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Leadership

It was Saturday afternoon, 15 years ago, November of 1995. I was driving to my then home in Livingston, together with my family. We were having lunch at the home of Israeli friends and my colleague, the Northern New Jersey shaliach Shlomo Ben Asher. Probably we ate too much Israeli style food and had too many Israeli style political debates; in any case it was time for us to rush home for our traditional Shabbat afternoon nap. Strange as it sounds, my car radio is always tuned to the news channel. I am a known news junkie. I was driving on the Garden State Parkway, partially listening, partially dreaming. In the background, the usual stuff: “1010 NEWS,” “all news all the time,” “you give us 22 minutes, we give you the world,” “business, weather, sports, transit and transport.”

 

Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin
Suddenly something unusual caught my attention: Larry Cantor at the editor desk asked Lee Harris at the news desk to put Jay Bushinsky on the air for a special report from…Tel Aviv. Jay’s report was only three short sentences. I remember each word: “Shootings were heard in the Tel Aviv square where a large gathering was held. Prime Minister Rabin was rushed to the hospital. Back to you, Lee.” That very moment, I somehow knew that our Prime Minister was assassinated by a Jew. I simply knew it. I turned my head to my six and 10-year-old sons who were playing with their Gameboys in the back seat, and told them with the most serious voice and dramatic tone I could gather: “Kids, stop everything and listen to me: you will remember this moment for the rest of your lives. Our leader Yitzhak Rabin was just murdered.

  

At home, through CNN and a flood of telephone calls, I learned the horrifying details. Max Kleinman was one of the first people I called. As he wrote in his recent blog, I caught him in the midst of a birthday party and we had to change a “major gifts” event planned for the following night. Talia Lador Frescher from the Israeli Consulate in New York volunteered to come over instead of comedian David Brenner. Sunday morning, after a sleepless night, I was asked by Julie Rosenberg to talk with a group of youngsters who were going to go to Israel. I couldn’t talk to them or to anyone else. I brought candles and I asked each person to light one. There we stood silently in a circle in the Whippany campus backyard with candles in our hands, trying to hide the flames from the wind and the tears from our eyes. Later that day I called Murray Laulicht, president-elect of UJC MetroWest, whom I didn’t know personally at that time, and asked him if he would perhaps consider going to Israel for Rabin’s funeral on our community’s behalf. It took him half a second to reply: “Of course, what time are we leaving?”

 

A month later, there was a commemoration ceremony at Madison Square Garden. There was a huge crowd and a lot of balagan (chaos). I was a “captain” of a “Daughters of Israel” yellow bus. At the New Jersey Turnpike toll booth, the driver’s window wouldn’t open and he couldn’t pay the toll. The line and pressure behind us was getting worse. I brutally ordered a tall man sitting in the front seat to please go out and personally pay the toll. It took him half a second to reply: “of course.” This was my first real encounter with Murray Laulicht. It is one thing for a new shaliach to send his federation’s president to Rabin’s funeral. It is a totally different story to send him to pay a toll on the highway. I thought he would hate me forever for that, but somehow we became friends.

 

Leah Rabin, Shimon Peres, Al Gore, Aviv Gefen, and our own Steven Flatow were among the people on the stage at the tribute ceremony. The hall was packed and it took us forever to find a seat. When I finally sat down, I realized that sitting in the chair next to me was the same Shlomo Ben Asher who hosted my family for Shabbat lunch on the day of the assassination.

 

Wait, this is not the end of the story. Fast forward several years. I am back home running the MetroWest Israel office; Shlomo Ben Asher is back home working as a tour guide. I am taking a group of MetroWest visitors to see Rabin Square, telling them the above story of where I was and what I said when our leader was murdered. I raise my head and in front of me was standing…Shlomo Ben Asher…doing the same with a group of tourists that he was guiding. We were telling the same story, each one mentioning the other one’s name, at the same time, at the same place at the very site of the assassination.

 

Amram Mitzna
Amram Mitzna
Amram Mitzna, a retired IDF General, was elected in 1993 as mayor of Haifa with the strong endorsement of Yitzhak Rabin. A decade later he was elected head of the Labor Party. For many he was considered Rabin’s successor. However, internal politics brought him to quit national politics. In 2005, Mitzna left the Knesset and chose to contribute and serve the country and Zionism in a most unique and appreciated way: he became the appointed mayor of a small development town in the Negev called Yerucham. His vision was to develop the town by investing in the younger generation, encouraging them stay after their army service and bring in new families.
Tzvika Greengold
Tzvika Greengold
A few years later, Tzvika Greengold, a businessman and a war hero of Israel, chose to do the same and became the appointed mayor of our own partnered city of Ofakim. His vision for Ofakim is the same.

 

Michael Biton
Michael Biton
Mitzna’s term has just ended after five successful years, when municipal elections were held in town. Tzvika is still serving and trying to promote his/our vision. The newly elected mayor of Yerucham is a greatly talented young man, a friend, and a colleague. Michael Biton (40) grew up in Yerucham, served as the director of the local matnas (community center), worked as director of Partnership 2000, and recently as the Israeli representative of the Canadian Jewish community. He brings to Yerucham the exact new spirit that Ofakim is seeking. A group of 20 young adults from Ofakim are now attending a special leadership training program at the Mandel Center. Perhaps the next elected mayor of Ofakim will emerge from them.

 

Good luck to Mitzna in his next endeavors. Good luck to Biton in his new assignment. Good luck to Greengold in accomplishing his vision. Good luck to the young leadership group of Ofakim in taking over. Good luck to all of us in developing local and national leadership. It is soooo needed.

 

Drishat Shalom

 

 

 

 

Amir

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