After attending AJC's ACCESS Summit for three days in Washington, DC, it was finally time for the 2015 Global Forum to begin. I watched as the Washington Hilton began to overflow with attendees from all over the country and the world. The lobby of the hotel quickly became a bustling international hub, filled with people who hailed from seemingly every corner of the globe. Excited and inspired from my experience at ACCESS I could only imagine what Global Forum was going to be like. ACCESS Summit had been filled with driven young Jewish leaders who shared a strong determination to improve not only their own Jewish communities, but the global Jewish community at large. As a result, I was very much looking forward to meeting the many Jewish thought leaders and advocates who would be in attendance at Global Forum. As the first plenary began, I was in complete awe of the sheer passion and enthusiasm that radiated from each and every individual present in the main ballroom. It was clear that the 2,000 attendees who had traveled to the conference were eager to do all that they could to help AJC in its current mission of combating anti-Semitism, preventing a nuclear Iran, and advocating for Israel and the Jewish people.
As Global Forum began, I was amazed by the power and strength of the conference. We heard from the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria Daniel Mitov, the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, and more. We even saw an impassioned debate entitled "Two-State Solution or Two-State Illusion?" between The Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick and the author of My Promised Land, Ari Shavit. However, one of the most powerful speeches came when Dr. Daniel Gordis gave the "State of the Jewish World Address," which occurred at the start of Global Forum. He spoke about Jewish memory and the challenges plaguing parts of the world due to anti-Semitism. However, he made a point of stating that ‘because of us, the greatest days of the Jewish people and the greatest days of the Jewish state lie not in the past, but in a glorious future that we can create together.’ While many challenges face our community on a local and global scale, Dr. Gordis's words were an inspirational reminder that we have strength in numbers, and through the unity of the Jewish community we can continue to work towards an even better tomorrow. The State of the Jewish World Address set a tone for the rest of Global Forum, one which brought a great deal of attention to the importance of our presence at the conference and the continued need for dedicated advocates on behalf of the Jewish community.
I continued the first day of Global Forum by attending the Advocacy in Action dinner, “BDS Breakdown”, where Dr. Tal Becker, the Principal Deputy Legal Advisor for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke about the presence of BDS on college campuses, and how those who are present on these campuses can work to combat anti-Israel sentiments. What stood out the most for me during Dr. Becker's talk was his ability to acknowledge the presence of differing viewpoints within an academic environment, and the importance for student advocates to seek out information and resources when tackling an issue such as BDS. While Jewish student leaders may not immediately be able eliminate the presence of opposing opinions regarding Israel on their campus, they do have the power to research and learn how to effectively present facts about Israel to their classmates, and work to create productive conversations as they advocate for the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
While every speaker and thought leader present at Global Forum possessed invaluable knowledge and viewpoints on a wide range of topics from Muslim-Jewish relations to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, what stood out to me the most during my time in Washington were the countless conversations that each speaker and session elicited from the attendees. After a speech was given or a talk was had, we would leave the room and almost immediately begin discussing what we had just heard, working through our own pre-existing notions on the topics in combination with the newly presented facts and ideas. I watched as people's minds were opened, including my own, and how we would come together to make sense of all that we had been learning. While there were many subjects covered and many ideas to be shared, the one thing that united everyone at Global Forum was our mutual passion and drive to advocate for our communities, and to work to improve the world around us whether it be through diplomatic relations, community engagement or interfaith relations. And as the conference came to a close, it was clear that AJC possessed unmatched connections and resources in order to take the ideas that we discussed during our time at Global Forum and work to make them a reality. My time at Global Forum provided me with an incredible introduction to AJC, and I am even more excited to begin my fellowship with the New Jersey office. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer will have in store.
Every year for the past 11 years the AJC Central New Jersey Region brings a group of Princeton Theological Seminary Students on a day trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. This year’s trip included 23 amazing students from all over the world including Canada, France, Malaysia, Uganda and Liberia, many of whom shared later that this was their first in depth exposure to the Holocaust.
Even as we struggle with "Holocaust fatigue", we are confronted by what we hoped would never again show its ugly head. Anti-Semitism should have burned itself out long ago, but increasingly, the winds have stirred the embers. Bringing the Jewish experience of the Holocaust directly to Princeton Theological Seminary students opens their minds and hearts to the realities of what it means to be a Jew in today's world. It provides the intellectual space for the students to ask, "Where was the church when this was unfolding?" It forces penetrating self-cross examination, wondering, "Where would I have been?" And more importantly, it leads to the central question, "Where do I stand now?" It is around this last question that meaningful dialogue can begin.
The bus ride home often gives rise to difficult questions. For instance, one student, not wanting to be labeled an anti-Semite, and struggling to give voice to the question, observed that Jewish power and influence appeared to be disproportionate in the USA. While the areas of Wall Street, Hollywood, the media and government were mentioned, the omission of the sciences and medicine, provided an opening to share what is at the core of being a Jew. In essence, we are each commanded to be the best that we can be given our unique endowments, to make the most of ourselves, to make a difference, and to contribute to society and civilization.
Leading this trip each year, and participating in the interfaith discussions which follow it, offer me the opportunity to make a difference, and to deepen understanding not only of the Holocaust but of what it is to be Jewish.