Last week, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American Jewish Congress and the incredible work we have done in that time. We also honored Congressman Joe Kennedy III and the Kennedy family for their longstanding dedication to our shared values. Marking the conclusion of an entire century of advocacy, dedication, and progress, we of course spoke extensively about our past. And, as this also marked the start of our second century, we talked a lot about the future, as well.
But – unexpectedly, I might add – I did not only discuss the future; I saw the future.
After finishing my remarks, I received a marvelous surprise when my grandson, Alex, stepped up to the podium after me and delivered a passionate, eloquent speech. Together with his brother, my grandson Zach, Alex spoke of his relationship to me, and the two of them honored me more than they can know. But Alex also addressed his Jewish identity, his own encounters with anti-Semitism, and the Jewish future.
I hope I won’t offend Congressman Joe Kennedy when I say that Alex’s speech moved me like no other that evening.
Seeing Alex address us from the podium, with his brother at his side, was a special moment for Phyllis and me. This was an audience of esteemed guests including multiple U.S. Congressmen, past and present, as well as Ambassadors and Consuls-General from an array of countries, NYC Attorney-General-elect Letitia James, and my dear friends Marvin Rosen and Len Blavatnik, who have helped me to shape this organization over the years. Mere minutes prior, Senator Chuck Schumer addressed us from the video screens. And now it was grandson. At this moment, something finally clicked into place for me.
I think a great deal about the Jewish future, as well as the American future, and our role in shaping them. Yet we think and speak about these as abstract concepts – something distant that we can only crudely anticipate and attempt to predict. Even when that future is right in front of us, flesh and blood.
Alex is 12 years old, still a boy in many ways, but not for long. As he spoke, I could see, more vividly than ever before, the shadow of the man he will become. I saw that the future we were describing in such faraway terms will be very real for Alex. And after I am gone, Alex and his descendants will continue to reap what I sow.
The Jewish future is not an abstraction. It is here, now, not yet fully realized. It is our children and our grandchildren, to whom we have responsibility now, whom we can teach and lift up and prepare today. It is the children that they themselves will one day raise, with our examples in mind.
And we must also remember that as much as we are preparing the world to be a better place for them, we are also preparing them to do the same. The Jewish experience Alex described is not the one I lived, and it will be him, not me, who will solve the obstacles that will face Jews and others of his generation. Our descendants will face their own challenges and make their own decisions.
We won’t be here when the American Jewish Congress begins its third century. But on that day, our actions and our words today will echo. Through education, leadership, and community, our voice will endure.
We are the Jewish voice of tomorrow. So are our children, and theirs, and theirs. Last week I heard the Jewish voice of tomorrow from Alex’s mouth. Let us give our children the knowledge and passion to build that voice, and the strength and the belief necessary to speak with it.
American Jewish Congress