Rabbi Joseph Telushkin to parse power of words at JNF event
Scholar will focus on how language affects perception of Israel, Jews
There’s no escaping the power of words in today’s political environment. A refreshing change from the deluge of ubiquitous hateful rhetoric is hearing how Judaism imparts meaning into our language and how words supported the establishment of Zionism.
“Jewish tradition teaches that words are tangible. God created the world through words,” said author and scholar Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in a phone interview with NJJN. “Words helped shape Zionism.”
Telushkin credited Theodor Herzl’s declaration — “If you will it, it is no dream” — for inspiring the birth of Israel as a modern state. And it was “hateful words, like the claim that Zionism is racism,” Telushkin claimed, that “have poisoned so many minds against Israel.”
Telushkin will be the keynote speaker at the second annual Jewish National Fund Garden State Breakfast on Sunday, March 5, in North Brunswick.
Designated one of the 50 best speakers in the United States by Talk Magazine, Telushkin will address the topic, “Israel: Power and Persuasion.”
His focus, he said, will be on “the power of words as they affect us in our individual lives and in the world’s perception of Israel and the Jews.”
The event will be held at Congregation B’nai Tikvah. Rabbi Robert Wolkoff, the synagogue’s religious leader and cochair of the breakfast, said when he is mulling the choice of a guest speaker, he thinks about which author’s books hold prominent places on his shelves. In the case of Telushkin, he said, “I have about a dozen, and they are all astoundingly good and useful to me. There is not a week that goes by that I do not refer to one or more of them.”
Calling Telushkin’s appearance “an excellent moment” for central New Jersey, Wolkoff said the event is expected to draw 400-500 attendees, probably exceeding the 400-plus guests who came last July for the inaugural breakfast.
“At B’nai Tikvah, we are known for our Israel programming, so this topic fits in nicely,” said congregation copresident Allison Nagleberg, also a cochair of the JNF event.
Telushkin, 68, is a senior associate with the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, religious leader of the Los Angeles Synagogue for the Performing Arts, and the author or coauthor of more than 20 books, ranging from mystery novels to Jewish humor to biblical analysis and guides to ethical living.
Telushkin was raised in Brooklyn, where he attended the Yeshiva of Flatbush. He was ordained at Yeshiva University and studied Jewish history at Columbia University.
Telushkin identifies “You Shall Be Holy,” published in 2006, the first volume of “A Code of Jewish Ethics,” as his life’s major work. The second volume, subtitled “Love Your Neighbor,” was released in 2009.
He even penned a script called “Bar Mitzvah” for the “Touched by An Angel” television series starring Kirk Douglas.
As a congregational rabbi, Wolkoff considers Telushkin’s “The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living,” to be an indispensable tool.
An in-depth look at the work of JNF is also on the event agenda. “The most important aspect of breakfast meetings like this one is the opportunity it gives us to introduce JNF and what it does to a wide audience,” said Andrew Solomon, president of the organization’s Central NJ Board.
“Most people still associate JNF with trees, and forestry remains one of our goals,” Solomon said. “But over the past 25 to 30 years, JNF has expanded its focus to embrace an overall commitment to improving the lives of people in Israel. Today, we are helping to build communities, providing services to families with special needs, and presenting programs that promote Zionist education and advocacy.”