Archive for the ‘Origins’ Category

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One Year Later…

December 7, 2008

In a rare occurrence, I have back to back personal posts, and for those who regularly read this blog for my other essays, I apologize.  For those who have read this blog form its beginning, you know that it was inspired  by my friend Jon Barkan z’l who passed on from this world one year ago today.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my friend, and what we all miss in his absence.  Nevertheless, while we honor those who have died with our memories, we also honor them with our lives and the way we live them. Even as we find ourselves sometimes lingering in the shadow of death, we must draw ourselves into the light of the living – to fill voids, to create anew and to celebrate all that life has to offer. I am certain that is what Jon would say  –  and that is what I now say as well.

This morning I was given the privilege of addressing a group of pro-Israel activists at a local AIPAC function. It was fitting that this gathering occurred on the first secular anniversary of Jon’s passing – it reminds us that important work must go on, life must go on, and that it it incumbent upon all of us to recognize both.

Below is the text of my comments delivered this morning.

Comments Delivered to Atlanta-Area AIPAC Breakfast Briefing on 12/7/08

My friends, I am glad to be here with you today, in a room full of pro-Israel activists who have taken time out of your busy lives to spend some time learning about and advancing the interests of pro-Israel politics in our nation. And even as we gather together, it is not lost on any of us that there is one dear friend that is not in the room with us today – our friend Jon Barkan.

One year ago today, we woke up to a world without Jon walking among us.  It was hard for us – it is hard for us – to fully reconcile the loss we all suffered, the loss his family suffered, the loss our community and Jon’s many communities suffered.  There is rarely a day when we don’t speak of our memories of Jon, and the ways he impacted all of us.  And never a day has passed where we haven’t felt diminished by the loss of his ability to do so much, to be so much, and to help so much.

Nevertheless, we have soldiered on with the memory and the legend of Jon in our hearts and minds.  And we have soldiered on in a world that, in many ways, has changed around us.  We have a new US administration and new elections in Israel. We face new economic challenges and new and increasing challenges in the international arenas.

However, there is much about our world that has remained the same. There is still a need to recognize that Israel has numerous enemies that pose serious threats to its safety and its very existence. There is still a need for a strong US/Israel alliance, with substantial economic, diplomatic and military ties.

There is still a need for a room full of pro-Israel activists to gather to learn about ways to support pro-Israel policies and the elected officials that establish those policies.

So in the days following Jon Barkan’s death, many of us recognized that perhaps one of the best ways to honor our friend – a friend who was an enormous pro-Israel advocate, was to inspire and recognize other pro-Israel advocates to do what Jon did – work tirelessly to strengthen the bonds between our two nations.

Through the generosity of several individuals and families, including many in this room, the Jon Barkan Israel Advocacy Award was established.  The award shall be given annually to an individual living in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area who is under the age of 40 and has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to Israel by means of leadership, activism or involvement in organizations or activities that strengthen the bonds between Israel and Atlanta-area Jews.

Criteria for selection includes demonstration of significant leadership ability, level of passion and involvement in pro-Israel causes, and the potential for greater pro–Israel leadership responsibility in the future. Nominations will be solicited from across the Atlanta metropolitan area and the selection process will be administered by local professional and volunteer AIPAC leadership.

The annual recipient of the award shall be formally recognized at the annual Atlanta-area AIPAC Community Event and, along with a plaque commemorating the award, the recipient shall receive a $1,000 stipend to be used for attendance to the AIPAC Policy Conference (held annually in Washington D.C.) in the year in which the award is given.

To date, over $23,000 has been pledged to endow the fund. Contributions are tax-deductible, and to the extent any of you are doing year-end tax planning with respect charitable contributions, contributions can be made to the fund at any time for any reason. My wife Marci and I have done exactly that, and I invite you to join us in that honor of our friend.

The process for selecting the first award recipient is already underway and if you have any nominations, the professionals at AIPAC will soon be communicating with you the opportunity to share such nominations.  The recipient will be announced at the community event this spring.

When speaking of a righteous Jew who has passed from this world to the next we say – zichrono livracha – let his memory be a blessing.   May that be the case with our friend Jon Barkan, together let us remember on this day and each day that his memory is a blessing.  And let us ensure, with the Jon Barkan Israel Advocacy Award, that his legacy continues to be an inspiration to future generations of pro-Israel advocates.

Advocates just like you.

Thank you.

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The Point

August 4, 2008

For those of you (if there are any of you) who regularly check this blog for a dose of commentary on the state of our Jewish community, please indulge me a personal digression.

For the past few days I have been visiting my parents at their summer lake cottage in the Adirondacks.  It is located on the shore of Willsboro Bay of Lake Champlain and has been in our family since 1967.  I came here as a child and now I bring my children here – it is a place of continuity for me, and a place I feel most at home.

Now I will admit, the first days of my visit were a bit rocky.  As a special treat, I brought with me my five year-old and three year-old daughters, leaving at home my wife who is spending some one-on-one time with our two-month old son.  Now anyone who has had children knows, taking young children out of their regular routine can be difficult.  And taking them away from home can be especially challenging.  And taking them away from their mother is no easy task. Doing all three at one time?  Well, let’s just say that is hard.  Really hard. And so the first three days of the trip were a bit of a mixed bag.  A bunch of highlights, some predictable adolescent meltdowns, and a lot of in-betweens.

But today it all came together.  Despite a (typical) early-morning wake-up (their choice, not mine), the girls played beautifully together and despite the (typical) lengthy, albeit beautiful drive over the mountains towards Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, the girls had a wonderfully fun time at The Wild Center: The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks in Tupper Lake.  They were sweet to their grandparents for treating them to such a nice day and tonight, as I was tucking them, in they couldn’t have been any more loving to me either.

It is days like this that outweigh all other days.

And then tonight I followed my usual ritual of walking to the Point. The Point is the northernmost point at the edge of the Willsboro Point peninsula on Lake Champlain, and is only a few minute walk from our family cottage.  It is a rocky little area that juts out into the lake where facing east on a clear day you can see Burlington, Vermont and facing west you look across the mouth of Willsboro Bay.

But to me, the Point is a whole lot more.

It is a place of repose, and a place where I can hear water all around me, see sky all above me and feel a calmness permeate through me.  It is only a short walk up a dirt road and down an even dirtier path, but when you walk through the edge of the tree line it is like a different world opens up to you. Everything else you know is behind you and the Point is the only thing ahead of you. It is exactly the last place you were before you got there, and there is nowhere else to go. It is a place yet it is no place. It is… the Point.

And today as I walked up the road to the path that leads to the Point, I looked over at the lake and studied the beginning of the sunset. The lake is high this summer, the rains have been heavy and quarrelsome, stubbornly persisting in a summer that is usually filled with much more sun. The path was muddy because all of the rain, and slippery under foot – at a result, this year it took me many more and smaller steps to get to the Point.  And as I approached the tree line I noticed the dissipating body of a fallen bird and resigned myself to noting that even while walking this year’s path to the Point the penumbra of Death was unavoidable.

But then when I walked through the tree line I was there… I was at the Point.  The majestic, inspiring, humbling Point.  It was the same Point I visited with last year, but like every year before, I saw it with different eyes.  I reached it by walking the same path, but with slightly different feet.  Was it the same Point and I was different? Or was I the same, but the Point had changed?

So standing on the Point tonight I was overwhelmed with questions.  Studying the water lapping around the Point’s cragged edges, I wondered if the water was winning its endless effort of domination or was the Point? When I visit the Point in my annual journey down the muddy path do I give it strength to persevere in the face of the swirling waters, or does it give me strength to do the same? And why come here in the first place, why is the Point so perfect in my mind?

And then I remembered my day with my children. And I remembered my day with my parents. And I remembered how I talked about both with my wife. And at the Point, my questions slowed and my answers emerged.

Was this day the perfect day? Is this place the perfect place?

I believe it was and I believe it is.

And I believe that is the Point.

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What a difference a year makes

July 10, 2008

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year I was in Israel with my wife Marci and the Atlanta Wexner ‘07 group for the culmination of our participation in the two-year Wexner Heritage program. To be more exact, we were in Jerusalem with our friends Jon and Elizabeth Barkan, celebrating Jon’s 39th birthday. We spent the evening in Jerusalem at dinner speculating on the due date of the Barkans’ new baby, whether Marci and I would have another child to join our two daughters, and what the coming months held in store for us.

Little did we know.

It has been 10 months since we celebrated the birth of Benjamin Barkan. And now it has been 8 months since we mourned the death of Jon Barkan. It has been 5 weeks since the birth of Jordan Cohen, our third child. And it has been exactly one year since Jon’s 39th birthday. One year since that evening in Jerusalem.

What a difference a year makes.

Jon maintained a blog about his life, his passions, his friends and most importantly, his family. In December, Jon stopped writing in his blog – far before the time when his story should have been finished.

Today, on what would have been his 40th birthday, I am going to begin writing mine. It will not be as funny, nor as colorful as Jon’s, and I am hoping that it will be more of a conversation rather than a blog. A conversation about Jewish questions, Jewish people and Jewish futures. But more about that later.

In looking back at the past 12 months – a year – I have seen joy, and sorrow, and joy again. I have seen highs and lows, feelings of tremendous audacity and tremendous humility. And I have seen everything in-between. I have learned some lessons, but I have also learned some of the questions that are revealed to you only when you are faced with the boundless drama of creation that unfolds through our lives.

But mostly I have learned that a year does make a difference.