Ambassador Alfred Moses received that honorific from serving as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Romania for three years. But the 92-year-old Washington resident’s connection with the Eastern European country began in 1976, when Romania was a communist dictatorship.
Moses, then the president of the American Jewish Committee, was visiting Bucharest, when three teenage Jews approached him and asked his help in leaving the country. Over 13 years, three turned into thousands that he helped leave Romania.
As he wrote in his 2018 book, “Bucharest Diary, Romania’s Journey from Darkness to Light: An American Ambassador’s Memoir,” Moses, a partner at the Washington law firm Covington & Burling, used the annual renewal of Romania’s most favored nation trade status as leverage to open the door for Jewish emigration.
Today, Moses is a member of Kesher Israel in Georgetown. His passion for education led him in 2015 to make a $10 million gift to what is now the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital.
What’s on his mind in 2022? We asked him.
WJW: What advice do you have for people who want to advocate for others, as you do?
AM: Just make up your mind and speak to people. Go up to the Hill and talk to members of Congress. Also, write. You got to be an activist. You also have to bring people together, you can’t do anything by yourself. This is particularly true in Washington.
WJW: How has witnessing antisemitism affected your view of the world?
AM: It never stopped me. I’m proudly Jewish. I am a Modern Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath and keeps a kosher home. If there are people who don’t like me because I am Jewish, that is their problem, not mine. There are haters everywhere but you cannot let that interfere with your life or stop you from standing up for what you believe in.
WJW: How were you able to reach across the aisle and gain the support of people from different backgrounds?
AM: Such differences do not matter in the grand scheme of things, we all worked together for the greater cause of freedom.
We are all the same. You need to appeal to the universal in all of us, which is human decency. How do you do it? You point out the common interests we share.
WJW: Which cause do you feel the most passionate about and why?
AM: Education. It is the stepladder to heaven. Without education it’s very hard to lead a life in the U.S. It’s the most important step toward upward mobility.
WJW: Why is philanthropy important to you?
AM: I would like to see a better world and be a part of it.
WJW: Is there a time where you failed in life?
AM: Most of what I’ve achieved is through perseverance. I can’t say I’ve always succeeded, but I’ve never given up.
Of all your achievements, what are you the proudest of?
My family. They’re all working hard and doing well. I feel so blessed every day for them.
WJW: This nation is undergoing something that we’ve never seen before, and as we slowly rebuild ourselves, what do you think it will take for us to get better?
AM: The world has never been perfect. If people aren’t willing to fight for what they believe in, things will not get better. It will only get better once those of us who care will go out and work for it.