Wednesday, March 10, 2010


As I packed for my trip to Israel for the Jewish Agency meetings a couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through the channels and found the epic Exodus just starting on the Retroplex cable channel (don't know what it means, sorry). I was mesmerized, almost missed my flight. (I recall that during a Hollywood pre-release screening, the comedian and social commentator Mort Sahl was purported to have leaped to his feet during the film's third hour and screamed "Otto Preminger, let my People go!!") So many memories -- the night in 1961 when I first saw the movie, the tears when the Israeli flag unfurled, the reality that Jerusalem was still a divided city when the film was made, the beauty of the land, the heroism embodied in the Ben Canaan family, the great score, the heroic refugees on the Exodus, the Irgun bombing of the King David, the singing, dancing (and dancing and singing and singing and dancing) children at Kibbutz Gan Dafna, the Akko Prison jailbreak, the vote to approve the partition of Palestine, the Hatikvah in celebration of independence, the appearance of unrepentant Nazi bastard working with the Fatah, the terrorist assault on Gan Dafna. We weren't to visit Israel for another 13 years, but the memories from that film (and the book that inspired it) stayed with us.

So, here I was, watching Exodus once again, and then off to the JAFI Board of Governors reality of today. Not the best segue, I know. On the cusp of my travels to Tel Aviv through Frankfurt, Lufthansa's pilots announced a strike for the week of the meetings. Frenzied hours are spent rebooking (this followed the frenzied hours spent rebooking that followed the peremptory refusal of the Russian government to allow JAFI to hold its meetings there). Not fun.

But those meetings (and the activities surrounding them) began to focus the Jewish Agency once again on its past and its future. The new Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, has articulated a new path of relevancy to Jewish Unity, Jewish Education and Jewish Peoplehood while holding the Agency to its historic principles. (John Ruskay articulated the Agency's directions and focuses perfectly in his comments in The Fundermentalist's excellent report on the JAFI meetings. See: New directions, new relevance, new and exciting leadership melded with the seasoned leadership whose sense of history and organization have not been lost but encouraged. Exciting times.

In all of our work -- in federation, with our partners, "continentally" and in Israel and overseas -- those who remember that we build on the future not only on new ideas but on a glorious history from which so much can be learned are those who, in the end, will succeed beyond their dreams...and ours.


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