American Jewish Committee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation mark 35 years of partnership
American Jewish Committee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation mark 35 years of partnership with keynote speaker Christian Wulff
At a ceremony in Berlin marking 35 years of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) – Konrad Adenuaer Foundation (KAS) Exchange program, former German President Christian Wulff said he had been shaped by the feeling of historic responsibility that he took away from his experience as a participant on one of the first trips. The AJC-KAS program is the only annual exchange between an American Jewish and a German organization. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of the inaugural collaboration, more than one hundred high-ranking alumni from the United States and Germany gathered for a ceremony on April 22nd at the Regent Hotel in Berlin. The keynote speaker was former German President Christian Wulff, himself an alumnus.
35 years ago, the American Jewish Committee and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation initiated the first exchange program between the German and American-Jewish community in order to build understanding through personal encounters. The program began at a time when German-Jewish relations, in the shadow of the Holocaust, were still tense, with few available platforms to build mutual understanding. To date, more than 800 American Jewish leaders and German policymakers have traveled to respective host countries to learn more about modern Germany, U.S. politics, and Jewish life.
In his speech, former President Wulff lauded AJC for conceiving of the “grand idea” for a unique exchange program that would enable Germans to learn about American and American Jewish life and allow American Jews to experience contemporary Germany first hand. “I am convinced that the alumni on both sides are bound together by a feeling of the importance of fighting xenophobia, hatred, and anti-Semitism,” said Wulff. He expressed his wish that the some “800 alumni actively make lasting contributions to increasing understanding between religions and people,” which he identified as crucial to “helping to create a better world.”
AJC was represented by Anthony Meyer, the chairman of the American alumni network and Co-Chairman of the Board of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute. Meyer recalled the history of the program and reminded the audience of AJC’s dedication to the transatlantic relationship as “the first and to this day only American Jewish organization with a presence on the ground in Germany.” He spoke from his own experience as an exchange participant, sharing that the program “brought new perspectives to my understanding of Germany, Europe, and transatlantic relations, creating a broader context for the German-Jewish relationship.” Meyer expressed gratitude to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation “for its generosity and hospitality, as well as its passion for furthering the German-Jewish relationship,” adding that “we look forward to celebrating another 35 years and more of this extraordinary relationship, held in high regard on both sides.”
“The exchange program makes an exceptional contribution to German-Jewish understanding in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust. Even after 35 years, this dialogue between American Jews and Germans has lost none of its verve, as participants continue to show enthusiasm for building bridges and creating partnerships,” said Deidre Berger, Director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations. “This was only possible because of the high regard in which our partner organization, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, continues to hold for this relationship.”
In addition to former German President Christian Wullf, Hans-Gert Pöttering, Chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and former President of the European Parliament, also delivered an address. Pöttering likewise emphasized the importance of the exchange for German-Jewish relations, calling the German-American-Jewish project a “flagship” of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has succeeded in building bridges and establishing mutual trust.
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel recognized the particular importance of the partnership between the AJC and KAS in her opening remarks in honor of the 30-year anniversary of the AJC-Adenauer exchange program: “You who have participated in this exchange program have made an important contribution to the rebuilding of a relationship that has been nearly destroyed by the Holocaust.”
As part of this year’s anniversary celebration, the establishment of a German alumni association was announced. “At a time when ever more people are allegedly seeking closure on the chapter of the Holocaust, it is all the more gratifying to see young leaders from Germany actively dedicated to maintaining and even expanding this partnership,” added Berger.
The AJC Berlin Ramer Institute was opened in Berlin in 1998 and works to underscore understanding for Israel, fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and promote diversity and intercultural understanding.