As we come to the end of the year, and the days get darker and colder, we need the spirit of Hanukkah more than ever. Although the holiday is over, its message—reminding us to see the light in the darkness, and that a small but unified group can vanquish their enemies in a tumultuous world—can be the theme for the entire past year. 2022 was replete with seemingly never-ending trials, from the inflation and cost of living crisis, to the war in Ukraine, and the rising tide of antisemitism that is not abating. Hanukkah reminds us all to shine a light on the darkness of hatred and to remain valiant, even in the most perilous of times.
I am proud to say that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was a bearer of light throughout 2022.
The tragedy of Ukraine has cast a shadow on the entire world, including the Jewish community. Millions have been displaced, and horrific scenes of mass violence and destruction returned to Europe. From the first days of the war, we brought Jewish organizations together to coordinate a swift and efficient communal response, ensuring that Ukrainian Jews could escape the warzone. In Poland, I witnessed the heroic efforts undertaken by Polish Jewish institutions to help thousands of refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Along with our partner organizations, the Conference will remain steadfast in our commitments to the region, during and after this war.
The Conference will continue to illuminate the possibility for peace in Israel, which continues to be in the headlines following recent elections that returned Benjamin Netanyahu to office. While governments come and go, Israel’s ties to American Jewry endure, as does the US-Israel relationship. The Conference facilitates these connections, as we endeavor to find more ways to join together and find consensus. We highlighted to the Israeli government the difficulties the country’s pandemic-related travel restrictions imposed on Jews around the world, and were eventually pleased to once again meet our Israeli colleagues in the flesh. Thereafter, our leaders met with the entire range of key players in Israel’s political, economic, military, and cultural life. I was gratified to see the peace process in action when I joined an American delegation to Cyprus, Greece, and Israel, which was oriented around fostering the budding trilateral alliance. And we marked the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords, which bring us closer to the day when Israel will finally be accepted in the wider Middle East. The light and hope for peace still shines, and the Conference remains a resolute believer in our ability to achieve it.
On the domestic front, however, the shadow of antisemitism hangs over American Jews, as we continue to cope with a surge in hate crimes, the consequence of the rise of extremes on left and right. The Conference is addressing the issue both in its immediacy and root causes. Our partners at Secure Community Network (SCN) are implementing best practices to protect Jewish houses of worship and community buildings. We joined in efforts that successfully garnered more public funds to safeguard our communities. We are addressing the overall climate of growing antisemitism by producing a wide range of educational materials on antisemitic bias and discrimination, as well as promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which recognizes the overlapping nature of anti-Israel animus with antisemitism. We are proud that more than half of US states have adopted the IHRA definition and written it into law. The Biden Administration responded positively to our efforts and shined its own beacons of light on hate, reiterating the US government’s support for the IHRA definition, conducting an instructive White House summit, and initiating a high-level task force to fight antisemitism.
I will not lie: we face the unprecedented challenge of rising antisemitism. A bumper crop of antisemites continues to emerge, including prominent celebrities who are too often enabled by irresponsible actors in the press and social media. But I remain persuaded that ours is a resilient community, one with deep ties of affection and solidarity with our fellow Americans, and that we will triumph over hate. The story of the Maccabees—unified in their struggle—serves as a cautionary tale to our enemies and as comfort to our community. The light will endure to lead us to a safe and secure future.