The Elders of San Diego

by Jon Schwartz August 1, 2016


aging augCenturies ago; before the internet, computer, television, radio and newspaper, people learned new information from elders within one’s community. They were revered and leaned upon for their wisdom, insight and advice. These elders were responsible for passing down traditional stories and rituals.

Today, as more people live to older age, the idea of the wise elder seems to have all but disappeared. Media, business and government tend to think of our aging society as a burden not a benefit. And Google has nearly entirely replaced the need for wise elders to answer questions and offer advice. No doubt, our current society fetishizes youth and technology.  However, behind the scenes, elders are carrying out remarkable work.

In the early 2000’s entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel discussed how many more primitive societies looked to their elders for guidance, or to help resolve disputes. They posed the question, in today’s world, could a small, dedicated group of individuals use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today? Branson and Gabriel took this question to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who were inspired to start an organization in 2007 called, “The Elders.” The Elders are a group of global leaders working for peace and human rights. They represent an independent voice and are not bound by any institution or government.

Today, there are 13 active “Elders” who share a common commitment to peace and universal human rights. They also bring with them a wealth of diverse expertise and experience. They are peacemakers, with decades of experience mediating and resolving conflicts around the world. They are peace builders who have helped post-conflict societies to heal wounds and rebuild.

The Elders are social revolutionaries who transformed their own countries – whether by reducing poverty, improving the status of women, or championing nonviolent struggle. They are pioneering women who have governed their countries, led international institutions and spearheaded movements to empower women.

A few examples of the major projects The Elders are currently focused on:

• Climate change

• Israel/Palestine conflict

• Equality for women and girls

• Help to build a fairer, stronger and transparent UN system

In addition, The Elders weigh in on current events like the recent Brexit vote as well as the attempted coup in Turkey. For more information on this special group, visit:

While the idea is great, the problem I see with The Elders is its exclusivity. To be considered an Elder, it seems one would have to be a former President of a country, head of the UN or a Nobel Laureate. Very few people possess this resume. However, there are many elders, throughout the world and here in San Diego who carry the desire and skills required to be a community thought leader. There is a need in our local community to have a group of elders who work together to spread the core Jewish value, tikkun olam.

Imagine a group of thoughtful and committed local Jewish elders, who could work together to help improve areas where social justice is needed the most. The potential good is limitless. If those reading this article can think of a distinguished elder member(s) of our Jewish community who would be a good fit for this type of group, please feel free to contact me. If we can get enough names, I would be honored to facilitate the establishment of Jewish Elders San Diego.

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