David Harris to headline annual lecture series in Monsey
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David Harris to headline annual lecture series in Monsey

AJC executive director will tell attendees they can make a difference

David Harris will have much to say when he visits the Community Synagogue of Monsey on March 10.

As the next featured speaker in the Israel and Pearl Stern lecture series, Harris – recently returned from a 17-day trip to Greece, Israel, Germany, France, and Italy – will tell attendees not only what was accomplished but what remains to be done.

“I’ve had a lifetime belief that we are [all] actors in the sense of people capable of doing things and making a difference,” said the longtime executive director of American Jewish Committee. “The bottom-line goal in Rockland, as everywhere, will be to try to further encourage and mobilize people who care deeply.”

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David Harris

Now in its 16th year, the annual lecture, sponsored by Spring Valley residents Jules and Lila Stern in memory of his parents, has brought a variety of national figures to the Monsey synagogue – from Malcolm Hoenlein, longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We always get a nice attendance,” said Stern, noting that lectures draw about 150 people. “A lot of people knew my father, and they know me too.”

He remembered that when speaker Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a noted psychiatrist, walked into the room – with his black suit and long beard – “everyone thought he would speak Yiddish. But he was wonderful.”

Stern explained that he came up with the idea of sponsoring a lecture series in consultation with Rabbi Moshe Tendler, religious leader of the Community Synagogue.

“My parents were longtime members there,” he said, “and my father had been president. We were discussing what would be an appropriate type of memorial – something where their memories would be ongoing, not just buying a dedication of some kind.”

Begun in 1997, lectures are held around the time of his father’s yartzeit. This year, the yartzeit will fall on the night of the lecture.

Stern said his father’s involvement in the community went beyond service to the synagogue, noting that he also served as chairman of UJA and was active with Israel Bonds.

“He raised a lot of money for them,” said Stern, adding that while his mother was not active in the community, “she was supportive of my father in everything he did.”

Inspired by his father’s example, Stern has himself served as chairman of Israel Bonds in Rockland County. His wife, Lila, is a former sisterhood president of the Jewish Community Center of Spring Valley.

Stern said he chooses speakers based on information he gathers from others, generally targeting “people renowned in their fields.”

“I heard David Harris speak before,” he said. “He’s one of the leaders in American Jewry and highly recognized. I want other people to hear him as well.” He noted also that Harris, the author of seven books, has a regular spot on CBS radio as well as blogs at The Huffington Post and The Jerusalem Post.

According to the AJC director, his March 10 presentation will focus on the key global challenges faced by the Jewish people “in a rather turbulent world.” His recent trip – during which he met with several presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers – addressed issues relating to several of these challenges.

“How to deal with Iran’s nuclear challenge figured prominently during the trip,” he said, as did the results of the Bulgarian investigation into the terrorist incident in Burgas. With Hezbollah implicated in the attack, “we are encouraging the European Union to add Hezbollah to its terrorism list.”

Harris said a third area of discussion concerned recent elections in Israel.

“As Israel forms a new government, [we discussed] what will be the impact on bilateral relations with key countries and on the United Nations,” where Palestinians were granted upgraded status in November.

In France and Greece, the AJC delegation explored issues relating to the Jewish community’s increasing concern about extremist groups “and their potential for intimidation and violence.”

“There’s no shortage of issues,” said Harris, adding that he believes the trip was successful. “We certainly understood the problems better and saw some avenues for addressing them.”

The AJC director said his Monsey talk will also address the role of American Jewry in dealing with these issues.

“AJC is not just interested in describing [them], though we need to know what’s going on, but in understanding what role we can play. Are we simply bystanders, or actors? Can we do something? We’re not passive players,” he said. “We can be active players. We’re not just ‘shrying gevalt, not just saying ‘oy, the sky is falling.’ We’re not without the ability to act.”

Israel and Pearl Stern Memorial Lecture
Speaker: David Harris
American Jewish Committee

When: Monday, March 10 at 10:15 a.m.

Where: Community Synagogue of Monsey
89 W. Maple Ave., Monsey
(845) 356-2720

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