The dinner was co-chaired by Diane and Kent Alexander, Lila and Doug Hertz, Karen Kerness, The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg, and Billi and Bernie Marcus.
The Marcuses spoke remotely by video, joking that they were avoiding Atlanta’s pollen season. They kicked off beaucoup encomiums toward the extraordinary Grien team — the only couple in The Temple’s 150 years to have both served as congregation president.
“We are thrilled to honor Lauren and Jim, whose lives, leadership and work in the Atlanta Jewish and civic communities reflect AJC’s global mission,” said Dov Wilker, the AJC Atlanta regional director. Wilker urged the audience to take out their cellphones on the spot and complete an advocacy action.
He was especially proud to introduce 17 high school students who recently went to Washington to represent Atlanta in AJC’s Leaders for Tomorrow program.
Keynote speaker David Harris, AJC’s CEO, joked about the aquarium venue and having Jewish-type fish: herring and smoked salmon. Described by the late Israeli President Shimon Peres as the “foreign minister of the Jewish people,” Harris has spoken at some of the world’s most prestigious forums, including the 2017 Selig Award dinner.
He recognized the date, May 8, as the 73rd anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Harris, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, warned against today’s hyperpartisanship.
“Bravo, we refuse that and insist on doing the right things,” Harris said.
He scoffed at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent anti-Semitic speech regarding the Holocaust, for which he later gave “a fake apology.”
Harris said: “I take things like that personally. … We have peace with Jordan and Egypt. … How can we deal with unauthentic characters like them and Iran?”
He recognized AJC partnerships with Germany, Japan, Israel and France, whose consuls general attended the dinner.
Sandy Springs City Council member Andy Bauman, a Temple Sinai member, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans also were present. Evans, competing against Stacey Abrams in the May 22 primary in Georgia, said she wanted to show support and raise awareness before the election. Jack and Lynne Halpern were her hosts.
Much as the fantastic Paradies siblings did for their parents in 2017, the Griens’ three children, Katie, Emily and Dylan, were poised and prepared to tout the example their parents set for them in public service and family life.
Mike Leven and Kent Alexander introduced the couple by presenting the Selig Award.
Lauren and Jim alternated speaking. Lauren, a Duke alumna, was visibly moved by the previous tributes. She set the bar by becoming a law partner at Alston & Bird, then tapering off as the children became a priority. Both celebrated that they were open to changes in their paths as circumstances changed, “the unintended consequences of the decisions we make,” a reference to Jim choosing not to go to Stanford and meeting Lauren in New York instead.
“We are now on the back nine, the 10th tee of life. … That’s when you get awards,” Jim said. “This is in an unfathomable honor. We get more than we give.”
Lauren has devoted her working life to a wide range of civic pursuits, including the Atlanta Speech School, Atlanta Women’s Foundation, Hebrew Union College board of overseers, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Jewish Family & Career Services. A former AJC Atlanta president, she is in her second year as the president of The Temple.
Jim was the head of corporate finance at Prudential Securities before joining TM Capital in 2001, where he became CEO. Being a trustee of the Marcus Foundation brought him in contact with Bernie Marcus, who jokingly called him “a putz for not asking him for enough money.”
Since the aquarium’s inception, Jim has served as director, audit chair and treasurer, and he is a founding board member of Hands On Atlanta.
AJC is the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, with unparalleled access to government officials, diplomats and other world leaders. Through those relationships, it can affect opinion and policy on issues such as anti-Semitism, Israel, and the rights and freedoms of all people.