Dear NY16 Vexnerim,
I’m cruising at 35,000 feet. We just said good-bye, and I miss you already. I’m exhilarated, exhausted and appreciative. I just want to sleep.
But I can’t. Even as I’m coming off the “high” of our week together in Israel, I feel the dread coming on like a freight train: how am I possibly going to answer those questions?
You know, those questions, from family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even my doormen: “How was your vacation? Where did you go? What did you do there?”
Of course, I could respond with the usual stand-bys: Great. Israel. Lots of Stuff. But that feels disrespectful to Les and Abigail, to the staff of The Wexner Foundation and all of the amazing people whom we met along the way and who made the Summer Institute happen.
How can I possibly capture this experience in a normal, 60-second social conversation? (A year into “Wexner” and I still can’t manage to explain what being a “Heritage Member” means without confusing people).
This Israel trip was massive, unusual and featured people and locations few will have heard of. Some will have a deep knowledge of Israel, it’s history, culture and politics; others will not. Some will have an enduring love and appreciation for Israel and the Jewish people; others will not. Some will have a genuine curiosity to learn of and from my experiences; others will not. How do I frame my responses appropriately?
And then I remembered that innovative approach our tradition, developed in response to a similar problem. Just as the Four Questions at our Passover Seder begat the Four Children, my apprehension about those questions spawned my own set of quadruplets. Let me know what you think!
The Four Questions — Wexner Israel Edition
The Simple Child asks: What Did You Do in Israel?
“It was a different type of trip. Although I ate well and stayed in some very nice hotels, we didn’t go to religious or historical sites. An organization called The Wexner Foundation arranged for me to meet a diverse group of men and women from throughout Israel. Some of the people we met were religious, some were not. Some were Jews, some were not (yes, 20% of the Israeli population is Arab). Many of them were amazing people, doing important work in their communities; I feel fortunate to have met them. I gained a much better understanding of what’s happening today in Israel than I had just a week ago.”
The Wise Child asks: Why Did You Go to Israel?
“For the past year, I’ve been participating in a program through The Wexner Foundation. This past week, I joined over 100 “Wexner Heritage Members” (along with their spouses) in Israel. We met some exceptional grassroots leaders from across Israeli society, including secular Jews (Hilonim), ultra-orthodox (Haredi), religious Zionists or nationalists (Dati Leumi) and Arab Israelis (Palestinians). The experience afforded me a unique opportunity to see Israel and it’s society through each of their distinct (and often contrary) perspectives. I now have a richer understanding of the country, as well as some of the long-term challenges it faces. This is important as I think about what my own relationship with Israel will be, particularly in my capacity as a Jewish leader.”
The Wicked Child asks: Why Would You Go to Israel? Why Would You Talk to Those People?
“We go to Israel because Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. We as Jewish leaders need to develop a mature relationship with Israel as it is, not how we want it to be. If we care about Israel’s future as a democracy and as a country, then we need to understand the critical demographic, religious and cultural forces that will determine that future. During our trip, we met with secular Jews (Hilonim), ultra-orthodox (Haredi), religious Zionists (Dati Leumi), and Arab Israelis (Palestinians). We chose to meet these men and women in their own communities, as each of these ‘Four Tribes’ will have their own narrative in Israel’s future. Some of those conversations were inspiring. Some were uncomfortable. But I will be a better leader for having engaged in those conversations.”
The One Who Does Not Know How to Ask
“You may not know this about me, but I’m active in the Jewish community. It’s an important part of who I am and how I spend my time away from home and work. You may have noticed I was away last week. I wasn’t actually on vacation but rather on an educational trip to Israel. Although I had traveled to Israel before, it had been for different purposes. I didn’t travel to Israel this time to see religious or historical sites. Instead, an organization called The Wexner Foundation arranged for me to meet a diverse group of men and women from throughout Israel. Now that I’m home, I appreciate how complex and diverse the country is. In the decades ahead, Israel will face some challenging social and political issues, and I’m not sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the country. If you have any of your own questions about Israel, I’m happy to be a resource for you in helping you find an answer to them. “
Jonathan H.F. Crystal, a current WHP (NY 16), is a third-generation principal of Crystal & Company, an insurance brokerage for leading financial institutions, corporations and nonprofit organizations. Jonathan serves as the firm’s Chief Financial Officer. As a lay leader, Jonathan serves as an officer and member of the Board of The Jewish Museum, the Board of Friends of Mount Sinai and on the Advisory Board of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. He grew up in San Antonio, Texas and lives in New York City with his wife Rabbi Darcie Crystal and their three children, Eli (12), Hannah (10) and Abram (6). Jonathan can be reached at Jonathan.Crystal@crystalco.com.