2018-06-20 / Home

Learning about the past can help make a better future, Malcolm Hoenlein tells audience


MALCOLM HOENLEIN… spoke at June 13 Politz Day School Gala Lecture. MALCOLM HOENLEIN… spoke at June 13 Politz Day School Gala Lecture. Jewish history has always identified the past as being crucial to the future. The Bible often describes where people are coming from as a prelude to where they are going. This, said Malcolm Hoenlein, is a crucial lesson for Jews living today. Speaking at a Gala Lecture that was part of Politz Day School’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Hoenlein said that Jewish education, including teaching the lessons of the past, is one of the reasons that Politz and other schools are so important.

Quoting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Hoenlein told his audience, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, Hoenlein told his audience at Cong. Beth El in Voorhees that strengthening Jewish educational institutions to prepare students to fight BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) on campus is crucial. “We have to reinforce the commitment we make to prepare our children,” he said, adding that the BDS movement has “anti-Semitism at its core.”

Hoenlein’s talk was entitled, “Will the Next Generation of American Jews Be Up to the Challenge?” It was presented by Politz Day School, with support from the Jewish Community Foundation, Inc., and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Hoenlein also said that Jewish education would help build a better future by teaching young Jewish students the historic responsibility Jews have toward each other. Jews care, Hoenlein said, from marching on behalf of Soviet Jewry, to Israeli soldiers, at great risk, providing medical treatment to Syrians caught up in that nation’s civil war, to rushing aid to victims of the volcano in Guatemala.

“Each of us feels a responsibility,” said Hoenlein, whether in our communities or around the world. “We remember the obligations of the past,” he said.

During his talk, Hoenlein also focused on some of the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish community. He pointed to growing anti-Semitism in the world; a United Nations which condemns Israel for defending its citizens; and the threat from Iran and other Islamist elements in the Middle East. He also touched on the biases of much of the press in its Israel coverage.

Hoenlein said that each person must do his or her part in defending Israel. There must be “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and zero tolerance for terrorism.” He pointed to the Torah’s Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the person who stepped into the water, initiating God’s miracle of parting the sea so the Jewish people could escape the Egyptians. God performs miracles, but people need to take the initiative. “We can’t rely on the world changing; it’s up to us,” said Hoenlein.

Hoenlein said that while there are challenges, people should not grow depressed. He said that Israel has made huge contributions in technology, healthcare, and other fields in its 70 years of modern statehood. In addition, it is less isolated than ever, with growing ties, sometimes clandestine, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab counties. “The message to our children today is not one of tzuris (Yiddish for trouble) and despair, but one of beauty and pride in Israel,” he said.

Reminding the audience of Israel’s founding 70 years ago, Hoenlein said that in 1948 the CIA told President Harry Truman not to recognize Israel, that the country would not survive two years. Hoenlein added that Israel has survived 70 years, and will be here into the future, but that he was not sure the CIA would exist in two years.

“‘-isms’ we thought were gone are coming back,” said Hoenlein. He added, however, that there are opportunities to turn back the evil forces, but that people have to see themselves as being able to do it. “No Jew stands alone, and no Jew should be alone.”

Following his formal talk, Hoenlein took questions from the audience. He said that truth is Israel’s strongest weapon, pointing to the positive impressions of Israel people get when they visit. He also mentioned that part of impacting young people today is to reach them where they are, including on social media. He said that when singer Justin Timberlake went to the Western Wall, within minutes the photo of him at the Kotel was shared a half million times. 

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