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January 17, 2017 / 19 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘presidents’

Presidents Conference-Azerbaijan Hanukkah Party — What Really Happened

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

On December 14, 2016, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (the Presidents Conference) in concert with the Embassy of Azerbaijan held a historic Chanukah party in Washington, D.C. that will be talked about for some time. Controversy continues to swirl over not only who attended the party, but who did not; how many were clicking glasses inside and how many were scowling outside. Ironically, this special event was singularly memorable not only for its historic collection of diplomatic personalities but also for the landmark under-reporting and misreporting of the event.

The Presidents Conference is comprised of the presidents of 50-plus so-called “major” Jewish organizations, although some are so small few have heard of them. Malcolm Hoenlein serves as executive vice chair of the conference.

The Conference Hanukkah party was timed to intersect with the official White House Chanukah party being held a few blocks away the same evening. Included among the approximate 150-200 attendees were at least 13 ambassadors and other senior diplomatic envoys, many from predominantly Muslim countries, along with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. The senior diplomats hailed Turkey, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan, as well as Belarus, Romania, Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and even the PLO Mission, along with the Azerbaijan Embassy sponsors and Israel’s Ambassador.

Around Washington, D.C., it is not hard to attract senior personalities and officials to a party. Top congressmen and senators are always special guests and speakers at luncheons, conferences, and receptions. Typically, they dash in and dash out, within moments of their appearance, lingering just long enough to read a short political statement and then exit.

Not so at the Conference’s Hanukkah Party, where all attendees happily mingled for two hours, accepted tasty hors d’oeuvre passes from polished waiters, exchanged business cards, and cracked jokes. Senior diplomats jostled each other to take pictures and selfies, jamming together for a panoramic group shot. In other words, this Hanukkah Party was actually a “party.”

The highlight of the event was bestowing formal thanks to all the countries who had contributed fire fighting forces to Israel during the wild blazes that scorched the homes of hundreds and forced thousands to be evacuated throughout the country. Each ambassador or senior envoy received a mounted menorah as a token of esteem, described as “a reminder of Israel’s national pride.” Ambassador Dermer and Hoenlein used the occasion of the international fire fighter assistance to proclaim that Israel was not as isolated as many pretend, and to prove how well Israel could partner with countries of mainly Muslim majorities.

The invitation list and the Azeri sponsorship was spurred by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s concurrent state visits to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, both Muslim-majority nations.

When it was time for recognition, Hoenlein presided over the festivities as though he were addressing a circle of friends, not adversarial diplomats, giving each representative a commemorative menorah. Turkey’s ambassador was as much at ease as anyone even though normal relations have just recently been restored with the Erdogan government. Even the PLO representative was in a smiling mood as he posed for pictures holding his menorah, handed out business cards, and even shook the hand of Ambassador Dermer, this at a time when relations between the PA and Israel are at a recent all-time low.

What normally would have been recorded as a diplomatic breakthrough by Hoenlein and the Israeli Ambassador, unfortunately, became mired in protest and boycott by Jewish groups as well as massive misreporting and under-reporting of the event.

The major problem inhaling all the room’s oxygen was not that Israel was finding common ground with predominantly Muslim nations as well as other regional players, but that the common ground in question was located in a function room of the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Hence, everything about the event from the wording on the invitation, “celebrating religious freedom and diversity,” to the guest list, to the attendees, to the refuseniks, all became mired in the miasma of the Donald Trump electoral controversy.

Suddenly, it was not important that the PLO, Turkey, and numerous other countries were officially and amicably participating in a Jewish-Israeli celebration of historic national strength. All that was dwarfed to a far back burner by the fact that the Conference of Presidents was visibly appearing at a hotel emblazoned with the moniker Trump.

Quickly, Union for Reform Judaism president Rick Jacobs criticized the location asking, “This decision is tone deaf at best, naked sycophancy at worst,” adding, “Especially while the president-elect himself is still working through the implications of holding the nation’s highest office while presiding over a company with widespread holdings, it would have been far preferable to choose one of the other approximately 3,000 other possible locations in downtown Washington.”

According to sources at both the Azerbaijani embassy and the Conference of Presidents, the selection was made by Azerbaijani Embassy because it was just a few minutes from the White House, and many on the guest list would be shuttling between both celebrations. Moreover, the Trump Hotel was the only nearby facility capable of complying on short notice with the kosher kitchen requirements for some 200 guests.

Nonetheless, several other Jewish organizations–members of the Conference—announced that they would be also boycotting. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical association of the reform movement, complained, “Holding this event at Mr. Trump’s hotel is at odds with that idea and with many policies and values of Jewish life and community.” Jewish Women International issued a press release headline, “JWI Will Not Attend Conference of Presidents’ Hanukkah Party at Trump Hotel, and they were joined by the National Council of Jewish Women, Americans for Peace Now, HIAS, Ameinu, and the small historical Jewish labor group known as the Workmen’s Circle.

Skipping over the importance of assembling Muslim and regional diplomats to celebrate historic Israeli nationalism and religious pluralism, news of the party was soon dominated with the boycott and ensuing protest. This was especially so in the Jewish media, that is, the printed newspapers and web new outlets serving the Jewish community. Moreover, the precision and balance of the reporting became an issue.

One Jewish media outlet claimed the media had been excluded from attendance. In fact, four members of the media were invited including this writer. All four were affiliated with national outlets. None of the four were prohibited from writing about the event or received any guidance.

Several Jewish newspapers carried a well-bannered story asserting that Malcolm Hoenlein would be “standing in a largely empty, ornate Trump International Hotel ballroom late Wednesday afternoon during the Conference of Presidents’ now-infamous Hanukkah party.” The story added “Nobody’s going. The reasons are obvious,” said one Washington Jewish insider. “It is highly embarrassing for Malcolm Hoenlein.” The affiliation of the “Jewish insider” was not indicated.” On its face, this report strained credulity.

Any large international hotel ballroom is generally configured to seat 500 to 1,500 people. It was known that only 150 to 200 people were invited. Hence, a small function room or party room was needed. In this case, it was the Lincoln Library Room in the Trump hotel. More importantly, the event was sold out and over capacity even before the story ran.

This writer received the last available invitation at 11 a.m. December 13, the day before. Several important personalities in the nation’s capital who wished to attend were denied just an hour later for lack of space. Every confirmed guest received a numbered email for identification purposes with a special caveat that if any reservation would not be used, the RSVP was to be relinquished due to a long waiting list. More than one letter and phone call of complaint was filed by eager diplomatic dignitaries as well as Jewish movers and shakers who could not gain access simply because the event was packed. No one was uninvited to make room for high-ranking last-minute reservations. The false story was never corrected, retracted, or updated by those that ran it. However, one Jewish publication substituted a story by a different reporter with the identical headline so links to the original URL went to a completed different replacement story that also contained erroneous and uncorrected information.

Among the major organizations reported as boycotting was the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America. One Israeli newspaper article was even headlined, “ADL, Major Jewish Groups Snub Invite to Trump Hotel Hanukkah Party in DC.” That article stated, “What has not been known, until now, is that several of the Conference’s centrist member groups – core constituents, including the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah and Jewish Federations of North America – are also refusing to attend the party.” However, all four named organizations deny it.

When contacted, an ADL spokesperson repeatedly denied the organization boycotted, and forwarded a freshly-typed letter to the Editor of The New York Times refuting that newspaper’s December 16 article entitled, “Celebration at Trump Hotel Illustrates Rift Among Jews.” The ADL letter signed by CEO Jonathan Greenblatt stated, “It is inaccurate to suggest that all of us ‘refused to attend’ as part of some coordinated attempt to snub the organizers or boycott the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. ADL’s reason for missing the party was simple: I was traveling on the West Coast, and our national chair and other senior leaders were similarly unavailable. There was no organized ‘snub’ or boycott, as some media have reported. Indeed, we have a longstanding policy against waging boycotts, in light of the boycotts that have been used to unfairly single out the Jewish people and the State of Israel throughout history. On any other day, we would have been delighted to celebrate the Jewish holidays with our colleagues at the President’s Conference and with Israel’s friends from the Embassy of Azerbaijan. Sincerely, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO, Anti-Defamation League.”

The American Jewish Committee also denied it boycotted as reported. In a public statement the day after, headlined, “AJC Attended Hanukkah Celebration Hosted by Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington,” the organization asserted, “AJC CEO David Harris issued the following statement: A media report suggesting that AJC was ‘one of four major Jewish groups’ refusing to attend an event held in Washington by the Embassy of Azerbaijan — because of the venue at a Trump-owned hotel — is untrue. AJC did, in fact, attend. While I could not be in Washington yesterday to participate personally, of course we would want AJC to be represented due to our respect for the host — the Embassy of Azerbaijan.” The Harris statement continued, “As I know from many visits, Azerbaijan is a country that has extended a welcome mat to the Jewish people since time immemorial and, as illustrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to Baku, has been a close friend and partner of Israel. Azerbaijan has also played a key role at important moments in advancing U.S. interests in the region. Yesterday’s reception to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, a powerful symbol of the age-old quest for religious freedom, was a most thoughtful and welcome gesture on the part of our Azerbaijani friends.”

Hadassah also refuted the false report. Within minutes of asking, Hadassah national president Ellen Hershkin issued a statement declaring, “Many news articles both here and in Israel erroneously stated that Hadassah either ‘refused’ to attend or was ‘boycotting’ the December 14th Hanukkah party at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by the Conference of Presidents and the Azerbaijan Embassy.” Hershkin added in bold letters, “This couldn’t be further from the truth,” adding, “This was not a political decision, a political statement, nor a decision based on the venue. Hadassah national president Ellen Hershkin and CEO and executive director Janice Weinman did not attend this Hanukkah party due to their required attendance at a long-standing Executive Committee meeting that could not have been rescheduled. These meetings are set and confirmed well in advance with Hadassah volunteers traveling from across the United States to NYC … Hadassah supports the duly democratically elected Government of the United States, as well as the duly democratically elected Government of the State of Israel. It also recognizes the role that Azerbaijan has played historically as a haven for Jews and currently, in support of Israel.”

The fourth cited organization, Jewish Federations of North America, likewise denied the report. A senior executive of JFNA confirmed there had been a scheduling conflict.

Some media sources have parenthetically acknowledged the denials, but then ask why organizational stand-ins were not designated to represent them. The Conference of Presidents explains that, as is standard in all such events, the invitations are non-transferrable. All attendees had to bring the printed invitation plus the printed email bearing their name with a special registration number. Hence, an assistant director rather than the director could not show up bearing the invitation because the name would not match the printed invitation for security purposes.

An ADL spokesperson says, “We didn’t boycott. We called and gave our regrets. The invitations are non-transferrable.” Hadassah’s Hershkin echoes that with a statement, “Traditionally the invitations from the COP are extended to the President and CEO only.”

Another Jewish newspaper, as late as December 21, ran an article referring to 11 boycotting organizations and named them with bullet points: The ADL, the AJC, JFNA, and Hadassah were in the list. Moreover, as this article is being typed, irrepressible email lists call for counter-boycotts against the accused organizations. One email proclaims, “as a 50-year life member of Hadassah, I am ashamed! I have sent a letter and discontinued all correspondence from Hadassah.”

Denials notwithstanding, some Jewish agencies contacted seemed to want it both ways. They wanted to deny they boycotted, but not too vociferously, leaving room for some to think they had. This only underscores the dilemma many Jewish organizations face as they dart between the marching elephant legs of fierce support and fiery opposition to the forthcoming Trump administration.

Beyond who attended and boycotted, confusion arose over the number of protestors outside the Trump hotel event. One major Jewish media outlet claimed in its lead sentence that “hundreds of protestors” assembled outside the Trump Hotel. Hundreds? That could be 300 to 900. Immediately, this number was scrutinized.

This writer arrived 15 minutes after the start of the event and observed only about a dozen protestors at the corner and most of them appeared to be pro-Trump supporters carrying pro-Trump signs. About an hour later, this writer saw about 30 to 50 people gathered on the corner. Noah Pollak, from the Emergency Committee to Save Israel, indicated mid-event that he also saw 30 to 50 assembled persons and tweeted as much, pushing back on the estimate of “hundreds” and calling the report “fake news.”

The Washington Post reported that more than 150 assembled in protest. The local TV station, WJLA, reported “more than 100.” Two or three other sources reported about 200. A grainy, dark and often-imperceptible video by the chief protest group, known as “If Not Now,” tends to show several dozen. It depends on what moment in the evening that one counted as the assemblage grew and shrank. Opinions will differ on the photographic record. Certainly scores were photographed at the height of the demonstration—but it is hard to discern how many were protestors, how many security, how many pro-Trump activists, and how many passive gawkers. By the time the party disbanded around 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the gaggle at the corner had thinned to just a few people.

Meanwhile, the important numbers inside the function room were not recorded in the first wave of reportage. The first Jewish media outlet to write about the diplomatic attendees and the significance of the event was The Algemeiner in an article entitled “Muslim Ambassadors Receive Menorahs as Gifts at Leading Jewish Group’s Hanukkah Party at Trump Hotel in DC.” Later an article was syndicated contrasting the Trump Hotel event and the White House event with some tongue-in-cheek observations and correcting the misinformation about the boycotting organizations. But a seventeen-paragraph article the next day in a leading Jewish newspaper, which focused primarily on the protestors, did not even mention the attendance of numerous ambassadors from predominantly Muslim countries as well as the PLO representative.

For its part, a member of the Conference of Presidents decried some of the coverage as “fake news.” The member derided one of the leading boycotting organization executives as “an arsonist,” bent on disrupting an important diplomatic event just because a room was rented at a Trump property. What’s more, the member derided another protesting organization as a small, obscure “half member that no one has heard of for twenty years.” When this writer asked one boycotting executive if she would also boycott events at locations named for Woodrow Wilson who promoted the KKK, the Carnegie Institution because of its involvement with genocidal eugenics, or the Rockefeller Foundation because of its sponsorship of the program that sent Mengele into Auschwitz, she declined to answer, and after another question, she hung up.

Leading members of the media are grappling with the concept of fake news and vehemently push back on confusing, deliberately faked news with erroneous reporting. But there is a middle ground between fake news and erroneous reporting. It is slanted news, that is, agenda-driven journalism that cherry-picks information, exaggerates negatives and positives, eschews balance, jumps at the chance to disparage, and leaves in place a false record that is uncorrected, un-retracted, and not updated. Reporting on the Conference’s Hanukkah party may qualify as all three.

Edwin Black

Peres Family Members Summoned to President’s Bedside for Final Goodbye

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Members of the Peres family were summoned to the bedside of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, on Tuesday to say their last goodbyes, according to Channel 10 TV news. The former president’s medical condition drastically deteriorated as Peres appeared to be heading for general organ failure. His breathing, kidney function and other vital signs were sluggish, indicating “a source for worry,” doctors said, according to Hebrew-language media. He was listed Tuesday evening in critical condition. Two weeks ago the 93-year-old statesman suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit at Chaim Sheba Medical Center. Initially he was listed in serious but stable condition and slowly began to improve, initially responding to simple directives, recognizing at least one relative and squeezing the hands of one of them. Last week doctors began to slowly reduce the former president’s sedation. They also attempted to reduce his body’s dependence on the respirator. But his personal physician and son-in-law — also the deputy director of the medical center — Prof. Rafi Walden, said “his condition is extremely serious.” But the situation took a severe turn for the worse on Tuesday, his neurological condition rapidly deteriorating. Sources at the hospital said Peres had suffered irreversible brain damage. All close members of the family were at the bedside of the former president Tuesday.

President Reuven Rivlin is on a state visit to Ukraine and shared the news about Peres with the country’s lawmakers during an address to the parliament in Kiev, referring to his predecessor as “my friend, Shimon Peres.

“My thoughts are with Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres, who is fighting for his life at these very moments… The president was a guest of honor in this house and a friend of the Ukrainian people,” Rivlin said, “and saw the great importance of strengthening the ties between the states.”

“In the name of the Israeli people, and people around the world, we pray for his recovery.”

Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef visited the bedside of the former president also on Tuesday, and told media he read a passage from Tehillim during the visit. “He was a friend of my father’s, and the two of us had a great relationship,” the Chief Rabbi said.

“An hour before my father died, he came and held his hand. We had a great relationship between us and he respected every living thing, respected the rabbis, loved Torah and is very virtuous.”

Shas Minister Arye Deri and Rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch visited the hospital room of the former president. Both said prayers for his recovery.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Analysis: Trump’s Praise for Saddam Challenges GOP Presidents Who Took him Down [video]

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

“He was a bad guy, really bad guy. But you know what? He did well. He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over,” Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina Tuesday. In comparison, Trump said, “today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to be a terrorist, you go to Iraq. It’s like Harvard. Okay? So sad.”

That assertion may be challenged by Israelis, as Clinton’s senior campaign adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN, “In reality, Hussein’s regime was a sponsor of terrorism — one that paid families of suicide bombers who attacked Israelis, among other crimes.”

Then Sullivan added that “Trump’s cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as commander-in-chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks.”

Not necessarily so. In retrospect, after the violent collapse of the “Arab Spring” everywhere but in Tunisia, Trump’s assessment of what the Arab world requires to keep it stable is not necessarily democracy. Back in October, 2015, Trump said he believed Iraq and Libya would be more useful in forging a stable Middle East if ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi had not been terminated by a succession of American presidents.

“If you look at Iraq from years ago,” Trump said in October, “I’m not saying [Hussein] was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now. Right now, Iraq is a training ground for terrorists. Right now Libya, nobody even knows Libya, frankly there is no Iraq and there is no Libya. It’s all broken up. They have no control. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rushed to the defense of both Bushes and Obama, telling Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that Saddam Hussein “was one of the 20th century’s most evil people. He was up there. He committed mass genocide against his own people using chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.”

Yes, but, in the immortal words of FDR, when someone asked him about the wisdom of supporting Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, “He may be an SOB but he’s our SOB.” Back in 1979, when Iran’s Shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution, giving way to an Islamic republic led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which drove the US out of Iran (and kept hundreds of American hostages), only Saddam Hussein was able to limit the spread of Iranian influence in the region. The Iran–Iraq War lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, exacting millions of victims in the service of Western interests in the region. No Arab democracy (an oxymoron if ever there was one) could have stopped Iran. The only force able to facilitate Iran’s yearning for regional hegemony were presidents Bush I and Bush II, followed by Obama.

On July 25, 1990, US ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie held an emergency meeting with Saddam, who attacked American policy with regards to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Saddam complained bitterly: “So what can it mean when America says it will now protect its friends? It can only mean prejudice against Iraq. This stance plus maneuvers and statements which have been made has encouraged the UAE and Kuwait to disregard Iraqi rights.”

Saddam was referring to his neighboring oil sheiks “drilling sideways” into Iraqi deposits. Saddam viewed the entire concept of there even being a country named Kuwait to have been a conspiracy of British Petroleum and Her Majesty’s government to steal oil-rich Iraqi land. Saddam felt that in light of his service to the US, he should receive its support in his conflict with the Kuwaitis.

Ambassador Glaspie replied that the US would rather see the conflict resolved through peaceful means, but in the end, “…we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”

And so, after his ultimatum to the Sabah ruling family of Kuwait had failed, Saddam invaded Kuwait, believing the US was going to take a neutral position on his move. But his move frightened the Saudis, whose Ambassador under both Bush administrations had his own desk in the Oval office, and they pressured Bush I to start what is now a 26-year program of completely destabilizing the Middle East, complete with attacks on US soil, lingering civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, two worldwide Islamic terrorist armies, one of them a Caliphate wannabe blowing up half of Europe. All of which could have been avoided had the Bush I and certainly Bush II administrations been more accommodating to the monstrous dictator who used to be our monstrous dictator.

The Democratic and Republican establishments insist on presenting Trump as an admirer of dictators, which he may be — but that was not the case Trump has been making for boosting rather than unseating dictators, such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Trump has a much clearer view regarding US foreign interest than do the establishment politicians on either side of the aisle, and it ain’t about spreading the spirit od democracy and goodwill to all mankind.


European Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to ‘Fight Anti-Semitism’

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

European leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to fight anti-Semitism, according to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association (EJA), who received greetings from the heads of most countries in the EU.

Margolin was the recipient of holiday greetings from Europe’s leadership ahead of the upcoming Jewish high holy days, particularly Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which begins next Sunday night.

The continent’s leaders are seeking to “reinforce with Europe’s historic Jewish communities and reaffirm their commitment to fighting the wave of anti-Semitic acts that have blighted cities across the European Union,” Margolin said.

Messages of support and solidarity were led by France’s Francois Hollande, who departed from the secular protocol of the French Republic to send his new year wishes to European Jewry. The French president offered a firm commitment to fight “against all words and acts of an anti-Semitic nature, and to allow everyone to live together, without exception, with the same values of freedom, tolerance and community”.

French Premier Manuels Valls added his “readiness to fight against anti-Semitism, and all forms of racism and intolerance, and to tirelessly support European initiatives designed to defend the values which shape our democracies”.

Austrian President Heinz K. Fischer spoke out in support of “the common interest of Jews in Europe.” Fischer said he sought to renew Austria’s ties with the Jewish State by way of its commitment to “the safeguarding of Israel.”

He added that Austria remains committed to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in Europe and the world, and to the “safeguarding of minorities including the Jewish community in Austria, which has always strongly influenced our country’s culture,” he added.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel also reaffirmed his “excellent relationship with the Jewish community in Belgium.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recalled his country’s endorsement of a joint statement on anti-Semitism at an informal meeting of the United Nations General Assembly last January.

“I share your concern about rising anti-Semitism in Europe,” he said in his message to European Jewry. “This scourge affects Jewish communities first, but in essence it is a threat to society as a whole,” he added.

EJA General Director, Rabbi Margolin thanked the European leaders for their wishes and commitments.

“Rabbis and community leaders across Europe report that in light of the growing anti-Semitism and nationalist atmosphere there has been a significant decline in the number of Jews who take part in community activities,” he said.

“However, Jewish communities are working hard to help Jews attend Rosh Hashanah services. Major security measures are being taken and we can report that there is a relative increase in the number of Jews who have expressed their intention to attend synagogues over Rosh Hashanah with their families, compared to last year. “

In Manchester, England alone, anti-Semitic incidents rose by nearly 80 percent in 12 months, according to a report issued by the Community Security Trust earlier this year.

A 17-year-old boy was beaten unconscious in an attack by three men who attacked him and three other Jews this past Saturday night. The boy remains hospitalized with a suspected brain bleed. The three other victims, ages 17, 18 and 20, were also verbally and physically assaulted but did not require admission to hospital.

Hana Levi Julian

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/failing-in-order-to-succeed/2013/08/19/

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