The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Washington DC Jewish Community Center played host last Wednesday to America’s Table, an early Thanksgiving celebration for representatives of a host of international and multicultural groups, as a way of highlighting and stressing the importance of the United States’ diversity.
“It gives me a renewed sense of hope,” said AJC Washington director Alan Ronkin.
The luncheon featured traditional Thanksgiving food like turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie, with centerpieces of turkeys and pumpkins, and brought together representatives from the embassies of Israel, Indonesia and Austria.
As part of the event, a short passage on the themes of Thanksgiving was read by a mix of people representing groups such as the NAACP and the Greek-American community, part of the diverse image the AJC sought to demonstrate.
Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, of Virginia’s 10th district, gave a the keynote address at the lunch, chosen in part because of his role as co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which seeks to draw attention to human rights issues worldwide. In particular he spoke about religious minorities around the world and the struggles they face.
“Arguably religious freedom has never been more under assault than it is today,” he said.
He cited the plight of the Bahai in Iran, Jews and Coptic Christians in Egypt and other groups around the Middle East and in China. He also castigated the American government for its lack of response and even attempts to downplay human rights concerns in the name of diplomacy, citing Hillary Clinton by name in regards to Chinese actions.
“We know as Americans that religious freedom is our birthright,” Wolf said, explaining how he thought there was a lack of emphasis on these issues that should be made more central.
Regarding the Jewish communities in Cairo, Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, he talked about renewed anti-Jewish feeling after the Arab Spring revolution, and how that may be a portent of larger concerns. He added that that is a role Jewish communities have played for a long time. “Jews are the canaries in the coal mine for religious freedom,” he said.
Being able to share different backgrounds, points of view and opinions was part of the point not just for the day, but for the future as well, Ronkin said, and the lunch serves to bring people together in that spirit.
“America’s Table reminds us that we’ve got much to learn from each other.”