On Prayer, Person & Purpose

Published under Life, Religion Sep 23, 2007

How does a secular Jew relate to prayer? What is the meaning of Judaism, particularly in the modern world? 

What I love about Judaism has always been its overarching emphasis on striving to become better human beings.  The golden rule stems from Judaism: Do onto others…

I particularly admire the concept of “Tikun Olam”, that we are here in this world to make it better, to heal it.  I was raised in my Mexican Jewish school reading stories from Isaac Bashevis Singer and other Yiddish writers about that humble Rabbi’s unassuming good deeds in the shtetl (the little village in the farmlands of Eastern Europe).

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people.  It is not a day for celebration, though, as much as for introspection accompanied by a fast (so, instead of telling a Jewish person “Happy Yom Kippur”, you may want to say “Have an Easy Fast” or “Gmar Hatima Tova”, which means, may you be inscribed in the heavenly book).

When Yom Kippur comes, I try to use prayer as a way to meditate on how I can improve as a human being.  These are some of the reflections and areas I thought about – and will work on – improving:

Try to be more patient.  Try to be more patient with my Mom.  Try to be more patient with my team.

Try to be more empathetic and understanding.

Strive to be a better son.

Strive to be a better partner to Michelle.

Strive to be a better brother.

Strive to be a better friend.

Strive to be a better team member, mentor, CEO, colleague.

Be on time.  Be on time.  Be on time!

Fight all instincts at arrogance, conceit, self-importance, superiority, and haughtiness.

Treat every human being with respect and as an equal.

Be a better coach, be more supportive of my team, empower my team more, be better at guiding, trusting, strengthening.

Expect nothing from anyone, fight any sense of entitlement, never feel any support is not enough or not acceptable, be genuinely grateful for any support any person gives to the OneVoice Movement.

Never speak bad of others, never criticize people behind their back.

Give more time to my team at the company, and be thankful to them for their understanding for the time I have judged I need to give to OneVoice.

Strengthen and support my team for their professional and personal growth.

Be tolerant of errors, and guide team to excellence in a positive way.

Strive for justice, equality, peace, progress, light, prosperity, respect, humanity.

Fight terrorism, fight fundamentalism, fight to extinguish all forms of violent extremism.

Reject, uproot and actively fight any form of crime, abuse, mistreatment, cruelty, or injustice.

 

While prayer some times contains allegorical words designed to take you to a place where you can ponder and reflect on your role in the big scheme of things and on the importance of keeping in perspective what we each are in the grand design of life, some Yom Kippur prayers are actually quite poignant in teaching all of us to recognize we are far more imperfect than we would like to acknowledge.

Here is an example of prayers about sins we seek absolution from, from the seemingly mundane to the truly wicked, which I would not have thought about in my singular reflection but which all congregants probably realize we need to work on:

For the sin of the mocking voice,

For the sin of the clenched fist,

For the sin of the deceitful smile,

For the sin of spoken falsehood,

For the sin of enjoying violence

For the sin of causeless hatred….we seek forgiveness.

Somehow the way these are written, it makes you come to terms with your imperfections and failings.  "For the sin of spoken falsehood" – yes, nicer way to put it but I guess I’ve lied at some point in the course of last year, and I regret that…

And also the following:

We have sinned against you by polluting your earth

We have sinned against you through evil thoughts

We have sinned against you through false pride

We have sinned against you through wanton glances

We have sinned against you by envy

We have sinned against you by committing iniquity

We have sinned against you by hardening our hearts

We have sinned against you by being stubborn

We have sinned against you by perverting justice.

The above are NOT verbatim or in order, just to the best of my recollection, and from cryptic little notes I took…against the edict of not writing during Yom Kippur…

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Here are the type of people I really like and admire: doers with a heart and a purpose, without inflated egos, with a can-do attitude and the resourcefulness and creativity to get things done and not allow anyone to stop them.  Imagine all of this and you get Laura Ziskin.

Laura produced the 3 Spider-man movies (with Avi Arad), as well as last year’s Oscars, among other things.

But as of yesterday she is now to be best known as a new member of the OneVoice Movement’s Trustee Advisory Board.

Adee and I were impressed at her level of commitment and resourcefulness yesterday.  My favorite part was when she brainstormed that Larry King should cover the OneVoice Summit, and she just picked up the phone and cold-called to pitch the story to the producer, who she did not know.  She did not even mention who she was or throw her weight around.  And when the producer somewhat roughly indicated he was on deadline and didn’t have time, she matter-of-factly took a pen and agreed to just drop him an email.  Please understand she is a very powerful producer, but she is successful because she is Laura, the doer, and instead of wearing her accomplishments on her sleeves, she just continues to get things done.

She continued to brainstorm on several other BIG ways in which she was committing to help advance our efforts for October 18th.

And by that night she had cranked out six poignant emails following up on everything she promised – and more!

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Adee Telem and I stopped by Danny DeVito’s home earlier today.  The only sad thing about that visit is that Rhea Perlman, his better half, is in London performing in Boeing-Boeing (to rave reviews) so we missed her.  But separate from that, Danny is always adorably amusing, funny and down-to-earth, so it is always fun to catch up with him.

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I met Danny and Rhea through my dear friend and Board member Joel Fields, who himself learned about OneVoice (back in 2001 or so called the PeaceWorks Network) when Mohammad Darawshe and I spoke at the home of Susan Baradaran – who I met through Sepi Djavaheri – who I met through Gabriela Velasquez, who learned about this idea from a flash presentation that Rohan Nirody, back then a 19-year old college intern at my company PeaceWorks helped me create.  This is a reminder of the Power of One – starting with 19-year old Rohan, every one of the above people was a critical catalyst to help us spread the word about the movement and eventually reach major influencers, and the same string of relationships has repeated and repeated with dignitaries, techies, luminaries, religious leaders and ordinary citizens to reach what is now OV…

Danny and Rhea have been extraordinary friends to OneVoice from the inception, through the thick and thin, and helped us found the Entertainment Council that now includes supporters like Jason Alexander, Natalie Portman, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Annie Cusack, among many others who take the time and courage to advance a mission they recognize is so important even if it seems far away from home.

Danny agreed to record a PSA for the October 18th mobilization.

And he is working on some other stuff that, if it pans out, will be quite big…stay tuned.

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Adee and I met with Elliott Gould at Peet’s Tea on South Beverly Drive.  Benny Levy, the sculptor and artist, introduced us to him.  Elliott is quite a fun and interesting guy, and he was clearly in sync with the OneVoice message.  He agreed to record a PSA for the OneVoice Summit.

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I have to confess I am a very big fan of his since, as a little kid in Mexico, I recall enjoying the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  Can’t believe I remember that.  Must have been a little nerd.

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Just heard from Meg Garlinghouse that Yahoo has given the green light to assertively promote and webcast the 5 locations of the OneVoice Summit on October 18th.

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As we gear up towards October 18th, our increased efforts on the ground have yielded an early surprise.  Our goal of recruiting half a million Israeli and Palestinian citizens by the end of 2007 was met close to 4 months early.

Now we have over quarter million Israelis and over quarter million Palestinians that have subscribed to the Movement’s principles.

Most remarkable, a quarter million were reached in the last year, compared to the first quarter million that took us close to 5 years to recruit.

We now need to reach One Million Voices To End the Conflict.

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It’s only 10:32 am in Los Angeles and the day has already been a big roller-coaster of developments and emotions (can I turn the latter off?).

We started at 5:30am because our wonderful Adee Telem (who heads West Coast Outreach for OneVoice) decided we needed to be on an 8am flight from San Fran to LA.  People who know me know how much I love waking up early.

[Last night we came back from a great dinner with Sissy and Ted Geballe - the most lovely down-to-earth couple - they have been married for 65 years - and the type of friends that are there for you no matter what; I logged in my computer to catch up with email; I was trying mightily to answer all emails but had to sign off at 1am; I don't hold it against Adee that she made me sleep so little b/c she was still at it when I went to sleep: I was getting cc'd on a stream of emails from her to follow up with all those we met that day, from Yahoo to Google, TPG, The East Bay Jewish Federation and other donors/supporters].

As if little sleep was not enough to make you grumpy, I learned from Gil that one of the top Israeli singers that had committed to join us on Oct 18 had backed out, apparently because of financial demands we could not meet (all international performers who are helping us are doing so on a pro-bono basis, though we do have modest budgets to cover transportation and expenses and a small allowance for local talent).  This was a serious blow.

Then I got frantic upset calls from OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine needing funds to pay deposits for some of the preparations of Oct 18 – they are right, I had to approve and send these a week ago and had not gotten to it.  Fortunately Shelley Shick is back from vacation to manage the financial flows of what is becoming a complex task (we started the movement with $100 donations from a handful of people and an all-volunteer cadre; now with 5 offices across three continents and 60 staff and consultants helping us gear for October 18 and to reach out to our new goal of one million signatories, Shelley now focuses strictly on managing all budgets, audits, inflows and outflows).  The financial stress is not insignificant.

But then the roller coaster started climbing up (or should it be rolling down, which is the fun part?).  Adee and I were walking in the LA Airport and saw Ted Danson.  I think Adee was a bit embarassed, but I introduced myself and explained what OneVoice was doing with One Million Voices To End the Conflict, and mentioned Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito are on the Board, along with Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman… and the Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice…  He recalled having heard about OneVoice, was very positive (and amused at learning I am a confused Mexican Jew in the middle of all this), and agreed to get involved.

Then David Levin called.  A major former head of State [edited out till public disclosure] has agreed to meet with our Israeli and Palestinian Youth Leaders in Jerusalem mid-October, a few days before our October 18th event.  This is a huge opportunity to highlight the human infrastructure of young moderates determined to seize back their lives.  So while it comes only days before the big event, we will make it work.

Fortunately David’s call came last.  Now I am energized again.  Would I have been able to feel this way if Gil’s news had come last? I don’t know.  All I know is that the last few months I feel like I am having far bigger emotional reactions to all developments, perhaps because so much is riding on it.  Do hormones act up at these times? Am I experiencing PMMMS – Pre-Massive-Mobilization-of-Moderates-Syndrome?  There is a new "definition" I am sure Darya will love.

Adee is driving while I wrote this blog post – we are on our way to meet Guy Oseary, an exceptionally successful young music and film production manager (to Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, etc) who is interested in exploring a way to popularize joint economic ventures to promote peace through business (akin to what I have been doing with PeaceWorks since 93).  Natalie Portman introduced us earlier in the summer in relation to the OneVoice Summit,  but Guy seems more interested in the economic development side.  Let’s hope he can also help us for next month!

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"The world will not be destroyed by those who do the evil but by those who see it but do nothing about it…"

-Albert Einstein

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One of the greatest strengths of the OneVoice Movement is that it is made up of mainstream nationalists from each side. 

The Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice, Sheikh Taysir al Tamimi, a fervent Palestinian patriot, is the equivalent in Palestine to what in Israel would be a merger between the Chief Rabbi AND the Head of the Israeli Supreme Court.  He has been on our Board for several years now, serving on the same international board as Jewish and Israeli religious heavyweights such as Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Chief Rabbi David Rosen, President of the IJRCC, and Rabbi Nissim Dahan from Shas.

When a militant extremist tries to undermine the credibility or legitimacy of the OneVoice Movement, staunch nationalists and religious authorities on our Board lend important backing to our efforts.

That is why it is particularly significant that Sheikh Tamimi has agreed to provide a blessing at the OneVoice Summit in Jericho on October 18th.

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Earlier in the week he met Dr. Fathi Darwish with other Palestinian supporters of the OneVoice Movement, including Dr. Mahmoud Labadi, former Director General of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who also serves on the international Board, and local Advisory members Mr. Hatem Abbas, and Dr. Rateb Kisrawi,

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Our intern Brian Lutter created this phenomenal ad for KIND Bars:

evolution

 

Here are some more things he created.

What do you think?

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