In the early 90’s I was a teenager sitting in synagogue Saturday morning when a black mother and daughter entered the women’s gallery while and a few moments later a black father and twin boys entered the men’s section. I watched my mother quickly go over to say hello and signaled me to do the same to the father. This chance meeting led to an ongoing relationship between the Ethiopian Jewish community and our family. My mother invited them for lunch and we quickly discovered that there were hundreds of Jewish Ethiopian families brought by the JIAS to live in Montreal, Canada and money was earmarked for their integration into the Jewish community. As I sat and listened to my mother discuss with many of the families we discovered that the Jewish community as a whole did very little to welcome them in. My mom used whatever free time she had available to help ameliorate the situation. In time the community made effort to open up. As time progressed we came to know many of the families and in many ways they became like family.
One of the people that I came to know was Baruch. He was a quiet, somewhat mysterious and well dressed. When he talked about the past, there was always mention of well known leaders, heads of state, his personal trek from Ethiopia to Israel by foot and social protests. As I continue to study the history of Nelson Mandela and apartheid, black civil rights movement and the American Civil War I am slowly beginning to understand the unique role that Baruch played in helping Ethiopian Jewry achieve recognition in modern Israel.
In the 1990’s blacks had rights and the Ethiopian community integrated fully into the broader Montreal community which is known as “Canada’s Cultural Capital”. But Baruch’s story is a bit different. In the 70’s Baruch was a lone voice in Jerusalem advocating black rights at a time of apartheid in South Africa and social unrest in America. Baruch’s early years in Israel was at a time when there were no more than a few hundred Ethiopian people in all of Israel. Yet Baruch’s kind demeanor and sweet voice found the ear of a few individuals who saw a moral responsibility to fulfill our nations Law of Return granting every Jew in the world the right to settle in Israel. It was the lone decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi who ruled following the Radbaz, that the Beta Israel were from the Tribe of Dan and confirmed the Jewish identity of the community. The Israeli government knew of the Ethiopian desire to immigrate since the early 1960’s but little was done. Again it was individuals like Dr. Graenum Berger who founded the American Association for Ethiopian Jews in the early 1970’s who kept the issue alive and relevant. Although Baruch, Dr. Berger, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and my mom witnessed the great miracles during Operation Moses and Solomon, the struggle continues today for social equality. May we merit in our days to respect and elevate the individual as John F. Kennedy once said, ‘Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.’ יהי זכרו ברוך
At the opening of the OurCrowd Summit 2017, Mayor Nir Barkat described Jerusalem as the city that unifies people and history. You can walk through the Old City of Jerusalem and see the age old traditions of the three religions while shopping at the modern Mamilla outdoor mall. You can see archeology dating back to King David while at the same time visit some of the most innovative high-tech parks in the world. King David referred to Jerusalem as the great unifier. (Psalms 122:3)
Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd and host of the event is doing just that. He is turning this city into a hub that helps people come together to solve some very complicated problems whether in health, security, agriculture, transportation or media. He repeatedly used three words to describe OurCrowd’s success; ecosystem, collaboration and future. It brought to mind a comment my father said to me when, as a kid 25 years ago I joined him on an early Sunday morning to visit a trade show at Palais des Congres de Montreal. When I asked him what his job was he told me that he had to predict what the future held twenty years from now so that he could implement policies today that would insure that his company was competitive and up to date.
Indeed I discovered that big name companies and century old institutions were not counting on name alone to carry them into the future. Bayer, Honda, DuPont, John Hopkins University and more were on the hunt for talented individuals and companies that could help guide them into the future and address challenges as they occur. The success of OurCrowd was that it knew too well that big companies face hurdles each day and startups were solving them with ingenious creativity. The chance of both parties meeting presented a great challenge. The idea of creating an ecosystem where people, multinational corporations, startups and potential investors come together on a joint platform presents a special opportunity. One recent example this year was Super Bowl 51 where 111 million football fans enjoyed the greatest upset in football history with technology developed between multinational Intel and start up freeD based in Tel Aviv Israel.
In that I discovered that the best way to take on the future is through collaboration. The future is here as the summit was entitled, was happening as members of 80 countries including Singapore, Korea, Canada, USA, Israel and Italy collaborated on advancing common good. The success of this summit set in motion enormous potential for all those involved. The some 6000 participants at the summit were eager to meet, exchange ideas and find common value. As a first time attendee, I found myself walking into a world of possibility that reaches far beyond my tiny country Israel.
This week I attended the 4th Sovereignty Conference at the Crown Plaza in Jerusalem. It’s ironic that the conference addressed the issue of sovereignty in the Land of Israel with a focus on Judea and Samaria. For 69 years since the creation of the State of Israel its own citizens still debate the pros and cons of secure borders. Even after the Regulation Law was passed in the Knesset this week legalizing 4,000 homes in Judea and Samaria, many have turned their eyes to the Supreme Court in hopes that it can be overturned. And until recently, the official policy of our government was denying its own sovereignty. Jerusalem is in question, the return of the Golan Heights will be discussed in final negotiations with the Syrian government, we dismantled Aza and continued to chip away at Judea and Samaria. And make no mistake; Yesh Din, B’tselem, Peace Now and their many associates view their success in Amona and Givat Zev as only the beginning and the Regulation Law as only a minor obstacle.
Then one needs to ask how it is possible that some want sovereignty now while others are either unsure, prefer it at a future date or not at all. Why would anyone want certain citizens to be denied basic rights that the rest enjoy?
To understand this we need to look at the various stages the Jewish people have gone through in the last century. Theodore Herzl said in Basel Switzerland during the first Zionist Conference held in 1897, “At Basel I founded the Jewish State…Perhaps in 5 years, and certainly in 50 everyone will know it”. Herzl and his peers were dreamers. They had a dream and works to see its fruition. Fifty years later out of the ashes of the Holocaust, David Ben-Gurion declared Statehood in May of 1948. Now that the dream was realized, there immediate responsibility was to build. We were responsible to build roads, hospitals, schools, an army, housing, agriculture and more. For the next fifty years we developed the most advance country in history. But now that the country is built and the dream actualized how are we to characterize the next fifty years? I would like to suggest that the next fifty years will be devoted to creating an identity. What is the spirit of the country and people? The underlining principle is discovering who we really are as a nation. It is the people that define whether a country is great and greatness means moral responsibility towards one another. In many ways this is the greatest challenge of all and the potential reward or missed opportunity will determine the future of Israel as a State. Each one of us at some point will require introspection and a look at the long term picture and how we fit. For the first time we will have to learn to live together like a family including religious, secular, old, young, men and women from all four corners of the world. If we can realize our common destiny then sovereignty will answer itself. In order to achieve these lofty end goals we will have to address more basic issues along the way like educating the public on why sovereignty is important and necessary for all citizens and its short and long term benefits.