Most people fortunate enough to reach their ninth decade of life are ready to slow down. Most people aren’t Ted Comet.
For more than 70 years, Ted has served the Jewish community, working first at the Council of Jewish Federations, and later at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). And because it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, he now volunteers with UJA.
Earlier this week, Ted met with young UJA professionals to share the experiences of a life well-lived. Among his notable professional accomplishments, Ted started the Celebrate Israel Parade and organized the first large-scale public demonstration of solidarity for Soviet Jewry.
But before he became a professional in the Jewish world, Ted spent two years in France as a student volunteer with a JDC program to rehabilitate war orphans. It was there, in 1946, that he met a young Elie Wiesel, who had been placed in a home for orphaned survivors in Versailles. And echoing my message from last week, it was Ted’s experience volunteering with survivors that inspired him to work full-time in the Jewish world.
It also taught him the power of resilience.
Resilience, as defined by Ted, is not just getting up when you’re knocked down but actually reaching higher heights, by transmuting the trauma into creative energy. By way of example, he described Elie and his three friends from the orphanage. One went on to become a professor of astrophysics at the Sorbonne; another became one of the world’s greatest experts on the Provence language; the third founded a modern yeshiva; and Elie, well, became Elie Wiesel.
Another powerful example of resilience came later, in the 1980s, during Operation Moses. Ted recalled meeting a frail, malnourished young Ethiopian boy who had been airlifted to Israel. That child of illiterate parents grew up to be a paratrooper, a college graduate, and then a lawyer.
And the most personal story belonged to Ted’s late wife, Shoshana, also a survivor, who transmuted her trauma into art, weaving beautiful tapestries and helping others as a psychotherapist.
Resilience is an especially poignant and appropriate theme this week. We share the grief of the world, condemning the terror in Belgium and praying for the victims and their families.
And — on the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum — this week, we celebrate the secret airlift of 17 Jews from Yemen to Israel, joining two more who arrived last week. These 19 Jews — whose rescue was made possible by the Jewish Agency, one of our largest beneficiaries — are living proof of the resilience of the Jewish people. They also reaffirm our abiding commitment that no Jew should ever feel alone.
Finally, at the end of his talk, Ted — 91 years young — shared his personal fountain of youth:
“Never think of yourself as a finished product, but always a work in progress.”
Ted, we’ll do our best.