I believe in books and that Benjamin Franklin was right when he said the library is the greatest American institution. I am a library evangelist and was delighted to be in Los Angeles for the “It Happens Every Spring: Annual Library Lunch” at Stephen W. Wise Temple organized by Roberta Lloyd, Library Director and the Library committee.
Dana Guerin introduced Naomi Wolf by saying that Wolf’s father had taught her to do nothing without passion. This group of Jews was passionate about books, libraries and dealing with real issues.
Naomi Wolf shared about why Jewish women have been successful in America. From Lilith the first woman known for being a disobedient and disruptive feminist to Sarah who had a voice of her own and protested sharing her husband to Miriam and Deborah and to the more recent Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Diane Feinstein, Jewish women can be seen in large numbers in leadership.
Wolf spoke about how finding the passion points in our personal stories allows us to access the powerful authentic tales we need to tell. As Jews, we have a high involvement style of speaking that Deborah Tannen has written about in her work on culture and gender. Jewish women have been raised with the idea that we are entitled to a voice and that talking has a positive social value. For these reasons, Jewish women can often be seen in successful leadership roles.
Given our past narrative of being landless in Europe, Jews were often required to be entrepreneurs and chose ideas. Studying law allowed for many conversations about justice and meaning. However, Wolf talked about how Holocaust trauma has created a situation where many people have a near knee-jerk reaction to situations in Israel and are fearful about survival which allows for Jews to be blind to aspects of ourselves as occupiers.
Wolf also talked about what it means to be chosen. In the Torah, the idea of being the chosen people is about a process not a place. It is a transaction with G-d. If you visit the sick, if you do justice to the slave and the poor, if you are compassionate then you are my chosen people. If you are good and just, then this space will be blessed as a promised land. Wolf said the chosen people are not an ethnicity but those who choose to share this place as good people.
What is necessary is for us to encounter each other. Seth Godin recently wrote about the difference between search and discovery: “Search is what we call the action of knowing what you want and questing until you ultimately find it. Discovery, on the other hand, is what happens when the universe (or an organization, or a friend) helps you encounter something you didn’t even know you were looking for.” Wolf was encouraging listeners to consider that when we find the “other” and meet face-to-face we have the opportunity to engage, meet and discover options. There can be healing when we are all in one room.
Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback shared that we are a Jewish community celebrating books. As a group, we come together to create a place to have hard conversations even if we disagree. The genius is to know how to listen to each other’s voices and share concerns and thoughts. When we ground this discussion in Jewish tradition as Naomi Wolf did, there can be magic and healing in community and sharing stories.
Thank you to Naomi Wolf, Dana Guerin, Roberta Lloyd, Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback and the Library Committee for creating a memorable and inspiring program.
About this Article: Lisa Niver Rajna, M.A. Education, is a passionate writer, educator, social media ninja, speaker and global citizen, who has traveled to over one hundred countries and six continents. She is the creative spark behind We Said Go Travel and just returned from filming in Puerto Rico with Richard Bangs and White Nile Media.