David A. Harris
Executive Director, American Jewish Committee
AJC 98th Annual Meeting
Washington, D.C., May 6, 2004
Over its 98-year history, the American Jewish Committee has been a lucky institution.
We have been led by a series of exceptional presidents, each of whom has embodied the best of our civic culture and our Jewish tradition. Several of those past presidents are here with us, and I salute them.
This evening we have the privilege of paying tribute to our current president, Harold Tanner, whose three-year term officially ends on Sunday.
Happily, Harold's formal association with AJC will continue as he becomes the Founding Chair of the Transatlantic Institute, established in Brussels earlier this year.
There is a great deal that ought to be said about Harold, but those of you in the audience who know him understand that he would not want me to take up too much time in saying it.
"AJC time is on time," he would gently remind me, "and we shouldn't be testing the patience or good will of our audience."
Therefore, with all my love and admiration for Harold-and it is considerable-I'm going to keep this brief, far briefer than he deserves.
Let me highlight four attributes of Harold that have particularly struck me during the three years I've worked so closely with this exceptional individual.
First, Harold has an unmatched sense of loyalty, responsibility, and duty, and the American Jewish Committee has been the fortunate beneficiary.
In his self-effacing, unassuming manner, he has devoted himself tirelessly to every aspect of this agency's work, both the external and the internal, both the glamorous and the unheralded.
He has made a point of getting to know this vast and complex agency inside out.
He has read reams of correspondence, balance sheets, projections, monographs, and memoranda.
He has attended every meeting imaginable to demonstrate interest and support.
He has made a point of seeking to visit all 33 chapters to underscore their importance to the organization.
He has always said yes to every opportunity to raise funds, and no one has done it better.
And he has unfailingly shown respect and consideration for the professional staff, whom he regards as cherished partners and colleagues.
Second, Harold has a remarkable commitment to the well-being of the Jewish people. He has traveled the world time and again to make the case for Israel's quest for peace and security, to express solidarity with other Jewish communities, to combat anti-Semitism, to advance human rights and human dignity, and to create new possibilities for cooperation with governments, other faith groups, and civic institutions.
From Brussels to Beijing, Moscow to Mexico City, Paris to Pretoria, Tokyo to The Hague, and Washington to Warsaw, Harold Tanner has proved himself an indefatigable diplomat who commands the respect of top decision-makers.
To each meeting, whether with German Chancellor Schroeder, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, or Pope John Paul II, he brings an open mind, a talent for listening, the reliability of his word, and an uncanny ability not only to frame difficult issues but also to propose workable solutions.
Third, Harold has a deep and abiding love for America. He is a wonderful example of the unlimited opportunities this country provides its citizens. He grew up in modest circumstances in upstate New York, learned the meaning of work at an early age, attended some of the nation's finest universities, and built a career in investment banking that has earned him a stellar reputation in the field.
At the same time, Harold has always understood the need to give back, to participate in the larger life of the country, and to lend support to those educational, cultural, and other not-for-profit institutions that strengthen America's democratic fiber and humanistic soul.
And finally, Harold's personal qualities of integrity, compassion, kindness, and generosity are legendary. He is in every way a role model of how we should live our lives-as loving family members, as consummate professionals, and as dedicated volunteers.
The American Jewish Committee has gone from strength to strength under his leadership and guidance, for which we as an institution shall always be grateful.
And I have been blessed with a mentor, a partner, and a friend, for which I shall always be personally grateful.
Harold, on behalf of the American Jewish Committee, your second family, it is now my honor to present you with our National Distinguished Leadership Award.