Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I think children should be taught about history not as is usually
My name is Aaron Dorfman, and I’m honored and humbled to be taking up the role of President of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. I spent nearly a decade working closely with Marcella Kanfer Rolnick in her role on the board of American Jewish World Service and have long been inspired by the Foundation’s serious engagement with Jewish text and tradition, commitment to supporting values-driven work, and humility in the face of complexity. I can’t imagine a purpose more aligned with my own life’s work than the Foundation’s mission to promote and support Judaism as a powerful, evolving wellspring of accumulating wisdom and sensibilities that enriches people’s lives and helps create a better world. I’m excited to be launching into this journey with the partnership and support of my esteemed predecessor, Jon Woocher, who will be serving as the Foundation’s Senior Fellow, and a talented and committed team of staff colleagues. And I’m eager to work and learn with and from the extraordinary network of thought partners with whom the Foundation has built relationships.
This summer, on the recommendation of a friend, I read the essay Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. In it, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing writes:
the case now, that this is the record of long past events, which one ought to know about for one reason or other. But that this is a story from which one may learn not only what has happened, but what may, and probably will, happen again.
[From l]iterature and history, these two great branches of human learning, records of human behavior, human thought…one may learn how to be a citizen and a human being. We may learn how to look at ourselves and at the society we live in…
Lessing could just as well have been writing about Jewish wisdom, and the ambitions of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah are no less grand than the ones she describes. The complex, nuanced, profound, sometimes conflicting, always challenging core of Jewish wisdom is rich with potential: to enrich our lives, our relationships, our choices as Jews and as humans, and, beyond our Jewish community, to influence the way we as Americans grapple with the critical public issues of our time.
It felt particularly serendipitous to step into this role just before Labor Day weekend, as it marks the anniversary of one of my first conscious, real-world applications of Jewish wisdom: When I was 10 years old, I persuaded my parents to let me stay up all night to watch the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon to raise money for research and treatment for muscular dystrophy. (I had otherwise spent the weekend stuck at home—one of only two times my parents ever resorted to grounding me—for a misadventure involving the local candy shop, but that’s a story for another time.) I argued—and, in a moment of parenting insight I called upon often as an educator and even more regularly now as the father of three young children, my parents agreed—that the Telethon was an authentic expression of Lewis’s commitment to tzedakah, and that staying up in solidarity with Jerry—and contributing a good chunk of my saved allowance to fight MD—was a Jewishly grounded act. I’m not sure that humming along with Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” at 3:00am really fit the bill, but in the safe confines of my living room, the Jewish value of tzedakah was a subversive act, and, as such, the inheritance both of the religious values and the secular skepticism of my Jewish upbringing.
Jewish wisdom, collected in its great books and midrashim, its fables and artwork and humor, is a profound, complex, flawed, majestic record of the Jewish people’s behaviors, thoughts, and encounters with their experience of the divine. From it, we have and will continue to learn how to be both citizens and human beings. Let us proceed on this journey together.