(Photo by Abe Novick)
Earlier this week, Jews from all over the world descended on Baltimore for The Jewish Federations of North America’s 81stAnnual General Assembly (JFNAGA.) From regional Federations, non-profits and governments to media outlets and Nobel Prize winners, B-more was abuzz with inspired thought and a groundswell of activity.
Olam Broadcasting''s Radio-J was there and filling the hall’s atmosphere with Israeli music, interviewing passersby. Members of The Israel Consulate spoke brilliantly on the brand of Israel and the struggles to enlighten the U.S. citizenry and thought leaders held breakout sessions throughout.
But it was on Monday, when one of the main highlights took place as Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel sat down with Soviet refusenik Natan Sharanksyand went back in time to the era when Soviet Jewry was the cause célèbre.
They were interviewed by Laura Bialis, founder of the Foundation for Documentary Project, who called the movement to free Soviet Jews “one of the most significant stories of contemporary Jewish history.” Elaborating further she hailed it saying “its success meant the rescue and emigration of over 1 million Jews to Israel, transforming Israeli society.”
While many suffered under the Soviet regime, Sharanksy noted that what was different for Jews was, “Jews were deprived of their identity.” Early in the movement, in 1969, Wiesel went to Moscow and saw what was taking place after which he considered himself a messenger. He told how Israel, as a symbol of Jewish survival, took up the cause but that at the time America was unaware of what was going on. “When did change come asked Bialis?” “Why do you think people became so passionate and devoted years of their lives to the cause, he had a short concise answer, “Young people.”
While there, and prior to the talk, I spoke with some young people in the audience. As I recalled the memory of the “Save Soviet Jewry” bumper sticker on our family’s big old station wagon from the 70s, (left on for years until it peeled), they provided their own association with Soviet Jewry: Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live” as Emily Litella editorializing about “saving Soviet jewelry.”
But in all seriousness, I wondered, what is the cause today that rallies Jews from around the world to unite? It struck me that today; the world is upside-down from where it was. It was then, in the 70s, when the feeling still lingered of not having done enough during the dark years of the Holocaust was still with us. Israel too was treated as a David through the lens of the news media and fighting against surrounding Arab armies bent on its destruction.
Yet fast-forward to today and during just the last week, as southern Israel was being bombed, I scoured the mainstream press for news and reports on what was taking place as over 100 missiles were raining down on homes. What did I find? Practically nothing. Though hundreds of rockets poured down on Sderot and the Eshkol region, the MSM was silent. It was not until halfway into writing this piece, that I got an alert from The Washington Post with the headline, “Israeli airstrike in Gaza kills Hamas military commander.” It’s not until the end of the fourth paragraph that there’s even a mention of it being a response to the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza.
“Palestinian witnesses say Israeli airstrikes have hit a series of targets across Gaza City, shortly after the assassination of the top Hamas commander.
Hamas security officials say two Hamas training facilities were among the targets in the Wednesday afternoon bombings. Plumes of smoke are rising in the air, and people are running in panic through the streets as militants angrily fire their weapons in the air.Earlier, Israel killed the head of the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Jabari, in an airstrike. In all, Palestinian officials say six people have been killed in the Israeli attacks.Israel says the airstrikes are the beginning of a broader operation, launched in response to days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza.”
Similarly, the MSM lacked the focus on Benghazi too until it became salacious involving a “Dallas”, “Dynasty”, “Melrose Place” soap opera appeal. Does a missile have to strike near Israeli model Bar Refaeli, tearing her clothes to get some attention?
If, as Elie Wiesel said, the contemporary cause of Human Rights began with Saving Soviet Jewry and if Tikun Olam (repairing the world) is today’s Jewish catchphrase, then the world has to first become right side up before it can fix it.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at abebuzz.com.