An amazing speech about priorities


Speeches come and go. Every now and again, you hear a speech that blows you away. Those in attendance at "Two Generations Making a Difference," JVS' annual fall gala honoring the work and contributions of the Felsenthal family, enjoyed an evening of good food, good company,enjoyable music and a general air of celebration.

We also heard a speech by honoree Jerry Felsenthal who, with his wife Judith, son Leland and daughter-in-law,


Erica are longtime supporters of JVS in a  variety of ways. You can read all about them in the news section of the JVS website.

Jerry Felsenthal's speech was one of the ages...on point, moving, erudite, the perfect conclusion to an already powerful evening.

I sincerely wish you all could have heard this speech.

I am reprinting it here.

"On behalf of my wife, my family, Erica, Leland, we’re very grateful for this award. It’s very special. Leland and Judy serve on the Scholarship Committee. Erica gives her time as a professional psychologist to JVS. I also want to pay recognition to my daughter Lisa and her husband David, and my son Alan who are here tonight and who give of their time generously to various forms of community service.

All of the recognitions of one's achievements in the community are truly great for the honorees. Tonight’s presentation occurs with a special significance for our family. First, because JVS has a very long history of doing the right thing in communities. Second of all, because it allows people to act one on one to help other people with tremendous success. And third, and I speak now to all the people who are here today, by the simple act of self involvement  it allows each of us to make a difference. And so it is the people here tonight who make the award so meaningful to us. Not only do we take pride in the achievements  of JVS, we grow and enrich our lives by the association with the very people here tonight. To understand why JVS is so significant to us is no deeper than to understand the meaningful role of community service. Many of us here come from an ancient people, a people that believes that not only is life important, but it is very important  to look out for one another, especially in times of need.

In short, when you engage in what JVS does, you add real meaning to what it means to participate in the things that matter. So what really matters? What matters and what doesn’t matter? What doesn’t really matter is  how much money you have. What doesn’t really matter is the wins and losses that one day seemed so important. What really doesn’t matter is where you came from. And what really doesn’t matter are the grudges and jealousies that once seemed important.

So what are the things that matter and how do they relate to the very people that are here? Simply put, because those of you who are here tonight live your lives by incorporating the very things that matter. My suspicion is that as I tell you the things that matter to us,that  you will be able to identify them very easily.

What matters is not what you bought , but what you build. What matters is not what you got, but what you gave. What matters is not your success, but your significance. What will matter is not what you’ve learned, but rather what you have taught.

What will matter is not really your competency, but your character. And what will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many people will feel a  lasting loss when you’re gone. What will matter is your memories, the memories of those who lived and loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, for whom and for what. I can assure you that the people we help today will remember us for a long time.

Judith, Leland, Erica and each of you in attendance tonight which includes the donors the recipients and the beneficiaries of the various different is each of you who gives and who benefits that work to improve society. It is each of you who donate to JVS that quietly acknowledge the individual blessings and successes that have been granted to you.

As each of you who have suffered setbacks thathave been put back on the right road, that will when you have the time become productive members and give back. Having done so, my guess is that you can’t wait to give back. Very often the true value of your contributions are overlooked. We live in a society that focuses on drama, violence, what’s wrong with society and not enough time is given to the goodness of people that engage in community service. Many claim we have lost our way and that we act only in our own self-interest.

I suggest to you that that’s all wrong and the very people here tonight that give of themselves, give of their time, and  give of their money prove that is simply not the truth.

The author Pat Conroy says the four most powerful words in the English language are "tell me a story" and I want to share a little story. There was a little girl in 1897 by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon, and she wrote a very famous letter to the editor of the Sun Times in New York and she wondered whether or not there was still goodness on the earth and people would do things where there wasn’t a direct reward. She wrote this letter and she basically said, "Is there a Santa Claus?" In response to her letter, Francis Chruch, who was the editor of the New York Sun at the time, said "Yes, Virginia there is goodness. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." He exists as certainly as there is love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and they will give your life meaning, joy and beauty.

And so it is with you here tonight. By the simple act of involving yourself and giving, you help those in need and you confirm that in spite of what the media says, that there is much goodness out there, and what you do is special. The Canadian writer Violet Putnam who is one of my favorite people, says "The entire sum of one’s existence is the magic of being needed by just one person." All of your life, all of the meaning in your life is the magic of being needed by just one person. If that is true, and I genuinely believe that it is, each of you here tonight should be very proud of yourself, knowing that your lives have meaning that you engage in the things that matter.

Before closing I would like to thank you on behalf of my family once again for honoring us with this JVS Lifetime Achievement Award, and finally I have a  request of each of you, a special favor.

When you finally get to your car, when you get in the car and you drive with whoever you driving who can’t believe that you can drive home by yourself without their constructive criticism help, cheerily question how you get home safely every night without their assistance, after you do what you normally would do to prepare for bed in whatever manner you choose, and in the few quiet moments, those few seconds where you sit on your bed before your head hits the pillow and you travel into the Land of Nod, take either your right hand of your left hand, put it on your shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back and just for one moment acknowledge the sensation that you are truly a good person, that you positively engage in the things that matter. You should feel very good about yourselves.

Good night and thank you.