April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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In the Mighty Jungle, the Lions Sleep Tonight

Shloshim (the Jewish 30-day mourning period) has now come and gone for them both. Ariel Sharon and Edgar Bronfman were eulogized as Lions of Judah. Sharon’s first name clearly denoting his role in Israeli life and history, Bronfman’s very being carrying the gravitas of Jewish leadership in a world that can often resemble, well, a jungle.

Edgar and Ariel: two great, strong-willed, emphatic representatives of an all too needy people who are thirsting for a modern day Moses. Both coming from entirely different worlds: one an heir to the Canadian Liquor Throne, the other a cattle rancher on a distant Israeli farm. One with a highly secular and Jewishly uneducated background, the other with an unparalleled inbred love and passion for the Jewish People and Israel. They come together as one—both lovingly eulogized by Prime Minister Netanyahu at a recent Birthright Israel ceremony, and both vilified by the worst of antisemites on countless wacko blogs—Sharon being remembered as a “Butcher,” and Bronfman as a “Jewish Mafia Don.”

Each taught us multiple lessons at various junctures in their lives. What is most unique about this couple, though, is the ultimate message they left us.

Our sages teach us, “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death.” Meaning, let’s wait until the last day, the last moments of breath on this earth, to judge a life. Such perspective is especially fascinating when applied to the lives of Edgar Bronfman and Ariel Sharon.

Sharon was “The Warrior” who fought like a lion in the greatest of Middle Eastern jungles while strategizing like an Einstein. His military brilliance has been well documented in every accounting of the Six-Day War and especially during the 1973 Yom Kippur War which saw Israel on the brink of disaster. Yet he was the Prime Minister who disengaged from Gaza—much to the scorn and deep pain of the Israeli right wing—and to the delight of the Israeli left. Such a move seemed totally out of character for Sharon, who in one astonishing and highly self-serving and divisive press release from a well-respected Israeli Hesder yeshiva was remembered as:

[A] brave warrior and great leader; thus his actions were great and his mistakes were profound and painful. For the course of many years, students of the yeshiva, alumni and rabbanim, were in the circle of Ariel Sharon. They fought beneath his command in numerous wars, and found him to be a distinguished general and brave fighter. Likewise, they were his partners in building The Land of Israel, and settled in many of the towns in Yehuda & Shomron that Sharon was privileged to establish.

Yet, the yeshiva—rabbanim and students—went to Gush Katif and personally experienced the tragedy, the degradation and the pain of the uprooting of the towns and inhabitants in Gush Katif, a destructive action that was initiated by Ariel Sharon.

At this time we will remember his great moments, his courage and his dedication for the sake of The Jewish People, and will put to the side the large blunders and mistakes. However, we will remind ourselves of the warning of Chazal: “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death.” May we and our leaders be privileged to state, “Happy are our mature years that did not embarrass the years of our youth.”

My, how gracious. The man readily sacrificed his own life for the Jewish people and the land of Israel, saved hundreds of lives, took immense heat for Sabra and Shatilla in 1982, yet was judged by countless groups with agendas all their own. Maybe I’m naïve. Israeli politics is a jungle indeed.

And then you have Edgar, who admittedly only became a true Jewish leader when he began studying his own Jewish heritage at age 50. His later-years pursuit of all things and knowledge Jewish, incredibly and in his own words, made him who he was.

Edgar was eulogized for Shloshim at an elegant Avery Fisher Hall memorial service attended by over 1,000 people, many colleagues and I included. “In my own life,” states the last page of the Tribute Book distributed at the event, “I was engaged in the larger world around me as a curious person who wanted to learn. It was a drive to understand and enjoy my life and be connected to something larger than myself in my love of reading, learning, and in my case, studying and learning about Judaism that allows me, at age 84, to see my life as fully rounded.” Fittingly, the evening was entitled Edgar M. Bronfman: A Life Fulfilled. Not surprising to those who knew him, the opening page of the tribute book features a quote from the Talmud in Tractate Taaanit page 5B.

Bronfman walked into many a jungle. He helped to out UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim as a Nazi. He fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews before it was en vogue. He turned the atrocious lies of the Swiss Banks form a mere $5.6 million discovered at first glance to an astonishing $1.2 billion dollars in what he called the greatest robbery in the history of the world. My own mother, a survivor and testimonial witness in the Swiss Banking hearings of 1997, had the privilege of sitting next to him in the U.S. Senate during those very proceedings. And like Ariel Sharon, he was a brilliant thinker and strategist who told the world like it is. Upon being met by a Vatican representative in Rome and informed of a new doctrine of tolerance for the Jews, Edgar famously responded, “I don’t want your tolerance, I want your respect.” Best of all, Edgar, for whom I had the privilege of working during my years at International Hillel where he chaired the Board of Governors, took young people seriously. His real power, said Dana Raucher, long-time Executive Director of Edgar’s Samuel Bronfman Foundation, was that “he invested heavily in the potential of youth and deeply believed in the power of Jewish education. Because youth never lost the ability to see the world as it ought to be.”

Ariel and Edgar undoubtedly had strong differences of opinion throughout their years. Each in his own way fought the good fight, and took chances until the very end of their days. They were brave-hearted lions in some very dangerous jungles. I only wish I could listen in on their discussions right now.

Sleep well, mighty lions. You have earned your peace.

Robert Katz has been a Bergen County resident for 25 years and has been a Jewish communal professional since graduating Yeshiva Unversity in 1985. He can be reached for comments at: [email protected]

By Robert Katz

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