What is Being Jewish All About? The 5 Legged Table

This past Tuesday evening, 170 Jewish educators, funders and community professionals joined with members of Avraham Infeld’s family here in Jerusalem to launch a brand new interactive website dedicated to Avraham’s massive contribution to Jewish education and identity in Israel and around the world. The 5 legged table is the title of one of Avraham’s core lectures and also provides the framework for the website itself. The website and event were organized by Melitz which Avraham founded and directed for 30 years, together with Makom, the Jewish Agency’s Israel education center. The launch event was entitled a “Rav Siach (audience) with Avraham Infeld” and indeed the bulk of the event was a question and answer session between Avraham and the distinguished guests.

At the core of Avraham’s philosophy is that “we all have to keep trying; doing what we’re doing – just a little bit better.” That’s what the evening, and the 5 legged table, plans to convey.

Avraham spoke initially about the deeply Jewish (but not religious) grounding he received at home from his father and the Hebrew education he received from his mother as the first pupil in the King David School in South Africa. In response to a question about ideology, Avraham addressed the dangers of being single-minded about an ideology and emphasized the importance of only being single-minded about never being single-minded! As he reminded us, the Torah was given in fog to prevent anyone being convinced they alone have absolute truth. A second question about his Melitz years focused on the amazing opportunity given by informal education to examine issues of meaning and identity without having to be concerned about exams and grades. For Avraham, schools can provide teaching and learning opportunites but the equally important “educational moment” will take place through the informal educational world.

Avraham also spoke about missed opportunities. He described how as a Shaliach in Baltimore in 1968 he responded to a comment by a Jewish girl in a public school that she too was Jewish by saying “And when are you coming to Israel?” Avraham never saw her again and came to realize how education needs to start at where the student is and not at where we want them to be.

Avraham spoke a great deal about his hopes for his grandchildren (some of whom were in the room) and his newest focus on Tikkun Olam. For Avraham, Jewish education that cannot answer the question “Why be Jewish” is ultimately futile. For Avraham, Tikkun Olam is the need of the hour and his dream and task is to see the Jewish People win a Nobel Prize for Tikkun Olam in 2028. He believes through “Tikkun Olam we can build a whole new relationship with the Diaspora and what we [the Jewish people] can do for the world.”

As to the Nobel, he promised to be there and toast a l’chiam.

Among the guests at the event were Mordachai Baron and Mike Rosenak who were among Melitz’s founders together with Avraham over 35 years as well as Minister Yuli Edelstein who began his career in Israel at Melitz. Avraham spoke warmly of his ties to all of them. They were also joined by Natan Sharansky and Alan Hoffman from the leadership of JAFI as well as Ilan Spira the Melitz Chairman and Suzie Liebman of the American Board of Melitz. Avraham was also delighted to welcome Fred and Della Worms who he had first met as a Shaliach in the UK 40 years ago.

The event was hosted by Jonny Ariel at Makom who introduced the website and Michael Wegier, Executive Director of Melitz, who asked people to contribute their stories and ideas to the site as well as to make a donation to the new Avraham Infeld Melitz Jewish Education Venture Fund which will advance educational projects that address the themes of the 5leggedtable.