For a century, ADL has worked tirelessly though education, legislation, litigation, communication, and persuasion to build what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “beloved community” – the harmonious, diverse, mutually respectful and understanding society where “live and let live” exists between peoples and between nations. In ADL’s 100 years, we have won many battles, breached many barriers – tonight is a night to recognize and celebrate how closely we have come in helping to build Martin Luther King’s beloved community.
Sadly, during the last miraculous, turbulent 100 years while we have learned how to walk on the moon, we have not learned how to walk together in harmony on earth. We have eradicated polio and smallpox and other forms of pestilence and plague, but we have not eradicated the more persistent, pervasive, pernicious virus of bigotry.
We have enacted laws prohibiting all forms of prejudice and discrimination, but we cannot seem to implement their spirit. We have succeeded in healing the human heart by unblocking it, by bypassing it and even transplanting it. But we have failed to erase hate from it.
Tonight I would like to speak to you very personally about my journey and my vision of what the ADL means to me, of what I hope it will mean to you.
I was born in the wrong time at the wrong place for a Jewish kid. Nazi-occupied Poland in 1940 was not the best place to be born, yet I survived. As I grew older, I tried to understand what it meant that I had survived. The first set of questions were questions of why – very serious universal questions of why. Why did it happen to the Jewish people? Why was the world silent? Why didn’t the almighty intervene? Why did over one and one half million Jewish children perish? To those universal questions of why were added very personal questions. Why me? Why did I survive? And as I grew older, I realized that there are no answers, only questions.
But two facts in that struggle to understand became very, very clear. One is that the world knew. There was no CNN, there was no FOX News, no Internet – but the world knew. And most didn’t do very much about it.
So the first lesson for us is to know. To know about the bigotry; to know about the hatred; to know those who threaten us, our democracy, our freedoms. It is very, very, important that we know. But knowing is not enough.
The second thing that became clear to me is that wherever and whenever and however good people said no – whenever good people stood up and said no to hate – Jews lived, Gypsies lived, Christians lived, gays lived.
There was Oskar Schindler who saved 1200 Jews. There was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved 50,000, maybe 100,000 Jews. There were Bulgaria and Albania. And then there was Bronislawa Kurpi, a Polish Catholic woman. You will not have heard of her. She is not well known – there are no books written about her or movies made of her life. She could barely read and write, and she didn’t ponder the implications of risks or returns on investment.
But on the day when the Nazis came to the take away the Jews, she asked the couple who employed her, what was going to happen to their little boy. And when she understood that it was not good, despite the risk to her own life, she took that little boy in. And for the next four years, she hid him, cared for him, fed him, raised him, baptized him, protected him, and sheltered him and risked her life every single day for four years. Bronislawa Kurpi was my nanny. And she saved my life.
And so I stopped asking the questions of why and began to ask the questions of “what if?”
What if, instead of one Raoul Wallenberg, there had been 100,000 Raoul Wallenbergs? What if, instead of one Oskar Schindler, there would be 10,000 Oskar Schindlers? Or more Bronislawa Kurpis? Or more Bulgarias, more Albanias?
For me, the Anti-Defamation League is an institution that does everything so that our children and grandchildren never have to ask in the future “what if?” What if their parents and grandparents stood up every single day to say no – no to hatred, no to bigotry, no to prejudice, no to racism, no to anti-Semitism.
The single most important message that I draw from that experience is that whenever good people stand up, it makes a difference and that when one person stands up, the world becomes a better place for all of us.
The modeling of behavior is what this is all about, people doing the right thing, sometimes against all odds, and setting a standard for others.
I think about this subject this evening as we honor Larry Scott, as sports is in many ways where we model whom we aspire to be – heroic, brave and courageous – a team player; valuing each person for their individual qualities. We speak to the broader issue of sports and society now as a movie about Jackie Robinson is being shown in theaters around the country. Two people set the bar of behavior very high in the Jackie Robinson saga--Robinson himself and Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey.
In 1947, America was an incomplete democracy. Segregation persisted in the South. Racial discrimination was rampant throughout the country. Minorities were still barred from certain neighborhoods, institutions and professions. When Branch Rickey decided to sign the first African-American player to a contract, he was leading the way for a new sentiment for change in the nation brought back by those who fought in World War II. More than that, however, he was setting a new standard for the rest of society. It was a powerful message.
Baseball in 1947 truly was our national pastime. It was seven years before the historic Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education. It was eighteen years before the Civil Rights Act of 1965. In effect, a revolution began that year. And the embodiment of that revolution –Jackie Robinson himself – set his own standard of grace and leadership; strength and pride together with dignity and restraint.
The power and excitement of sports in America is in its plays, its statistics and its championships. But the greatness of sports in this country is that it is a significant catalyst for social change. Just as this was true with Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, it was true with our honoree and Billy Jean King, together furthering women's equality on the professional tennis tour. The fairness that our honoree embodies fostered Venus Williams, of whom I couldn't be prouder, as she is also an ADL honoree – who courageously and directly spoke out on behalf of Shahar Pe’er and the right of all qualified players to compete.
And so to the reason you all come here tonight – to recognize and honor someone who has put his reputation on the line to further fairness and good sportsmanship, and decency – the values on which professional sports is based. And if that was only what we would be honoring him for - that would be enough.
But having known Larry for nearly ten years, broken bread with him, watched sporting events with him, struggled over issues with him; stood with him fighting the good fight; watching him set the highest of standards and leading those around him – honoring him for the values of professional sports is not enough.
Tonight we recognize and applaud you Larry for much more – for your commitment to promoting respect and understanding, and our fundamental commitment to equality and fair treatment for all. These are the values upon which humanity is based.
Larry, earlier your father and your son said the Motzi together. You were beaming with pride as you saw traditions passed down from generation to generation. As I know you beamed at your son’s Bar Mitzvah only a few days ago.
And I saw an answer to my question, “What if?” – what if there had been more good people who stood up? What if when faced with intolerance and bigotry and indifference, will people say no?
You, Larry embody an answer to that question.
So in this our centennial year, as we create the bridge between the challenges of the past and those yet to be met in the future, we need people like you. We need more people like you –leaders who stand with courage and conviction. I am honored, on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, to present you with the League’s Americanism award which we give to individuals who embody the best of America’s morals and values and can be examples for all to emulate.
"Tonight we recognize and applaud you Larry for much more – for your commitment to promoting respect and understanding, and our fundamental commitment to equality and fair treatment for all."