For several years, I have had the honor of being a board member of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Detroit. Last year, AJC joined with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to launch a partnership now known as JCRC/AJC. As the public affairs voice of the Detroit Jewish community, JCRC/AJC’s programs include strengthening inter-cultural, religious and ethnic relations, and promoting values important to the Jewish community. This work includes fighting hate speech and intolerance on behalf of the Jewish community. We do this work not only in Detroit and across the U.S., but also on an international stage.
I say “international” because AJC commences diplomatic efforts every year in New York in September at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly (GA). This year, AJC met with more than 70 world leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. GA. Diplomatic meetings continued in Chicago at the Midwest Diplomatic Marathon in October, where we joined with small groups of lay leaders to meet with consuls general and diplomats from 21 different countries.
This year, seven Detroiters joined with me to participate in the Diplomatic Marathon: Howard Friedman, Micki Grossman, Milt Neuman, Illana Stern, Noah Stern and Jordan Weiss. Our lay leader teams included people from Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Throughout the one-day Diplomatic Marathon, my team met with diplomats from Lithuania, China and the Czech Republic.
Topping the agenda in meetings this year was countering the escalation in global anti-Semitism; ending U.N. institutional bias against Israel; and responding to Iran’s continued ballistic missile development and ongoing support for terror across the Middle East. We also advocated on behalf of a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on two states living side-by-side, through bilateral negotiations, rather than the current Palestinian attempts to internationalize the conflict.
The diplomats were keenly interested to hear from representatives of the U.S. Jewish community. Our meeting with the Lithuanian Consul General focused on how rising European anti-Semitism is an issue that not only threatens the Jewish community but also challenges universal interests and social values.
The Lithuanian Consul General shared his personal and very meaningful efforts to combat anti-Semitism during a prior assignment in Brussels and told us about an upcoming event sponsored by Lithuania at the Illinois Holocaust Museum featuring such Litvak music as George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leopold Godowsky. He also shared a map of Lithuania that utterly took my breath away. Next to the name of each Lithuanian town was a small pie-chart that showed the percentage of Jews residing in each town before World War II. This map clearly depicted the utter destruction of Jewish communities in Lithuania.
My thoughts quietly turned to my paternal grandmother Rose Gould and her family who fortunately emigrated to the U.S. from Vilnius in 1905. I will never forget that map and the commitment of the Lithuanian Counsel General to continue his personal efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
The meeting with the Chinese Consul General was similarly fascinating. We celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations between China and Israel, and our group commended China for safeguarding thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
JCRC/AJC continues these diplomatic efforts here in Detroit throughout November. Our board members are meeting with local diplomats from Germany, France, Mexico, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom.
I’m not aware of any other organization in Detroit that affords this diplomatic opportunity, which is both truly empowering and educational. We know from past experiences that our messages on behalf of the U.S. Jewish community are sent up the chain to the capitals of these countries and, collectively, our advocacy has made a difference.
We look forward to seeing our diplomatic and interfaith friends again at JCRC/AJC’s Fifth Diplomatic/Inter-Faith Seder on March 19, 2018. We invite you to join us as we read from our seder Hagaddah and pray for the freedom of all peoples!
Seth Gould is partner in the law firm Wienner & Gould, P.C. and vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC. He resides in Bloomfield Hills.