The AJC of Cincinnati was told the stakes for the Jewish community are as high now as they were 75 years ago, when the chapter began.
David Harris, AJC chief executive officer, said the chapter started 75 years ago in Cincinnati and is still going strong, should celebrate.
“Pat yourself deservedly on the back for an extraordinary 75 years of an office that we sometimes called the little office that could,” Harris said. “Quiet. Understated. Never chest thumping, but always consistently delivering. That’s AJC Cincinnati. My request to you though is tomorrow morning reach out to others. Bring them into the AJC Cincinnati.”
Harris spoke at the AJC Cincinnati 75th anniversary dinner May 2 at the Cincinnati Country Club. It was one of the first local AJC offices to open, 38 years after the American Jewish Committee was founded.
It was established “to prevent the infraction of the civil and religious rights of Jews, in any part of the world; to render all lawful assistance and to take appropriate remedial action in the event of threatened or actual invasion or restriction of such rights, or of unfavorable discrimination with respect thereto; to secure for Jews equality of economic, social and educational opportunity; to alleviate the consequences of persecution and to afford relief from calamities affecting Jews, wherever they occur.”
Each of the founding members was committed to the well being of Jews worldwide and to the eradication of the anti-Semitism that had plagued Europe.
Harris said AJC has seen the reemergence of anti-Semitism from many sources.
“I beg all of us in this room, in this hyper-partisan world in which we live, put aside your partisanship on anti-Semitism, depoliticize it, because they are aiming at us from different directions,” he said. “If because of your hyper-partisanship all your attention is only focused at one (direction) you might get ambushed by the others.
“I can predict in the next 75 years we will not have a Sabin or Salk just yet that will create a vaccination against anti-Semitism, which we all so desperately want and need. And the recent reemergence of anti-Semitism here and around the world tragically should be a stark reminder that our future is not behind us it is in front of us.”
He said people have to be “swivel-headed” in understanding where the threats can come from, and that anti-Semitism is one form of hatred.
He asked dinner guests to think about what was going on May 2, 1944, five weeks before D-Day with the outcome of World War II not certain.
“Think about the crematoriums at Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Belzec, that were all too certain,” he said. “Those Jews who wanted to and tried to leave Europe were trapped. And there was no Israel.”
Now, Israel is a global powerhouse economically, democratically, militarily and technologically.
“How many times have you heard in the history of Israel they are going to run out of land, they are going to run out of water, they are going to run out of food. Israel today is an exporter of water. You want to believe in the impossible, believe in Israel. And Israel today is now learning how to take water out of air, in the newest frontier of creating water in an often water-starved world. “
He said Israel and the Jewish people have always been determined to be authors of history. “We had seen the lowest part of history and are determine to say never again.”
Harris, AJC’s CEO since 1990, is one of the Jewish community’s leading advocates and a most eloquent spokespersons. He travels the globe to meet with world leaders to advance the well being of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, and promote intergroup and inter-religious understanding.
Described by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres as the “foreign minister of the Jewish people,” Harris has been honored for his international efforts in defense of human rights, advancement of the transatlantic partnership, and dedication to the Jewish people.
Harris ended by saying the stakes could not be higher in the next 75 years.
“I don’t want to tolerate and I don’t want to be tolerated,” he said. “The goal of the exercise is mutual respect. The goal of the exercise is mutual understanding. The goal of the exercise is mutual cooperation and maybe one day if the prophetic vision is ever realize the real goal of the exercise is human kindness, compassion and love. But I’ll take respect and understanding for now.
“If we don’t wake up if we don’t stay awake, if we don’t keep others from sleeping, woe be us.”