ADL event honors four who work for change

Left to right: Jacob Finci, Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, and Mansour Abu RashidPhotos courtesy of the ADL
Left to right: Jacob Finci, Mansour Abu Rashid and Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper
Photos courtesy of the ADL

A Jewish man who saved thousands of people during the siege of Sarajevo, a Jordanian Muslim who heads a center for peace and development with Israel and two sisters who turned away from their family, church and a life of picketing against homosexuals, Jews and soldiers were honored Monday night by the Anti-Defamation League.

The 21st annual ADL In Concert Against Hate raised $1.2 million in an event that featured a National Symphony Orchestra performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Honored were Ret. Gen. Mansour Abu Rashid, who spent much of his career fighting for Jordan and against Israel and now leads the Amman Center for Peace and Development; Ambassador Jacob Finci, who provided documents enabling Muslims, Croats and Serbs to pass as Jews and escape war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper, who had joined their Westboro Baptist Church families in praising the deaths of those who they believed were sinners but now work with many organizations they picketed to combat extremism.

“Thank you for allowing us to tell your stories. Your stories build bridges,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s national director, told the honorees. Each of them “made a very, very, very difficult choice and did so knowing that decision would change the trajectory of their lives.”

Greenblatt encouraged the 500 people at a dinner preceding the concert to “defeat every form of defamation. We will not rest until we can live up to the leadership of Megan and Grace, Ambassador Finci and Gen. Mansour.”

In an interview prior to the evening’s festivities, Rashid, who was an officer in the Royal Jordanian Army during the Six Day War, spoke of the pride he has in his efforts that brought about a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1994.

However, he said, with the recent spate of Palestinian stabbings of Jews in Israel, there now are fewer visits and less interaction between the two Middle Eastern countries. He dreams of a two-state solution with “an independent Palestinian state” so that the interchanges can grow.

In recent years, Jordan has taken in 1.6 million refugees from Syria, another 350,000 from Iraq and several thousands more from Yemen, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, Rashid said.

Also speaking prior to the evening’s dinner and concert was Finci, who still lives in Sarajevo. The lives of the 1,000 Jews in his country don’t differ from those of their fellow countrymen. “We are sharing the same problems” of corruption and unemployment.

“After so many years, we are assimilated,” he said, adding there is so much conflict between Muslims, Serbs and Croats there that Jews generally are left in peace. Finci is president of the Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina and chaired the effort to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the Bosnian War.

In the three years since the two sisters left Westboro Baptist Church, Grace Phelps-Roper is still amazed with “the kindness of everyone. We were taught everyone was evil and insincere.” What the recent college graduate has experienced while getting to know those she previously called evil “is such a shock in the right way.”

Her older sister, Megan Phelps-Roper, explained they were raised in environment where they were taught everyone was a sinner and would not go to heaven unless they changed their ways. The sisters believed their picketing was helpful, and it was also fun, she said.

She cringes when she remembers how she spent her lunch hours picketing her own school in Topeka, Kan. — even on the day she received her diploma — and especially how she protested as families mourned the deaths of their children who had served their country.

What the four honorees have done with their lives is so important, said actress Meg Ryan, the evening’s host. “Listen to them, and you can never again doubt that change is possible.”

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