New York, NY, December 23, 2015 …In Charleston, SC, people from all walks of life gathered in solidarity after a racist gunman killed nine parishioners; in Norway, a group of Muslims formed a protective human chain around a synagogue in the aftermath of an anti-Semitic attack; in Texas, a young boy emptied his piggy bank to help repair a mosque damaged by arsonists; and in France, a Muslim immigrant saved Jewish lives during a terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket. These and other events topped the Anti-Defamation League’s Top 10 list of most inspiring moments in 2015.
“We live in a world that has been convulsed with bigotry, violence and terrorism carried out by those who have singled out Blacks, Jews and minorities,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “And yet at the same time we have witnessed extraordinary moments of human resilience and expressions of solidarity that have inspired us all.
“After an exhaustive review process and lengthy deliberation involving a number of ADL professionals, we created a short list of those moments that we believe defined our humanity in 2015. These inspirational moments serve as reminders of the potential for human beings to stand up and make a difference through occasional heroism and every day acts of kindness. These are the moments and gestures, both big and small, which have helped to restore our sense of faith in the power of people to overcome their differences and come together as one.”
The following is ADL’s Top 10 List of Most Inspirational Moments in 2015:
- Muslim Employee Saves Jewish Lives at Kosher Supermarket in France
- Americans Unite In Wake of Charleston Massacre
- #LoveWins After Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
- Norwegian Muslims Form Human Chain Around Synagogue
- American Soldiers Thwart Attack on Paris Train
- Pope Celebrates Anniversary of Nostra Aetate; Reinforces Catholic-Jewish Relations in Visit to U.S.
- Transgender Americans Move from the Margin to the Mainstream
- World Leaders Tackle Anti-Semitism at United Nations
- Boy Donates Life Savings to Texas Mosque
- Immigration Activist Lorella Praeli Gains U.S. Citizenship
Muslim Kosher Supermarket Employee Saves Jewish Lives
In an unlikely twist to the deadly shooting rampage at a Parisian kosher market in January, it was the heroic actions of a Muslim store employee that saved at least seven Jewish lives. Lassana Bathily, a 24-year-old citizen of Mali, was at work in the underground stockroom of the Hyper Cacher supermarket on January 9 as a string of terror attacks perpetrated by Islamic extremists roiled France. Upon hearing the gunman enter the store, Bathily leapt into action, ushering customers downstairs away from the gunfire. He shut the lights and turned off the stockroom’s freezer. He later escaped from the basement and provided crucial information about the store’s layout that helped authorities end the hostage crisis. His actions earned plaudits from around the world, and soon after, Bathily was granted French citizenship.
Americans Unite in Wake of Charleston Church Massacre
When a young man infected with white supremacist beliefs opened fire at an African-American church in South Carolina, the tragedy, with echoes of the terrorism that scarred the Civil Rights era, was greeted with a mixture of anger, shock and disbelief. How, in the year 2015, when America has an African-American president could our country witness yet another hate crime motivated by racism and hate? And yet the response to the tragedy told a different story. In the aftermath of the shooting, Americans reacted not with indifference, but with an unprecedented show of unity, love and hope. People from all walks of life – black and white, young and old, famous and not – gathered in Charleston for a show of solidarity with the victims. President Obama delivered a powerful and touching eulogy to the victims, at one point launching into a solo of “Amazing Grace.” “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s giving us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.”
#LoveWins After Supreme Court Legalizes Same Sex Marriage Nationwide
Celebrations broke out across the country and on social media after the Supreme Court, in a landmark 5-4 decision, ruled same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry nationwide. The message “#LoveWins” was the number-one trending hashtag in the world on Twitter with more than six million tweets, and spontaneous celebrations erupted globally. The historic ruling was one of the most consequential decisions for the LGBT community and, indeed, one of the most significant civil rights decisions in recent memory.
Norwegian Muslims form Human Chain around Synagogue
A group of Muslims in Oslo, Norway made a powerful statement against anti-Semitism in February by organizing a “human chain” of more than 1,000 people to show solidarity with Jews just a week after a fatal shooting at a Denmark synagogue. Muslims in Norway, many of them young women, formed what they dubbed a “ring of peace” around the city of Oslo’s main synagogue, greeting members of the small Jewish congregation as they filed out of the house of worship after Sabbath prayers. Organizers said the message to the Jews in Norway was simple: that they stand in solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism against Jews in Europe, including the terror attacks in France in January and in Denmark.
Alert American Soldiers Thwart Attack on Paris Train
Three Americans, including a member of the Air Force, an inactive National Guard member and a civilian, knew something was wrong when they heard the tell-tale sounds of weapons being assembled and loaded in a bathroom aboard a train speeding through Belgium bound for Paris. When a man emerged from the bathroom, shirtless and with a high-power rifle slung over his soldier, the men responded, overpowering the gunman and wrestling him to the ground before he could begin the attack. The gunman, a Morroccan national, was on the radar of European counterterrorism agencies for his radical extremist views. ADL later honored Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos for preventing the August terror attack with the ADL Heroism Award at an event in Silicon Valley.
Pope Frances Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate; Makes First Visit to U.S.
Pope Frances inspired millions of people in October as he brought a message of peace and interfaith harmony to the U.S., where he also took time to meet with Jewish community representatives in Philadelphia and New York and participate in a conference celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Nostra Aetate, the document that transformed 2,000 years of church teaching on Jews and Judaism. The pope traveled with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka, his close friend and interfaith collaborator from Buenos Aires, with him he co-authored a book on Catholic-Jewish dialogue. And he invited Jewish community leaders to an interfaith service at the 9/11 Museum in New York City, which opened and closed with remarks from Jewish participants. The pope’s inspirational leadership in 2015 included several statements throughout the year forcefully and strongly condemning the evils of anti-Semitism.
Transgender Americans Move from the Margin to the Mainstream
President Obama became the first president to say the word transgender in a State of the Union address, hired the first out transgender staffer, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, and appointed transgender attorney Shannon Price Minter to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. Amazon’s groundbreaking show “Transparent,” about a transgender parent, won five Emmys, a Golden Globe, and numerous other awards. More than 16.8 million people tuned in to ABC’s 20/20 to hear athlete Caitlyn Jenner come out to Diane Sawyer as transgender. And Scott Turner Schofield became the first openly transgender actor to play a major role on daytime television, as the character Nick on the show The Bold and the Beautiful.
U.N. General Assembly Convenes First-Ever Session on Anti-Semitism
At a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise around the world, the U.N. General Assembly convened an important session dedicated to combating this pernicious hatred against Jews. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined ministers from Germany, France and the European Union and Ambassadors from approximately 50 governments in raising their voices at the General Assembly at its first meeting dedicated to the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide. In a statement of support for the session, President Obama said, “Combating anti-Semitism is an essential responsibility for all of us.” And U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power warned that, “If we fail to expand dramatically the ranks of those fighting anti-Semitism, not only will we fail in our obligations to the Jewish people, but we will see the weakening in our own societies of the rights and bonds that tie us all together.”
Boy Donates Life Savings to Mosque
Seven-year-old Jack Swanson was so upset after learning about the vandalism of a Texas mosque near his home in November that he decided to empty his piggy bank and donate his life savings -- $20 that had been collected in pennies over time – to the Islamic Center of Pflugerville, Texas. “Jack’s twenty dollars are worth $20 million to us because it’s the thought that counts,” said a pleasantly surprised member of the mosque’s board. “Jack is just a little older than my son, Ibrahim. If we have more kind-hearted kids like them in the world, I have hope for our future.”
Immigration Activist Lorella Praeli Gains Her Citizenship
Lorella Praeli, a DREAMer who lived in the country without legal status for almost 13 years and who became an activist in the youth movement that has pushed for a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the country without legal rights, took the oath of citizenship at a ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., ending her long struggle to become a U.S. citizen. Originally from Peru, Praeli’s outspoken activism with United We Dream has inspired thousands with a message that immigrants have a voice in this country, and her optimistic message has served as a counterpoint to those politicians and pundits who have opposed immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Praeli says she found her voice after her early involvement with anti-bias programs in ADL’s Connecticut Region.