The Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee honored Merle and David Horwitz with their annual Distinguished Advocate Award May 5.
The award, part of a major fundraising effort by one of Atlanta’s most active community organizations, featured tributes to the couple from AJC representatives around the world.
The award honorees were credited with working quietly and often behind the scenes to combat anti-Semitism around the world.
Among the speakers for the virtual evening ceremony was Holly Huffnagle, who directs the AJC’s effort to fight prejudice against the Jewish community.
She pointed out that often what is most challenging in her work is that almost half of ordinary Americans surveyed either don’t see anti-Semitism as an urgent problem or they don’t even know what the term anti-Semitism means. But the most important aspect of the issue, she feels, is that it is a much more complex phenomenon than it once was.
“It comes from different sources and it takes different forms. But it also combines with internet and social media that allows all these forms of anti-Semitism. It reaches so many people. That’s one of our biggest challenges.”
The AJC award honorees were also recognized for promoting cooperation between the European community, Israel and the United States. David Horwitz also served as chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee Latin America and the Joint Distribution Committee Israel to support Jewish immigration and Jewish communal life.
The couple are immigrants from South Africa where David Horwitz was president of the Cape Town Jewish Federation and Merle was president of the local B’nai B’rith chapter before coming to the U.S. over 25 years ago.
Merle Horwitz serves on the board of the AJC’s Project Interchange, the organization’s Transatlantic Institute and Africa Institute.
In accepting the award, she said that she and her husband had “never done anything for recognition or personal gratification” and admitted “we are a bit embarrassed when we heard we were being chosen.” They were presented the award at their home by last year’s honorees, Melanie and Allan Nelkin.
David Harris, national AJC CEO, has come to know the couple through their extensive international travel with him. He was particularly grateful for what they have done for the organization.
“We reveal ourselves by the people we honor and by honoring my dear friends, AJC Atlanta says a lot about itself and our organizations values,” he said during the online program. “They have a very, very deep Jewish soul and they have extraordinary passion.”
Dov Wilker, regional director of AJC in Atlanta, was particular appreciative of how they have contributed to the group’s ongoing initiatives.
“They truly value how the AJC works behind the scenes, what we do behind the scenes to combat anti-Semitism, promote democratic values. Their belief in partnership and why we do it is what makes them so deserving of this recognition.”
The couple has also been active in their synagogue, Congregation Or Hadash in Sandy Springs. The founding rabbis of the synagogue Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj opened the AJC program on Zoom from Jerusalem, where they now make their home.
Sherry Frank, as one of the original organizers of the congregation, has worked closely with both rabbis and the award honorees. She admitted that the honorees have a personal charm that is very genuine.
“They’re just so real and they have so much compassion for the world. They have this real commitment to world Jewry that is just amazing.”
Frank, the AJC’s Atlanta director for many years, said in her video tribute to them that she especially values the way they support others.
“When you make their acquaintance, you immediately feel their heart. They are true menches. They are beautiful. They are the best.”