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Nobody Ever Died from a Question

It is written in the Talmud (Ta'anit 29a):

Rabbi Yehudah, son of Rabbi Shmuel ben Shilat said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins, rejoicing is diminished, so when Adar begins, rejoicing is increased.

Our joy today, as we mark the new month of Adar, is immense. This evening is sort of a harvest festival for us, in that we are celebrating the first fruits of almost three years of quiet work with educational and social leaders from the Haredi community.

But as was the case in Shushan on the original Purim, our joy today is mixed with sadness. Before we move on, like the Jews of Shushan, "from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to festivity" (Esther 9:22), I wish to dedicate this evening to the memory of Rabbi David Hartman z"l, founder of the Hartman Institute, who was laid to rest today in Jerusalem; and Prof. Shlomo Seymour Fox z"l, one of the founders of the Mandel Leadership Institute, who passed away six years ago. Both of them believed in the power of learning to create a bridge between individuals and communities, and they would have been especially pleased to take part in our discussion tonight.

I wish to thank also all those who worked to make this evening possible, and, above all, Naomi Perl. In recent months, we've heard much discussion of “mobilizing Haredim” and “sharing the burden”. Naomi has given these expressions new meaning. Her ability to mobilize is legendary—whether you're Haredi or secular. If she wants something from you, she'll end up getting it. She'll make sure that in the end we all share in the burden of developing Haredi leadership and building a more just society. So, thank you, Naomi for your vision and leadership, and thank all of you for heeding her call.

Our work with Haredi leaders grew out of strategic thinking. We looked at social trends in Israel, and reached the conclusion that we could no longer ignore the changes taking place in the Haredi community. To paraphrase Mordecai in the Book of Esther (4:14), Naomi asked herself and us, "perhaps it was for just such a time that we became leaders."

Today, after two and a half years of activity, there is already a network of some 90 men and women leading projects and educational and social organizations in the Haredi community—and we've only just begun.

When Naomi put together the first group, one of my concerns was that it would be too homogeneous. Until then, we had always worked with diverse, pluralistic groups. But it took me only a moment to realize that this would not be a problem. I walked into the room and immediately saw 70 facets to the Torah, or 50 shades of black, whichever metaphor you prefer. I instantly saw how much diversity there is in the Haredi community, and how much courage it takes to even sit together at the same table.

So, just what is that we do with these groups? lt can all be summed up in one Yiddish expression, "Fon a kashyeh, shtarbet man nisht," Or translated loosely: Nobody ever died from a question.

We will never tell you what to believe, or to what value to commit, or for which party to vote. But we will ask you a lot of hard questions. Above all, we will demand of you that you ask yourself hard questions. Questions such as: What is the worthy society to which I aspire? Why is it worthy in my eyes? Who is opposed to my ideas, and why? How can I lead the way there? Why in this direction and not another? And so on. And our secret is this: Such questions don’t kill you. They only make you stronger.

From opening remarks at a conference at the Mandel Leadership Institute for emerging leaders in the Haredi community

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