In Anticipation of the 30th Anniversary
“Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
Jerry Garcia/ Robert Hunter
I remember well my Bar Mitzvah. It took place May 22, 1965 and was one of the happiest weekends of my life. My parents, humble people from modest backgrounds, were so proud of the event and equally proud that they had just completed, in time for the party at our home, the addition to the living room. Without it the crowd would have overwhelmed the room.
And then my connection to Judaism ended for about a decade.
It was not until I spent four years at Boston College, a Jesuit university, that my Jewish persona would re-emerge — not because I experienced anti-Jewish sentiments but primarily due to a feeling of being the “other.” That, coupled with a year of wandering throughout Europe and its Jewish sites, as well as my first visit to Israel, cemented my Jewish identity. I came to appreciate my Judaism as central to who I was as a person. In retrospect, I see it as the beginning of a journey of self-discovery.
I recall equally well my interview with The Wexner Foundation. It was 1990 and I was a finalist for the Wexner Heritage Program in Boston. It took place with two of the Foundation’s principals who have since moved on. The antagonism of that experience is memorable. We argued extensively about what I did in the Jewish community and its relevance. They were clearly testing me and I reveled in that examination. I was committed to them knowing me as I was. If I were selected: great. If not: so be it. Little did I know that the Wexner experience would “light up” my life in ways I could never imagine during that interview.
Looking back at the two years I spent in the Wexner Heritage Program with extraordinary colleagues and teachers, I am overwhelmed by the blessings I enjoyed. Yes, I was being shown the light in what I had previously considered the “strangest of places”, namely Jewish texts and teachings. The intellectual wealth of the Wexner teachers began for me with an introduction to basic Judaism taught by Deborah Lipstadt (memorably brilliant does not even begin to describe her). Larry Hoffman, Chava Tirosh Rothschild, Joseph Telushkin and Yitz Greenberg were among the many who would share their inestimable wisdom with me and the other members. My classmates were varied Jewishly. While I had my passions (notably Israel, peace, coexistence and human rights), others had different passions or similar passions played out differently. Once again, I was shown the “light” in unexpected places and from unexpected sources. That continues to this very day.
What amazes me even today is how often I run into “Wexners” engaged in the most interesting pursuits — be they Heritage alumni, Graduate Fellows pursuing a life of professional Judaism or Israeli “Wexners”. Often, what they are doing and who they are leaves me speechless. Their accomplishments, both within the Jewish community and beyond, are noteworthy and impressive. As a member of the Heritage Alumni Council, I am repeatedly exposed to Heritage alumni who are breaking barriers, expanding horizons and helping to repair the world. So, too, the Graduate Fellows, so often in the news or heading new initiatives, convince me the world will, in the end, be repaired. Being a Bostonian has afforded me the opportunity to meet many of the Israeli Wexner Fellows over the years, some of whom have become some of my dearest friends and the object of my greatest admiration.
“Storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his (her) voice.
His (her) job is to shed light, not to master.”
The excitement generated around the 30th anniversary of this singular institution has been inspiring. As the date approaches, I hear from more and more colleagues wondering who will attend and looking forward to sharing the experience. Having so many wondrous people in one place will surely be magical. Sharing our stories, learning together, rekindling memories will no doubt leave us all breathless and eager for more. Hopefully, we will meet again for the 40th, 50th and additional anniversaries well into the future.
Most importantly, let us remember the importance each of us can play not in mastering an issue or a problem, but in shedding light on it, and thus enabling us to start the work even if others need to finish it.
Best wishes to all for a time well spent together, and infinite thanks to our unique benefactors and the hard working, inspirational professionals at the Foundation who are making such a gift available to us yet again.
Geoffrey H. Lewis, an alum of the Wexner Heritage Program (Boston 2) and a delegate to the Wexner Heritage Alumni Council, is a partner at a law firm concentrating in trial work, including family law and securities arbitrations. He also engages in substantial business development work in Israel. His major lay leadership work revolves around the Israel-Diaspora relationship and issues related to peace, Arab-Jewish coexistence and inter-religious dialogue. Geoffrey is a member of the Board of the Israel Policy Forum, a member of the Board of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and Member (and former Chair) of the Israel and Overseas Committee of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. He was also a former President of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. Geoffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.