• “What can Dr. Oz do? Get people to eat healthy? He’s already done that. He’s even gotten me to eat healthy!”
  • “But can he make you taller?”
  • “I never thought I’d have to say this to you of all people but, you know, people in glass houses don’t throw stones, Natan, and when it comes to height… I think we’re the same…”
  • “You’re right, we see eye-to-eye!”

This was a conversation between Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Mr. Natan Sharansky in response to a question from the audience, by a participant on a Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT trip. The question was directed at Dr. Mehmet Oz, seeking to know what he plans to, or can, do to affect the region.

Those who know me know that as a vertically challenged [but super smart, good looking and funny] young man that conversation was something I’d latch on to. Of course, that’s because both men are equally as smart, good looking and funny as I (or because I’m short. You choose.).

Some background: Monday night, in my position at Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT, I had the pleasure of attending a unique panel at the newly created Jerusalem Press Club, together with two of our groups currently in session. Moderated by the Jerusalem Post’s Steve Linde, the panel included Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Mr. Natan Sharansky.

Co-sponsoring the event was the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. In partnering with this event, the Institute, and Taglit-Birthright Israel had the ability to expose their young American constituents to complex issues surrounding Jewish values and Israel. This, according to Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner is “certainly part of the Jewish, and Israel journey we aim to offer.”

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies introduces the panel

Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner of the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies introduces the panel

Rabbi Boteach, known as “America’s Rabbi” and Dr. Oz as “America’s Doctor” are touring Israel with their families on a mission sponsored by American philanthropists, Dr. Miriam and Shledon Adelson.

The panel, at times slightly heated, at times, humorous and enchanting, touched on several issues surrounding the chaotic Middle East. Dr. Oz, as a Muslim of Turkish descent and visiting Israel for the first time, was put in somewhat of an interesting spot, especially considering his expertise is in the operating room and not the Situation Room.

Boteach, Oz and Sharansky, the chairman of the executive committee at the Jewish Agency for Israel, with three different backgrounds and sets of beliefs, candidly discussed the ideas of hatred, peace, religious acceptance and more.

For those who follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/levimargolin – Yes, I know, shameless plug!) you’ve already seen the quotes I particularly enjoyed most from last night’s panel. I’d like to share some of that with the rest of you.

The evening, touching on many different topics and subtopics, brought to light some very important issues surrounding Judaism, Islam and the region. After each gave a few minutes introduction, Steve Linde jumped straight into some heated questions.

Linde had Sharansky, Boteach and Oz weigh in on the prisoner exchange.

While Oz and Boteach steered away from the question, Sharansky, a former prisoner himself, had this to offer: “As a member of Knesset I was called upon several times to vote with the government in support of exchange. I never did!”

When the questions were opened to the audience, a young woman asked why Israel and the Jewish people have not been more active in the Justice for Jonathan Pollard campaign.

Boteach, who has met Pollard in prison and accompanied his wife on numerous visits to politicians and Jewish leaders, proposed that a Jewish fear of being accused of dual alliance has silenced the masses.

“The Jewish people are afraid of being accused, as American citizens, of having loyalty with another nation! I could not disagree more!” Boteach said. “I am tired of the Jewish people shying away from protesting this gross injustice!”

When pressing further, Boteach mentioned that while running for congress voters in his district called him out for having a child serving in a foreign military (his daughter will soon complete her service in the IDF). Boteach used the opportunity to set his feeling straight.

“A stronger Israel means a stronger America! I completely reject the idea that fighting for Israel is having dual loyalty. Israel is a lone democracy in the region. The people of America are Israel’s best friend. The two work hand-in-hand!”

Boteach stressed that he believes the Jewish people, and leadership, must speak out against injustice without fear of backlash. He said the same is of Pollard and of Sholom Rubashkin, whom the majority of the Jewish community has refused to stand behind.

“Rubashkin’s sentence is a massive injustice! The financial crimes he was convicted of do not come even close to warranting such a sentence! The Jewish people must cry out!”

After discussing terror/terrorists, the Turkish MV Mavi Marmara flotilla attack (which Dr. Oz. proposed Israel could have handled more professionally, to disapproval of some in the crowd), and subsequent apology (which Dr. Oz. attributed to strong Jewish morals and all men agreed can help mend the relations between the two countries), a young man from Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT group 102 used the opportunity to pose a significant question (which led to  the conversation at the beginning of this article).

Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT group 102 poses with the panel.

Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT group 102 poses with the panel.

“Dr. Oz, I appreciate your visiting the region, especially as a Muslim and a celebrity, to learn about the people and the conflict but what is it that you plan to do to have an effect on what’s happening or will happen?” asked the young birthrighter.

Wow, what a question indeed. The young man, with his question, turned the mood from “greater issues” to “personal commitment.” The body language in the room showed the crowd’s approval of the blunt question.

Dr. Oz, a man worthy of admiration for his contributions to the world, spoke of hope for true peace (which he and Boteach agreed would really begin with grassroots, not politicians. Sharansky, a former politician, was indifferent on this comment!), religious tolerance, the ability to love while being different and the unique symmetry our religions have (“the symmetry of our religions dwarfs our differences” as he puts it).

Boteach pushed it one step further. “Young man, thanks for your question. I think Dr. Oz, in his humility actually failed to answer the question” he stated. “Doctor, he’s asking what will YOU do!”

Boteach spoke of two types of American celebrities.

  1. The Kim Kardashians who are famous for being famous and not much more than that
  2. Those who are famous for their positive effect on the world.

“Dr. Oz, I would encourage you to use your celebrity to positively affect the region, as you are the world,” Boteach said, looking directly at his old friend. “I think the young man is right. I think the time has come to make a decision, how will YOU help the region? What will YOU do for change?”

The sight of these men on stage exposed three components of what the world needs to conquer all issues, not just the conflict in the Middle East.

Mr. Sharansky, I admire you for your tireless activism and worldwide humanitarian support of all peoples. You carry a voice ALL Jewish people should be proud of.

Dr Oz. and Me.

Dr Oz. and Me.

Dr. Oz, thank you for visiting our homeland. I have great respect for you, and your willingness to learn about the people, mentalities and morale of the people of Israel. You said it best: “How can you hate people that you know?”

Rabbi Shmuley, you deserve to be applauded by all people who believe in what’s right. Your ability – and willingness – to stand up for truth, even if not popular is commendable. I applaud you for being a strong and powerful proponent for true Judaism across the globe.