Ten years ago, The CJN asked a group of 20 prominent individuals to write about the books that most influenced them as they were growing up. We compiled their essays as the theme of the Rosh Hashanah supplement that year.
The supplement was very popular with our readers. We received a great many calls and requests for extra copies of the supplement. One reader even asked us to republish it as a specially bound commemorative volume.
We have renewed and revised that theme in this year’s supplement. However, rather than ask about the books that influenced them, we asked a different group of prominent individuals to write about the people who influenced them.
The result is a revealing anthology of touching, deeply felt, personal reflections from a wide variety of thoughtful and thinking individuals of diverse backgrounds, ages, lines of work and geographies.
Not surprisingly, most of the authors pointed to family members as the key influences in their lives.
The eminent criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan elegantly expressed what so many of us, too, might have written in response to the same question.
“Some teachers, politicians, actors, writers and a lot of regular people I have come into contact with throughout my life who caught my eye and who clearly have the ability to inspire, could have been my role model… But in terms of forming a vision for my own future, I cannot say that some stand out more than the rest – except for two people – my father and mother.”
Prof. Ruth Wisse conveyed a similar thought in her reminiscence.
“The influence of my home was so profound that I have almost always resisted other ‘role models’ or what are today known as ‘mentors.’
“Along the same lines, I have tried as a teacher to inspire appreciation for what was transmitted to me by my parents…”
But family members were not the only key influencers whose stories are written in the supplement. Our writers also pay tribute to teachers, activists and authors.
For example, renowned architect and philanthropist David Azrieli wrote about an elementary school teacher who instilled in him “the importance of being open to new experiences, new ideas and new challenges, and who sowed the seed for my deeply held belief in lifelong learning.”
Common to all of the stories, however, is the not-so-remarkable fact that the people singled out for such tender commemorative tribute all embodied some aspects of qualities of courage, kindheartedness, determination, compassion, a precisely honed sense of duty and responsibility, principled behaviour, empathy, a broad sense of human history, and an understanding both of human strength and of human frailty.
Of course, in telling us about the individuals who played such prominent roles in their lives, our group of writers also tell us quite a bit about themselves: how they were influenced, what were the purposes and higher causes that became their pursuits as a result of the influences, and who – and what – did they eventually become?
It soon becomes apparent that also common to the stories is a warmly conveyed, unselfconscious sense of gratitude from the writers to the many special individuals whose stories they tell.
Could there be a more appropriate time of year than this week – the eve of Rosh Hashanah – for doing so, for reflecting on who we are, for saying thank you?
But conveying gratitude is not only an activity of reminiscence. It arises each day as a result of acknowledging the good that others do for us. Thus, I must express the gratitude of the entire editorial team to our summer intern, Michelle Bitran. It was she who did the majority of the work in preparing this year’s Rosh Hashanah supplement.
We hope you enjoy it.
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The CJN also owes a debt of gratitude to Jeffrey Mills, who pointed out that, for many years, we had omitted to add the name of Majdi Halabi to the list on the editorial page of Israel Defence Forces soldiers missing in action. Halabi, a Druze from Daliyat el-Karmel in the Carmel mountain region of Israel, disappeared while on duty near Haifa on May 24, 2005. He was 19 years old then and declared missing in action on June 6, 2005.