Jerusalem City Councilor Laura Wharton Speaks at the Dedication of the Taube Family Campus Entrance Plaza

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Good morning, good afternoon. It really is a great honor for me to be here as a representative of the Jerusalem municipality, as a representative of the Jerusalem City Council, and most importantly,as an elected representative of the residents of Jerusalem. I thank you for the invitation, and I’d like to thank all of you for the wonderful work you do in this terrific center of activity– Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institution of Religion, the Taube Family Philanthropies, the Jerusalem Foundation, Safdie Associate, all of the supporters, staff, students, and many other important activists in all fields that I know from my work in Jerusalem. I thank you for the freshness and openness of ideals and traditions you bring to the city and to Israel and for the beautiful gateway in this strategic spot. I’d also like to say, in continuation of some of the remarks of Moshe Safdie, that I know that this project required great stamina and perseverance.

As someone who works with the Jerusalem municipality, I know that getting anything through is difficult, and I think it’s wonderful that this all managed to work in this very strategic spot in the city. Here in Israel, where the Jewish people have spent more than 75 years now, rebuilding a state for the Jewish people, is a place where we can all feel strong and safe and offer equality and cooperation to all the people and peoples within our borders.

I’m proud to be here as a citizen of this remarkable country. And yet, there are nasty winds blowing that threaten the most basic principles of our heritage as well as our democracy, many of our citizens, and our connections with the Jewish world. Israel was created to be a haven for the Jewish people and a place for renewal and a light unto the nations that guaranteed in its Declaration of Independence full and equal rights for all of its citizens. We see that now, despite the amazing growth and strength of the Jewish people, unprecedented in our history, with Israel’s astounding accomplishments in every field, including national defense, there are those in this country who out of misunderstanding and misinformation are acting in ways that show fear, weakness, suspicion, and generate animosity.

To me, this center and this new gateway that we are inaugurating is particularly important now, more than ever, and can help reestablish, reorient so to speak, and help bring to the forefront the most precious principles to which we have been directed for all of our history; to love one’s neighbor as oneself. To guarantee free treatment of those amongst us who are different from us. And of course to always seek justice. All these, Hebrew Union College and all its activities, keeps front and center as all Jewish organizations should. On a personal note, I’d like to say that I was born in Tenafly, New Jersey, where my family remembers in the local Reform synagogue, the rabbi at the synagogue was the first person to suggest I visit Israel. It is thanks to him and to my grandmother, Dida Levine, the pivotal Zionist in my family, that I am here today. And I must say that now, a few years on, I’ve never been more grateful or felt more strongly the importance of the Reform movement and of the need to continue developing Judaism in keeping with the changes in human society and developing new forms of equality that had not yet occurred to our forefathers, thousands of years ago; equality between men and women, amongst people of all backgrounds, among the people of different colors and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and of course people of different faiths and leanings.

At the inauguration of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in 1925, Chaim Bialik, the great national poet, spoke. He said, “We know that real wisdom comes from learning from everyone. The windows of this building,” as he spoke at Mount Scopus, “and its gates will be open to the four winds from each direction to bring in all the best and the most uplifting from all that human creativity and spirit can bring from all times.”

And I’d like to notice my friend Ilani Razhi pointed out the president of that great university, at which I have the privilege to teach, was a Reform rabbi, Uda Magnus. This certainly applies to this place here. It is a place that I think every place of learning should be like and aspire to be. And I know it is according to these principles that this center runs. This new gateway, opening onto the central King David Street, is an embodiment of just that thinking.

I could mention too, something that Yigal Allon, a general and Minister of Education and Foreign Minister of Israel said. He said, “A nation is like a sailboat. The physical capabilities are not sufficient. One needs spirit to move forward.” And this, all of you here have, to help bring, move forward all of us and all of Israel. So again, I thank you for being here today and every day, to bring inspiration, learning, openness, and spirit. They’re so essential for all of us, and especially to Jerusalem. Thank you.