Guest Column: ‘We Made History This Year in Jerusalem!’
That headline declaration is no hyperbole. It was spoken by David Harris on June 12 at Binyenei ha-Umah, the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. David is the extremely effective CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC.) He was addressing the more than 2,400 attendees at the AJC Global Forum, held for the first time in Israel — in honor of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. But it wasn’t that fact to which David was referring. He was reacting spontaneously to an astonishing address we had just heard delivered by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Kurz had stated clearly, with no diplomatic shading, that Austria had failed until today to acknowledge the truth of its complicity with Hitler and its share in the responsibility for the systematic torture and murder of Jews during the Shoah. He went on to state his unshakable commitment, on behalf of the Austrian government, to full support of the State of Israel and to the battle against anti-Semitism. His address was covered by the Austrian press as well as journalists from many other countries.
As dramatic as that moment was, it was the kind of experience those of us who attend the annual AJC Global Forum have come to expect. Yet, this year’s forum did go beyond any reasonable expectations. We heard addresses by and had conversations with political leaders from around the world, such as the head of Greece’s New Democratic Party, the first vice-speaker of the parliament of Georgia, the prime minster of Bulgaria and the Indonesian head of the world’s largest Muslim organization. And, of course, we heard from Israel’s political leadership, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay, co-leader of the Zionist Union Tzipi Livni, and Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett.
A series of presentations both fascinating and moving were offered under the rubric “Faces of Israel.” Among them was Ahlam Alsana, a Bedouin woman who told us about her experiences in Israel, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Israeli universities, and how she came to be the principal of the Desert Stars Branco Weiss School.
Another in the series was the AJC Moral Courage Awards. One was presented to Sandra Samuel, an Indian Christian woman, for heroism during and after the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
Samuel was the nanny for Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents ran the Chabad House in Mumbai. During the terrorists’ siege, Moshe’s parents were murdered, but, at great risk to her life, she saved Moshe. She then moved to Israel to continue to care for him. Young Moshe joined her on stage for the presentation.
The other Moral Courage Award was presented to Galilee Medical Center’s Dr. Eyal Sela, a highly skilled and compassionate surgeon who described remarkable examples of the lengths to which the hospital goes to save the lives of wounded civilians fleeing Syria’s civil war. At one point in his story he was in tears, as were many of us listening.
These are just a few of the dozens of fascinating, substantial presentations and experiences we shared during those several days of the forum. Some unforgettable moments: off-the-record presentations by courageous Arabs from Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, and the saga of a young Yemeni whose life was saved in large part due to the efforts of AJC members. (His story has just been published, The Foxhunt, and is being made into a major feature film.) A joint appearance by Miss Israel and a very brave Miss Iraq was a happy surprise.
So, what is AJC? AJC is the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, which has unparalleled access to government officials, diplomats and other world leaders. Through these relationships and its international presence, AJC impacts opinion and policy on the issues that matter most: combating rising anti-Semitism and extremism, defending Israel’s place in the world, and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all people.
Here in Detroit, the AJC has recently become formally affiliated with Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and both are under direction of David Kurzmann, who led our Detroit delegation in Israel. For information, contact him at (248) 642-5393.
To see full video coverage of the Global Forum’s Jerusalem presentations and events, go to www.ajc.org/globalforumvideos.
Irv Goldfein is a consultant and producer of Judaic reference and academic software and media, and an editor and literary agent for books in Judaica.