Geoffrey Lewis, an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Program from Boston, is an attorney; he is active in numerous Jewish communal organizations and is involved in a variety of business activities in Israel. He can be reached at GHLewis@plgt.com
Vayechi, translated “and he lived,” paradoxically records the last years and death of the Patriarch Jacob. Having lived in Egypt for 17 years, Jacob, at the end of his life, calls his son Joseph and grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim to his bedside for a blessing, knowing that he will soon die. He asks Joseph to promise to bury him with Abraham and Isaac at the cave of Machpelah. Later, Jacob calls all of his sons to his side and blesses each one, while at the same time setting forth an honest evaluation of each. Jacob’s request is fulfilled. Following his death, Joseph and his brothers bury him in Hebron. Once their father is buried, Joseph’s brothers then begin to fear that Joseph himself will seek vengeance against them for having sold him into slavery.
However, Joseph reassures his brothers that they are safe and promises to care for them and their families, eschewing the idea of vengeance for one of reconciliation. Joseph looks to the future, not to the past.
The parasha concludes with the death of Joseph who lives to the age of 110. Prior to his death, he tells his family that they too will be returned to the land of Israel. Joseph, in gathering his family and telling them that they will one day be returned to Israel also asks that he too be buried there.
Much of course has been written about this last portion of the Book of Genesis. Among the many themes that have been explored are those relating to traditions regarding burial and mourning, leadership issues as they relate to Jacob’s honest evaluations of his sons and the question of whether lying (as Joseph’s brothers did) in the cause of peace is legitimate. I find all of these themes compelling. Yet, what strikes me about this parasha are the themes of reconciliation and coexistence. Jacob was a man whose life was spent struggling for good relations with many, including his brothers, his mother, his father and his children.
Joseph and Jacob are reconciled through Jacob’s impending death. Joseph and his brothers are later reconciled following Jacob’s death. Vengeance is not the goal nor the methodology here. It is a desire to move on to a future free of vengeance, putting the past in its proper context, however difficult that may be.
So, too, are many people looking toward reconciliation in order to build a better future. The recent convening of Israelis, Palestinians and others again raises the hope that the future of both peoples may be one marked by reconciliation and coexistence rather than terror and vengeance. There is no doubt that Israelis and Palestinians can find sufficient fault with the other to maintain a fighting posture from now until eternity. It will take the spirit of reconciliation to move beyond that spirit of vengeance and toward a future of peaceful coexistence. Many in the region seek a brighter future for their children and grandchildren in the same manner that Jacob sought the same for Joseph, Ephraim, Manassah and others.
Recently, I have joined with colleagues in an effort to contribute, in some small part, to a hopeful and productive future in a region that has seen far too much bloodshed. Together with an American Jewish colleague, an Israeli Jewish businessman, an Israeli Arab lawyer and a Palestinian businessman, we are in the process of developing Arabic-speaking call centers in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We have embarked upon this venture with the idea that peace and coexistence is created through a variety of endeavors and at a variety of levels. Our venture focuses on the areas of economic development and job creation, areas Foreign Minister Livni spoke about this week at the Donors Conference in Paris when she stated: “To restore faith in the peace process we must not only build the foundations for the future, we must improve the economic and security reality in the present.” This is important not only for Israelis and Palestinians but also for the Jewish majority and the Arab minority within Israel.
The development of jobs is critical to creating conditions that can enhance the prospects for peace and coexistence. In addition, we have sought to find a niche where we could add significant value. While there are call centers in Israel today, none are dedicated Arabic-speaking call centers. Our vision is that these call centers will provide services not only to the Arab population within Israel but also to the Arabic-speaking world. Consider what a different world it might be if the customer of a Saudi bank calls the call center of that bank for some information or assistance and that information and assistance is given by an Arab citizen of Israel from a call center in the Galilee; or when the Lexus driver in the United Arab Emirates calls for roadside assistance and that assistance is provided by a call center employee in Ramallah. Clearly, the world will have changed in a positive fashion when those experiences become reality.
Our venture will not create peace between Israelis and Palestinians, nor will it create peaceful coexistence between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Instead, we seek to view peace and coexistence similar to building a house. Our hope is to provide a single brick to the building of that house. Our hope is that this effort will provide jobs and a meaningful and prosperous future to many.
Like Jacob and Joseph, we seek to supplant a difficult and contentious past with a hopeful and prosperous future.