December 26, 2012 By Louis Zacharilla
A deceased man from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, by way of Lomza, Poland, has been very much on my mind since returning from Oslo and the Nobel Peace Prize events last week. I was invited to Oslo to speak about visions for an Open Society. Since returning I have been asked one million questions. They range from “Who won the Peace Prize? “ (I’m serious), to “who was your favorite performer at the Peace Prize concert?”
First the easy stuff: The European Union received the Prize.
The 11 performers who honored this year’s recipient were a collective salute to Peace Prize laureates past and present. The evening was an eclectic, beautiful mix of cultural power and the beauty of non-linear human experience. In a few hours I was able to sip the diversity of world culture and to see how it stirs us in ways far too deep to describe. That is the point, of course. We are all from somewhere, and pride of place can be evoked from the sound of one musical phrase. I experienced this personally. No doubt because of my Italian ancestry, I thought Il Volo (Italy) was the best act of the night. They reminded me of kids with whom I grew up, although they sang a lot better. Their music felt and tasted like my grandmother’s kitchen. Most of the others were great too, with the possible exception of Jennifer Hudson. I am not a music critic, but she could have stayed home. (I am also a New Yorker and, as you know, we are ALL critics! Sorry Jennifer.)
The harder questions followed. The selection by Geir Lundestad’s Nobel committee of the EU was controversial, or at least the timing was. But it begged a larger question. Why? And what does it mean for communities? I spent my time attempting to explain and to understand what the Peace Prize does mean to communities who were represented by ICF’s presence there. Much of the discussion centered on technology and the economy. But that only scratches the surface.
How will the shift in the global economy impact the people in a neighborhood? How do we attempt to grasp how communities and nations adapt to our “broadband economy?” The former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, helped start us off. His long and interesting meditation on how we might respond to what he calls “the first crisis of globalization” took an interesting turn. Following the theme of his new book, he suggested that this is as much a crisis of “ethics” as it is of banking. As we spoke at a photo-op I learned that he is the son of a Presbyterian minister. His culture informs him. His belief that religion and ethics, now in decline, must form the basis from which to walk toward the future made me think – and to think about Zelig.
Ezriel Zelig ben Chaim Zev, Zelig Wesbard, lived in an apartment on Grand Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His neighborhood remains an ethnic community so tightly bound that a visitor from his own country might think they need a passport to be served in a coffee shop when there. While it may not look like “Americana,” it is the real thing. It is a community.
Each day he would walk to open the East Side Torah Center for service. He had been doing this since 1948 and for many generations of rabbis and neighbors when his twilight and end came. By then, Zelig had become what I call a “tribal elder.” He was the one to whom all waved and was acknowledged. True communities produce these unelected “mayors.” His apartment was a rent-subsidized pilgrimage site and perhaps a touch City Hall. Children went there for candies and their parents went for stories, gossip and wisdom. His wisdom came from his enlightened experience and true human development. As I sat at his eulogy last year I thought, he is among the blessed. A peacemaker.
Blessed he was but lucky he had not always been.
Zelig was among those who fled a continent where darkness had descended. It had descended in the 1940’s in Europe in ways unimaginable to those kids eating Milky Way bars in his living room in 2000. Like other Jews, he had escaped the sure death of a continent plunged and savaged. Eventually 60 million acts of daily darkness would descend. His mother, father and five siblings had vanished into this man-made black hole called “The Holocaust.” I thought of this in Oslo and so did everyone else there.
The European Union was cited for having helped lay the foundation for a Europe at peace. 27 nations now form a “fraternity of nations” and met the criteria Alfred Nobel, who had set them for his prize back in 1895. A recipient could represent or have brought into being a “peace congress.” Three generations of people at peace is beyond deserving.
Peace is what Zelig brought to his world and it too was upheld for many generations, including the generation of his only daughter, my friend Rochelle. Without peace and freedom, no family and no society is truly open, and no neighborhood evolved into a place where a man, having suffered through the hell of war, can walk to his beloved temple and reactivate for us all the music that goes far deeper than our words.
Happy holidays everyone. Peace to people of good will.
About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.