AJC Philly/SNJ Celebrates 75 Years of Building Bridges

From left: Former AJC presidents Len Grossman, Steve Dubin and Jack Farber (Photo courtesy of AJC Philadelphia/SNJ)

For the first time in a long time, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey’s gala will be a black-tie event.

That’s to pay homage to the galas the organization held in its early years, which were also black-tie. The gala this year, which will take place at The Rittenhouse on March 23 at 7 p.m., is not merely a fundraiser for AJC Philadelphia/SNJ; it is also a celebration of the organization’s 75-year history.

That is apparent in the evening’s itinerary.

Filmmaker Sam Katz will premiere a video on the history of the organization, called AJC: Philadelphia/SNJ: A 75 Year Perspective, and AJC CEO David Harris will be the keynote speaker. The gala will honor past presidents and the signatories of AJC Philadelphia/SNJ’s 1944 charter, many of whose descendants are still involved in the Jewish community.

“We’re just celebrating the vision that people had,” said Marcia Bronstein, regional director of AJC Philadelphia/SNJ. “It was 1944. It was right before D-Day. Everything that was happening to the Jews in Europe was coming out, and the people who signed the charter — the 150 people — had vision to know that they could make a difference.”

Philadelphia’s chapter was the first outside New York, and community leaders felt that their mission of combating anti-Semitism would be more effective with local chapters, rather than a national office.

Over the next 75 years, AJC and its Philadelphia chapter proved to be a leader in building coalitions with different religious and ethnic groups, both domestically and around the world, and earned its nickname, “the state department of the Jewish people.”

“If we partner with like-minded individuals and we can then advocate for each other’s issues, our voices will be amplified,” Bronstein said.

In Philadelphia, in its early years, the organization opened up industries that were closed to Jewish people by creating a dialogue with heads of law firms and banks.

The organization also played a role in advancing women’s roles in the workplace. In the ’70s and ’80s, it recognized that while women worked, their work was often undervalued and underpaid. The organization did a study on that issue called “Bringing Women In.”

Twenty-four years ago, AJC Philadelphia/SNJ began coalition-building with the Bucks County Christian Coalition.

The organization also has a strong relationship with the local archdiocese, through programs like Friends in Faith, for which students from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and Pope John Paul II High School visit each other in their schools.

The organization has done work to build relationships with the African American community, including one program that sent black and Jewish youth to visit Africa and Israel.

In recent years, the organization began building partnerships with Latino and Muslim communities. About six years ago, Bronstein said, the organization started a coalition with the Latino community. Early programming in this relationship sought to create a connection over shared immigration experiences.

That relationship has since grown. AJC, with its Latino partners, advocates for comprehensive immigration reform.

“My grandmother left Russia, and she joined a caravan, and she ended up in another country without documentation, until she was able to get the paperwork to come to the United States,” Bronstein said. “That was the story that a lot of Jewish families had, and so, Latinos saw, for the first time, that there was a connection with some of the issues that they’re dealing with today on immigration.”

A few years ago, the organization began reaching out to the Muslim community with Circle of Friends, AJC’s local Muslim and Jewish leaders group. In partnership with the Muslim community, AJC is working on hate crime and sacred spaces legislation.

Recently, Circle of Friends held a Muslim-Jewish Holocaust remembrance ceremony at City Hall with the national Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

“We looked at what we had in common,” Bronstein said.

Over the years, AJC committees and projects have spun off and become their own organizations, as the agency evolved.

“It went from a human rights organization, to a global advocacy organization, and we still do global and domestic work,” Bronstein said. “We have the relationships, the infrastructure, the media relations to be able to work around the globe. We have the boots on the ground, and we can do this work where no other organization can.”

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