During the four weeks the Wexner Senior Leaders (WSL 17) were studying at the Harvard Kennedy School they had several opportunities to interact with the local Jewish community. Some had Shabbat dinners with undergraduates at Harvard Hillel and others at the homes of communal leaders, including Wexner Heritage alumni. The Senior Leaders also visited Gann Academy — a pluralistic high school — where they met teachers designing the Israel education program and sat in on classes. Here are some of their reflections:
Dana Marshak-Marom, WSL 17
Four of us enjoyed a Shabbat dinner at the home of Geoffrey Lewis, WHP Alum (Boston 2) in downtown Boston. Geoffrey is a practicing lawyer and invited three couples to join us. It was clear from the beginning that they all have a history together and share a deep love of music; however, the underlying bond was their identity as American Jews. These liberal professionals (who all have grandchildren) are now experiencing, maybe for the first time, confusion due to the current political situation within their identity as American Jews. Their immediate and perhaps intuitive solution to this problem is, to my surprise, to turn and connect to other minorities, including Muslims, to learn their cultures and together cope with the new reality in America as they perceive it. I was surprised that Israel was falling a bit to the side in this equation. For some, like Geoffrey, Israel is still quite central to his Judaism, but for others their focus may be shifting. It was a fascinating evening and it is clear to me that these fabulous people will cope with the unknown future according to their individual values. It is our job as Israelis to help maintain the connection to Israel within this scope.
Orit Cotev, WSL 17
Our plane crosses the ocean. It’s late at night; some of us are trying to catch up on sleep. Others are watching a movie. We are on our way home!
At home it’s Purim vacation. Our kids will soon get up and start counting the hours to our arrival, some will hang a “welcome home” sign at the front door and then they will head to the airport to meet us. It’s been a long month for us and for our families! While the distance to Israel lessens, the distance from Harvard is growing and is allowing me to develop the first insights on the Wexner Senior Leadership Program. This program, so precise and well-conceived by the great artists and professors of the Kennedy School along with the Wexner team, is composed with the right amount of formal and informal learning, practical experience and social engagement.
As part of its huge advantages, the program opened a window to the Jewish community’s real life in Boston. For me, who grew up in a secular family and leads a totally secular life, this was a unique lesson about tolerance, modesty and humility.
We watched the Gann Academy educate its high school students in a pluralistic and equal way, enabling a variety of beliefs to exist under one roof. They emphasize their similarity yet accept the diversity, allowing each student to define his or her own personal Judaism as part of their essence as a human being.
We joined Shabbat dinner at Harvard Hillel, where each student finds a place to express their Judaism according to his or her own interpretation among others who express it in completely different ways and where women can have an equal role to men. I could not avoid hearing about the inner (and legitimate) struggle that some students have between being part of the Jewish religion as they define it and being part of the Jewish nation, especially regarding Israel.
I learned a whole new meaning to the word “acceptance.” It made me think of how little we do back home to implement the phrase “each man shall live by his own beliefs,” while it is done so beautifully in Boston where there is an understanding that diversity is itself an important value.
Lev Drucker, WSL 17
I believe that more interactions between Israelis and American Jews, such as Taglit, but a “reverse Taglit” as well, will lead to better understanding our common values and the underlying reasons for each of our beliefs and positions. I think this is the right time to establish a concrete effort for ahavat achim, loving our brothers and sisters, before trying to influence each other views and positions. One of the most striking revelations during the past month was not related to the classroom material, but the understanding of the complex identity of American Jewry. I learned about the conflicts that arose in the historic desire to seamlessly blend into the society, after generations of restrictions led to growing disconnect with Jewish tradition and distancing from Israel. However, meeting community leaders who are working on joint ventures between Israel and the American Jewish community was a reminder that there is hope.
Michael Levinrad, WSL 17
The opportunity to engage, even if only briefly, with the Jewish community in Boston was very important to me. In Israel, we do not often stop and spend time on questions that have to do with the main concerns and dilemmas that the American Jewish community faces. My exposure to local Jewish leaders from organizations and academia, Gann Academy and students at Harvard Hillel, has opened my eyes to some very urgent things that we need to relate to—such as the younger generation’s connection to Israel and Israeli involvement in ensuring long-term relationships with the American Jewish community. Meeting students at Hillel and listening to their views helped me understand that more direct dialogue is essential. Perhaps there is a way to connect the Israeli community currently in Boston to these students. It was a great and very special opportunity to meet face-to-face with these groups and I know that WSL 17 will take up the challenge to see what and how to promote our engagement and understanding.
Yael Cohen, WSL 17
I spent four Shabbatot this past month davening (praying) at Harvard Hillel. I felt immediately at home and I enjoyed the vibrant energy of youth that literally fills the place and the perfect harmony of three very different minyanim taking place in one building at the same time. This, in my mind, embodies the meaning of klal Israel
Victor Weiss, WSL 17
Six of us were hosted for Shabbat dinner by Marsha and Alan Leifer and joined them at services beforehand at Emanuel Temple. Although it was the first time I attended a Jewish ceremony in the US, I felt very welcome and natural. The Temple is beautiful, the atmosphere was warm and the ceremony was harmonious. All the people seemed well-acquainted and our hosts introduced us to many of them (which was not an easy task since they hosted six of us!) At Shabbat dinner, I was amazed at how easily I felt part of the Jewish community. The familiar customs of Shabbat dinner set the ground for interesting and flowing conversations over excellent food and several glasses of wine — we discussed family, Judaism, Israel and current issues. We expressed our thanks to our hosts and their guests for making us feel a part of a larger community while we were away from home.
Yarona Shalom, WSL 17
“All a child needs is one adult who believes in him/her.” These words were uttered by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach years before the Boston Jewish community built the Gann Academy. In that high school, however, those words are a way of life. At the entrance to the school you already feel the atmosphere of warmth. There is a feeling that the place embraces its students and allows them to express themselves, their Jewish identity and their unique individual identity. Everyone has a place in the school, no matter whether they belong to any religious stream or if they are secular. I felt that their studying is done with love and creates a positive and constructive dialogue around ideas and Jewish identity. This is definitely a place where every mother would be happy to send her children.
Dana Marshak-Marom (WSL 17) is a judge at the Central District Court since 2013. Prior to her current position, she served as a Criminal Trial Court Judge. Before becoming a Judge, Dana was head of the Public Defender Unit during its establishment period and later served as the Deputy District Public Defender. She received her LLB from The Hebrew University and her LLM from WCL, American University.
Orit Cotev (WSL 17) was recently appointed as Deputy to the State Attorney (Civil Affairs). Prior to her current position, she served as the Southern District Attorney (Civil Law). Orit established the Civil Enforcement Unit at the State Attorney’s Office. She is also the Chairperson of the Appeal Committee for the National Council of Planning and Construction. Orit holds LLB and LLM degrees from The Hebrew University. She lives in Mevazeret-Zion with her husband and three children.
Lev Drucker (WSL 17) is the Deputy to the Chief Economist in the Ministry of Finance. Since 2005 Lev has served in a number of positions in the ministry, all related to policy analysis and research. He holds an MA in Economics from Tel Aviv University and is currently conducting research towards a PhD, focusing on the emergence and volatility of the venture capital industry. Lev lives in Ma’ale Adumim with his family.
Michael Levinrad (WSL 17) is the Executive Director for International Cooperation at the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) in the Prime Minister’s Office. Prior to his current position, Michael served in the Israeli Defense Forces for 30 years in a variety of command, leadership and staff positions. He has an MBA (1996) from the Recanati School of Business Administration, Tel Aviv University and holds a BA in Logistics and Economics (1992) from Bar Ilan University. Michael is married to Tammy; they have four children and live in Rosh Ha’Ayin. .
Yael Cohen (WSL 17) is the Senior Deputy to the Legal Advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office. She joined the PMO’s Legal Department in 2000. Yael holds an LLB and LLM from Bar Ilan University. She lives in Jerusalem with her family.
Victor Weiss (WSL 17) is a Senior Deputy to the Accountant General. Prior to his current position he was the economic consultant to the Accountant General. Victor holds a BA in Economy & Accounting and Masters in Finance & Accounting, both from the Hebrew University. He lives with his family in Modiin.
Yarona Shalom (WSL 17) is Director of the Medical Committees Department and acting Director of the Work Injury Department in the National Insurance Institute of Israel (NIOI). Prior to her current position she served as the department head of the Auditing Collection Department. Yarona holds BA and MA degrees in Social Work from The Hebrew University and an MBA from Bar-Ilan University. She lives in Jerusalem with her family.