Israel Bonds event: Two community stalwarts and a defeat of hatred

In our community, there are a few events each year that never fail to be inspiring.

The Israel Bonds dinner, organized by Marvin and Jean Staiman for an astonishing 60 years, is such an event and Sunday night’s awards dinner was even beyond the usual awe-inspiring standard.

The dinner met the exceptional meter just by its honorees.

Donna Bastian was honored for her elite level of community involvement that has stretched over four decades through multiple organizations, many of which she has led at various times.

Most notably, Bastian was an original organizer of the Leadership Lycoming Program that is coordinated through the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. The program provides an inside, in-depth look of the local community’s non-profits and businesses to participants.

It is meant to produce graduates who better understand and want to contribute to the future leadership of the community. The 32nd class that graduates this spring will bring to 775 the number of community members nurtured in large part through Bastian’s passion. That’s a legacy.

Jon P. Conklin, CEO of Woodland Financial Services, was honored for the sense of diversity and community that he has brought to the local financial community.

Conklin said he tries to bring with his endeavors each day the lessons of equal treatment and diversity taught to him by his parents.

“It didn’t matter if a person was wearing a suit or if they were wearing dirty blue jeans and a flannel shirt, they were deserving of the same treatment,” he said in accepting his Israel at 70 Protector of Jerusalem award. “Who are they at their core?” he asked rhetorically, adding that he was taught to never prejudge or underestimate anyone.

Then Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, the guest speaker, showed why no one should be prejudged or underestimated.

Dr.Wollschlaeger has traveled an incredible path to his present-day life as a family physician in Florida.

He grew up in Germany in the shadow of his father, a highly-decorated World War II tank commander and Nazi officer.

His journey of personal discovery began when his 16-year-old son asked, “Who is my grandfather?”

He did not know how to reconcile to his son that he himself was a converted Jew who served in the Israeli Army and his father was a decorated Nazi commander. He had grown up thinking of his father as a hero but knowing the story of horror from his mother’s side of the family.

Wollschlaeger eventually connected with a community of holocaust survivors, converted to Judaism and put the past behind him, though it is impossible to forget. The recounting of it Sunday night left the event’s audience in stunned silence.

Through the authoring of books he has made it his life’s mission that all people understand the horrors of that past and dedicate themselves to a peaceful world because of it.

As he was delivering the message, Israel was conducting strikes on a Syrian air base amid yet another suspected poison gas attack on civilians in a town near Damascus.

With the doctor’s story as a backdrop, the reality of moral outrage that Israel, the Jewish people and millions of other innocent victims have lived with and continue to endure explains why those strikes happen.

As Dr. Wollschlaeger concluded to an audience in awe, hatred can never be allowed to exist without being confronted.