Yonatan Ariel, Executive Director of Makom, gave this eulogy at the Global Jewish Forum of the Jewish Agency for Israel on Wednesday morning, June 24th 2015:
Rami Wernik passed away last Erev Shabbat from cancer. He was 46 years old. He served as the North American Director of Makom and was a dear friend and colleague.
Rami is the son of Rabbi Joe and Miriam Wernik – with Joe known to many here, as he served on this Board for numerous years. Rami leaves them, his sister Idit, his wife Kim and his two children Zohar and Dvir to whom he gave his all. And an astonishing array of friends, colleagues and admirers, including his children’s mother, stellar Jewish educators on three continents, and an avalanche of students touched by his gentle and stunningly modest spirit.
We would like to dedicate this Global Jewish Forum to Rami’s memory – here’s why.
Rami – I tried, and failed, to get you to work with me at Melitz. But I kept my eyes on the prize. When we met up again whilst you were a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow we had a series of rolling conversations about life, the Jews, education and the world. You have been a charming partner ever since. The exquisite devotion you pay to your thoughts before they emerge as words, the compelling and inviting attention that you offer to any conversant, and the rigor with which you challenge ideas before you take them inside are just wonders to behold.
Avraham, our patriarch, was a revolutionary, smashing the idols of his time. In our day, when in the midst of the blogosphere and the twitterverse we are stifled and suffocated by the clamour to make a deafening noise, and more-so in strident tones, then discreet, charming Rami stood out as a superb listener. He gave the most generous reading possible of any poorly expressed thought, gently enabling the other to be at their best, not trashing them for being their worst. Avraham Wernik, like his namesake, was a revolutionary for our times too.
So when you came to work at Makom, my heart thrilled. The purposefulness, the resolve to succeed in an honest way, and the spirit of fun and adventure that you displayed was magical.
For years I have called you by a nickname: Rambo. It always struck me as a delicious and judicious choice because of its incongruity. Rambo is the bulked up, physically aggressive drifter, lunging and wandering hopelessly. Contrast that with you as the smart, sensitive, handsome caring man with loyal anchors in so many areas of your rich life. Yet the determination with which you chose Jewish education as your profession and your knowledge, passion and skills for philosophy and its applications to real life is what it takes to be an elite craftsman in the education ‘A’ team. You prepared meticulously, designed passionately, and interacted delicately – with an abundance of care for your pedigree, your peers, and your participants. What an honor to be with such gifts.
Rami was the quintessential value-driven educator committed to and loving Israel and the Jewish People.
He was a true bi-lingual, bi-cultural talent. He spoke Jewish and Western with gusto. He grew up in Israel and having survived Hodgkins disease he was educated both in the US (JTS-Columbia, Harvard and Stanford and as a Wexner Fellow), and in Israel (Hebrew University and as a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow). He was a wonderful professional and an influential figure at Melitz, Mercaz Herzl, Camp Ramah, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in California, the American Jewish University and has for the last several years directed Makom’s programs in North America, travelling the continent to cultivate and teach the embodiment of Klal Yisrael.
Leah Goldberg captures Rami’s bi-focal commitment in her poem Oren – Pine. The last two verses read:
אולי רק ציפורי-מסע יודעות
כשהן תלויות בין ארץ ושמיים
את זה הכאב של שתי המולדות.
אתכם אני נשתלתי פעמיים,
אתכם אני צמחתי, אורנים,
ושרשיי בשני נופים שונים
Perhaps only migrating birds know –
suspended between earth and sky –
the heartache of two homelands.
With you I was transplanted twice, oh my pine trees
with you, I branched into myself and grew –
And so my roots are in two disparate landscapes.
As Jon Levisohn his friend and co-conspirator in philosophy of Jewish education wrote:
“Rami was kind, compassionate, honest, funny, and so smart. Never naive, but never a cynic. If you ever had a conversation with him about Israel, you know what it sounds like to care so deeply that your critique is, genuinely, self-critique... He radiated warmth and kindness. He’s the kind of person who deflated ego just by his presence.”
Our tradition teaches us:
עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות
(משנה, מסכת אבות, פרק א’, משנה ו’).
Find a teacher and acquire a friend, and judge each person with merit.
My experience with Rami was that the order was reversed. First you found a friend, and then slowly, elegantly, he would peel the layers of his wisdom and offer them graciously for your consideration.
This is the distilled essence of what I have learned from Rami:
- Care and be curious about generations – those before you, those alongside you, and those after you.
- Practice listening, and learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Let your ears trump your mouth.
- Think before you speak. Think fast, but think first.
- Find work that you believe in, that you can devote your whole self to.
- Eat nuts, fruit and dark chocolate every day.
- Make and nurture wise, happy and caring friends.
And that is why this Global Jewish Forum is dedicated to Rami z”l.
With tears in our hearts we remember a gifted educator, a deep thinker, a great team member and an all-round mensch. We are all going to sense the palpable absence of his warmth, intelligence, and moral compass. We will miss him terribly. With every good wish for the journey onwards.
יהי זכרו ברוך May his memory be for a blessing.
[Also appeared on Times of Israel]
It all started with the Exodus from Egypt. That was the moment when the Children of Israel asked themselves four fundamental questions, and answered them with remarkable unity.
Nowadays, hearing about ad hominem attacks in the community, deep splits over Israel’s path, and divides within Israel itself, unity is the very last word that comes to mind. It might be that this Pesach we may find the comfort of solidarity through sharing the same four common questions, even if our answers now differ radically.
The story of the Exodus can be summarized with four Hebrew words that translate as: “To Be a People, Free In Our Land.” (When you think about it, it kind of makes sense that the Exodus story has a Zionist flavor!) These four words, that now live as the penultimate line of Israel’s Hatikvah anthem, also played out then, as now, in the form of four timeless questions.
In Egypt the Children of Israel were facing existential questions of a life in slavery (To Be?), struggling with a newly-embraced collective identity as a People and not just a fractious extended family (People?), exploring freedom from slavery and the freedom to commit (Free?), and setting off for the Land of Israel (In Our Land?) – and in following Moses across the Red Sea, the Children of Israel released the Four Hatikvah Questions into Jewish consciousness.
As we sit around our Seder night tables this Pesach, in addition to the traditional four questions sung by our youngest, we may be able to make out this additional set of Four Hatikvah Questions making their presence felt.
These are no longer the days of miracles. We can no longer expect consensus on the answers we each reach. But there is deep value in sharing questions about Israel in our lives.
What is the best way to ensure our survival? How can we best assess what threatens us, and how might we best neutralize these threats? (When) can we chill out and just “be”?
What makes us a collective? How should our religion, tradition, and faith play out in our lives? What value should we place on unity and solidarity among Jews, if it risks distancing us from others? In what way should our Jewish values of justice, and tikkun, drive our collective actions and thoughts?
How should the Jewish People innovate, create, and renew? What democratic structures and norms are required within Jewish communities and within the Jewish State? How can they enable us to freely choose how decisions are taken and implemented? How do we resolve the tension between “freedom” on the one hand and a commitment to the collective of the “People” on the other hand?
In Our Land?
Is Land important? When we talk of “our” Land, do we use the possessive pronoun as we would when we refer to “our apartment” or “our car”? Or is the pronoun more about identity: “Our Land” like “our family”, “our friends”? Must we be and live “in” our Land, in order for it to be truly “ours”, or can we be anywhere in the world?
When we argue about Israel, we are reviving the ancient tensions between the four questions – two universal, two particular – that walked with us through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, and continue to challenge us to this day.
May we all reach the harmony of our own ongoing answers, and may we continue to ask the questions of ourselves and of others in love and respect.
[Illustrations commissioned by Makom from Shay Charka]]
It doesn’t really require a translation…
This election campaign has been characterized by a great deal of mud-slinging and negativity from all sides. This cartoon from Shay Charka covers many of the more troubling remarks and accusations.
And the voter traipses on…
Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Yekutiel Alpert, from the old settlement in Jerusalem, was the “Mukhtar” of a few neighborhoods before the establishment of the State. Here he describes his first walk to the voting station (the list he refers to in this piece was the United Religious List. Imagine today’s Jewish Home, Shas, Yahadut HaTorah, and Yahad running together on one list, where the commonalities are greater than the differences.)
“At 05:35 in the morning I awoke, and we got up – my wife, my brother Rabbi Shimon Leib, and my brother-in-law Rabbi Netanel Saldovin, and my son Dov. After we had drunk coffee, we put on our best Shabbat clothes in honor of this great and sacred day.
“For this is the day that the Lord made in joy and happiness. For after two thousand years in exile or more, and one might even say from the six days of creation to this day, we have never been honored with a day such as this, that we may go to the elections of the Jewish State, and blessed be that we have lived and existed and reached this time.
“… I and my wife and my brother-in-law went to vote at HaHabashim Street, with our State of Israel identity booklet in our hands. In great and awesome joy we walked that short distance, and all the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself. There was no limit to my joy and happiness.
All the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself.
“The caretaker brought the ballot box, and the Chairman called to me and said, “And thou shalt glorify the elderly”, and that since I was the oldest one there, that I would be the first to vote.
“With a thrill of the sacred and awe of the holy I handed over my Identity booklet to the Chairman, and he called out my name from the booklet. The deputy Chairman noted down my name, and gave me the number one. He passed me an envelope and I entered the second room, where all the paper slips of all the lists were laid out. And with a trembling hand and emotions of sanctity I picked up the slip with “Bet”, the United Religious List, and placed it inside the envelope I had received from the Chairman.
“I returned to the voting room, and showed everyone that I had only one envelope in my hand.
And then came the holiest moment of my life.
“And then came the holiest moment of my life. A moment that my father did not live to see, nor did my grandfather. Only me, in this time, in this life, was honored with this sacred and pure moment. Praised be me, and praised be my portion. I made the “Shehechiyanu” blessing, and put the envelope in the ballot box.
“I shook the hand of the Chairman, the deputy Chairman, and all the other committee members, and left the room. I waited in the corridor for my wife, for she was second, and my brother who was third, and after him my brother-in-law who was fourth to vote, and at 06:28 we went home, and I went to pray. A great festive day.
This is the way the elections promises line up so far. With over a month to go, it is interesting to see where Israeli politicians are putting their mouths, so to speak.
As we know, election campaigns are generally focused on persuading the floating voter, and so parties often talk less to their home crowd and more aim to impress newcomers. As such, this laudable open source initiative is revealing. The chart above is taken from the ongoing google sheet, to which the public is invited to report politicians’ promises.
In terms of our 4HQ approach, we can see that the vast majority of the promises live within the People/Free areas. 35.5% of promises address economic welfare issues, 13% talk about lowering the costs of housing, and another 2.4 % talk of medical care. Add to that the face that nearly two-fifths of the coalition demands (which make up 20.2% of all promises) also address socio-economic issues, this means that well over half of all election promises made are on what in Israel are known as “chevrati” – socio-economic issues.
Only 6% of promises would fit into the security/peace deals category, compared with 11% of promises addressing corruption and good government. About a third of promised legislation addresses Jewish People issues, such as conversion, the rabbinate, and Haredi conscription to the army – round about 6% of all promises.
So according to promises so far, here is our 4HQ chart of election promises!
The Labor/Tnuah combo has chosen to call itself the Zionist Camp.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not a boutique clothes shop in Tel Aviv, but a political party with serious intentions. Their first introduction to the Israeli public is in this short video that begins with Herzog challenging: “Zionism? Let’s talk about Zionism!”
Soon thereafter this very video was “altered” by the opponents of the Zionist Camp.
We present both videos for you, parsing them through the filter of 4HQ, the Four Hatikvah Questions –
I must emphasize before beginning that these are my personal readings of the videos, hence this blog is under my name not Makom in general. We’ll all be having a go at this game in the coming few weeks – and you are also invited to add your reading to the comments below!
This is one of my poems. Dedicated to my partner, who celebrates his birthday this week. We are celebrating five years of acquaintance, and four years since he told me he loved me.
The eighth candle of Hanukkah. A candle of rain outside, of joy in the home, of faith in general, and of faith in love in particular.
Love is Hard Work
If you see one Rainbow
The second rainbow will show immediately
You said you love me
And if the second rainbow will show
so will the third
You`ll keep loving me
Even if I am fired.
It was raining in Tel Aviv
And Jerusalem kept dry
The price of the petrol just rose
But rainbows are for free.
And love is hard work.
וְאִם קֶשֶׁת אַחַת תּוֹפִיעַ
מִיַּד תַּעֲלֶה הַשְּׁנִיָּה
וְאָמַרְתָּ שֶׁאַתָּה אוֹהֵב אוֹתִי
וְאֵם תעלהַ הַשְּׁנִיָּה תּוֹפִיעַ גַּם
וְגַם אִם יְפַטְּרוּ אוֹתִי
עֲדַיִן תֹּאהַב אוֹתִי
וּבְתֵל אָבִיב יָרַד גֶּשֶׁם
וּמְחִירֵי הַדֶּלֶק עָלוּ
אֲבָל קֶשֶׁת זֶה בְּחִנָּם
Agi Mishol was born in Hungary in 1947 to holocaust survivor parents, and arrived in Israel as a baby. Today she lives in a Moshav, married to a farmer, and her poetry is full of the pastoral landscape in which she lives, of her experiences as a part-foreigner in Israel. I chose the poem “Shahida – Woman Martyr” for its politics. Since when does anyone write a poem about suicide bombings?
You are only twenty
and your first pregnancy is an exploding bomb.
Under your broad skirt you are pregnant with dynamite
and metal shavings. This is how you walk in the market,
ticking among the people, you, Andaleeb Takatkah.
Someone changed the workings in your head
and launched you toward the city;
even though you come from Bethlehem,
the Home of Bread, you chose a bakery.
And there you pulled the trigger inside yourself,
and together with the Sabbath loaves,
sesame and poppy seed,
you flung yourself into the sky.
Together with Rebecca Fink you flew up
with Yelena Konreeb from the Caucasus
and Nissim Cohen from Afghanistan
and Suhila Houshy from Iran
and two Chinese you swept along
Since then, other matters
have obscured your story,
about which I speak all the time
without having anything to say.
One of the more painful weeks in Israel began with the horrific murder in the Har Nof synagogue of three people at morning prayer. It concluded with the response-song by Amir Benayoun.
Benayoun is a talented and powerful singer – religious, Mizrachi, tortured and original. He is so respected that the new President of Israel invited him to perform at the President’s residence for an event commemorating Jews from Arab Lands.
Straight after it was discovered that one of the Har Nof murderers had worked for years at the grocery store just round the corner from the synagogue, Amir Benayoun recorded a song. Called Ahmed, it is seemingly “sung by” an Arab called Ahmed. The chorus goes:
It’s true I’m just ungrateful scum
It’s true but I’m not to blame –
I didn’t grow up with any love
It’s true that the moment will come
when you turn your back on me
And I’ll stick a sharpened axe in it.
It was clearly a cry of pain, with no small amount of deep confusion (the musical style of Benayoun’s singing is so Arab!). It was also an ugly piece of racism. Benayoun’s defence that the song was about one particular person and not all Arabs simply didn’t hold water.
Israel’s President, right-wing Reuven Rivlin, did not hesitate. He immediately cancelled Benayoun’s participation in the festival at the President’s residence. And stated very clearly that it was because of the song.
I light my final candle of hope for my new President, who is committed to bringing light into the darkness.
It’s reality TV. But not like you’ve known it.
To be honest, I don’t know – perhaps the ingenious format of “Connected” is a well-known format outside of Israel, too – but its incarnation in Israel is fantastic.
Each season a group of unconnected interesting, fascinating, sometimes famous people, are given a camera or two for a month or so. They film themselves all the time, interacting with the camera as they would to a very personal video diary, or a running stream of consciousness.
None of them meet – they are in different worlds. One might be a stand-up comedian, another a writer, another the unsuccessful daughter of a successful TV presenter – the connections are made in the editing room. Each episode is themed, and the editor jumps us from character to character, exploring the theme.
It’s not cheap. It’s not sensationalist. It doesn’t (seem to) create monsters to hate, or freaks to ridicule. On the contrary. We see the humanity, the tenderness, the hilarious, and the challenges of real life.
This season I’m in love with the sensitive, unstable, vulnerable and gifted Lior Dayan, son of actor and director Asi Dayan (whose death we experience through the eyes of Lior in one episode – see photo), and grandson of Moshe Dayan. I loved the bit when he’s playing with his baby son who pokes him in the eye, “Don’t do that. We have a thing in the family about eyes,” says his father patiently.
Seventh season of Connected: Seventh candle.