Engaging neighbors takes more than a check
You cannot buy friends.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh announced that it gave Federation money to the Bhutanese community, the Japan America Society, Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania and the World Refugee Day event. How could those people help us combat anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel? More important, would they even try?
For 2,000 years, we have been persecuted — not because of our religion, but because we have been economically successful. In every country, we turned a bunch of dirt farmers into an agrarian economy. Some Jews became wealthy and powerful. Some locals wanted that wealth and power for themselves; so they played the religion card. The peasants were uneducated and totally ignorant about what Jews had brought to their economy. They could easily believe all the lies about Jews. Thus, the persecution repeated over and over again.
If you would like to forget that history, then remember what George Santayana said: “Those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it.”
Look around you. Since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the Jewish community has flourished both financially and socially, but the anti-Semites and the BDS people are getting stronger. Our persecution scenario is repeating. In order to avoid the same ending to that story, we have to fight back.
We cannot fight anti-Semitism and BDS head on, because for every fire that we can put out, they can start 10 more. However, their success or failure depends on supporting approval from the general public. Take away that public support, and they cease to be a problem.
We are the best educated civilization in the history of mankind, but our gentile neighbors still do not know what Jews have contributed to the civilization that they enjoy. We do not have to brag; all we have to do is tell them of all the things that Jews have contributed to civilization, and the gentiles will draw their own conclusions.
Jews have touched the lives of everyone in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates exist because a Jew named Barney Dreyfuss turned a losing team into a success. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra exists today because a Jew named Bertha Rauh led the fundraising campaign in 1926. Point Park University began as a business school operated by Dorothy and Harold Finkelhor. Dr. Jonas Salk led the team that created the polio vaccine. Maurice Falk donated the Falk Clinic at UPMC. Phil Hallen, as the director of the Falk Foundation, orchestrated the pilot program that became the prototype for all emergency medical services worldwide.
A Jew named Thomas P. Detre was the visionary leader who transformed UPMC into the top-flight treatment facility, medical school and research powerhouse that it is today. The KDKA Turkey Drive was created by KDKA commentator Al Julius. Giant Eagle and Levin Furniture were founded by Jewish families, and they employ thousands of Pittsburghers.
Look beyond Pittsburgh: The cell phone was invented by Motorola at its facility in Israel. A Jew named Phillipe Kahn invented the cell phone camera. Andrew Grove was a co-founder of INTEL, which made the microprocessor in your computer. The Windows operating system was created in Israel. Google was invented partially by Jews, and Facebook was as well. Myspace, Paypal, Instagram and TripAdvisor were also founded or co-founded by Jews.
Two months ago, many learned those stories at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival at the Israel booth. The booth was not staffed on Saturday, but anyone could walk through and learn what was being presented. They were confronted by a 10-by-10 mockup of the Western Wall with a picture of the real Kotel and an explanation of why that is a holy Jewish site. There were also pictures of Pope Francis and President Obama placing their prayers between the stones of the wall. Visitors were invited to do the same, and 73 people did! On the Sunday of the festival, we had a Torah for our guests to see.
There are many ethnic festivals throughout America, but the local Jewish community usually does not participate because the festival usually occurs during Shabbat. That is unnecessary. I design the Israel booth so that a stranger can walk through the booth and glean most of the information I want them to learn without any staff. The booth is erected on Friday before Shabbat, and the booth is taken apart after Shabbat.
Ethnic festivals are an opportunity to communicate with our gentile neighbors. Not participating in the festival makes us look like snobs!
I pay the costs of participation in the Folk Festival out of my own pocket, not from community grants.
Lee Feldman lives in Dormont.