By Abe J. Wasserberger
Lissa and I recently experienced the joyful rendition of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish at the National Yiddish Theatre in the Museum of Jewish Heritage. A Yiddish play performed within the protected walls of a Holocaust Museum. A couple of weeks later the English national touring version of Fiddler came to The Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore. You may have heard that some kook stood up during intermission and yelled heil h–ler and heil trump. The media accurately reported this as a shocking and deeply disturbing event. There was an abundance of evidence on display. Clear and overwhelming evidence of fear and panic resulting from his offensive action and speech.
What was not reported was that a small group surrounded the kook locking him in a tight human circle so as to contain him and his actions until the police arrived. This small band of ordinary people – Jews and gentiles, did not know if he had a weapon, was part of a larger action or a sole operator. They transformed into angels to stop hate, to protect others. They acted as ONE PEOPLE ignited by the good DNA within them.
There is also an abundance of evidence that we as a Jewish People are no longer ONE PEOPLE. There is an absence of evidence that Am Yisrael Chai reverberates with singularity among Jews or for that matter, the Federation movement, yet, the absence of evidence does not nullify evidence of absence.
For decades, we have witnessed the precipitous decline of Federations/JFNA as a dominate fundraising and social action coordinator for the collective – that once mightily proclaimed WE ARE ONE. Today, more Jews contribute more in sheer numbers of individual donors and in philanthropic scale to NGO’s other than Federation. Israel is no longer a core ingredient to 35% of young Jews who claim they may identify as Jews (without Israel). Today, we may come together as ONE in times of emergency and tragedy yet the phrase is now more fitting as a slogan of singularity than global familia. This is not unique to Jews. We have observed similar transformations of identify and affiliation among other groups that disperse into the diaspora.
WE ARE ONE has evolved, to FROM MANY – ONE. Gone are the days of a dominate Jewish voice, organization or the central role Israel plays in the diaspora. Gone are the days when UJA/Federation was a transformative player in Israel or NA. From WE ARE ONE to many NGO’s in Israel and around the globe. Today, more than 35,000 NGO’s in Israel are doing much of the work built on the shoulders of UJA/Federation initiatives over many decades. In the US about 1.5 million NGO’s operate, some tackling many core issues initiated by the once dominate United Way.
Yes. Tough times for some of us – good times for others. Especially difficult when hateful speech and contrarian opinion comes from our own tribe. When we have Jewish leadership at the right hand of the President who do not rise to even marginal levels of “menchlikite,” who line up to parrot the worst impulses of a one-man rule demagogue, diminishing human value, potential and worse.
Wherever there is abundant evidence of hate, greed, decay of a moral code, we will also find evidence of goodness. Somewhere in this mix lies an angel or two or three or more – here, the essence of goodness among the many proclaim WE ARE ONE. WE ARE ONE – OF MANY is alive and well, revealing the best and the worst of humanity.
A bad person commits a crime then tries mightily to sanitize the crime scene of any incriminating evidence. On first glance there may be an absence of evidence – but look closely – what we find are traces of a coverup. To flamboyantly promote hate and division does not trump that goodness is absent. It’s always there, in each of us, waiting at the ready to challenge, sacrifice and eventually overcome profound immorality and wickedness. I give thanks that from ONE has emerged MANY – because today, the job of going good is far too big for any ONE.
As a child of Holocaust Survivors, this thanksgiving I am unadventurously optimistic that better days are ahead.
Abe J. Wasserberger was Senior V.P. Israel and Global Philanthropy at The Jewish Agency for Israel. He retired in July.