“This is an evening devoted to welcoming,” said Stephen Bronfman, co-founder of the Charles Bronfman Prize, which Monday, April 30, in New York celebrated “those who improve the world” and presented the award to David Lubell, founder of Decatur-based Welcoming America, which has enabled immigrants to be welcomed in 200 U.S. communities.
Dan Meridor, former deputy prime minister of Israel, who spoke on behalf of the international panel of judges that selects the recipients, said recent immigration has “awakened” xenophobia and racism, which “contradicts Jewish tradition to welcome the stranger.”
Lubell, Meridor said, lives up to that tradition.
In an interview with the AJT after the Bronfman Prize was announced last June, Lubell said he is inspired in his work by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and the social justice commitment of his journalist parents and other relatives going back to his great-grandfather Samuel Lubell, one of the founders of the Reconstructionist movement.
The Charles Bronfman Prize is an annual award of $100,000 presented to humanitarians under age 50 whose innovative work informed by Jewish values has significantly improved the world. It was created by Charles Bronfman’s children as a surprise 70th birthday present in 2004.
After he received the prize from Charles Bronfman, Lubell, a Decatur resident who has launched Welcoming International initiative and will move to Berlin to help integrate immigrants and refugees globally, said: “There are 250 million immigrants and refugees in our world, more than any time in history and they are increasingly blamed for a host of society’s ills. This scapegoating of foreigners, paralleled by the growth of anti-Semitism, must be recognized and confronted.”
Yet there is reason for hope, Lubell said during a conversation with Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” Younger people now “experience more diversity,” particularly in their schools, than the older generation, so they have fewer concerns about immigration.
A second reason springs from Lubell’s experiences creating welcoming communities from the bottom up. “We prepare a fertile soil” that enables immigrants to be integrated and the long-term residents to resist the “demagoguery” against immigrants, he said. “We see the success of local efforts spreading from city to city” and the value of contact between groups in changing perceptions.
Kasar Abdulla of Nashville, a native of Iraqi Kurdistan who became a refugee at age 6 and lived in a camp in Turkey before settling in the United States, helped Lubell found Welcoming Tennessee. She described her troubles resettling and how Welcoming America contacts help immigrants and long-term residents come together and thrive.
“Immigrants have made this country great,” Charles Bronfman said. “We must welcome those who come to our shores.”