Dan Steinitz

Opening speech

held at the reunion 19 April 2000


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I herewith welcome all the participants of the second reunion of the Steinitz family. It's a pity that some couldn't make it because the date would not fit into their schedule and others because of age or health problems. Let us hope they will be able to join in on the next convention that I'm confident will take place. I believe we have been very lucky to find this brand new hostel in Jerusalem for a bargain price. Let's hope we all feel the same after the reunion.

Before starting with anything else, I like to use this opportunity to express our common gratitude to Reni and Jan – who deserve a very special bravo, even when a little late, not only for the idea and the organisation of the first Steinitz convention, but also for creating thereafter, and continuously updating the family archive and family Internet site. No doubt, these operations are time-consuming and require a lot of care and devotion. After having one successful convention, we Israelis had only to follow Reni's and Jan's footprints to make this event a reality. Nevertheless, walking along their footprints was quite a tiresome job.

We more or less doubled the number of participants from the first to the second convention. Considering the number of babies born in these two years (I know at present only of my new-born granddaughter Rimon) this is certainly not due to population explosion, but to the simple fact that the majority of the family lives in Israel. However, one should not overlook the fact that today we widen our horizon and embrace our new family branch coming to us from far New-Zealand. We may say with their integration into our clan, the Steinitz conquest of the globe has been almost accomplished.

In the memorable opening session in Berlin, while being seated comfortably in a big circle on the hotel's lawn, I expressed my wondering – what was our uniting factor, the substance that makes us sit there together and causes us to feel members of one family. It seemed to me obvious that such a substance does exist, otherwise, what could make us, reasonable people in general, assemble from all over the world, spending time and money, just to join in an apparently meaningless gathering of a casual collection of people. I said also that I didn't know a satisfactory answer, but felt that such a linkage is lingering invisibly somewhere. Finally, I expressed my hope to accomplish a better insight, at least to my own motivations, at the end of the convention. I believe I express a commonly shared view when saying that the Berlin meeting was a success, yet I made little progress in solving the above riddle.

A few generations ago, not too many before mine, a question like "what is the essence or meaning of ‘a family'" would probably be regarded silly, fit only for the intelligence test of retarded kids. Even a small normal child, was expected to know how the family stands for security, mutual support, ceremonials and rituals etc. Members of the family would be brought up mostly in neighbouring apartments, but at least in the same environment, for sure in the same tradition and culture and of course in the same religion. They would have lived a good portion of their lives closely together, sharing experiences, memories, and possibly also some unique family professional know-how.

All this sounds far fetched when looking around at the family gathered here. We come from different countries and where brought up in totally different cultural worlds. We don't even share a common religion, as the overwhelming majority is outspokenly non-religious. We have no common language! If it weren't for English, which is now the accepted international language, many of us would be unable to communicate with many others.

The problem at hand reminds me of the following: Shortly after the foundation of the state of Israel, the "law of return" was issued. This law grants to each Jew the right of immigration, immediate citizenship upon arrival in Israel, government support in settling down, and, most significant – the right to elect and be elected, from the very first day. It was meant in first place, to provide an immediate solution for the survivors of the holocaust, but also for any other Jew all over the world. The leading concept was that the state does not belong only to those who by coincidence had the privilege of being here at the time of declaration of the state, but to all wherever they may be. However, soon a profound question arose: Who is to be considered a Jew? In a different phrasing: What is this Jewishness that makes one a Jew? Who is thus entitled to benefit from this generous law?… There was total disagreement. Like straw fire, it spread speedily all over the little country. (You know the story about the two Jews having at least three opinions.)… Ben Gurion, our prime minister in those days, thought he might settle the debate by confronting with this question the 300 wisest living Jewish thinkers, half of them local, the other from the Diaspora. But, the outcome of the survey didn't indicate any possible consensus. To cut a long story short, this dispute continues until this very day and no agreement is in sight. On one extreme there are the orthodox, who stick to the "Halacha" – which is the religious law, according which a Jew is anybody who was born by a Jewish mother or was converted to Jewish faith following the strict Halacha regulations. On the other side one finds the extreme left liberals, who advocate that a Jew is anybody who feels Jewish and desires to be a Jew. Our female minister Juli Tamir even suggested – a Jew is anybody who is willing to participate in the discussion about who is a Jew.

Now, you may be wondering what is all this talk about Jewishness, while this is certainly not the issue here… Well, I was reminded of this dilemma by the opening session in Berlin, when I was tempted to contemplate about the meaning of being a family member or, how "to be or not to be (a Steinitz!) - This is the question". I found here a strong analogy to the questions related to being a Jew. Except that here there was the gravity of human fates involved. If we asked all members gathered here for their opinion, I believe we would end up with the same diversity of replies. We would fail to agree on an answer, the same way we lack answers to the basic questions of our very existence. The proper place for these questions is in the metaphysical domain. Let us not deal with them; let us leave them to the wise mystic's. Let me suggest therefore, we adopt the simple and non-challenging definition "A Steinitz is anybody, who claims to be one". Further, let us agree that the very presence, here, at this meeting, will be acknowledged as a mute declaration in this effect. Finally, let us raise our glasses and drink to the prosperity of the Steinitz tree, as drawn for us so beautifully by Rachel Cohen and exposed here on the wall, and pray that all its branches stay always green.