November 14, 2018 — Atlanta, GA
Dov Wilker has been regional director of AJC in Atlanta since 2011, and he sits on the board of a number of important community organizations. The events of the last two weeks have been a testing time for the organization, generally, and Wilker, in particular. We asked him how he would summarize how the Atlanta community responded in the aftermath of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Wilker: The way that we have galvanized and brought people together has been really wonderful. On the morning of Oct. 30, we helped to convene a meeting of nearly 100 people that included the rabbis, non-Jewish clergy and leaders from other organizations to talk about the community response and the immediate actions that they can take. What are the things we need to discuss for the long term?
And you know that meeting only takes place because of the work that we’re doing all year round. The second thing that we’ve been doing is to encourage everyone to go to synagogue, whether they’re Jewish or not. That has really been a remarkable effort. We’ve reached out to all of the diplomats, elected officials, and non-Jewish clergy, and invited them to attend synagogues. We’ve gotten a great response from that. Congressman Hank Johnson attended a synagogue, consul generals from Ireland, Germany and Japan all went, and a number of Atlanta City Council members participated. It’s really been a remarkable effort that we’ve seen as a show of support.
AJT: So, what would you say is the takeaway from last week?
Wilker: I learned a few things. People really are standing with the Jewish community and for unity in society. I almost want to say that we’ve sort of reached a turning point for understanding of how we need to work together to combat hatred, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in our country.
I think there’s this understanding that we do need to be continuing to develop relationships. It’s really about the long-term relationships that we’ve created, the e-mails, phone calls, text messages, and social media postings that show the importance of developing these relations. People understand that you don’t have to be Jewish to understand what anti-Semitism is.
I think it’s been an eye-opening understanding for everyone. There’s been an increased awareness about attacks against others and what responsibility we have to our community.
AJT: The AJC’s National Human Relation Award dinner in Atlanta last week honoring David Abney, the chairman and CEO of UPS, appeared to be a great success, and it came at an important time. How would you summarize your thoughts about that event?
Wilker: I’m not sure that I have a single adjective to describe how important it was. We’ve been doing the dinner for 44 years and it’s always wonderful to see that corporate citizens of Atlanta attend a Jewish event.
They all understood the heightened importance of being with us last Tuesday night. They realized that they were involved in standing up with the Jewish community in solidarity. We needed them, and they were there for it. And frankly, how fortunate we were to be able to have that. This year’s dinner was about unity. And I thought that was really important.
AJT: You announced at the dinner that it raised $500,000 for your organization. You must be very happy with that.
Wilker: It’s one of the highest totals ever. It’s important for people to hear, but it’s actually less important than the participation number. You know, this year, we have one of the largest numbers of supporter sponsors ever. I think that sort of support made a difference. I think the number of people in the room is really what it was about. We had about 480 people.
AJT: Finally, how do you think Pittsburgh has influenced the work of the AJC?
Wilker: The AJC is over 110 years old. We’ve always done this work of building bridges, building relationships with non-Jewish leaders and diplomats. It just shows that we need to continue that work, and that we need to broaden our reach to make sure that people understand the Jewish community that much more.