Commitment to Jewish People Includes Seeking Justice for All People, AJC Washington Representative D

Hyman Bookbinder, the Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, stressed here that commitment to the Jewish people requires seeking justice for all people. “I speak to you today as a proud Jew,” Bookbinder said as he was honored at the third annual leadership luncheon of the Washington Jewish Week last Thursday.

“What makes me particularly proud is that over the years we have defined our Jewishness, our Judaism, as a commitment to justice for all people, to freedom for all people,” he continued. “Such a commitment to universal justice, I will always believe does not short change our Jewish interests. It is, in fact, the only way to protect such interests.”

The 70-year-old Bookbinder, who has spent 35 years in Washington, the last 19 as the AJCommittee’s representative, was presented with a hand crafted Chanukah menorah with his Hebrew name “Chaim” engraved on it, by Max Kampelman, the U.S. representative to the disarmament talks in Geneva.

‘A SYMBOL OF MERGED VALUES’

Several Senators and members of the House, along with leaders of the Washington Jewish community, attended the luncheon at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. Kampelman said Bookbinder’s work has been “the symbol of how to merge American democratic ideals and aspirations with the Jewish value of human brotherhood.”

Rep. Sidney Yates (D. III.), the dean of Jewish members of the House, called Bookbinder the “unofficial spokesman for the entire Jewish community.” He noted that in the 25 years he has known him, Bookbinder “has fought poverty, he has fought anti-Semitism, he has fought discrimination, he has fought McCarthyism, he has fought authoritarianism in any form.”

Bookbinder said his “guideline” has always been Hillel’s teaching that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”

He added that if in “my lifetime, I have helped even one Jew — or one Haitian or one Pole –escape persecution; if indeed I have helped even one ghetto youngster escape from poverty … I thank God that I was given the opportunities to make some personal contribution, small as it might be, to making life a little bit easier, a little bit sweeter, a little bit more secure, for some fellow human beings.”

HOLOCAUST’S ‘PRIMARY LESSON’

Bookbinder also said his membership on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, has made clear to him the “primary lesson” of that dark period. “It is that, with all the good intentions and all the anguish felt and expressed by American Jews in the 30′s and 40′s, the Jewish community had not yet developed the political know-how, the political clout, the political effectiveness that we have today,” he said.

Bookbinder asked whether if in the 1930′s and 1940′s Jews “had developed the lobbying effectiveness and coalitional bonds that we have today” to muster support in the Senate and House “when Israel is threatened or when Soviet Jewry needs special support … how many of the six million might have been spared?”

He added that he keeps thinking about the number six million today because this is the combined total of Jews in Israel and the Soviet Union and the number of Jews in the U.S. The six million American Jews are “fortunate enough to live in this free land, but also fortunate to be in a position to take action on behalf of the other six million,” Bookbinder said.

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