AJC Touts Project Interchange
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AJC Touts Project Interchange

AJC Regional Director Dov Wilker and Associate Director Julie Katz compiled a meaningful program escorting prominent leaders and influencers on trips to experience Israel first-hand.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Steve Berman, Steve Labovitz, former Gov. Roy Barnes and Sheri Labovitz chatted about old and new times.
Steve Berman, Steve Labovitz, former Gov. Roy Barnes and Sheri Labovitz chatted about old and new times.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) hosted its leadership and guests for a program to highlight Project Interchange, which has brought more than 6,000 leaders from 115 countries to Israel. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who served from 1999-2003 was the event’s keynote speaker which took place at Smith Gambrell Russell law firm on Sept. 20. Celebrating the program’s 40 years, the event featured top leaders from diverse industries and communities such as academia, journalism, government, faith and civil society.

Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, who had just returned from Israel with 20 Black women legislators, experienced first-hand how transformative these types of trips can be, said, “I watched through their eyes as they experienced our complexity compared to contradictions in the media. They came away with real experiences to take back to their communities.”

Associate AJC director Julie Katz sat alongside former Gov. Barnes as she posed questions before taking audience comments. Ever in his Southern avuncular voice, Barnes had been on a Project Interchange trip in 2000. He joshed that he and Israel were the same age, 75.

Lois Frank, Kristi and Jim Flowers talked of their Israel travel experiences.

He said, “I’m embarrassed to confess it, but after growing up running a country store, Israel was my first time out of the country.”

He told of his trip to the Golan Heights where he internalized Israel’s precarious position while eating with Israeli Defense Forces troops.

“Then the siren went off and a young female soldier grabbed her AR and sped away,” he said.

In general, Barnes said he was down on the current ilk of politicians and is critical of people who do not speak up. He stated, “It’s amazing that educated people like the Germans, some ‘good Christians,’ allowed Hitler to take over. Herein is the lesson why Israel was created: people who were almost destroyed by politics.”

Barnes said he had received death threats when he was perceived by some as being too close to Jews like Rabbi Arnold Goodman of Ahavath Achim. He joked, “I turned down protection because I didn’t think it would be good for my law practice to have FBI agents sitting around.”

North Atlanta High School student Ryder Zufi, with his father Jonathan Zufi, shared details of his latest trip to Jordan on an AJC Leaders for Tomorrow program.

Barnes added, “I don’t consider myself to be that. I wasn’t worried about the next election; we need to worry about the next generation.”

AJC regional director Dov Wilker urged Barnes to talk about his courage in changing the Georgia state flag in 2000 to an image that did not represent the Confederacy. Barnes noted his close friendship with late Jewish architect Cecil Alexander, who designed the new flag.

He ended on two prescient points: “We ought to look at sending some Republicans on these trips. Some in small communities have never been around Jewish people…and remember the south in post-WWII. What city was going to be the new center? Charlotte? Jacksonville? Birmingham, because of its steel mills alongside Gov. George Wallace with his segregationist stance? Then, there was Atlanta with better ideals for mankind. And remember Sam Nunn said, ‘Politics is a contact sport.’”

During the pre-function buffet, Sherry Frank told the AJT of her history as director of the AJC and how she led five trips with guests from various backgrounds. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, Johnetta Cole, the first Black woman to lead Spelman College, and journalist Cynthia Tucker were among those participants.

Former AJC director Sherry Frank recognized Robert Franklin, former president of Morehouse College and current distinguished Professor at Emory Theological Center, from their trip experiences.

Standout North Atlanta High School student Ryder Zufi chatted about his recent jaunt to Jordan in the AJC Leaders for Tomorrow program. He said, “Seven of us from around the country had a great trip as we honed our Arabic language skills.”

Coca-Cola marketing executive Sarah Sachs, who recently joined the AJC board, said, “I was originally in the Berman Leadership Program, then COVID hit. Now glad to be back and impressed with the organization’s overall mission, values and community development.”

Lois Frank chatted with former trip participants Christy and Jim Flowers, and Jim recalled, “I was on the 2001 trip, and on the first night in Israel, there we were with the president of Israel eating Moroccan food. It was surreal!”

The Mediterranean buffet did not go unnoticed as renown chef Shay Levi’s Nur Kitchen catered the magnificent spread of pickles, eggplant boats, humus, baba ghanoush, homemade pita and baklava.

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