The World Jewish Congress has published a comprehensive history of our organization’s activities and achievements from its founding in Geneva in August 1936 to the present. Fittingly, we timed the release of The World Jewish Congress, 1936 – 2016 to take place during the WJC’s 15th Plenary Assembly, April 23 – 25, held in New York for the first time in the organization’s eighty-year history.
Organizations, very much like individuals, have distinct personalities which are, for the most part, a direct function of the men and women who lead these groups. The World Jewish Congress is no exception.
About two years ago, when World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder and CEO Robert Singer first told me that they wanted to publish a history of the first eighty years of the World Jewish Congress, we rapidly came to the conclusion that such a book had to reflect the diversity of voices that has always characterized the organization and, indeed, the Jewish people. Instead of asking a historian to write an academic, chronological study based primarily on archival research, we opted instead for a mosaic, with chapters about specific episodes or themes written either by individuals who had personally played a role in the WJC’s activities and accomplishments in question, or by scholars with a particular interest in and knowledge of the subject matter.
For the past ten years, the WJC’s persona has been shaped primarily by Ambassador Lauder who has imbued the organization with his vision and with a distinct sense of purpose focusing on the challenges confronting the Jewish people and Jewish communities across the globe in the 21st century. Prior to assuming the presidency of the WJC in 2007, Ambassador Lauder had a distinguished career first as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs and US Ambassador to Austria under President Reagan, and then as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and president of the Jewish National Fund. In 1987, he established the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation which revitalized Jewish life in Eastern and Central Europe through a network of Jewish schools, kindergartens, camps and community centers.
“There is an old Hasidic tradition,” Ambassador Lauder writes in the concluding chapter of The World Jewish Congress, 1936 – 2016, “that inside every Jew there burns a flame. Sometimes that flame is obscured, and the person can’t see it. But it is always there, it is always burning. All you have to do is dust it off your heart and you will find it.… And this is the job before us now. We have to help our children and our grandchildren dust off their hearts. We have to help them rediscover that Jewish flame inside them.”
The WJC today also reflects the personality and priorities of Robert Singer, the organization’s CEO since May 2013, who had previously served as senior educational officer of the Israel Defense Forces, followed by twelve years with the Office of the Prime Minister in Israel in a number of senior posts, mostly dealing with the Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, and fourteen years as the CEO of World ORT, one of the world’s largest non-governmental education and training network. Under Robert Singer’s professional leadership, the WJC has undertaken numerous major initiatives in fighting both anti-Semitism around the world and the ever-increasing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress, and editor of The World Jewish Congress, 1936 – 2016 (World Jewish Congress, 2017).