Wednesday, October 23rd - a busload of Yeshiva College and Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary students traveled to the Upper Eastside's Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue (KJ), paying homage to Bella Wexner by attending a memorial lecture in her name. Drawing significant regional coverage primarily because of its keynote speaker, Charles Krauthammer, the second annual Wexner Memorial Lecture was of particular significance to the Yeshiva community because of the late Mrs. Wexner's intimate affiliation with the institution.
Bella Wexner, a well-known Jewish philanthropist from Columbus, Ohio, is most famous in Yeshiva for setting up the Wexner Kollel Elyon and Semicha Honors Program in RIETS. After her passing two years ago, her daughter Susan established a series of lectures in her memory. For the second yahrtzeit of her mother, Susan Wexner decided to have an event at the well-known Upper East Side Synagogue, featuring Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Krauthammer. Other speakers included Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the rabbi of KJ and principal of Ramaz, Susan Wexner, and Yeshiva President Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. The Zamir Chorale also performed musical selections.
According to Rabbi David Israel, Director of the Max Stern Division of Communal Services Rabbi Lamm was asked to speak at the event because "he was very close to Bella." The event was Susan Wexner's, and, as such, she chose the speakers. "[Krauthammer was selected because] I know my mother would have loved hearing his helpful words in these difficult times for the Jews," she said. After the event, Susan Wexner added, "I wish every American could have heard what he said tonight. It is so important."
Students from Yeshiva were specifically invited to the event "only because the Wexners feel very close to YU," said Israel. In addition to the Wilf Campus, there was an accompanying bus from Midtown. Specific seats had been saved for the Yeshiva contingent, and during Rabbi Lamm's remarks, he introduced the RIETS students from the Wexner Kollel Elyon, who stood up in the crowd to a round of applause.
Thereafter, Krauthammer, the unabashed Israel supporter and evening's main draw, took center stage. The crowd seemed to listen intently as he spoke.
Krauthammer's speech, entitled "Oslo and the End of Illusion," began with "a bang," according to a YC sophomore in attendance. "Jews today are at the cusp of history, unlike anything in the past 2000 years," noted the famed columnist. According to him, Yasser Arafat has one objective: to perpetuate conflict with Israel. The day the conflict is resolved, reasoned Krauthammer, is the day Israel becomes a permanent fixture. Arafat, however, sees Israel as a temporal foreign exercise, such as the Crusaders were in the Middle Ages. Cease-fires and peace agreements can be made, but they are made to be broken. Arafat told this to his own people on Jordanian television on the same night as the signing of the accords on the White House lawn.
Krauthammer thus came to believe that "Oslo was the greatest self-inflicted wound of any state in history." He explained Yitzchak Rabin's thinking before the agreement, and why he was, in Krauthammer's opinion, incorrect.
The audience seemed hungrier for a future recourse, then a recapitulation of the past and Krauthhammer gave them just that, explaining that in the sixth months since the IDF commenced Operation Defensive Shield, the flow of history has switched directions. Statistically, there has been a 95% reduction in terror attacks. Although Jews are still dying, Israel is now winning strategically, and so he is optimistic.
Krauthammer's proposed solution is to "undo Oslo in every one of its aspects." Israel must first destroy the Palestinian Authority, which was a foreign (Tunisian) entity imported into the territories by Israel; they must then re-engage with Palestinian insiders who are interested in a two-state solution; finally, they must reinstate Israeli "red lines," which cannot be compromised under any circumstances, including the familiar Palestinian "right of return."
Krauthammer went on to mandate the only viable option for ultimate peace in the Middle East. "There is no other way than a two-state solution," he said. The goal is to find the leadership on the other side who are willing to agree on this point. Krauthammer continued, "When the Palestinians realize the Intifada was a mistake and a dead end, they will elect a leadership who is willing to make peace."
In an interview after the speech, Krauthammer mentioned Abu Mazen as a potential leader. While clearly not a friend of Israel, Abu Mazen has strongly criticized Arafat and other Palestinian leaders for sacrificing Palestinian youth. Abu Mazen went so far as to admit in an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Elzaman, that "Palestinian children have lost body parts throwing explosives at Israelis. They do this because they are paid one dollar by the organizations to do it."
Krauthammer concluded the night by asserting what American Jews can do to atone for supporting Oslo for ten years. He stressed abandoning typical Democratic Jewish voting patterns, and instead supporting the current administration, which "has radically reorganized its role in the Middle East."
The Bush administration grants Israel permission to defend itself, and not help the Palestinian people until they adopt democracy, "which is a euphemism for regime change." Krauthammer stressed that although this seems like a simple idea, it is something no other American leader has ever done.
After his speech, Krauthammer said that he appreciates Yeshiva students' pro-active support of Israel and urged them to continue.
YC junior and Israel Club member Gavri Butler, who attended the event, summed it up by relaying, "It was inspiring to hear such a familiar, insightful, voice address the Yeshiva community."