As part of the 34th annual Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series, Ahavath Achim went in-person (as well as virtual) to fulfill its mission of bringing some of the greatest cultural icons and politicians to the synagogue where Eizenstat attended growing up. On March 3, ambassador, statesman, attorney, and scholar Stuart Eizenstat began by noting that John Meacham “was in the right place – where John Lewis and Jimmy Carter had walked.”
Meacham, who remains on the faculty of Vanderbilt University, in addition to keeping up his busy media appearances, was analytical, straight shooting and downright brilliant. Most mesmerizing was his ability to lend perspective over the generations of presidents in contrast, or similarly, to what we are experiencing now. Eizenstat was prepared with the erudite and down-to-earth questions facing Americans today. Eizenstat currently heads Covington and Burling’s international practice in Washington, D.C. Ultimately prepared and on point, he flowed from topic to topic to address, “The Future of American Democracy.”
The following is a collection of Meacham’s comments on various subjects raised during the lecture:
Trump: (coinciding with the day’s announcement of the indictment) He won because of [Barack] Obama’s perceived weakness. People wanted change, and Hillary Clinton was not enough change…Obama was a good transition president but not historically transformative.”
Biden: Biden is a good friend. He has the burden of telling the story of hope in the face of fear. With Trump’s indictment, his numbers will rise.
Rise of antisemitism and hate: Forces feed the fires of irrational evil. Just a mile from my house was the recent Nashville school shooting. I’m a gun owner and not a lefty, but there is not a single reason to own a military style weapon.
[Eizenstat noted that, in previous decades in Europe, police cars were stationed at Jewish buildings.] “Now we see it here. Why now, after Jews are so well integrated?”
Social media: May well be causative. In the old days, it was just a mimeograph machine. Harder to get the word out…now with a phone, have immediate access to the world.
Existential crisis? Use grave danger…is there any other kind? (quoting Jack Nicholson.) It’s hard to tell a president what to do…
China and Russia: China is manageable, not so much Putin, who today imprisoned a (Jewish) journalist. He is betting that we will lose support (of Ukraine) with time, and hope that Trump gets reelected. I believe that commentors know that it is not a just a border dispute.”
Having fun: I saw a tweet where I was the child of a one night stand between Mr. Rogers and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
College life: I went to Sewanee (University) – a cross between “Deliverance” and “Downton Abbey.”
On neighboring states: In Georgia, you say, “Thank G-d for South Carolina,” implying backwardness. In Tennessee, we say, “Thank goodness for Georgia.”
On politicians: I now have a low bar for candidates: Just not going to storm the Capitol.
Wearing a turquoise kippah, Meacham was a storehouse of humor, as one gets that he has used many of his quips before. Nonetheless, the audience left with the awesome feeling that they had truly witnessed someone who met the moment head on. He peppered with comments to the rabbis about his own Christian faith and knowledge of the Bible. He said, “After all, if everyone obeyed the rules, we wouldn’t have a Bible and we would see each other as neighbors.”
Meacham’s new book is a collaboration with Tim McGraw, “Songs of America.”
For another level of elevation, Ahavath Achim opened its doors for the first time to the public to the long awaited renovated main sanctuary. Keeping the tradition of the wall behind the bimah, extending majestically to the ceiling arc, was a site to behold. The open view sky dome with the new lighting was nothing short of breathtaking. Another redesigned element was the removal of benches, which created a more intimate feeling on a level floor. The balcony was available for overflow seating and provided an equally splendid view.
AA president Gary Alembik told the AJT, “AA was pleased to host over 700 people (plus over 300 online) from the community at large to the newly renovated sanctuary as a preview of its dynamic new space for celebrations, community events, and, above all, meaningful and spiritually charged religious services.”
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Fran Eizenstat and Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture Series
- Ahavath Achim
- John Meacham
- Vanderbilt University
- Covington and Burling
- The Future of American Democracy
- Hillary Clinton
- Nashville school shooting
- social media
- China and Russia
- Mr. Rogers
- Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Sewanee University
- Downton Abbey
- Tim McGraw
- Gary Alembik