AJCommittee looks for SJ growth; will start with Jan. 3 event on Islam

David Portnoe

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a 100-year-old Jewish advocacy organization, is making a concerted effort to reinvigorate its presence in Southern New Jersey, according to those leading the effort. The AJC will kick off that effort with a program on "Islam's Embattled Moderates: Where Do They Stand? How Do We Empower Them?" on Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. The featured speaker will be Professor Husain Haqqani, director of Boston University's Center for International Relations. It is being co-sponsored by the AJC, M'kor Shalom's Seeking Peace Program, and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Southern New Jersey. The event is free. Dessert will be served and reservations are requested.

Haqqani is a leading journalist and diplomat, having served as Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka. He is a former advisor to several Pakistani prime ministers. In addition to his role at Boston University, he is co-chair of the Hudson Institute's "Project on the Future of the Muslim World" and editor of "Current Trends in Islamist thought."

The AJC's entry into Southern New Jersey is being spearheaded by Cherry Hill residents Steven Cohen and Victor Levy. Cohen, an attorney, and Levy, a financial advisor, have been active with the AJC in Philadelphia for over a decade.

"The American Jewish Committee, in my view, is an international civil rights organization," said Cohen. He said that the local efforts reinforce the international mission. He said that AJC will work with other Jewish organizations in Southern New Jersey, enhancing those efforts by bringing additional resources to Southern New Jersey.

Cohen, who is the AJC representative on the local JCRC board, said that the AJC is often in the forefront of issues of concern to the Jewish community. "Everyone in AJC knew who Al-Qaeda was in 1999 because AJC prepared a treatise on terrorism and the risk of Al-Qaeda," he said.

Both Cohen and Levy have participated in AJC missions to Israel. In addition, both have served as Philadelphia chapter co-chairs of "Generation AJC," the organization's young leadership group.

Levy said that it is increasingly difficult for Jews to stay informed about what it means to be Jewish in the United States. "AJC is a resource that gives one the tools to stay on top of issues such as inter-group relations and antisemitism," he said.

"We are looking for people who care about issues affecting the American Jewish community and Jews the world over," said Levy. He encouraged people to become involved in the AJC and its work.

A new chapter in Southern New Jersey is not AJC's goal, according to Ilana Krop Wilensik, AJC area director. She said that the organization will maintain a combined Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey chapter. She said that AJC, which as far as she knows has never had a formal chapter in Southern New Jersey, wants to bring activities to Southern New Jersey as well as partner with local organizations.

Krop said that the AJC has been a leader in building bridges to the non-Jewish community. Founded in 1906 to respond to pogroms against Jews in Russia, the AJC just finished marking its 100th anniversary. It has 32 offices throughout the United States and eight overseas.

"We would be called the 'State Department' of the American Jewish community," said Wilensik. She said that the AJC was formed with the belief that the way to make Jews safe was to build bridges, create understanding, and work with others in the community.

For reservations to the Jan. 3 event at M'kor Shalom or for more information on the AJC call 215-665-2300 or 856-665-5663.


Date: 12/21/2006