"Speaking Out for the Voiceless:" Reflecting on Murray Friedman's Legacy in Philadelphia and Beyond

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By Jeremy Goodman

On May 10, I was fortunate to attend the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) annual Murray Friedman Memorial Lecture at the Pyramid Club in center city Philadelphia. A strong advocate for human rights, the AJC has channeled two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that GPA promotes in its work: SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. In the work they have done both locally and globally, the AJC is committed to fostering SDG initiatives that GPA promotes. The event invited keynote speaker Anthony Vance to join. Mr. Vance is a talented lawyer with multiple degrees from Harvard who currently serves as the Director of Public Affairs at the Baha’is of the United States. With a specific emphasis on bridging the divide between Islam and Judaism and celebrating the legacy of Murray Friedman, multiple esteemed speakers at the lecture dove into the challenges religious freedom is facing throughout the world. 

Founded in 1906, AJC is an international advocacy group with a central mission that revolves around promoting religious and civil rights for Jewish people around the world. They have twenty-four regional offices, thirteen overseas posts and thirty-seven international partnerships. The local chapter, AJC Philadelphia/South New Jersey, continues to work throughout the Greater Philadelphia community to promote religious and ethnic pluralism and equity. 

They have formed partnerships and alliances with the AJC Philadelphia Latino-Jewish Coalition, the AJC/Bucks County Christian Coalition Dialogue Group, several Jewish-Muslim dialogue programs, an interfaith program for high school students, and more. The American Jewish Committee is committed to fighting antisemitism and religious-based hate in both Philadelphia and beyond. 

The Annual Murray Friedman Memorial Lecture honors the legacy of the former regional director of AJC Philadelphia/South Jersey, Murray Friedman. He was with the organization for over forty years. Throughout his life he advocated not only for the Jewish people but the rights and liberties of all who face oppression. Drawing upon his experiences over the years, this led him to teach students at St. Joseph’s University about the impact that steadfast interfaith work can have in the community. Following his death, former mayor of Philadelphia, John Street, spoke highly of Friedman, “He was just a huge public figure - sage - a man of great wisdom. Murray was always able to bring people together.”

The event started with kind remarks from the Regional Director of AJC Philadelphia/South New Jersey, Marcia Bronstein. David Hyman, Board Member of AJC Philadelphia/South New Jersey, then spoke about Murray Friedman. Michael Fabius, Board Member of AJC Philadelphia/South New Jersey, introduced the keynote speaker, Anthony Vance. Mr. Vance spent time talking about the injustices the Baha’i people are facing throughout the world. 

A religious minority that was founded in 19th century Iran, the Baha’i faith has since spread all over the globe. Both the current government as well as former members of the Muslim clergy have tried to persecute followers of the Baha’i religion. Recently in 2019, the Iranian government made it impossible for the Baha’i people to register with the state. Using creative forms of discrimination, identification cards no longer have the option for an “other religion” category, leaving the Baha’i voiceless and hidden in every day society. 

Mr. Vance also spoke about the great partnership he has had with AJC, drawing upon the four years he spent at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. The event concluded with David Smith, Chairman of AJC Philadelphia/South New Jersey, thanking everyone for attending and mentioning future events that are taking place in the coming weeks and months. This lecture was a testament to the far-reaching, positive impact that community, faith, dialogue, and advocacy can have for members of many faiths and backgrounds. 

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