David Roth, an official of the American Jewish Committee who was a pathblazer in the field of multiethnic and multiracial relations, died Saturday in Chicago.
Roth, 55, died of complications from heart surgery he had undergone two weeks ago.
Born in Jersey City, Roth grew up in the 1960s. During this turbulent time, he decided to devote himself to community service.
After earning a history degree from Washington College in Maryland and completing post-graduate work in labor and human relations at the University of Illinois, he got a job in 1968 with the AJCommittee to work on the newly emerging issue of ethnicity in America.
As director of the organization’s Institute for American Pluralism for the past five years, Roth made advances in fostering coalitions among various ethnic groups as well as organizing workshops that promoted understanding and tolerance between different racial and ethnic groups.
David Harris, executive director of the AJCommittee and a close friend of Roth, described him as a remarkable and hardworking person whose presence will be sorely missed.
“He was extremely skillful at constructing dialogue where people could learn to disagree agreeably,” Harris said.
Roth personally developed diversity training programs for public school administrators and teachers across the country. He did not see the need to homogenize the country into a melting pot, said Harris, but rather saw value in “ethnic sharing.”
Harris added that at a time when the world is paralyzed by reports of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, Roth was actively involved in the polar opposite.
Another program Roth focused on – with an international flavor – was “Project Ukraine,” which sought to foster democracy and pluralism in the multiethnic country as well as assist its Jewish community. He also laid the groundwork for the creation of a White House ethnic liaison, which was filled during the Ford administration by a Ukrainian American.