ANN’S MESSAGE — Autumn 2014
We live in a tumultuous world. Summer, usually a time for relaxing and regenerating, has been, instead, a time of missiles, beheadings, deaths and violence. For me, it has meant almost constant travel (that’s the good part) and deep heartache over the losses, the state of the world, the trends.
Among other trips, I went to Israel to both deliver a lecture at Yad Vashem’s International Educators’ Conference, and also (joyously and gratefully) to meet a beautiful baby girl, just been born in our family, and to spend time with her ‘big’ brother and wonderful parents.
I arrived in Israel, as everyone was praying to ‘BRING BACK OUR BOYS’ (the three yeshiva students who had been kidnapped and then were subsequently murdered).
When I arrived, the country was at peace; by the time I departed a few weeks later, Israel and Hamas were at war, with hundreds of missiles launched each day in both directions. It soon became clear that whatever peace once tentatively existed has become, now, even more elusive.
I visited the homes of the three families sitting shiva. Here is mother of murdered Naftali (in center above), Rachel Fraenkel, an extraordinary woman who, even in the midst of her own deep grief, appealed to those around her, to remember our mutual humanity.
Here is a photo of Gilad with two of his little sisters. He was the oldest child, and only son, in a family of little girls. When I was in their home, I saw his red metallic drums, waiting in a corner for a percussionist who will never return. In the following days, extremist Jews murdered a Palestinian boy, burning him alive, and his Palestinian-American cousin was severely beaten. Then Hamas began shooting missiles (supplied by Iran) into parts of Israel never before in range of bombs. I was in Jerusalem attending Yad Vashem Holocaust conference, during a number of these air strikes. After 170 Hamas missiles attacked Israel, Jerusalem included, Israel started to respond. We all know the rest—and the devastatingly enormous toll taken on so many lives and so many psyches.
As one of my colleagues, Ronan Harel, has put it: “This is a FAIL-FAIL operation. Hamas tries to kill as many Jews as possible, and they are failing. Israel tries to kill as few Palestinians as possible, and they are failing.”
This situation is a tragedy of enormous proportion—for all people in the region whose lives are ravaged (or destroyed), and for all the innocent people who make a home where is no peace, no security, no hope. Here are two.
I’d like to close this post with a story of humanity, told to me at a Sabbath table in Israel recently, shortly before I left the country, by someone who knew Gilad, the smiling boy pictures above with his little sisters. Since this story involves education and rachmanes (compassion)—both of which are central goals of my educational foundation, and of all my work—I believe it is relevant to share here:
When Gilad was a little boy—he was in upper elementary school at the time—he had a friend who was not a good student and who had a great deal of difficulty keeping up with other students in the regular class. As a result, and for the child’s own benefit and the rest of the class’, this child was moved to a ‘slower’ section for students with learning disabilities. When his friend was moved, Gilad promptly went to the teacher and said he wanted to join the other class too.
The teacher asked why, since Gilad was a fine student and had no trouble with the school work in the regular classroom. His answer speaks volumes about who Gilad was in elementary school, and the kind of person he might have become, had he not been murdered at the age of sixteen.
Gilad’s answer was simple and direct: “Everyone knows what this class is. I don’t want my friend to feel bad. If I join this class, it will seem more like a regular class, and my friend will not feel so alone!”
My hope—and I have many hopes—but the one related to education is that we can raise children, who grow up (first in safety and in health) to be the kind of people (and leaders) who have hearts and minds poised to help others, and who want ‘the Other’ (whomever that ‘Other’ might be) not to feel at risk, or abandoned, or left alone.
After the Holocaust, we understood the devastating results of innocent people being (mostly) abandoned by the world. In Gilad’s simple and monumental act of kindness, we witness the impulse of one child to help another child so he did not feel stupid or alone. Let us, in our lives, try to aspire to the wisdom, courage and rachmanes/compassion of Gilad.
Let us work together to educate our students (of ALL ages) to care more, to do more, to BE more. Together, let us work to build a world of tolerance, acceptance, justice and peace for ALL. Thank you.
I am leaving momentarily for France—wish me luck getting there and, even more, given the level of increasing anti-Semitism, in coming back!