"If you will it, is not a dream." This profound quote was one of the central messages expressed by guest speaker Henry Winkler at the Combined Jewish Appeal's Opening Event on Wednesday, September 8, 2004.
These words, first made famous by renowned Zionist Theodore Herzl, rang clear and true in the hearts and souls of many Vancouver Jewish community members that evening. In his speech, actor, director and author Henry Winkler articulated that with positivism, a vision for the future, confidence and belief in humanity, a dream can become reality.
Even with the wide variety of people attending the event at the Schara Tzedek Synagogue, the main purpose for one and all seemed to be united under one belief: to take responsibility for their community and to address pressing global issues like anti-Semitism and the political crisis in Israel.
Livia Mahler, a native of Haifa, Israel, expressed her feelings on the importance of attending CJA's opening event. She agreed with the CJA's billboard slogan "because the frontline has reached the backyard." When asked why, Mahler simply responded, "if not us then who?"
Prior to his speech, Winkler approached the boardroom where he spoke to event organizers, encouraging everyone in the room to maintain faith. While tremendous fear of assimilation still circulates throughout Jewish communities world-wide, Winkler believes that from what he had seen thus far at the Vancouver CJA event, especially the desire of so many to participate in the event, Winkler himself has maintained faith. He noted that something as disheartening as the Vancouver Jewish community disintegrating from fear of assimilation could not happen.
The heart of Henry Winkler's speech expressed great empathy and outreach to Jews globally, in particular children and the younger generations. He commented on the importance of positive attitudes in today's world being essential to see the youth of all Jewish communities achieve their goals, allow their dreams to become a reality, and provide a safe and positively reinforcing environment for them to flourish in a world of anti-Semitism and ignorance.
A son of German Jews who immigrated to New York City in 1939, Winkler was subject to constant criticism, negativity and put downs by teachers, family and peers for being lazy, lacking motivation, and wasting his potential throughout his years in grade and high school. Today, he makes light of the discomfort he had with himself as a youth, telling audiences anecdotes of his misfortunes in academics and his difficulty meeting the expectations of his parents, teachers and even his peers. He also tells of the struggles he faced in life from a learning disability like dyslexia.
Henry Winkler proved that everyone who doubted him was wrong, especially himself. After attending Emerson College, Winkler was commendably admitted into the Yale School of Theatre where he began to grow as a young actor, and believer in helping others to see the world progress and change for the better. "Don't put a period on the end of a negative thought," commented Winkler.
Today Winkler still acts, directs and has developed a series of children's storybooks, based on his own personal experience, about a young boy who suffers in elementary school due to a learning disability. Winkler is also heavily involved in a variety of children's foundations that work towards helping youth dealing with learning disabilities. The fundamental message in Winkler's speech made clear his view that children are "today's youth are the adults of tomorrow" and that being vulnerable and in need of role models, children must be surrounded with a positive attitude and environment.
Quoting humanitarians and great thinkers like Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, Winkler illustrated to his audience that in order to see the Jewish communities of the world come to a stable and comfortable position in society, we must all contribute to a great cause, like helping one another, a cause that coheres impeccably with the philosophy of an organization like CJA.
Local Jewish community members Michael Fish and Andrew Rosenblatt made clear that their sense of responsibility and obligation to the community drew them to hear Winkler speak and participate in CJA's event. Fish stated that moral and financial support could only come from the core of the community itself - its members. Rosenblatt concurred, stating that the community has to rise to the challenge of the "frontline reaching our backyard."
Winkler expressed that his most memorable Jewish moment in his life was his Bar Mitzvah, perhaps implying that his journey into Jewish manhood and responsibility was his first step forward in representing and helping Jews in the diasporas of the world. Winkler stated that we must align our spirits with our drive to achieve in order to make or ourselves who and what we want to be. Pride in his Jewish identity was at the root of Winkler's speech, in particular his statement: "never forget who we are and where we came from."
As Winkler ended his speech to resounding applause, the dessert reception concluded the evening where local community member Lynn Moss reacted to the speech. "He hit home in many respects," stated Moss, and added that many of the issues he addressed regarding improving self-image, making the most of who we are, and helping children, were touching and motivating. According to Moss, and many of her peers, the Combined Jewish Appeal did a fine job choosing a mensch like Winkler to stand before an audience as a role model.
Elad Guberman, a shaliach who recently arrived from Israel, commented that it was wonderful to see Jews congregated in hope of social justice and activism in the diaspora. However, he said what really counts at the end of the day is how people will react after leaving the CJA event and returning to their homes where they can think about how to use Henry Winkler's words as a means of moving them into action.
To visit our CJA 2004 opening event photogallery Click here