Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director
Remarks (as prepared)
Presentation of ADL Daniel Pearl Award To
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
Los Angeles, CA
November 13, 2008
|For the first time since its inception in 2003, the ADL Daniel Pearl Award is being presented to a religious leader, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. The award was created to memorialize Daniel Pearl, the young, dedicated Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted and killed in Pakistan while pursuing a story about international terrorism.
It is given to recognize individuals whose work makes a positive impact on the image of Jews and Judaism in the Muslim world, or to recognize contributions in journalism, human relations, interfaith understanding, or political, diplomatic, and cultural arenas.
The achievements of Rabbi Schulweis encompass many of these categories, and I am honored and delighted to be making this presentation to him today.
We are especially pleased to do so here in Los Angeles, the home of our dear friends and long-time supporters, the Moss family, who endowed this award. I am delighted that George, Ruth and Richard are all here with us.
Their generosity helps us honor and keep alive the memory of Danny Pearl who in his short life proved to be a model journalist and citizen of the world: interested in other cultures, sensitive to the daily struggles of ordinary people in far-off lands, determined to use his powers of observation and language to bring the Middle eastern Muslim experience alive and comprehensible to his western readership.
An American and a Jew, Danny spent much of his career writing articles sympathetic to the Islamic and Arab worlds.
This, of course, was the tragic irony of Danny’s fate. Intent on building cultural bridges, intent on bringing his American readers the facts on the ground in the aftermath of 9/11, Danny was lured into a nefarious scheme by those who wished, instead, to burn bridges.
In the last moments of his captivity, Danny’s kidnappers forced him to say, as if admitting some horrible secret: “I am a Jew. My mother is a Jew. My father is a Jew” – and then they did their worst, and ended Danny’s brilliant life. Then, in what can only be termed the most vicious moral indignity, they used the videotape of his murder as a recruiting tool for further terrorism.
By this award, ADL seeks to keep lit the spark of Danny Pearl’s life, career, and the principals by which he lived. As a journalist often working in foreign lands where authoritarian regimes thrive, yet as a passionate proponent of America’s First Amendment, Danny was aware of the despot’s fear of the written word.
Danny lived the truth that the pen is mightier than the sword, for he used his words to instruct, to make people see things fresh and with a new understanding, and to bring light into dark corners – none of which can be achieved at the point of a gun or by the blade of a sword.
This year’s award recipient has also been involved throughout his life in instruction and enlightenment: As a rabbinical leader since 1952; as a scholar and author; as a promoter of more inclusive Judaic practice for women, gays and lesbians, and the developmentally disabled; as one involved in ecumenical outreach; and last but not least, as a technical advisor for a Jewish-themed episode of the popular animated series The Simpsons!
Rabbi Schulweis’s early Jewish education was provided at the knee of his Zayde, his mother’s father, Rabbi Avraham Rezak, who instructed him in the Talmud.
Young Harold Schulweis attended high school at the Talmudical Academy in Manhattan, and then majored in philosophy at Yeshiva University. While there, as he says, “I was impressed with Plato and Aristotle and Hume and Kant and Hegel.”
When Orthodox Jews burned books written by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, Schulweis began reading Kaplan’s work. He found him to be a traditionally observant Jew who questioned what had been done in the past and what might be done in the present.
“It changed the way in which you looked at life,” Rabbi Schulweis says, “because it suddenly makes the present tense as important as the other tenses in Jewish life.”
Rabbi Schulweis entered the Jewish Theological Seminary and studied with Kaplan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel. While at J.T.S., he simultaneously earned a graduate degree in philosophy at New York University, which is where he met his wife, Malkah, who agreed to marry him on their fourth date – having turned him down on their third.
He published his first book on the philosophy of religion and taught briefly at the City College in New York.
In 1952, Rabbi Schulweis accepted the leadership of a Conservative congregation, Temple Beth Abraham, in Oakland, California. There, he introduced the inclusion of women in minyanim and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for girls. Hebrew school enrollments doubled.
Then, instead of sermonizing from the pulpit, he engaged his congregation in question-and-answer dialogues. While in Oakland, he established the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous which recognizes and awards grants to non-Jews who saved Jews from the Nazis.
Starting in 1970, Rabbi Schulweis became the rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, where he began attracting hundreds of new congregants.
He founded a para-counseling center with trained volunteers who see 100 people a week in group and individual sessions. He began encouraging acceptance of Jewish converts and non-Jews who are members of Jewish families. He set up support and educational groups at VBS for physically and mentally disabled children and adults.
His 1994 Rosh Hashanah sermon advocating the inclusion of gays and lesbians as equal and embraced members of the Jewish community met with a standing ovation.
Rabbi Schulweis has authored many books, including Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion and For Those Who Can’t Believe. His book Evil and the Morality of God is widely considered a classic. His new book, Conscience: The Duty to Obey and the Duty to Disobey, is a deeply spiritual and unabashedly humane text that emphasizes the importance of the call to individual conscience.
The recipient of numerous awards, Rabbi Schulweis has not rested from his labors. Indeed, shocked by the revelations of mass killings in Darfur, Sudan, and reflecting upon the meaning of “Never Again!” In Jewish life, Rabbi Schulweis challenged his congregation and all Jews to live up to the mandate of those two words.
In October 2004, Rabbi Schulweis founded Jewish World Watch as a Jewish response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. JWW comprises over 50 Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform synagogues throughout Southern California with three main goals: Education, advocacy, and refugee relief for the victims and survivors of the current African genocide in Darfur. JWW plans to expand its focus by responding to human rights abuses wherever and whenever they occur.
In a few short years, JWW has initiated several crucial relief projects that have alleviated the pain and suffering of the Darfuri people, who are among Sudan’s most devout Muslims.
JWW has also provided some 15,000 solar cookers to two refugee camps in Chad.
This simple device reduces the need for firewood collection beyond the camp bounds, thus protecting refugee women and girls from rape and violence by bandits and the Sudanese supported Janjaweed militia.
The cookers do not need to be tended, freeing the women for other tasks. And the simple manufacture of new solar cookers provides income opportunities for the female refugees.
At another camp in eastern Chad, JWW has distributed 14,000 backpacks filled with shoes, school supplies, soap, toothbrushes, and mosquito nets to refugee children. In this effort to provide educational and hygiene essentials, JWW is partnering with the International Rescue Committee.
JWW funds also support the production and expansion of an innovative radio series "she speaks, she listens". This program combines local radio production, the direct voices and stories of women refugees, with community outreach. Telling their stories empowers the women and aids the recovery process for those suffering from conflict trauma.
Ladies and gentlemen, need I tell you of the kinds of horrors to which these African women have been subject? Children murdered before their eyes. Their daughters raped. Their husbands killed in an instant.
The bloodletting and violence have been cruel beyond imagining, although we have many of us heard, and some few even experienced, such violence in our own or our family’s lives a continent away and more than half a century ago.
Rabbi Schulweis, in a visionary moment, saw and believed and convinced other Jews that we could not sit idly by as another genocide of another people on another continent was committed with impunity.
That the Darfuris are mostly Muslim is incidental to the humanitarian impulse of Rabbi Schulweis’s organization, yet it is of enormous consequence that JWW has as its first mission the alleviation of suffering of an Islamic population.
If the world is to right itself in the current storm, it will be at least in part because two great religious faiths and peoples, Jewish and Muslim, was each welcomed into the other’s homes.
I am profoundly moved and pleased to present to Rabbi Harold Schulweis the ADL Daniel Pearl Award for 2008.