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Program allows JCRB|AJC president to make connections all over the world

Last month Dr. David Rudman participated in the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung|American Jewish Committee exchange in Germany. Participants are pictured outside the AJC office in Berlin in front of a remnant of the Berlin Wall. Dr. Rudman is in the middle, seventh from left.

Dr. David Rudman became actively involved in the Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee more than 10 years ago because he was interested in building bridges and is passionate about Israel, two of the things JCRB|AJC stands for.

Now in his second year as the agency’s president, Dr. Rudman had a chance to take his passion for building bridges to Germany, where he was able to mingle with and learn from some very important people from Germany — and Israel — when he took part in the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung|American Jewish Committee Exchange in Germany last month. He was chosen to be one of 10 AJC lay leaders to participate in the exchange as a guest of KAS. This fall 10 Germans will visit the United States as guests of AJC.

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung is a political foundation linked to the Christian Democrat political party of current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently visited Israel.

“Its goals are to provide education in regards to democracy and they sponsor over 200 projects in 120 countries,” Dr. Rudman said.

For a week, KAS-AJC exchange participants were given access to German government officials, diplomats, journalists and academics. They discussed transatlantic relations; Germany’s evolving role in foreign affairs; German-Israeli relations; the return of art looted by the Nazis; the Iranian nuclear threat; the Ukrainian crisis; anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism; and the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism in Germany.

Participants were also introduced to German Jewish life. They had a chance to meet with the leadership of the Jewish community of Dresden, which is dominated by Jews from the Former Soviet Union.

“I was really happy that I got to meet some really outstanding people from the AJC as well as German citizens and people in the German government,” Dr. Rudman said.

Once Dr. Rudman became president of JCRB|AJC, he wanted the chance to become active on a regional and national level as well. He learned about the KAS-AJC exchange, now in its 34th year, while on an AJC regional retreat. Once he was chosen to participate through a rigorous selection process, Dr. Rudman said he and the others — he was the only Midwestern representative — prepared for it by taking part in conference calls and reading briefing papers and articles.

“We did our homework ahead of time. When we got there we hit the ground running, going to meetings with very high level people involved with the German government, German culture, and German diplomats and also with the Israeli Embassy.”

Before this trip to Germany — he had visited there twice before —he learned that AJC is the only global Jewish advocacy organization that offices in Germany. One reason for that is the importance AJC has put on Israeli-German relations as well as American-German relations.

He learned a lot during the week-long exchange, but a few things really stick out in his mind. One was a visit to the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden.

“Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, also designed this museum. There’s a huge modern wedge right through the middle of it that really highlights the Germans’ view on military and war. Basically, from their experiences in the last century, it’s that war is not the answer,” Dr. Rudman said.

He continued to explain that this museum was almost anti-war.

“It really helped me to understand that this is a very prosperous, strong country, which is essentially pacifistic when it comes to world diplomacy,” he said, noting that most Germans believe that diplomacy is the answer to most of the world’s problems today.

Dr. Rudman said recently some German leaders have begun voicing their support for more military actions regarding global problems. He doesn’t believe the German people agree with those views.

“I think most of the people in Germany want to be seen as a very big Switzerland,” he continued.

He thinks this attitude could surprise many Jewish people, especially because many of our views have been formed from past actions prior to World War II, not actions of today.

“That was eye opening to me,” he said. “They’ve gone through a lot of things since World War II and since reunification of East and West Germany have become a very strong player in the EU and really in the world.” 

Another highlight of Dr. Rudman’s experience was meeting with the president of the Bundestag in his office at the Reichstag, who he called the third most powerful man in Germany.

“To have such high access, meeting with basically the John Boehner of Germany and to talk to him about issues of concern to us, specifically about German support for Israel with the peace talks with the Palestinians, was truly a testament to the access AJC has in Germany and that the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation has,” he continued.

He particularly enjoyed an AJC-sponsored dinner where he sat with two members of the Israeli Knesset as well as the head of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a German brigadier general and AJC’s honorary president.

“There were about 20 tables like this filled with amazingly intelligent, involved, connected people,” he said. “The ambassador to Germany spoke and some foreign ministers spoke. There was a lot of star power in the room.”

Now that he’s back here, he wants to bring an understanding of what’s happening in Germany today to the local Jewish community.

“Next year marks the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations. People may not know that Israel’s second largest embassy outside of the United States is in Berlin. They are very close allies. Germany is Israel’s important ally.”

Dr. Rudman returned home from his one-week trip to Germany on April 12, the day before shootings took place at two venues in the Jewish community. These incidents quickly taught him just how many bridges he helped build while he was in Germany.

“I got emails and calls from people from across the world about what happened. People in Berlin were very interested in what was happening in Overland Park, Kansas. The world is a smaller place each time you meet somebody new,” he said.

The experiences he had were amazing, and he hopes others take advantage of similar opportunities.

“I encourage other people to do Jewish advocacy locally, nationally and internationally. These are very meaningful experiences that are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”