DIRECTOR’S MESSAGE – Spring 2011
As I depart for Israel for the most wonderful reason, my daughter’s wedding, I am struck by the enormous contrast between my life and the life of so many others in this region, the contrast between this trip and the many trips I have taken before to this same tiny, precious, contested piece of real estate.
I am going to the Mideast, one of the most troubled regions on earth. It’s a place I’ve gone many times before, sometimes to give speeches. Over the years, I’ve given many presentations and film screenings at the world’s first Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, and to other places as well, like Pardes and other centers of learning. Sometimes to do educational consulting for UNESCO, as when I was brought to Egypt to share educational practices and strategies with countries of the Gulf Arab State: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Gulf Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, so many of which we see in the news today, struggling for freedom, fighting for a new kind of democracy in a new kind of way.
Sometimes I’ve gone to the region to do interviews about peace, or the yearning for peace, or land, or hope. The settlement I know best is one in the West Bank, called Aida (pronounced like the woman’s name Ida) where I have a friend, who introduces me to others. For them, I am “the Jew” representing all Jews. When I once taught a class of Palestinian children in the West Bank, a ten year old boy raised his hand to ask me, “Why does everybody in the world hate us?” His question was telling. Though not true, his perception is important to note.
Finally and most of the time, over the course of many years and many trips, I’ve gone to Israel to do research, conduct interviews and hear the stories, first of the Ethiopian Jews airlifted out of Sudan in “Operation Moses” and then, and for a quarter of a century, the stories of so many Shoah survivors who, after liberation from Nazi slave labor and death camps, migrated to the new state of Israel with hope and despair, despair at what, and whom, they had been lost; hope to begin again.
Life was hard, especially in those early days, when there was no luxury of time to ruminate, they just had to try and survive, and so they began life again. They had no choice; with their old lives destroyed, they began new lives in far flung places like Australia (where it was made easy for survivors to come), to America, (where it was made less easy to gain entrance), and to places all over the world.
But it was the survivors I met in Israel who had a sense of destiny quite unlike any others I have met, they seemed to understand that they were building not only their lives, but building a sense of history as well, and so they were.
Now I return, not to work, but to celebrate. Almost all the survivors I’ve known, almost all the survivors who have trusted me with their stories and their memories, almost all of these friends are now gone. And yet they live on, in the stories they’ve shared with me, and in their stories I share with others.
As I dance at my daughter’s wedding, and as we drink “L’chaim/To Life”, I’ll offer a special toast to all those who have come before me, to all those still struggling for freedom and democracy, and to the promise of a new future of peace and of hope, as I see it radiate in the shining light of my daughter’s and groom’s eyes.
She says of him, “He inspires me to be more of a human being.” And he says of her, “She inspires me to be more of a human being.”
Let us, in this time of painful struggle throughout the world, and particularly in this region of the world, as Libya and Egypt and country after country struggle to define itself anew, let us, too, as my daughter and her groom are doing, “be inspired to be more of a human being” as well.
My blessings go to them. My blessings go to all of us. Amen.