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Fighting Hate: Anti-Defamation League of Washington Honors Georgetown President DeGioia With Highest Award

September 20, 2017 – The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Washington, D.C. honored Georgetown President John J. DeGioia Monday night with its Achievement Award at a celebratory dinner in Washington, D.C.

The award, which “recognizes leaders whose lives have been dedicated to furthering the same principles that have guided the Anti-Defamation League for more than 100 years,” is the highest honor the ADL’s regional office can bestow upon an individual.

ADL Washington, D.C., which serves Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina, is charged with carrying out ADL’s mandate “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people … and to secure justice and fair treatment to all…”

Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO and national director, presented the award to DeGioia, noting that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in the District of Columbia, including swastikas appearing on the Georgetown campus.

‘Quickly and Strongly’

Greenblatt noted the expediency with which the university responded with "unequivocal denunciation of these acts and launching efforts to identify those responsible and ensure that all impacted students received the support that they needed."

"Rare is it that I find that the university president who moves as quickly and as strongly as Jack to denounce these incidents,” he said.

“This is an extraordinary honor that I’m pleased to accept on behalf of Georgetown University,” DeGioia said at the dinner. “We live in challenging times. But we have always faced times of challenge. Our ability to engage these challenges – as a nation and as a community here in Washington, D.C. – has been transformed by the prophetic voice and enduring presence of the ADL.”

Individuals making tributes honoring DeGioia at the dinner included Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism who has taught seminars at Georgetown Law for 35 years; alumnus Paul Tagliabue (C’62), vice chair of the board of directors and former NFL commissioner; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; and entrepreneur and alumnus Ted Leonsis (C’77), a former Georgetown board of directors member who received the ADL award in 2002.

Bearing Witness

Under DeGioia’s tenure as president, the university created a Center for Jewish Civilization, a student minor and a certificate in Jewish Civilization, sessions for students and faculty on anti-Semitism and numerous Jewish life programs.

“[DeGioia’s] commitment to the Jewish community is also seen in his tireless work to develop a nationally recognized Center for Jewish Civilization,” Greenblatt said, lauding the center for its breadth in studying foreign policy issues, Jewish-Catholic relations, Judaism as both a religion and as a civilization and “in dynamic dialogue with other people and polity.”

The university also is part of Bearing Witness, a partnership among the ADL, the National Catholic Educational Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the university’s Center for Jewish Civilization and local dioceses.

Through the partnership, participants explore the history of anti-Semitism, including the role of the Church during the Holocaust, recent changes in Catholic teachings on Jews and Judaism, issues of prejudice in contemporary society and practical strategies for teaching students about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

Doing the Right Thing

DeGioia was lauded for his work throughout the evening.

“Whenever there’s a person that you need to do the right thing in the right way, instinctively, we all run to Jack DeGioia,” Leonsis said. “We love you, we know you love this community, and we couldn’t be more grateful for all the empathy that you show for everyone and the leadership that you’ve provided.”

Saperstein called the university president “one of America’s shining lights of higher education.”

Caring for One Another

“Spend a few minutes in serious conversation, listen to him talk about his university or the problems of the world, and you feel, you sense that palpable deep aspect of Jesuit spiritually that infuses his work and his life,” Saperstein said.

Tagliabue called the awards celebration “a moment for us to express how proud we are of our president of Georgetown.” “It’s also, more importantly, an opportunity to celebrate the values that have animated his work … our commitment to interfaith dialogue and understanding the dialogue’s ability to respect and to caring for one another,” he said.

‘Home Away From Home’

Georgetown has a long history of serving its Jewish students – the late Harold White, the first rabbi hired by a U.S. Catholic university, served Georgetown beginning in 1968 for more than half a century.

“In recent years, our Jewish Life program has grown six-fold, both in terms of the numbers of students engaged and the offerings we provide,” says Rabbi Rachel Gartner, who took over from White and has served as director of Jewish Life at Georgetown since 2011. “President DeGioia has consistently and enthusiastically supported our efforts to be a vibrant Jewish home away from home for our students.”

“And the energetic multifaith work of the offices of Campus Ministry and Mission & Ministry is at the forefront of building bridges and opening communications between students and faculty of different religious and spiritual traditions,” said Gartner, who gave the Shabbat blessing at the award celebration.

Bowser, who recently joined the national Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry, said it brought her “great pleasure” to share “how much Georgetown university is part of the work that we do in our city.”

“I am very delighted be here with you this evening to celebrate a truly honorable man and a man who means so much to the Washington, D.C. Community, “ she said, noting the city’s partnership with Georgetown to train its school leaders and other programs.

‘Thank You for Everything’

Rev. Dennis McManus, Georgetown’s visiting associate professor of Jewish Civilization and director of the Jan Karski Institute for Holocaust Education, gave the benediction.

The late Jan Karski was the longtime Georgetown professor who as a young man in the early 1940s provided some of first reports to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the situation in Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust of the Jews.

“Thank you for everything, thank you as president, thank you as leader and thank you from professor to professor, something that I know you enjoy doing which is teaching that gets overlooked in the crush of all the other responsibilities,” McManus told DeGioia, “Thank you for what you teach, and what you learn with us.”

Past recipients of the ADL Washington, D.C. Achievement Award have ranged from John S. Hendricks, founder, chair and CEO of Discovery Communications, Inc., in 2001, to Dan Glickman, chair and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America, in 2007, to Kenneth A. Samet, president and CEO of MedStar Health in 2015 and a Georgetown board of directors member.