Avarham Infeld

OC_0618_AvarhamAVARHAM INFELD FAMOUSLY tells the story of how he unwittingly made aliyah alone from Johannesburg at the tender age of 16. It began with his father coming to him in 1952 to bid farewell.

“Where are you going, Abba?” the teen asked.

“I’m not,” replied the elder. “You are. There’s a Jewish state. You’re a Jewish boy. Goodbye.”

That bold step by father and son set the youngster on a path to study Jewish history at Hebrew University, and ultimately, to transform Jewish experiential education for a generation of Jews around the world.

Renowned for his poignant storytelling, charming humor and contagious passion for Israel and Jews, Infeld has dedicated his life to what he calls “building Jewish families,” both his own, now three generations of native Israelis, and globally. His wisdom and insight on constructing a collective Jewish identity that is robust enough to embrace Jews in all their diversity have shaped some of the most impactful Jewish institutions, including many that touch lives in Orange County, such as the Jewish Agency, Hillel International, Birthright, the Reut Institute’s Tikkun Olam Makers, and most recently, Honeymoon Israel.

Infeld visited Orange County in May for a day of Jewish professional development and inspired community learning grounded in his notion of “Jewish peoplehood,” a framework for belonging that unites Jews over space and time.

“American Jews think Judaism is a religion, but what about Jews who aren’t religious?” he asks. “Israelis think Jews are a nation. But American Jews are not my nation, so where does that leave you? The only words that are inclusive of all Jews are either Jewish family or Jewish people.

“Jews as a family gives meaning to the work you do, whether those Jews live in Orange County, Israel, Russia, or anywhere else,” he told the staff of Jewish Federation & Family Services during a seminar that moved some to tears. “Your responsibility, no matter your individual tasks, is ensuring the welfare of this family.”

The relationship between Jewish federations and Israel is vital, he said, because they have a shared purpose of taking care of the family.

Later, Infeld engaged representatives from a dozen Jewish organizations and congregations in conversation about each group’s unique tasks in fulfilling what he calls their shared, core mission: the continued, significant renaissance of the Jewish people. The meeting was coordinated by the Rose Project of JFFS and designed to generate transorganizational discussions and greater understanding of, and by, each participating group.

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