Paul Root Wolpe, the director of Emory University’s Center for Ethics, and one of America’s most distinguished bioethicists, is taking a new direction in his professional life.
He announced on Nov. 20 that he is working to establish at Emory University a new center dedicated to peace and support for a heightened sense of civic dialogue in America and the world.
The announcement came as Wolpe received the 2022 Tsedek Award from the New Israel Fund in Atlanta. The decision to change course, he said, was hastened recently when he was asked by his wife what was the one thing he wanted more than anything to do with his life. Wolpe told the audience at the New Israel Fund event that he answered her without even giving it a second thought.
“It felt like a very natural answer to me. I have this deep desire to bring peace and I have a professional life where I teach and understand ethics. And what ties these things together for me is a deeper sense of justice. I have a strong, perhaps overdeveloped sense of justice,” Wolpe said.
Wolpe disclosed that he has already had discussions about the new center with other formidable Atlanta institutions that are committed to a more just and peaceful world.
Included in that influential group is The Carter Center, which already has a working relationship with Emory, The King Center for Non-Violent Social Change and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Wolpe said Emory has agreed to support the new project with a fundraising effort over the next several years. Wolpe sees his new center as being grounded in Judaism’s sacred calling.
“G-d declared to Jerusalem that Israel will be redeemed only through peace, which of course, means all of us will be redeemed through peace. What loftier ambition could one hope for then to engage in peace building, whether it’s one’s home, one’s family, one’s community, or whether it’s peace in the Middle East?”
The question of how to achieve peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors was something that preoccupied Wolpe in a conversation with the AJT just a few days before his announcement. He described what he has accomplished over the past 14 years at Emory’s Center for Ethics, as more important than ever.
“What the center tries to do domestically is to broker dialogue, to try to be a safe place for exchanging ideas, whether they’re political or religious or racial or whenever they are. We want to be the place that people can come and speak honestly and freely,” he said.
The new center he is starting could be a way to carry this mission over to the international arena. He mentioned that while in some respects, Israel, socially and economically is a model for the world, when it comes to the question of peace there is still much to do but he made it clear his new center will not be devoted primarily to peacebuilding in the Middle East.
“I think within the question of Israel-Palestine relations, there’s a mixed story there. The fundamental question is of justice for Palestinians and, by the way, for truly equal treatment of Arab citizens in Israel, of Israeli citizens who happen to be Arab. I think Israel still has a way to go with that.”
Wolpe has been a longtime supporter of the New Israel Fund, which works with over 70 organizations in Israel to build a stronger dialogue with Palestinians and to improve political and cultural contacts in the region.
The Tsedek Award ceremony was held in the sanctuary of Congregation Shearith Israel, where Wolpe is a congregant. Among the speakers honoring the Emory ethicist was the president of Yale University, Peter Solovey, and Wolpe’s brother, Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, whom Newsweek Magazine has called the most influential rabbi in America.
The evening was capped by A.J. Robinson, the Atlanta civic leader who is president of Central Atlanta Progress, vice chair of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and a member of the board of the Atlanta Council of the New Israel Fund.
In presenting the Tsedek Award, Robinson described Wolpe as a candidate for what the Talmud described as the “Lamed Vavnick,” the Hidden 36 righteous individuals whose secret existence guarantees the balance for good in the world and humanity’s continued existence.
“Paul Wolpe’s work and his dedication to so many causes,” Robinson said, “is the closest thing to a ‘Lamed Vavnik’ among us.”
- Bob Bahr
- Paul Root Wolpe
- Emory University’s Center for Ethics
- Middle East
- Tsedek Award
- New Israel Fund
- The Carter Center
- The King Center for Non-Violent Social Change
- National Center for Civil and Human Rights
- Israel-Palestine relations
- Congregation Shearith Israel
- Yale University
- Peter Solovey
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Sinai Temple
- Newsweek Magazine
- A.J. Robinson
- Central Atlanta Progress
- Lamed Vavnick