by Jeremiah Baronberg
As young Jewish professionals living and working in Washington, D.C., we all know there is no shortage of organized Jewish opportunities to be crammed together with your friends in a Dupont Circle, Downtown, or Capitol Hill bar with a few hundred of your peers.
As fun and social as these gatherings can be, I often found myself asking, is there more to Jewish networking and meeting new people in D.C.?
A few years ago, I stumbled upon a series of organized Jewish opportunities for young professionals to step outside of our usual circles. Happy hour with young Indian-American professionals. Wine and cheese at the Goethe-Institut with visiting German journalists. Dinner reception with young foreign embassy diplomats.
What piqued my interest about these gatherings was that they were focused not only on our Jewish and personal networks, but also about broadening horizons and meeting people from other local communities and countries. The events also featured substantive elements that spoke to my strong interest in international relations, Israel, and multiculturalism and support for democratic values, human rights, and pluralism in the U.S. and abroad.
In fact, their whole purpose was to bring young Jews and non-Jews together in a spirit of friendship and partnership, to get to know one another and to dialogue on issues of mutual concern and interest to our communities and our countries.
How cool was that? I thought.
Here was an organization that was offering me both the tools and the opportunity to be an advocate for Jewish communities, and for Israel, by helping develop strategic partnerships with foreign diplomats and non-Jewish partners with the goal of safeguarding democracy, civil liberties, and Israel’s existence.
It brought the opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures, and communities.
The fact that it was a Jewish organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), that pulled these pieces together with the understanding (the expectation) that there would be some cultural differences and sensitivities, was all that I needed to find a Jewish connection.
Since those initial gatherings, I’ve become more involved, as a volunteer lay leader, in AJC’s work and with its young professionals initiative, ACCESS. I’ve attended small briefings at embassies and dinner receptions with ambassadors and young diplomats from around the world. I’ve traveled with ACCESS to Austria and met with foreign ministers and dignitaries, U.N. and EU officials, parliamentary leaders and local Jewish communities and to Miami this past February to meet with local Latino-American leaders and Latin American consuls general.
Through these opportunities, I’ve seen these experiences not as an extension of a high school or college youth group, but as part of something bigger, a global-oriented agenda advocating on behalf of Jewish communities, Israel, and democratic values through building bridges with foreign countries’ leaders and intergroup and interfaith partners in the most thoughtful of ways – through face-to-face engagement, dialogue and friendship.
What’s more, is that here in Washington, D.C., we are at the forefront of this work.
AJC’s annual Global Forum and ACCESS Summit are hosted here each spring, where people from across the country and from around the world gather to discuss and debate the big issues of the day facing our communities, our countries, and Israel. Where else can you network and dialogue with Jews from Brazil, France, Australia, Czech Republic and Israel? Where else can you have private, small group dinners with a foreign minister or ambassador from Azerbaijan, Colombia, Morocco, Poland, Spain and Singapore, among others. Where else can you hear a Muslim theologian speak to a Jewish audience about how best to dialogue with the Islamic world?
These are elements at this year’s gatherings.
I hope you will join me at the 2013 AJC Global Forum and ACCESS Summit.
And I hope you will join us in our work here in Washington, and abroad, this year.
Jeremiah Baronberg serves on the Board of ACCESS DC, the young professionals initiative of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is co-chair of the 2013 ACCESS Summit at the AJC Global Forum, May 31-June 2.