Heart of the Matter

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A heartfelt look by Aaron B. Cohen at the great arc of life through the prism of its details.

Heart of the Matter

Who will be the next 'greatest generation'?

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Thirty-two of the best and brightest Jewish high school seniors have just graduated from the Write On for Israel program of JUF's Israel Education Center. As one of the founders of the program I had the privilege of speechifying, along with Michael Zaransky, JUF's 2013 Campaign Chair, and John Lowenstein, VP for Campus Affairs. Here's what I wrote as my "charge" to the students:

Who will be the next "greatest generation"? Will it be you?

In some respects, I hope not. I hope you don’t have to face the kinds of life and death challenges my parents faced. My father and father-in-law saw combat in World War Two. My dad faced the German navy in the North Atlantic chasing submarines. My wife's dad was a medic in the Battle of the Bulge, and went on to liberate concentration camps.

I’ve known several people who went on from World War Two to volunteer in the nascent Israel Defense Forces. I have friends who fought in the Yom Kippur War, the War of Attrition, and the Lebanon War. I hope you won’t have to be great like them.

My niece’s boyfriend has seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s waitlisted right now at Harvard Law School. I hope you only have to experience the second part of his credential.

No, war is not the testing ground for greatness we want for you.

May you instead fight for peace, for justice and for the right of the Jewish people to define our own identify, to create a future for ourselves, to find a way to improve the world because that is our calling.

We have enemies; let us defeat them. Let us defeat their ideas, their bigotries, their hatreds, their intolerance; their denial of us. And if we can’t defeat their ideas, let us defeat their designs.

How shall we do that?

Write On did not train you to pick up a gun. Write On did not train you to blow anything or anyone up. Write On did not teach you that our victory demands someone else’s destruction.

Write On did teach you many other things, and better you, than I, to chronicle what those things are. But I do want to say a little about them. There are such things as facts; there are such things as cogent arguments; there are such things as persuasive communications.

And there is such a thing as communal responsibility. That’s what I have learned in my years working for this Federation. Things like Write On don’t just happen. The poor aren’t just magically helped; the refugee isn’t mysteriously resettled. Victims of terror don’t just happen to get assistance; the institutions of our people don’t accidentally get funded. Write On won’t continue simply because it must!

You and your loved ones need to do your part. You need to support this Federation and other communal structures or the things we take for granted, things like Write On, will simply disappear.

I hope you won’t be just like the Greatest Generation, because I hope you won’t face life and death struggles like they did.
But I hope and believe that you will be—that you are—a GREAT generation. And what will make you great? Using your hearts, minds, and resources to keep the Jewish people whole and to keep the Jewish people strong.

Please do that in every way you can, with your intellect, with your spirit, and with your wallet. All are important; no one of them will do the job without the others.

And one final word in this harsh world of ours: Bakesh shalom v’radfehu. Seek peace and pursue it.  

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