Meet the African American philanthropist promoting Jewish values

Each day the divisions in America deepen, and each day more Americans representing a rational Center raise their arms in the air, giving up any hope of American healing in their lifetime.

In truth, there is only one thing that can restore America, and that is values.

Religion can continue to divide us. Politics will tear us apart. Culture wars will tear us apart. But we all agree, essentially, on the most important values ​​in life. Why?

John F. Kennedy said it best in the last months of his life, in June 1963: “We all value the future of our children.”

We all want to raise our children with good values. And there is essential agreement on what those values ​​are. From kindness to generosity, to family and community, we all agree, both left and right, on what values ​​are essential to bequeath to our children.

Which begs the question, why do we rarely talk about values?

FOUNDING PRIME MINISTER David Ben-Gurion in conversation with United States President John F. Kennedy, 1961 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

THIS NEXT January 20th we intend to change that. That day at Carnegie Hall at our annual gala, The World Values ​​Network will launch Values ​​University, an attempt to reach a global audience with a discussion of core values.

Values ​​University consists of short and long videos from world leaders and influencers discussing the values ​​that have most animated their lives and inspired their careers. Beautifully produced, they resonate with an audience seeking to draw meaning into their lives from a digital universe.

There’s Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times discussing the value of independent thinking. And think how important that is in a world of preconfigured partisanship and groupthink.

There is the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, defending the value of belonging to a community, to a family, to a town.

There is Dr. Mehmet Oz, the most famous doctor in the world, who emphasizes the value of perseverance.

There is the African American journalist Peter Noel fighting for the value of social justice.

And there’s Sir Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s chief executive and creative officer, discussing the value of service.

Noteworthy is a conversation between Professor Noah Feldman, the renowned Harvard law professor, and Robert Smith, chairman of the Carnegie Hall board and the world’s leading African-American philanthropist.

As the most successful black businessman in American history, Robert has devoted himself to education with particular vigor. It was Robert who electrified the world in 2019 when, in the middle of his graduation speech at Morehouse College, he pledged to pay off the total loan debt of the nearly 400 students in the class, totaling about $ 34 million. Morehouse President David Thomas called it a “gift of liberation” for students.

And it was Robert who partnered with me to create Values ​​University, pledging to fund the initiative that would promote universal values ​​for the benefit of all humanity. He agreed with me that the shortage of values ​​in the United States is causing the death of civility in our nation. What was needed was a rebirth of values.

Robert is a good example of how values ​​inspire both a career and philanthropy. A deeply committed family man, he and I share a commitment to biblical values ​​and religious truths.

I have been struck by the spiritual nature of our conversations amid him running what is arguably the most successful technology private equity fund in the world.

And as an Orthodox Jew who is deeply committed to the well-being of his people, I have been inspired to witness how much the well-being of the African-American community means to Robert, especially in the realm of education, to which he is dedicating himself. hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Bible says that man is a tree of the field. It is a unique expression. If we were potatoes or turnips, we would be properly punished, but we would only inhabit our own soil, our own communities, our own ethnic groups. If we were clouds, we would be high, but we would fly from here to there, without hard tethers. But, as trees, we are designed to be deeply rooted in our own land, our own traditions, ethnicities and people, without ever being limited to our own identities. We are designed to grow in the world and oxygenate the planet.

It is a mark of Robert’s decency and humanity that he has taken such a deep interest in the Jewish community, serving as one of America’s leading bridge builders between the black and Jewish worlds. As one of America’s most impactful investors and philanthropists, his words and actions carry tremendous weight in his own community and beyond. And while the press has focused on the divisions and rifts that arise in Black-Jewish relations, it has not focused enough on how the most influential of all African-American businessmen is a phenomenal friend of our people and advocate of the universal Jewish values.

I have been dedicated to the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities for a long time, beginning with the appointment of Cory Booker to be my Student President of the L’Chaim Society at Oxford University in the early 1990s.

The kinship of the two communities is forged through shared faith-based teachings and an endless struggle for equality and human dignity.

We have both known the chill of chains and the scorching crucible of slavery. We have endured second-class status and wholesale slaughter. Each of us still struggles to protect the value of life. And each of us has been guided by our God and his prophets. We have drawn the hope and strength to prevail from our faith.

Each of us has gained fluency in sacrifice. We have worked hard and lost a lot for our freedom. But we told the truth to power and we never feared. The third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, was arrested 22 times for protesting the Russian government when it passed anti-Semitic laws in 1843. Martin Luther King, the greatest American of the 20th century, was arrested 39 times when he was assassinated in 39 years.

Together, these sacrifices gave humanity a model by which to realize “Justice, Justice Shall Pursue.”

In fact, it was civil rights leaders who gave our God, our prophets, and our message of deliverance a powerful and eloquent voice.

It was Dr. King who took the Hebrew Bible and transformed it into a modern liberation manifesto, thus demonstrating to the Jewish community, which often views its own texts and traditions as ossified, the contemporary power of Jewish prophecy and values.

And it was King who, the night before he was assassinated, so beautifully articulated the eternal human yearning to go to the top of the mountain. “I have seen the Promised Land! … I may not get there with you. But we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. “

King brought the Bible to earth and made it what God wanted it to be: an agent of social justice.

The African American community has had many great fighters for equality. Many were shepherds. Others were activists. With Robert Smith, social justice activism has now penetrated the boardrooms of Wall Street.

As more bridges are built between the Black and Jewish communities, it becomes clear that what unites us most is not a shared history of ruthless persecution, but shared values ​​that push us to the top of the mountain.

And when Martin Luther King proclaimed the dream of being “free at last,” he was referring not only to political liberation, but also to cultural liberation. Freeing ourselves from the stale partisanship that puts tribalism before the human family and the political party before nationality, denying us the vision of seeing the spark of the divine in each one of God’s children.

The writer, who Newsweek and The Washington Post called “the most famous rabbi in America”, just published KOsher Hate: How to Fight Jewish Hatred, Racism and Intolerance. Follow him on Instagram @RabbiShmuley.

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