Aspen Center for Social Values debuts with two days of conversations |

Aspen Center for Social Values debuts with two days of conversations

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Ira Bedzow, who is working on his doctorate at Emory University’s graduate division of religion, points out that no one starts the day thinking, “I’m going to be ethical today.” Instead, people make their ethical intentions known by their specific acts: guiding their children, volunteering their time, putting in a productive day of work.

Bedzow would like the Aspen Center for Social Values, a new organization of which he serves as executive director, to embody that same spirit. Bedzow, a 33-year-old South Florida native who has experience in real estate finance and as an educator, wants the center to be known more for its pragmatic goals and less for the talk and ideas it might cultivate.

“Don’t give me a philosophy in the abstract. You have to know the facts on the ground,” he said Sunday morning on a bench at Wagner Park. “Our motto is, the value of our ideas is how well they benefit others. It’s not just thought — it has to end in action.”

Bedzow believes he has a deep tradition to draw from in that regard, in Jewish culture. The Aspen Center for Social Values, he notes, is not centered on the Jewish faith, but it aims to add Jewish history and traditions to the conversation about ethical behavior. It is a culture, he says, that is rooted in results.

“With Jewish social values, it doesn’t look at the abstract,” he said. “It looks at concrete situations. Ideas only go so far. We’re known by our deeds and how to apply our deeds correctly.”

The organization — which includes Rabbi Mendel Mintz, the head of Chabad of Aspen, as its development director — kicks off with a two-day conversation beginning today at the St. Regis. The opening conversation, titled “Brain Transplants: Are You What You Think?” should offer a solid indication of the mission of the center.

“The mind and the brain — these aren’t Jewish issues,” said Bedzow, who has written a paper on neuroscience. “But Jewish tradition has to look at that. Everyone recognizes medical and biological issues. The concept of the brain and mental illness has a social component in how society looks at stigma, health, what is normal and not normal. How it plays out depends on what your social values are.”

Tuesday’s topics are “Raising Kids with Character: Is This Our Greatest Challenge?” and “Humanitarian Nation: A Unique Resource for the Developing World?” But today’s second conversation takes on something more closely associated with the concerns of Jews: “A Force for Good: Is Israel a Problem or a Solution?” Bedzow said that part of the goal, both of the conversation and of his organization, is to expand the public thinking about Israel away from just the geopolitical and examine areas like social and medical technology in which Israel has made a contribution.

Bedzow says that this week’s events are called conversations rather than lectures to emphasize the openness of the Aspen Center for Social Values.

“It’s discussion. We want to learn as much as we inform,” he said.

While he and his fellow speakers seek to add a Jewish perspective, he doesn’t believe Jewish traditions are the exclusive way to address societal issues.

“In a discussion on social values, we benefit when more voices are involved,” he said. “The Jewish tradition has a lot of experience, because of length of time and geography, that we think can provide a lot of insight. We believe we have a voice to add. There are other organizations — other Jewish organizations, Christian organizations — that think they have a moral point of view. And they do. The Jewish social values are where we’re coming from, but it’s not where we’re going. We live in a multi-cultural environment, and that’s important.

“But the moral authority only gives us the insight, not the answer. We want something distinct to come out of our insights that is right for our time and place.”