JCRC/AJC educates and advocates on important issues, seeking consensus with a commitment to Jewish values.
Several years ago, I joined the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC). Much of the organization’s mission spoke to me then and continues to do so, maybe even more, now as I have joined the executive committee.
Part of the mission of the nonprofit is to represent the Metropolitan Detroit Jewish community, Israel and Jews throughout the world to the general community, and to establish collaborative relationships with other ethnic, racial and religious groups. In addition, JCRC/AJC educates and advocates on important issues, seeking consensus with a commitment to Jewish values.
One of the important ways we embrace this mission is through our Diplomatic Committee, which I have been blessed to co-chair for the last two years alongside my able partner Howard Brown, who has been engaged in this work for going on two decades.
Through our team’s efforts, we meet with consuls general and honorary consuls general representing an array of countries with offices in the Midwest. The goal of this outreach, which we do in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee, is to build long-term relationships and mutual understanding and support through which actions or changes are more likely to occur.
Via meetings and events, our lay leaders promote dialogue and communicate concerns about critical issues related to Israel and world Jewry.
Said Howard Brown, “Diplomatic work is very important and meaningful to me. It is not every day you get to meet with a local consul general to discuss important policies and issues facing us like the NO HATE Act, COVID-19, locally and in their countries, local and world events, our beloved Israel, the United Nations and community relations near and far.”
Prior to the pandemic, we would meet with the local individuals in person. Obviously, things have changed in the last two years, and many of our meetings have had to move to Zoom, which has been a bit of a blessing in that we have had the opportunity to meet with a greater number of diplomats. However, there is something special that is lost by not meeting in person and that something can best be illustrated by this:
Last fall, several JCRC/AJC lay leaders and staff were having lunch with the Consul General of Japan outside at the Soul Cafe in West Bloomfield. It was the first time during the pandemic that we held a meeting in person — and it made all the difference.
Before lunch was served, Friendship Circle Rabbi Benny Greenwald came to me, quietly asking if he could have a private word with the Consul General. I was surprised that he could tell that is who we were meeting with and, therefore, must have had a questioning expression on my face. The rabbi persisted, holding up his phone, clearly wanting to share something that was on there. I agreed quietly and introduced the rabbi to the Consul General, who was sitting next to me.
After introductions, Rabbi Greenwald then showed all present a picture of his grandfather, sharing that Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania during World War II, saved his grandfather’s life during the war. In fact, he helped thousands of Jews flee Europe by issuing transit visas so they could travel through Japanese territory. In doing so, he risked his job, as well as his life and that of his family. In 1985, Israel honored him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, the only Japanese national to hold that honor.
The Consul General was visibly moved by this revelation, and we could see how important a moment this was for both him and the rabbi. Frankly, it was a very emotional moment for us all.
Said Rabbi Greenwald, “Seeing the Consul General brought to the forefront of my mind, and my heart, the power one individual can have. My grandfather was a Chabad yeshivah student. On the outside, there was no connection between him and the Japanese diplomat. However, with God’s help, Mr. Sugihara’s self-sacrifice brought me here today, and for that I’m forever grateful. It was powerful for me to be able to express gratitude to the Consul General.”
Thanks to this one man who let his conscience guide him, it has been estimated as many as 100,000 people alive today are the descendants of the recipients of Sugihara visas.
As, hopefully, the pandemic continues to lift, I grow eager to see how many more experiences like this that the Diplomatic Committee will have the blessing to witness.
Carol Ogusky is an executive committee member of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee. She also is a past president of Hadassah Greater Detroit and sits on several other local boards.