Jacob Labendz is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program.  He is a PhD Candidate in the History Department of Washington University in St. Louis.  Jacob is writing his dissertation on Jewish-state relations in Communist-led Czechoslovakia, and spent four years working in and alongside the Jewish community in Prague.  He can be reached at labendz@hotmail.com.

We had won. After fruitless negotiation with leaders whom we felt to be inattentive and immoral, we galvanized our community, capitalized upon local and international support, and formed a new organization. It flourished as members took greater initiative. Our programs succeeded and our ranks swelled. And then, things fell apart. Infighting and suspicion drove many away, and the spirit which once animated us sickened. Today, living very far away, I watch sadly as our small organization limps onwards to an uncertain future.

What went wrong? The fault does not lie with me alone, though I’ll speak here only for myself. I was young and impetuous, eager to solve problems before I understood them. Most egregiously, I hurried to partner with those who desired a similar outcome as I, and ignored all along our differences in values. If you are reading this, you probably know how this story ends. The details are irrelevant.

Since then, I have learned to think and act more carefully. I have grown more, not less idealistic. And I have also withdrawn into scholarship. I dreamed that this would provide me with a position from which to act uncompromisingly. This vision was tested recently when my relationships with my university and students prevented me from intervening into a crisis I perceived within the campus Jewish community. An early failure motivated me to take a new direction. My latest has led me to question it and to seek a middle ground.