Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guardian of Israel Award, Remembering Guy Bar-Yosef

I had the very special privilege this week of being honored by Jewish National Fund and the Arava Institute with the 2014 Guardian of Israel Award.   JNF and the Institute presented the award at a wonderful luncheon at Elm Bank, on September 21st.  My goal is that proceeds from the event will be used to build a new outdoor classroom/amphitheater at the Arava Institute, on Kibbutz Ketura. The amphitheater will be named in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride. To reach my goal, and build the amphitheater, we need to raise a total of $100,000.  We are almost there, but not quite.  I hope that you will consider contributing.  The link for contributions is: 2014/new-england-guardian-of-Israel

Several people have asked that I post my comments from the event.   They are below.

Guardian of Israel Award
September 21, 2014

Thank you.

This is an honor that I should be accepting on behalf of many people in the room, as you have helped to make possible any of my achievements. 

Fran, Adam, Sara, Josh, Benji, and Michelle.    You are patient with my commitments, supportive of my love for Israel, and, at the most challenging time in my life, you were with me each step of the way.  I was never alone. 

My Mom, Lori Gordon.  You’ve been my most steadfast supporter, and your husband, my stepfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, always encouraged my love for Israel.

I’d like to thank Howie Rodenstein and Paula Reckess for organizing and co-chairing this event, along with my family and friends who served on the organizing committee.  Thank you!

The staff and board of Jewish National Fund is passionate about what they do, proud of the amazing work of JNF, and outstanding to work with.  Sharon, Sara, Debi, and Rami, you make it fun to be a volunteer and board member.
The staff and directors of Friends of the Arava Institute, Hazon, and the Israel Ride have made the Israel Ride an amazing, life changing event for nearly a thousand riders and for the people and organizations that it supports.   And, in particular, I want to thank David Rendsburg and Branwen Cale.   David, you’ve been patient with me as a very squeaky wheel, and you are ever attentive to the details of making the Israel Ride a success.   Branwen, you fully embraced the growth strategy that we developed for the Israel Ride.  You are the professional staff leader that we needed to move forward these past two years. As some of you may have noticed, Branwen extended the start of her maternity leave so that she could be here with us today.

One reason why the Israel ride has such an impact, is that we see the results of the Arava Institute’s work.  We learn about projects that alumni are working on.  More important, we learn from their example.  The alumni are from a diversity of backgrounds – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian.  They have built a strong community, committed to co-existence.  The lesson of the Israel Ride is the unity in their community, and the better future that they represent for all of us.

As you know, we are raising funds to build an outdoor classroom and amphitheater at the Arava Institute.  The amphitheater will be in memory of my nephew, Guy Bar-Yosef, and in honor of the Israel Ride.  I’d like to tell you a bit about Guy. 
Guy was born in 1973 to a liberal, Jewish, Israeli family.
Guy was an explorer.  He traveled the world in search of his own spiritualty.  In one of many discussions with his grandfather, Rabbi Morris Gordon, Guy realized that that the lessons that he was seeking all exist in Judaism.

Guy became a devotee of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th century founder of the Breslov Hasidim.   Two lessons stand out – the importance of community, that “there is no despair in this world” – reflecting a devout faith in G-d, and a belief there is a reason for everything.

Guy was a popular tour guide.   His impact was summed up in this note from a young adult on a birthright trip:
“When I got off the plane and saw you, with the big kippa and payot, I thought ‘oh no, what are we in for?’   After your initial greeting to us and a couple of jokes, I knew we’d be OK.  After the ten days we spent with you I want you to know that if I learned nothing else, I learned not to judge a Jew by the length of his payot.” 

Guy made Israel and Judaism alive and vibrant.  He believed in “Unity in the Community”.  He instilled a sense of belonging to something great and spiritual in everyone he met.

The Israel Ride and the Arava Institute ultimately reflect that same belief in “Unity of the Community”.  You’re all familiar with the ride.   You’ve seen the photos, it is beautiful.  You’ve heard the stories, we have incredible crew and staff. But, the real secret is the community that we become a part of, and lessons we learn from our fellow riders.

For me, one of those lessons came on the Shabbat morning of my first Israel Ride, in 2005.

Another first time rider, on the ride with his son, told the story of what it meant for him to be doing the Israel Ride one year after cancer surgery.  He spoke of what it meant to:
  •          Be alive
  •          To be challenging himself
  •          And to be giving back

In 2010, that story helped me give my first cancer a “lower case c”.  With the support of my family, it helped me navigate my surgery and recovery.

In 2012, we learned that I had a much more advanced and aggressive cancer.
Over the next eight months, as I went through aggressive chemotherapy, surgery, and starting on a road to recovery, my family and friends, and the Israel Ride community, the people in this room, were there for me every step.
  • When I was too weak to walk, you sat with me or offered to walk for me.
  • When I started to walk, you were by my side, guiding the way
  • And, when I was able to ride again, you were my training wheels.

You were there for me on a journey that no one should travel alone.

Shortly after I started my treatment, Guy was diagnosed with leukemia.  I felt like we were in parallel universes.  Mine in Boston, and Guy’s in Israel.  Through his treatment, Guy’s family and friends were always by his side.  People he had touched, through his work as a guide, reached out to him, and prayed for his complete recovery.  When he needed a bone marrow transplant, there were donor drives across the world.  Marrow sampled from those drives continues to save lives today.  Guy’s faith and spirit never faltered.  

There is no despair in this world. 
We prayed for a miracle.  I hoped that the good fortune that had found me would find my nephew too.

Sadly, it didn’t.  In August of 2013, Guy passed away.

I hope that this new amphitheater at the Arava Institute will continue Guy’s lessons and impact.  I hope that it will be a classroom in which they build a community that is excited and passionate about Israel.   I hope that it will be a place where, in the midst of conflict and distrust, people will remember that “there is no despair”, and will to work to build a better future together.  And, for Guy’s young children, family, and friends, I hope that it will be a place where they find that his spirit and vitality live on.

I thank all of you for being here today, for this award, for your generosity and support, and for your commitment to Israel and to building a better future.