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The Israeli origins of Amitai Etzioni’s big ideas about community



(JTA) — “Although I was born in Germany, my formative years were spent in the early, idealistic days of the cooperative Jewish settlements, in pre-Israel, Palestine,” wrote Amitai Etzioni in his 2003 memoir, “My Brother’s Keeper.

In writing about his early years in a cooperative settlement called Kfar Shmaryahu, the Israeli-American sociologist and polymath provided the origin story for the big idea that made him famous: communitarianism. 

When Etzioni died May 31 at age 94, the obituaries noted how he came to Israel as a young refugee from Nazi Germany and fought in Israel’s war for independence. But few noted his early life in Israel shaped his life’s work. Nor did they note how far Israel had come — for better and for worse — in the years since he lived on a kibbutz, battled as a Palmach commando and studied at the Hebrew University. 

Communitarianism is a social philosophy that emphasizes the importance of society, as opposed to the individual, in articulating the good.”[W]hile individual rights surely matter, these rights must be balanced with commitments to the common good — for instance, by protecting the environment and public health,” Etzioni explained. 

He also held that the various liberation movements of the 1960s went too far in undermining authority figures and what he called “the accepted standards of upright conduct.” 

Because it proposed a “third way” between liberalism and conservatism, communitarianism was also embraced — and ridiculed — on both sides of the aisle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were fans. Some labeled George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” communitarian.

Etzioni left Israel in his mid-twenties for a teaching job at Columbia University. He opposed the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race, activism that propelled him beyond the academy and into the role as a “public intellectual.” He taught ethics for two years at the Harvard Business School before launching into a hybrid discipline he called “socio-economics.” Hired by the Carter administration in 1979 as a senior adviser, he joined the faculty at George Washington University, where he taught international affairs for more than 30 years.

The theories behind communitarianism weren’t new, but Etzioni’s articulation came to wide public attention on the eve of the Clinton presidency, when, according to one profile, it was “supposed to be the Big Idea of the ‘90s, the antidote to ‘Me Generation’ greed and the cure for America’s cynicism, alienation and despair.”

“We need an awakening of values, of caring and commitment,” Etzioni told an interviewer in 1992. “The Communitarians are saying this is possible; in fact, it is inevitable.”

“It was as if I were growing up in a high school of communitarian theory and practice,” wrote Etzioni about his youth spent on an agricultural cooperative in Israel. (Courtesy of Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi)

Although communitarianism never did live up to the hype, Etzioni became a reliable commentator and theorist in a host of fields and causes, including just war, bioethics, national security and privacy.

Although he occasionally wrote about Israel, his roots there were rarely front and center in his work or public image. In his memoir he notes that a lot of readers thought he was Italian. (“Amitai” comes from the Hebrew word for truth; he took “Etzioni” from a folk tale about a boy who learns to protect nature from a tree – “etz” in Hebrew.) 

In his memoir, however, he delves deeply into his youth in Israel. “In those days, the country was quite different from what it has since become,” he writes. “[I]t was strongly imbued with the spirit of community (from which the term communitarian arises); most people were dedicated to serving the common good and to erecting a home for Jews escaping Nazi-dominated Europe. It was in that pre-Israel that I first knew the high that one gains when serving a cause greater than oneself.”

His parents were among the founders of the small farming community; a young Etzioni would attend co-op meetings with his father, where members would debate how cooperative they needed to be – a question, he writes, that was never settled. 

“It was as if I were growing up in a high school of communitarian theory and practice,” wrote Etzioni. 

He also discovered the limits of that practice after a year as a teen on Kibbutz Tel Joseph. He found the kibbutz “excessively communal,” with little tolerance for individuality or privacy. Communitarianism itself would often be attacked on the same grounds: Etzioni would later have a fierce antagonist in the American Civil Liberties Union, which felt some of his calls for limiting privacy and suspending individual rights in the name of the common good went too far

Etzioni wrote movingly about watching friends die in the fighting for Israel’s independence. Although he never wavered in feeling the war was justified, he lamented that the Jews and Arabs might have avoided the bloodshed had they agreed to the two-state partition that, in 2003, he still felt was inevitable. Nor did he regret Israel’s founding: “The Jewish people require a homeland to protect them not merely from physical annihilation, but also from cultural devastation,” he wrote in 1999. 

But perhaps the most fascinating influence on Etzioni’s thinking was the year he spent in a Jerusalem institute set up by Martin Buber, the Vienna-born social philosopher. The formidable faculty included Gershom Scholem on Kabbalah, Yeshayahu Leibowitz on biology and Nechama Leibowitz on Bible.

Etzioni imbibed Buber’s ideas about “I and Thou” relationships – the “unending struggle between the forces that pushed us to relate to other human beings as objects, as Its, rather than as fellow humans, as Thous.”

Etzioni would call this “moral dialogue,” as in his definition of democracy: “[O]ur conception of right and wrong are encountered through moral dialogues that are open and inclusive. It is a persuasive morality, not a coercive one.”

Etzioni’s memoir and his obituaries recall a more hopeful political climate, when right and left could briefly imagine common ground around the common good. They also recall a different Israel, before it largely embraced the free-market economics of the West and let go of many of its communitarian values. 

In 2013 Etzioni wrote about his own seeming irrelevance – he called it his “gradual loss of a megaphone” — after his brief flurry of influence. He had no regrets, nor loss of confidence: “Until I am shown that my predictions or prescriptions are ill-founded, or not of service, I will try to get out what must be said. I’ll keep pulling at the oars, however small my boat, however big or choppy the sea.”

The post The Israeli origins of Amitai Etzioni’s big ideas about community appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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