When the American Jewish Committee Atlanta began planning its annual National Human Relations Award dinner nearly a year ago, little did they know the event would fall squarely in the aftermath of the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy.
Many of the nearly 500 attendees who crowded the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead Oct. 30 were still trying to understand the significance of what had happened at the Tree of Life synagogue. The dinner was held the same day as the first victims were being buried in Pittsburgh.
Featured speaker Stanley Bergman, immediate past president of the national AJC and a former chair of its national board, acknowledged the capacity crowd for their commitment to the community.
“By coming here tonight,” he said, “you are advocating for a decent world. You are advocating for doing what’s right in the world. You are standing up to make sure that when evil takes place there are good people in the world that will not tolerate such evil.”
The dinner, held to formally recognize David Abney, chairman and CEO of United Parcel Service as the 2018 AJC National Human Relations Award recipient, also heard from Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, who co-chaired the dinner. Earlier this year, Bastion abruptly ended the company’s support for the National Rifle Association following the deadly shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“It is these random acts and these senseless acts of violence, every time they happen,” Bastian said, referring to the recent tragedy, “that draw the sensitivities of us all, that we’ve got to find a better way.”
He was, however, quick to praise Abney, the evening’s honoree.
“This award tonight.” Bastian continued, “recognizes a leader who stands up and makes a difference at a time when it is politically not popular to stand in that divide. As business leaders, we are all called to let our values lead the way.”
Abney leads a company with 454,000 employees that deliver 20 million packages every day in over 200 countries and has a strong commitment to community service.
Last year UPS employees donated 3 million hours of community time, the company gave $8 million to organizations promoting inclusion and diversity, and provided another $16 million in humanitarian relief.
In recounting UPS’ commitment to making a better world, Abney recalled the violence of an earlier era, when early one morning, 60 years ago, The Temple in Midtown was bombed by extremists.
“Our world today recalls way too much the violence of the past, as it was just shown again this weekend in Pittsburgh, and it really makes you wonder just what in the world is driving that kind of behavior.”
In remembering the Temple bombing, Abney also spoke of the partnership that existed then between Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of The Temple and Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield. The two of them in 1958 quickly spoke up to condemn the violence against the Jewish community and to work together for a better Atlanta.
“What is important,” Abney continued, “is to not let those kinds of behaviors stop us from living our lives and stop us from doing the right thing”
In accepting his award, the UPS leader acknowledged the importance of the American Jewish Committee.
“AJC has been very effective, not just in Atlanta, but working with world leaders,” he said. “You can tell by the people that are here tonight that the AJC has had a profound affect on this community.”
The dinner helped to launch a fast-paced week of activity for the local AJC office, which coordinates the organization’s work throughout the Southeast.
On the morning of the dinner, the AJC hastily arranged a meeting of 100 community leaders at The Temple to discuss how best to respond to what happened in Pittsburgh.
Later that day, the AJC helped The Temple and its senior rabbi, Peter Berg, put together a midday memorial service. The worshipers, from many religious faiths, crowded into the sanctuary to hear strong messages of support from Atlanta’s mayor and a cross-section of local religious leaders.
The national office of the AJC last week urged Jews in Atlanta and across the country to make a special effort to attend Shabbat services, and extended an invitation to the general community to join them. Finally, the Atlanta AJC office planned a full-page ad in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that underscored the support of the entire community.
It was a busy week for Dov Wilker, the AJC regional director for Atlanta and the Southeast. By week’s end, he was tired but elated, saying, “In my role as a Jewish advocate, I’ve been through three wars in Israel and numerous terrorist attacks, and in no period in my career has it been this intense.
“Both the support we have received from the Jewish community and the support from public officials has been absolutely incredible.”