Jewish American Heritage Month: Who Are Your Heroes? Part III

  • Team Schusterman

May 29, 2014

  • ROI Community

As part of Jewish American Heritage Month, Schusterman teamed up with Repair the World to ask Repair Fellows, Schusterman ROI Community members and Schusterman REALITY participants, "Who is your Jewish American hero?" We received several unique and thoughtful responses, all of which will be shared throughout the week on both the Schusterman and Repair blogs.

Repair the World enables people to transform their neighborhoods, cities and lives through meaningful service experiences rooted in Jewish values, history and heritage, including through its Fellowship program, in which volunteers commit to one year of service in their community.

Inspired to Stand Up 
Rachel Wallace - Repair the World Fellow, Philadelphia

I was raised by two attorneys. I had to learn to hold my own in every discussion, and my dinner table discussions were inevitably about politics, law, and the issues of our time. My parents introduced my siblings and me to an array of legal issues and legal figures, ranging from flag burning to Ralph Nader.

A champion for civil rights, a defender of the indigent, and a strong supporter of Israel, dinner conversations about Alan Dershowitz stand out in my mind.

He is a model Jewish American figure who came from humble beginnings and has never forgotten his roots. He embodies the Jewish values with which I was raised – standing up for those in need, and using one’s knowledge, education, or other resources to give back.

Dershowitz stands up for the little guy, and engages in Tikkun tikkun Olam olam (repairing the world) by fighting for rights and freedoms for all, both in the United States and abroad.

I admire Dershowitz, as he became an attorney for the right reasons and uses his training for good – to ensure that all receive a fair trial, and that every individual receives a defense.

Through his trials, he single-handedly tests the legal system, guaranteeing that no one is taken advantage of by the law, a complex system that most Americans cannot understand without training.

Dershowitz not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He applies his values to every individual, and believes that everyone has a right to a defense, even unpopular people. Over half of his cases are pro bono, in which he helps the David against the Goliath, and provides a voice to those who may otherwise not have one in the courtroom.

Having taken more pro bono cases than any other lawyer in private practice in the U.S., Dershowitz brings key elements of social justice into the legal world, fighting for those who deserve the right to a lawyer but cannot afford one.

Dershowitz defends the little guy on a global level, as well. He fights for Israel when it receives unfair and overwhelming attacks, and when no one in the international arena defends it. Nonetheless, he holds Israel to high standards and demands civil rights across the State of Israel. He is not afraid to criticize it to ensure maximum freedoms for its citizens.

Having battled anti-Israel sentiment and actions myself, including blatant anti-Israel hostility on campus, I see Dershowitz as an inspiration for his ability to fight an uphill battle defending Israel.

I not only admire Dershowitz’s standpoints and opinions, I admire his tenacity.

When reflecting on his legal career as a civil and human rights activist, Dershowitz stated, “I’m a very tough guy, and I fight hard, and I don’t give up. And that makes me friends, and that makes me enemies, and I know that.”

Dershowitz inspires me to stand up. I hope I will make friends this way, but know that that may not always be the case.  

Working Towards the Greater Good  
Adam Soclof - ROI Community member

"Long eminent in philanthropic, social and communal work, the Jews of America, through the increased advantages at the disposal of the Yeshiva, will be able to broaden their field for the training of scholars and religious leaders for their people. This is of importance, not only to them but to our national life as a whole." Read more here.

These remarks were conveyed by President Calvin Coolidge to mark the founding of Yeshiva University, a flagship Jewish educational institution in the Orthodox community.

Modern American Jews are keenly appreciative of the comforts afforded by their country. And yet, the concern of being deemed to particularistic, too focused on ourselves to the exclusion of others, remains a lingering concern, perhaps an evolutionary vestige of our own distant history of feeling excluded at the hands of others.

Coolidge's praise of a Jewish institution represents the fulfillment of our hope that as Jews, our pursuits will contribute to some greater good and be recognized as such.

During Jewish American Heritage Month, identifying Jewish heroes isn't so much about celebrating one person, but any person seized by the spirit that characterizes the American dream; values-driven pioneering.

This spirit takes many forms in the Jewish community today: A lay leader navigates complex zoning ordinances to establish a community center. A high school student athlete instinctively recalls his EMT training and saves a competitor's life on the field. A group of environmentally conscious friends build and scale up a farm to teach ethics through the agrarian lifestyle.

The process doesn't always make the history pages or headlines. (The examples above did.) But all across the country and over the course of our nation's history, we find instances of Jewish individuals whose determination to have an impact locally earns the admiration of their fellow Americans.

And that is the essence of America, a land where everyone regardless of creed, origin or external appearance can exercise the right to achieve great things while preserving (or asserting) the democratic rights of others.

Rapid changes in telecommunications continue to shorten the distance between any two communities across the globe. As our consciousness of these communities continues to grow, so does the marketplace of opportunities to serve them through our activities.

This month, let us celebrate all Jewish individuals in America who have modeled good citizenship in our communities, and apply these lessons as we incorporate more individuals around the world into our consciousness.

Think local, act global - and remember that local activity impacts the global, too.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.

Ready to dive into a year of service? Apply now for the Repair Fellowship!

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