“A Household That Held Social Action As Essential”–Esther Saks at JCUA’s 2010 Annual Dinner

Esther Saks with her four daughters

Esther Saks’ remarks at this year’s Rabbi Robert J. Marx Social Justice Awards Dinner, Nov. 18, 2010 at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, Chicago, Ill.

[Learn more about the Saks Family]

When I was thinking about what the remarks should be that I would make tonight, I remembered an incident that happened to me and Alan quite a number of years ago.

We were on one of our trips, one of our annual trips to England, business trips that we took at that time, and we were invited to spend a weekend with some new business associates in their house in the country in London.

And while we were having some “get acquainted” conversations, our host said to me, “Um, we hear that you’re a do-gooder.” And I said, “Hmmm.” And I suspected that he meant that I was one of those village ladies that are so disdained in British novels that know everybody else’s business and run flea market sales.

And then I remember saying, “Well, you know, if you mean that I want to know, that I need to know, about the issues that are shaping my community and my society—that affect me and my family, and that I can affect, then I guess I’m a do-gooder—and Alan is too.”

One wonders how that need—really that impulse, to be involved starts. For us I think it started in the generations before us.

Alan loved to tell the story and he told it over and over again, as you know that Alan did tell favorite stories over and over again, that he remembered vividly when he was a little boy, joining his grandmother climbing up and down apartment stairs, as she solicited money for a home for unwed Jewish mothers.

And he also knows, remembers and always revered the fact that his father, a very very Jewish atheist, as Alan was, for whom defending civil rights became a religion.

I grew up assuming that becoming an adult meant being involved in a Jewish charity and voting for Franklin Roosevelt. My parents were devoted Labor Zionists and wept bitterly when Roosevelt died.

And I think each of my daughters have their own particular impression of having grown up in a household that held social action as essential.

Our dinner table conversation was a composite of “no questions asked” return policy that Saxon Paint offered, even when the can that the customer returned was from Sears.

Then we might discuss the current discount coupon paint promotion—Alan was the discount coupon king way before Groupon;  how the citywide break dancing contest, sponsored by Saxon, was going; whether school integration by busing in Evanston was really working; looking forward to the pro-choice march that we were all going to go to in Washington; how the rallies we were going to go to, now with our grandchildren, protesting the Iraq War, were way too reminiscent of our protest marches against the war in Vietnam.

And just as an aside, Beth told me not too long after that that she and the children were driving or walking and Sarah noticed there was a rally and she said to Beth, “You know, we should tell Grandma about this rally. She would probably want to go to it.”

I also want to thank Tori, I don’t want to forget that. The 19 years that I spent at BEZ on the board were really wonderful, wonderful years. My day still starts with BEZ on and ends with it, and it certainly is on in my car during the day. I treasure the station and hope and wish it a long life and will continue to support it so that it has a long life.

Each of my daughters has exercised their own individual brand of social activism in both personal hands-on ways and in global ways.

Beth said the other day, my number two daughter, that she felt one of the basic principles of the family was to be aware that everyone had the right to be treated with respect and dignity in any situation and arena. And that that, she thought, that embrace of that principle, was what defined our actions.

And this is a message that my grandchildren hear and exercise in their fledgling social activism. I fully expect that another generation of the Saks clan will hope to affect positive change in their world—having experienced the actions of our family.

We are proud and humbled, all of us, to have been chosen by JCUA to be honored by the Rabbi Marx award at this very important annual benefit.

There are any number of you here tonight, a roomful of do-gooders, who could have been up here receiving this tribute. And with your sense of social activism, I know you will all join me in applauding JCUA, an organization that passionately works in the trenches in the exercise of their noble mission.

I thank you.

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