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June 27, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 27, 2014 PAGE 5A By Gary Rosenblatt The Jewish Week ' In a rare quiet moment, John Ruskay, who is step- ping down at the end of the month after 15 years as CEO and executive vice president ofUJA-Federation of NewYork, sat in his office on East 59th Street and described his feel- ings these days as "running in a relay race, trying to hand the baton" to his successor, Eric Goldstein, as seamlessly as possible. That baton, in effect, is the world's largest local charity, a complex organization with a staff of 475 people, which raises more than $140 mil- lion a year for a wide range of local, national and inter- national causes. More than that, it is the central symbol of a Jewish federation system that champions the notion of collective giving and caring, based on the deep-rooted but increasingly challenged belief that all Jews are responsible for one another. For Ruskay, 67, who served in senior positions at UJA- Federation for more than seven years before taking over the top professional spot, it ha~ been quite a race. There have been wars and crises, in the Mideast, natural and financial disasters at home, and the steady erosion of his donor base as a younger gen- eration distances itself from the communal affiliations of !ts parents and grandparents. But in a wide-ranging interview in advance of a maj'or June 18 tribute dinner to him at the Waldorf Astoria, he reflected on the high and low points of his tenure, and looked to the future. Ruskay asserted his conviction that "creating inspired and caring communities" his mantra ,-will produce "engaged Jews who will respond creatively and boldly to the challenges of the Jewish community. "There has been both ero- sion and renewal," he said, "and the question is whether we can reverse the contrac- tion" in the percentage of those Who identify Jewishly; "The outcome is uncertain," he acknowledged. "Can we seize the moment of extraor- dinary Jewish opportunity? Can we make our work suf- ficiently inspiring so that Jews will choose to join us because General Assembly of the fed- to retire in 2011, but was of the meaning, purpose and eration movement in Dallas asked by his lay leadership [o community we provide?" in 1977. He worked at the stay.onanotherthreeyearsto Through his own work time for CLAL the National rideoutthefinancialcrisisset and personality, Ruskay has Jewish Center for Learning off by the Madoff scandal in been an inspiration to many. and Leadership, under Rabbi late 2008. He feels that both His successor, attorney and Yitz Greenberg, and I was professionallyandpersonally, longtime UJA-Federation editoroftheBaltimoreJewish "thetimeisrighttostepback" lay leader Goldstein, praised Times.Intheensuingyearswe now, with UJA-Federation him for "his vision, passion, served for a time together on "strong," and with his wife, creativity and enthusiasm" the board of a fund for Jew- Robin Bernstein, having re- for people and for the missiori ish investigative journalism, cently retired after 15 years at hand. Our mutual respect, trust as CEO and president of the As he nears the finis'h and collegial friendship has Educational Alliance, one line, Ruskay is viewed by~ stood us in good stead during of about 100 agencies that colleagues, peers and close the last two decades when, receive funding from UJA- observers'of Jewish commu- in our respective positions at Federation. nal life as the leader in his UJA-Federation and The Jew- He cited the fact that both field. During his tenure he ish Week, we have endured" his first wife, Shira, and has helped UJA-Federa.tion some difficult times in the his father, Everett Ruskay, raise more than $3 billion, ongoing and inevitable love- died at the age of 52, and he and he has helped grow its hate relationship between a wzints to have time for "a next endowment fund from $330community's federation and chapter"--possibly writing, million to close to $1 billion, its independent newspaper, teaching, enrolling in courses Beyond the dollars, though, Through it all he has acted and spending more time with he isadmired forhis combina- with integrity, thoughtfulness family while also takingon tion of wisdom, warmth and and compassion, several strategic consulting wit, and his ability to raise During our recent discus- projects and serving in his money and spirits through a sions on his stepping down, " emeritus position at UJA- clear vision and strong guid- Ruskay displayed those same Federation. ance, all of it infused with a qualities, and one sensed a Ruskaynotedthatwhenhe deeply Jewish soul. feeling in him of satisfaction, became CEO of the charity in I am less than an objective tingedwithnostalgia,forwhat 1999, the zeitgeist was very observer here. Ruskay and I he has accomplished, different from today on two go back more than 36 years, So different from 1999key front~. having met at the annualHe had originally planned OnewasinregardstoIsrael. At the outset of his tenure he spoke out about the need to envision the challenges of a Jewish community in a post- crisis Middle East. The Oslo peace process was at a high point at the time, and the new leader contemplated a federa~ tion campaign to help Israel at peace, create new industries at home and focus on resolving social tensions. "I was prematurely'luxuri- ating on the notion of 'peace at hand,'" he recalled, adding that the ensuing intifada and failure of Oslo was "a great disappointment" that has led to "entrenched views and deeper divides" within the Jewish community. He said he regre.ts the "promiscuous name-calling on both sides" of the dove-hawk debate, adding that we as a community lack the ability "to hear different voices" with respect, though our sages tell us that "a verse of Torah can be interpreted in many ways." The other major change from 15 years ago was that the federation system of cen- tralized .communal giving Rosenblatt on page 14A By Andrew -Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News What does it mean to be a member of a "tribe"? I get an inkling during weeks like these, when the majority of the world is consumed by a quadrennial soccer tourna- ment. and a small slice is convulsed over the abduction of three teenage boys. L'havdit, [ know. But Somehow both events-- one celebratory and Somewhat artificial, the other hor- rific and as real as it gets -- turn disparate, even feuding individuals into a unified mass.. The impulse is to gather with others like ourselves, wrap ourselves in the symbols of our tribes, and celebrate and grieve in words or ways we suspect only other members of the tribe fully understand. Those with a global, cos- mopolitan worldview get in touch with a nationalism they thought they had left behind. And those alienated from other members of their tribe -- separated by ideol- ogy, class, belief suddenly By Ronald Lauder The World Jewish Congress solidarity mission I led to Brussels on June 2 demon- strated an ancient Jewish principle that weatWJC strive to accomplish every day: Kol Yisrael arevim ze le ze - all Jews are responsible for one another. Organized in mere days, the mission brought 38 senior Jewish leaders from 16 different countries to the Bel- gian capital, where we were greeted with an outpouring of emotion from this commu- nity stricken by the heinous anti-Semitic terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium. At a ceremony on June 2 at the museum, the delegation said Kaddish for the three make common cause with their kinfolk. Israel is said to be experi- encing a rare moment of unity as its population prays and rallies for the safe return of the kidnapped yeshiva boys. That hasn't entirely squelched the usual arguments over politics and security. But with a few exceptions, the language has been muted to acknowledge the pain of the parents, the universal fear for the teens' safety, and every Israeli's own sense of anxiety in raising children in a lousy neighborhood. Right and Left. religious and secular, settler and peacenik the abductions have reminded them and their counterparts in the Diaspora that they are all Jews. You could argue that it is traumas like these that prove Benjamin Netanyahu's point that Israel is a "Jewish state," united by what exactly? Not just trauma, we hope. More than one writer has pointed out that asking Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a "Jewish state" is the height of chutzpa when the Jews people killed and prayed for the other gravely wounded. Later. we met with Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo, Foreign Minister Didier Reyn- ders. Interior Minister Jo~lle Milcluet,.and Justice Minister Annemie Turtelboom, The goal: toset up a joint com- mission ofthe government. the WJC, and the Jewish com- munity of Belgium in order to identify measures to improve security for the Jewish com- munity, to fight growing hatred, including on the inter'- net. to strengthen Holocaust education in schools, and to facilitate the exchange Of information. We hope thereby to pre- vent more terrorist attacks and to improve the social climate for Jews in Belgium. haven't figured out what they mean by "Jewish." Are they united by religion? National identity? Biology? Historical memory? Yes, "Jewish" is a matter of behavior and religion, but I wouldn't press that point too strongly. If you demand certain behaviors or beliefs as a measure of Jewish belong- ing, you end up writing a lot of people out of the enterprise. (Many in the religious com- .munity would be happy to excise members of the tribe who don't follow certain be- haviors. See the conversion' process in Israel, for example.) A certain amount of "blood" identity, meanwhile, has its advantages. It forces Jew A to accept Jew B as a Jew be- yond each's ideological and denominational definitions. But if the Jewish definition of "tribe" is not (only) about belief, or (only] about having a Jewish mother (setting aside patrilineal descent), what is it? Here are some possibilities: learning a particularist language or languages, some- times but not always literally; sharing a historical and Moreover, we urge all Euro- pean governments fighting anti-Semitism to engage in constructive dialogue with WJC. The Belgian taskforce could be a model replicated elsewhere in Europe where there are substantial Jewish communities. As I said at the ceremony outside the Jewish museum, we need to ensure that ayoung generation of Jews in Europe does not grow up living in fear. This is a problem not just for Jewish communities. but also for the governments and citizens of these nations. European societies will need to.strengthen security. The suspected shooter in the at- tack. who the French police arrested when he returned to France by bus. allegedly textual narrative and finding one's place in that story; sharing and learning from a particular historical experience/s; sharing certain folk behaviors, from foodstuffs and literature to music and humor; often but not always shar- ing a theological worldview and a language of prayer and spiritual connection; often but not always shar- ing a calendar and rhythm for ritual and shared observance; often but not always shar- ing geography neighbor- hoods, villages, and for some a country; feeling a sense of mu- tual responsibility to other members of the tribe not necessarily an exclusive re- sponsibility, but perhaps the sort of responsibility a mother feels to her own child ahead of other children, or a sibling feels to a sibling ahead of the restofhumanity thekindof mutual responsibility so many of us felt this week. Think. for example, how the spectrum (some would say glut) of Jewish institutions fought in Syria. More and more. Europeans will be dealing with vio|ent fanatics who come back to Europe not only with hatred in their hearts, but with the training and ability to kill on a mass scale. They will need to learn to combat this radicaliza- tion effectively, especially the indoctrination of young Muslims via the Internet. No longer will Europeans be able to blame the Arab-Israel conflict for the rising tide of hatred. We look forward to working with European governments to strengthen security for all. RonaM S. Lauder is presi- dent of the World Jewish Congress. This article first appeared on his blog at world- reflects different aspects of tribal belonging: textual flu- ency, meanmgful davening and meditative experiences, the arts, political activism, to name a few. Tribalism gets a bad name, especially when it is considered a synonym for "parochialism" or even "chauvinism." Its crit- ics will cite Korach. the bad guy in this week's Torah por- tion, whose assertion that the "whole nation of Israel is holy" suggests other nations are less worthy, even less human. In practice, tribalism is re- sponsible for misery across the planet. Just pick your favorite msurgency. And yet tribal identity can be a powerful force for good, when it is not seen as a sign of superiority or an excuse for bigotry. The Jewish impulse to serve humanity is inspired in large part by our particularist languages, behaviors, and af- \ finity. It is Torah that tells us, over and over, that the pain felt by our people is a reminder to identify with the pain felt by other peoples. We learn to see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own tribe because our tribal practices and beliefs the counterculture that we created to distinguish our- selves from the wider culture -- model and reinforce that message. It is thosewho dedi- cate themselves to promoting and teaching this language, and creating a shared sense of Jewish identity, who put the "Jewish" in "Jewish state" and "Jewish people." Otherwise, Jewish"peoplehood" becomes just an accident of birth or geography. Andrew Silow-Carroll is Editor-in-Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC blog. ECONOMIC EXPERT / i