What Would You Say to American Jewry?
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class XV, and the Executive Director of Mechon Hadar (www.mechonhadar.org). Elie served as scholar-in-residence at this year’s General Assembly. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Years ago, when I was preparing for my Wexner interview, I gathered a few friends in my apartment for a mock interview. One of the questions my friend asked was: If you could address the leadership of the American Jewish community, what would you tell them? I remember bumbling through some answer, and begging to move on to the next question.
In Denver at the General Assembly, I had the surreal experience of my mock Wexner interview question actually coming true: I was asked to address the 3,000 attendees of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. I spent weeks thinking through what I would say, asking friends and family, talking to my students, running through drafts, and sifting through texts.
In the end, I turned to my dad for inspiration. He had written a beautiful segment for a radio show in Rhode Island describing our relationship as refracted through the Torah study we do over the phone every week. Inspired by my dad’s words, I crafted a simple message: Torah can change our lives and our relationships, and Torah shouldn’t be limited to the elite. (You can read the full text of the talks at http://www.mechonhadar.org/jfnaga2011).
At the GA, we celebrated Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson’s appointment as President of The Wexner Foundation. In her remarks, she said: “I could never imagine that I would be doing what I am today.” Living out the mock interview scenario at the GA, I couldn’t agree more.