Bob Goldfarb 88 248.
(photo credit: David Stromberg)
Like many other essential aspects of his life - including his religious observance and working in Jewish culture - Bob Goldfarb, 53, approached the idea of moving to Israel gradually.
He first visited 13 years ago, and like most people fell in love and thought to himself, "I wonder what it'd be like to live here." Visiting some friends near Emek Refaim - Goldfarb's current neighborhood - he saw that "not only was this a place of history and holiness, it was also a place where people have fun."
But the idea of living here was mostly "a fantasy I enjoyed thinking about," and though over the years he found more and more reasons to travel here - it reached the point that he was visiting three times a year - the thought to move permanently "didn't become real in my mind till a couple of years ago."
Goldfarb was interested in media from a young age, worked at the college radio station and, after receiving his MBA at Harvard, went into radio management. "I spent decades managing and programming classical radio stations," he says, with pride tinged with fatigue. He was dedicated to his professional life, but it lacked a Jewish component until finally, five years ago, while living in Seattle, he produced a radio show called American Jewish Music from the Milken Archive with Leonard Nimoy.
A couple of years ago, Goldfarb decided that he wanted to work in culture - Jewish culture - and moved to New York, working with nonprofit organizations as part of Arts Consulting Group. "In New York I got involved with Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, and also got to know firsthand the new movements in Jewish life, meeting people I'd read about and admired."
Goldfarb then became president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity (CJCC). The organization had been based in Los Angeles, where he had once lived and worked, but one of its tenets was that Jewish culture springs from and centers on Israel over and above other components. "That started me thinking: Giving people access to the best of Jewish culture necessarily had to include the non-Diaspora perspective." It seemed fitting that, with this focus on Israel, "the logical thing was for CJCC to have a physical presence here."
"A lot of friends in New York ask, 'How does it feel to know you're not coming back?' I told them it felt like I was stepping into my real life." Goldfarb had traveled so much to Israel in recent years that he immediately started calling friends and making plans for the holiday, Shabbat and even setting some business meetings.
"I go to places I know - like Cafe Masaryk, where we are now - I shop at places I know, I speak with people I know. It's like home. No, it is home."
"My family history is distinguished by its ordinariness." Goldfarb was born in the suburbs outside of Hartford, Connecticut, and his family wasn't particularly observant or closely associated with Israel. Growing up, he never went to Jewish day school or summer camps, and wasn't involved in youth groups or Hillel. "Like most Jewish kids growing up around there in the '50s and '60s, we had to figure out how we wanted to succeed in the world, and secondarily how to be Jewish in that world."
"Throughout my career, the main reason for any move - and I've moved about a dozen times - has been for work."
Israel is no different. Here, Goldfarb hopes to create new partnerships between CJCC and local cultural organizations. One of the first programs he hopes to established is a series of creative workshops with American and Israeli youth, so that they can come together not only socially, but also to learn each others' cultural production. "We also hope to have festivals in multiple cities that would bring all the different facets of Israeli culture to North America."
Since his first visit, Goldfarb's favorite street in Jerusalem has been Emek Refaim, and living near there was part of his fantasy. "It feels beshert that two weeks before moving here I got an e-mail from a friend who told me about the 'perfect apartment' for me. And that it turned out the person who lived there was not only a friend of a friend, but that I had actually met her once."
In recent years, Goldfarb says his hobbies have converged with his work. "Read, listen to music, go to museums and the theater. This is what my work is - to be aware of what's going on in these fields."
Most of Goldfarb's friends are olim. These friends, he says, were a powerful factor in his desire to live here. "They chose to be here for some purpose: for religious reasons, to become social workers, to work in nonprofit organizations. In recent years I've longed for that kind of purpose, and these friends were a source of inspiration."
"It's embarrassing that I don't already speak Hebrew, but I speak enough to get by." He was proud of himself when, during an hour-and-a-half-long meeting at the bank to open an account, he didn't have to fall back on his English once. "Though I'm not sure I understood all the fine print on the documents I signed."
He describes a moment of "shameful recognition" while traveling in Germany last spring. "I realized that I could do reasonably well reading a German newspaper, but that I was lost trying to read one in Hebrew. I asked myself: What's wrong with this picture?"
Goldfarb is modern Orthodox, and says he makes it to minyan at least once a day. "Like all things, it was a gradual process." During his childhood and young adulthood, he never wore a kippa. At some point, he started carrying one in his pocket in case he needed it, and about 15 years ago felt more and more of an urge to wear it. "But I thought it would be peculiar to leave work Friday without a kippa, and come back Monday wearing one." So he waited until he changed jobs.
"This is something I've wrestled with for a long time," says Goldfarb. "Not whether I identify as Jewish, but how I identify as Jewish. In America, there's only a tacit recognition of Jewish ethnicity, and it's considered mostly as a religion. But I've known intensely Jewish people whose identity was constructed around something else - maybe their grandparents were Yiddish socialists, or they themselves have a strong faith in Israel.
"Recently, as a byproduct of working in Jewish culture, I came to think of culture as something that's shared by a people, and Jewish culture has those various components - religious, geographical, historical. I've tried to transcend the sometimes antagonistic boundaries where some Jews say you have to choose sides in contradiction to other Jews. I want to feel kinship with all kinds of Jews - atheist, Yiddishist, haredi, cultural - to identify with all of them."
Goldfarb wants to be a part of the the renaissance of Jewish culture that he says is going on now, and to see the kind of appreciation for the depth of Israeli culture that is accorded to the great cultures of the world. "It'll take time, but I'd like to look back five, 10, 20 years from now and say that in some way I helped that along - to appreciate the brilliance of creativity in Israel."
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