The American Jewish Congress
Over the past century, the American Jewish Congress has been on the front lines fighting for the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities, in the belief that Jews are more secure in a society that actively protects the rights of all its citizens. Since its inception, the American Jewish Congress has been engaged in a continuous fight for equal rights for all Americans regardless of race, religion or national ancestry.
The American Jewish Congress was founded in 1918 as leaders within the American Jewish community, consisting of Jewish, Zionist, and immigrant community organizations, convened the first American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) in Philadelphia's historic Independence Hall. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Felix Frankfurter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and others joined to lay the groundwork for a national democratic organization of Jewish leaders from all over the country that would broaden Jewish leadership and present a unified American Jewish position at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
In 1936 the American Jewish Congress was instrumental in establishing the World Jewish Congress (WJC). Maintaining his position as president of the American Jewish Congress, Rabbi Wise was also elected president of the WJC. During World War II, the American Jewish Congress acted as a liaison between the U.S. government and the WJC on issues relating to rescue attempts made on behalf of European Jews. After the war the American Jewish Congress was instrumental in relief efforts for the Jewish survivors. When the enormity of Holocaust became public, the American Jewish Congress coordinated a vigorous effort to help create a Jewish state and played a central role in winning U.S recognition and support of Israel. Support for Israel and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship became key concerns of the American Jewish Congress’ work.
During the 1960s, the American Jewish Congress was an outspoken voice in the Civil Rights Movement and stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. as he delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech.
The American Jewish Congress was the first mainstream Jewish organization with a membership of both men and women to devote considerable time, effort and resources to women's issues. The American Jewish Congress joined the struggle against the regime of apartheid in South Africa, campaigned to end persecution of Soviet Jews, to free the Jews of Syria, Ethiopia and Iran. It raised its voice protesting the atrocities in the Balkans in 1990s, the use of civilians as human shields by Hamas, and called for a stop to acts of genocide in Darfur and South Sudan.
Among its other activities, the American Jewish Congress has organized a successful worldwide travel program (e.g. brought its 300,000th tourist to Israel in 1991), and has organized, coordinated, and sponsored various initiatives that aim toward building bridges of communication, such as the International Conference of Mayors, its signature program.
AJCongress works with members of the UN, the Israeli government, the US Congress, and the President to advance Jewish and Israeli rights. AJCongress also strives to engage with local up-and-coming politicians from around the world to expand support for Jewish rights on the grassroots level. Our annual Israel International Conference of Mayors welcomes mayors from over 30 nations to Israel to promote global solidarity and better educate the world on Jewish affairs. Many of these Mayors have gone on to become Presidents, Prime Ministers, U.S. Senators, and Legislators.