This week the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee began a yearlong celebration of its 75th anniversary with a program featuring Rabbi David Rosen, the AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs. I asked Dov Wilker, who has been the regional director of AJC Atlanta since 2011, about the year ahead.
Wilker: We’re kicking off the 75th year with a program on Friday, Jan. 11, called Shabbat Around The World where we have four consuls general speaking at four synagogues and Rabbi Rosen speaking at the fifth. They’ll be talking about the United States and Israel’s relationship with that country. We hope to expand people’s understanding of what it means to be a global Jewish advocate today.
The Temple is going to be hosting the consul general of Canada; B’nai Torah … the consul general of Belgium; Temple Sinai, … France; [Congregation] Or Hadash, … Ireland. [Congregation] Shearith Israel is going to be hosting Rabbi David Rosen as its scholar in residence.
At the end of January, we’re doing a program on innovation between the U.S., Israel and Africa: what the U.S. and Israel are doing in Africa together with African companies to further innovation. And then we’re doing a program at the end of February, right after the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, with experts from the U.S., Israel and Japan discussing artificial intelligence, and the role of evolving artificial intelligence and what it means to us. We are looking at having at least two programs a month in the first six months of the year.
AJT: You have two high profile events as well?
Wilker: On May 9 we’ll be having what we’re calling our 75th anniversary Legacy Award Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead hotel ballroom. We’ll be honoring our past by recognizing all the past presidents and leadership, and we’ll be talking about the present and the future.
Then in the fall, from November 17 to 19, we’re going to be hosting AJC’s Board of Governors Institute, which takes place roughly every five years in different cities around the world.
It’s a national board meeting but it also takes some of the components from our Global Forum, which is held each year in Washington. We’ll invite high profile speakers as well as hear from our experts from around the world.
My hope is that we will also have speakers that are Georgia-based. We have some excellent people here too. It’s something that we want the Atlanta community to be able to participate in, not just the Jewish community, but the entire Atlanta community.
AJT: We live in a community with many diverse viewpoints. How do you see your job in bringing together this very diverse community?
Wilker: I believe that the opportunity we create as an organization lends itself to hearing diverse voices from within the community and from outside the community. Whether it’s our interfaith work or ethnic work or international work, we are trying to bring diverse voices together so that people understand the diversity that is the Jewish community.
As a director of an organization, I need to be open and willing to discuss issues with people whether they agree with me or disagree with me. Sometimes my opinion changes and sometimes their opinion changes and sometimes we leave with the same opinions that we came in with, but with an understanding that there’s an appreciation for differing opinions.
AJT: After all that’s happened in the last year, in Pittsburgh, in Charlottesville and elsewhere, what is your concern about anti-Semitism in this country?
Wilker: We need to continue to bang the drum. People need to understand what is anti-Semitism. We sometimes don’t realize how little people know. We’re going to continue to work to educate our elected officials about what is anti-Semitism. What are the tenets of anti-Semitism? What are examples of anti-Semitism? What are the issues that make the Jewish community worried? People sometimes say things out of ignorance and we will tell them that, and sometimes they say things out of malice and we make sure to say things to them about that as well. But yeah, I’m deeply, deeply concerned about this issue.
AJT: The past year has probably been as challenging as any that you’ve faced. What have you learned and how has that helped to prepare you for this year?
I have a much greater appreciation for the work that I do. After Pittsburgh I remember saying to my wife, “this is why I got into this field of work —- to be able to make a difference, to be able to respond to these sorts of incidents, to help to bring people together, to educate them about the diversity of our community.” I know there are challenges that we face, but I really believe there’s hope.