The final year
The Final Year
We want to tell all of you who loved Shaz so much about the final year of his life. It was quite an amazing year, one which seems to support the notion that the soul knows in advance when it is going to leave the body and makes its preparations.
During this past year, Shaz visited three continents and spent quality time with his brother, Ivor, and sister, Sybil, and his extended family in the United States, in South Africa and in Australia. Everywhere he went he was welcomed with open arms, and sometimes had to arbitrate between family members who wanted more time with him.
In Israel he enjoyed holidays with his wonderful cousins, Rafi and Simmy Shelef and their families, and he even had a brief but happy visit with his daughter, Kinor, who lives in Switzerland.
Academic Recognition
Two months before he died, Shaz attended a conference on moral courage, sponsored by the Ethics Institute of Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire. He had been invited by the organizers to speak at the conference because they were so impressed by his book, The Bystander: Behavior, Law, Ethics. This was the first book that Shaz ever published (in 1978); it was based on his master’s thesis at Ohio State University and dealt with the topic of altruism versus the passive witnessing of evil.
Shaz had gone on to write 11 more books (!) and had long forgotten about The Bystander. But the organizers, who had scoured the Internet for bibliography on the subject of moral courage, assured him that his book was the best in the field, and that very little of value had been written since it was published. And, indeed, in his address to the conference, Shaz soundly criticized his colleagues in the social sciences for focusing on deviant behavior and failing to pay attention to the factors that make people kind, caring and courageous.
An added perk to the visit to Dartmouth was reconnecting with an old friend, Susannah Heschel, newly appointed as head of the Department of Jewish Studies. Susannah invited Shaz to lecture to her students on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and told me later that his was the most brilliant lecture they had ever heard on the subject. She had been discussing the possibility of inviting Shaz to Dartmouth as visiting professor, when news of his death reached her.
This year saw the publication of a book in Hebrew, Asabim Shotim b’Gan Eden (Weeds in the Garden of Eden: Biblical Narratives and Israeli Chronicles). In this book, Shaz takes a fresh look at biblical texts, peeling away layers of accepted interpretations to get at what he sees as the original meaning of the texts. He believed that the only way to preserve a dynamic Jewish culture, which has been stagnating under the monopoly of orthodox and ultra-orthodox institutions, was to challenge non-orthodox Israelis to enter into a dialogue with the Jewish sources as a way of examining their values and the society they were creating.
The book, which grew out of brief sermons that Shaz had presented over the years at Hod ve-Hadar, a Conservative congregation in Kfar Saba, is a synthesis of many of the topics that had been the focus of his other books: generational conflict, civil disobedience, democratic elements in Judaism, peace with our Arab neighbors, and so on. It was published by a prestigious Israeli publisher, was favorably reviewed, and was accorded the annual Yonatan Shapira Award for the best book published by a faculty member of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Tel Aviv University.
Shaz retired this year, after 32 years of lecturing at Tel Aviv University (with couple of sabbaticals thrown in). The Faculty of Law and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology sponsored an evening devoted to the topic of human rights, the primary focus of his research, teaching and public activity.
His colleagues spoke warmly of his activity on behalf of prisoners for whom he sought clemency; his role in placing the subject of civil disobedience on the national agenda; his activism in promoting dialogue with the Palestinians; and his insistence on incorporating moral and humanitarian considerations as an integral part of legal and judicial discourse.
Most of all, they spoke in one voice of their love and admiration for Shaz—for his integrity, his sincerity, his breadth of vision, his intellectual prowess, his collegiality, his tenacity, his warmth and his humor. He was very moved by this tribute, and we are comforted in knowing that he heard these accolades with his own ears, in his own lifetime.
Zionism and Idealism
Shaz came to Israel from Cape Town with high ideals, based on the ethos of the kibbutz. Over the years he became more and more despondent about the direction the country was taking, whether socially and economically, as cold-hearted Thatcherism replaced the egalitarian principles of the welfare state, or politically, as the continued occupation of Palestine seemed to be turning Israel into the kind of apartheid state that he had denounced in his youth.
Nevertheless, his disillusionment never soured into despair, and he continued to search for solutions to problems that even his friends on the Left considered insoluble. The night before he died, he sent a manuscript to a publisher, entitled The Thin Green Line: From Intractable Problems to Feasible Solutions.
Even in his last hours, his “intractable” optimism and idealism did not desert him.