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Community and courage: La Jolla speakers spread words of hope at TEDxSanDiego event

La Jolla resident Pablo Fernandez speaks about community during the March 27 TEDxSanDiego.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Communicating the power of community and courage, two La Jollans were among 14 speakers and performers who took the stage for TEDxSanDiego at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla on March 27.

The sold-out event, returning after a two-year hiatus, also was livestreamed online and included a farewell to La Jolla native Jack Abbott, who began TEDxSanDiego in 2010 and has said this is his last year as organizer.

“When we create in-person communities, our shared growth is not only possible, it’s inevitable,” La Jolla resident Pablo Fernandez said during his talk, titled “A Case for Community at All Costs.”

Fernandez, an advisor to multiple start-ups and a board member for several nonprofits, began with a story from his youth, when he and his grandfather went searching through trash bins for food.

“My grandfather taught me that although we didn’t have much, what we had we shared,” Fernandez said. “Fast forward 30 years when my grandfather died, families from the community came to his funeral to pay respects to the man that had been there for them in countless ways over his lifetime.”

Though people are now more connected than ever through technology, there is no replacement for in-person connection, Fernandez said.

“In-person community is not just important, it’s essential,” he said. “It fills our deep human need for belonging and purpose to something greater than ourselves.”

The past couple of years of isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic have expedited the realization that social media is a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction, he added.

“We need to create a future where community remains at the forefront, where it belongs,” Fernandez said. Fostering community builds “a safety net” of resilience, he added.

One way people can grow their community is to invite others over for dinner, Fernandez said.

“There’s something powerful about opening your physical door so people can enter your home and share the experience of nourishment at the same table,” he said. “We need to be eye to eye.”

Edith Eger (center) of La Jolla sits with her daughter Marianne Engle (left) and TEDxSanDiego moderator Nikkisa Abdollahi.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

After Fernandez, TEDxSanDiego played a short video in which Edith Eger, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp who now lives and practices clinical psychology in La Jolla, detailed her thoughts about courage.

During the video, “Courage is a Choice,” Eger detailed surviving Auschwitz with her sister (their parents were killed at the camp), including how she danced to entertain Nazi doctor Josef Mengele for bread, which she then shared with others at the camp who saved her during a death march.

“Courage can really save your life in situations that [are] unexpected and totally unanticipated,” Eger said.

“I hope to hand you the courage that is within you to be free from fear, from anxiety, from anger, from frustration, a concentration camp of your own mind,” she said. “The key is in your pocket, and it’s called courage.”

Eger, who published her memoir, “The Choice,” at age 90 in 2017 and a guidebook, “The Gift,” in 2020, appeared on the TEDxSanDiego stage with her daughter Marianne Engle and moderator Nikkisa Abdollahi to answer questions.

“I am not a victim,” Eger said. “It is not my identity. It’s not who I am. It’s what was done to me.”

She said resilience is cultivated through self-love, which “is not narcissistic. I hope you get up every morning, you look in a mirror and say, ‘I love me.’”

Eger said suffering gave her strength and “that strength comes from within. … We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So make the best with the present moment and see how we can form a human family so we can finally survive.”

Jack Abbott, who grew up in La Jolla, has organized TEDxSanDiego since its 2010 inception.
Jack Abbott, who grew up in La Jolla, has organized TEDxSanDiego since its 2010 inception but has said he will be stepping down.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Before Abbott concluded the TEDxSanDiego event, he was surprised with a video thanking him for his years of organization.

Co-organizer Shannon O’Connor, a La Jolla resident, told the La Jolla Light that Abbott is “the glue that holds it all together.”

O’Connor said it’s not yet known who will organize next year’s event. ◆