,” then the Prime Minister of Israel is the likewise the leader of the Jewish state who must put the security of the Israeli people even before a nod of approval from the President of the United States.

Over the past four years Bibi has grown into one of Israel’s greatest leaders ever. The country is booming economically and in terms of security. Cranes dot the skyline of expanding Israeli cities, terror incidents are negligible compared to the Clinton era, and unlike the anemic American economy, Israel is humming along at about four percent annual growth. And if President Obama is right that, in spite of this prosperity, Israel is isolated in world opinion, then it is arguably no more so than it has been in the past, and, besides, what is better, a popular Israel riddled with dead Jews or an unpopular Israel filled with living ones?

But what President Obama does not understand about Netanyahu is that the inflexibility he accuses him of is born not of a narrow-minded obstinacy but rather of a confident Jewish pride and deep-seated conviction that has been Bibi’s lifelong hallmark.

In my desire in 1990 to launch a robust response to anti-Israel speeches at the Oxford Union, I booked Netanyahu to lecture at the University. Bibi, just 41 years old, had already electrified the world as Israel’s most capable defender at the U.N. Bibi agreed to come with a single stipulation: “If I’m already making the trip, then work me like a horse.”

We obliged.

We picked him up in a special branch police car and as we drove through the grandeur of Oxford’s ancient center, he commented on the majesty of British academia and its incongruence with some of the petty anti-Israel sentiment that is often expressed within its halls. Arriving at St. Antony’s College for a private forum with Oxford Middle East experts, Bibi put one foot on a chair and for the next 90 minutes held forth on the justice of Israel’s cause, surrounded as it was by nation’s sworn to its destruction. As he finished, the attacks came in fast and furious in what had to be one of the most hostile audiences he ever addressed. He did not blink, he did not flinch, he did not bend. When the last question ended, he turned to me to ask what next.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/why-bibi-is-not-intimidated-by-obama/2013/01/22/

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