More than two years ago, when World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder and I first discussed the idea of producing a comprehensive historical record of the WJC’s first eighty years, we both agreed that the ideal individual to spearhead such a daunting project was the WJC’s general counsel, Menachem Rosensaft.
Menachem is in a very real sense our organization’s institutional memory. His father, Josef Rosensaft, worked closely with many of the leaders of the WJC between 1945 and 1950 in his capacity as chairman of both the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany and the Jewish Committee that administered the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp. During those years Menachem’s father developed what proved to be life-long friendships with Nahum Goldmann, Gerhart M. Riegner, Noah Barou, and Alex Easterman, among others. As a result, Menachem grew up knowing many of the WJC personalities of the Goldmann era and became aware of our organization’s activities in the international Jewish arena almost by osmosis.
It was Menachem who recommended to us that rather than commissioning a historian to write a chronological account, the book should be a collection of essays, each focusing on a specific theme or episode in the history of the WJC. He then proceeded to identify the most appropriate individuals to write these chapters, either themselves veterans of the events they described or scholars with unique insight and academic expertise. As a result, The World Jewish Congress, 1936–2016 reflects the collective knowledge, perspectives, and in numerous cases, the personal experiences of its contributors. Each in his or her own way has brought the various episodes of the WJC’s history to life with great sensitivity and an overarching respect for the subject matter. All of us at the WJC owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
I cannot overstate my personal and the WJC’s appreciation to Mena- chem for the countless hours he devoted tirelessly to the compilation and editing of this book and, after the manuscript was complete, to turning it into a visually aesthetic volume. I also want to express my gratitude to Menachem’s wife, Jeanie, and especially to his grandchildren Hallie and Jacob, for their patience and forbearance as the editing process repeatedly intruded on precious family time over the course of many nights, weekends, and holidays.
This book has been a collaborative endeavor by numerous members of the WJC family. WJC Chief Program Officer Sonia Gomes de Mesquita was the project’s enthusiastic advocate from the outset, providing both encouragement and wise guidance at every step.
Laurence Weinbaum, director of the WJC’s Israel Council on Jewish Relations, and Michael Thaidigsmann, the WJC’s director of communications and media relations, in particular, were invaluable sounding boards throughout the planning and editing of the book, and read numerous chapters with a critical and constructive eye. Isabella Nespoli, the WJC’s resident archivist, was an enthusiastic, efficient, and extremely helpful resource to Menachem as well as many of the contributors, providing them with documents and other historical sources, often at a moment’s notice. Cory Weiss has been Menachem’s capable, insightful, and always good natured administrative right hand during the entire editing process. I also want to thank Yfat Barak-Cheney, Betty Ehrenberg, Claudio Epelman, John Malkinson, Yvette Shumacher, Aliyana Traison, Janice Wolpo, and WJC interns Adela Cojab-Moadeb and Abraham Silverstein for their assistance and their interest in the book.
Kevin Proffitt, Senior Archivist for Research and Collections at the American Jewish Archives, patiently, responsively, and repeatedly located and shared essential documents. Leslie Rubin is an extraordinarily gifted copy editor; her meticulous attention to detail immeasurably enhanced the present volume, as did her preparation of its index. Jim Harris and his team at G&H Soho skillfully shepherded the completed manuscript to the finished product. Judith Cohen, Chief Acquisitions Curator at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, called our attention to the striking photograph of the second WJC plenary assembly, which graphic designer Semadar Megged creatively incorporated in the cover of this book. We are also most grateful to Michael W. Grunberger and Lenore Bell, respectively Director of Collections and Library Director at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, for their kind advice, and to Jane Beirn for generously sharing her prodigious publishing expertise with Menachem.
There is no doubt in my mind that The World Jewish Congress, 1936–2016 will become a permanent and essential resource for scholars, theologians, and all who are interested in the dramatic events, both tragic and glorious, of the past eighty years. In particular, however, it is my hope that this book will be read by many young people around the world, now and in the future, and that it will give them an understanding and appreciation of the WJC’s pivotal role in modern Jewish history.