Ronald Lauder
Ronald LauderFlash 90

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder told the audience assembled for the organization’s gala dinner Wednesday at the Museum of Modern Art that he had called an emergency meeting to intensify the organization’s battle against antisemitism on college campuses.

“Today’s hatred of Jews has set its focus on one target: the world’s only Jewish state, Israel,” Amb. Lauder said, adding that its enemies “are using a new weapon. … Now they may be succeeding at undermining Israel politically. And they are concentrating their efforts in high schools, colleges and universities to turn the next generation, even Jewish students, against Israel.”

He also underscored the need for a unified global Jewish community in securing the future of the Jewish people. Amb. Lauder made the remarks just prior to awarding WJC’s top honor, the Theodor Herzl Award, to Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, the Tenth President of the State of Israel, for his courageous leadership on behalf of Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.

The award celebrates individuals who work to promote Herzl’s ideals through international support for Israel and enhanced understanding of Jewish history, culture and peoplehood.

“During a challenging moment in Israeli politics, Reuven Rivlin’s positive voice, his optimism and his spirit, has always been a reminder of the profound vision of hope for the Jewish State that welcomes all people, of all religions, and all ethnic groups,” Amb. Lauder said. “From his earlier work in the Knesset through his presidency, Reuven Rivlin represents the very best of Israeli leadership.

Upon accepting the award, President Rivlin said, “The Jewish people have the historical, legal and moral right to sovereignty in our ancient homeland of Eretz Israel,” He also said, “But sovereignty must also be earned by responsibility, by the fact that we respect our rights as a sovereign nation to uphold the civil rights of all citizens in our state. The State of Israel was built in 1948 according to two values… that Israel must be a Jewish, democratic state. Democratic and Jewish, Jewish and democratic — in one tone, in one breath.”

Also at the event, Ken Burns, award-winning documentary filmmaker, received the seventh WJC Teddy Kollek Award for the Advancement of Jewish Culture. Burns’ acclaimed 2022 series “The U.S. and the Holocaust” vividly depicts the plight of Europe’s vulnerable Jews and underscores the importance of WJC’s mission.

Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and 2014 Theodor Herzl Award honoree, whose family in 1938 fled Germany, introduced Burns.

Wednesday’s program included a commemoration of the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazi forces in November 1938 perpetrated a wave of antisemitic violence in Germany and Austria that killed 91 people and destroyed 267 synagogues.

Also to commemorate Kristallnacht, a WJC initiative displayed digitally reconstructed images of four destroyed synagogues in Berlin, Dortmund, Frankfurt and Munich, Germany, on the buildings that replaced them. At some sites, virtual reality glasses enabled viewers to see the synagogue interiors of the time.

Previous recipients of the Herzl Award include Dr. Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer; President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; UN Secretary-General António Guterres; former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin L. Powell; Elie and Marion Wiesel; and, posthumously, President Ronald Reagan and German publisher Axel Springer.

Actor Kirk Douglas was honored with the inaugural Teddy Kollek Award in 2016, followed by film director George Stevens; philanthropist Robert Kraft; Broadway actor, singer, director, and photographer Joel Grey; Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Emeritus Zubin Mehta; and violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman.