When I went into the field of Jewish professional leadership, I was encouraged to do two things: 1) Read the Jewish and secular press every day and 2) Always be a learner so you have the ability to seemingly talk about any subject (not necessarily be an expert) with anyone.
When I recently returned home from Israel, I watched the new Netflix documentary, Never Stop Dreaming – The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres. August 2nd would be Peres’ 99th birthday so it is apropos to share now about the documentary and a personal story.
The movie outlines the life of Shimon Peres -- growing up in Poland, making aliyah to Israel, his special relationship with David Ben-Gurion, amazing diplomatic accomplishments, and his challenged political career. The film emphasized his optimism, humility, and steadfast focus on the greater good for the State of Israel over his own political ambitions. He was a true dreamer, having once said, “I do not regret any of my dreams. My only regret is not having dreamed more.”
I have been fortunate to meet many dignitaries in Israel, including an opportune private conversation with Shimon Peres in June 2003 (where being a learner truly helped).
I was leading a young adult trip to Israel, and our small group had the opportunity to meet with Shimon Peres. On the El Al plane ride to Israel, they showed the movie Agent Cody Banks, starring Frankie Muniz (who at the time was the teen star of Malcolm in the Middle on FOX TV). It was a silly teen spy movie, but back in 2003 everyone had to watch the same movie on the plane. In the film, they introduced a concept known as nanotechnology with computer generated spider-robots.
I do not believe in 2003 "nanotechnology" was a household word, and for most of us, maybe not even today. Nanotechnology is described as “the manipulation of matter on a near-atomic scale to produce new structures, materials and devices. The technology promises scientific advancement in food security, disease treatment delivery methods, new tools for molecular and cellular biology, new materials for pathogen detection, and protection of the environment.”
When we met with Peres, he talked about three keys to Israel’s future – one of which was investing in nanotechnology. He asked the group if any of us had ever heard of nanotechnology. I raised my hand – all because I watched Agent Cody Banks – and thought nothing more. Following his 40-minute speech, he took pictures with our group, and then came directly over to me and asked if we could speak privately. The next thing I know, the two of us engage in a 15-minute conversation about the incredible benefits of nanotechnology. I felt I held my own -- thank you Agent Cody Banks!
Here is an article from The New York Times in September 2003 discussing Shimon Peres’ interest in Israel being a world leader in nanotechnology.
Shimon Peres left an incredible legacy (the film outlines his many accomplishments that I did not realize he was behind) and lived a very meaningful life. I definitely encourage you to watch the documentary.
We are currently in the time period known as “The Three Weeks,” a time of grieving for the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as many other catastrophes in Jewish history. Tonight begins the last nine days, when foods traditionally associated with joy, such as wine and meat, are forbidden, except on Shabbat. Bathing, beyond what is absolutely necessary, is prohibited, as is doing laundry, and buying or wearing new clothes. This culminates in the fast of Tisha b’Av, the Ninth of Av, a day of profound collective grief spent entirely in mourning -- fasting, praying, sitting on stools instead of chairs, and reading the Book of Lamentations.
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z”l) of England shared these beautiful words about The Three Weeks:
Judaism is a religion of memory. The verb "zachor" appears no fewer than 169 times in the Hebrew Bible. “Remember that you were strangers in Egypt”; “Remember the days of old”; “Remember the seventh day to keep it holy.” Memory, for Jews, is a religious obligation. This is particularly so at this time of the year.
Two and a half thousand years after the destruction of the First Temple is a long time to remember. Often I am asked – usually in connection with the Holocaust – is it really right to remember? Should there not be a limit on grief? Are not most of the ethnic conflicts in the world fueled by memories of perceived injustices long ago? Would not the world be more peaceful if once in a while we forgot?
Though the two are often confused, memory is different from history. History is someone else’s story. It’s about events that occurred long ago to someone else. Memory is my story. It’s about where I come from and of what narrative I am a part. History answers the question, “What happened?” Memory answers the question, “Who, then, am I?” It is about identity and the connection between the generations.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the knowledge of where we have come from, the things for which we fought, and why. None of the things we value – freedom, human dignity, justice – were achieved without a struggle. None can be sustained without conscious vigilance. A society without memory is like a journey without a map. It’s all too easy to get lost.”
An addition to my remarks from last week. There was one more Oregonian who competed at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Mazel tov to Everest Sabony from Seaside, who won a gold medal with the 18U boys basketball team. Everest was also the recipient of the Harry Glickman Scholar Athlete Award this past year.