Charles Bronfman Prize to honor David Lubell, founder of Welcoming America

The Charles Bronfman Prize is expected to hold its annual award ceremony in New York on Monday, honoring David Lubell, founder of Welcoming America, for helping immigrants coming into the U.S. feel welcomed successfully in 190 communities across the nation.

The Charles Bronfman Prize is an annual award of $100,000 presented to humanitarians under 50 who self-identify as Jews and whose innovative work, informed by Jewish and human values, has significantly improved the world. The prize was created by Charles Bronfman’s children as a surprise for his 70th birthday back in 2004, with the goal of building a recognized prize in the Jewish world that honors young humanitarian leaders.

“Immigrants have made this country great,” Bronfman, co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “Immigrants make most countries great. If we are an outreaching society, we must welcome those who come to our shores. I know that my own grandparents came to Canada in the 1890s, and there was a Jewish organization at that time called the Jewish Colonization Association, which bought a lot of land in western Canada for 2-5 dollars an acre. They saved that land for the Jewish people when they immigrated to Canada, and look at Canada today, and the Jewish community today. It’s great.”

The goal of Welcoming America is to make the resident communities become more receptive to immigrants. Lubell recently launched Welcoming International and will be moving to Berlin, Germany to work with communities in Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to help integrate immigrants and refugees.

Lubell says his background and own life experience motivated him to launch Welcoming America in 2009. “My great-grandfather was involved in helping to start the Reconstructionist movement in the United States, and it’s part of our family tradition and our cultural tradition to be welcoming inclusion,” Lubell told Jewish Insider. “But also, I spent a year after college living in Ecuador, in South America, and was welcomed very warmly by a family there. I didn’t know if I could be successful there, and I really thrived because the community welcomed me and was welcomed by that family as one of their own children.”

According to Lubell, while his organization has expanded to many cities and states across the nation, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and the rhetoric coming out of Washington against refugees has been challenging for the immigrant and refugee communities, but has also galvanized people to want to do more to welcome them into their communities. “We’ve got more volunteer engagement, more cities coming on into our network than ever before,” he said. “The energy from a movement perspective has improved.”

The award presentation next week will feature a conversation between Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s international affairs program GPS, and Lubell on immigrants and refugees and the challenges and opportunities in 2018.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Bronfman also addressed the current crisis in the Israel and Diaspora relationship. “I think it’s vital to the Jewish future that these two great societies have empathy for each other,” he stated. “Really, we are one people. It’s not just a campaign slogan, and the day we forget it, we’re in terrible trouble.”

According to Bronfman, there has to be some accommodation on both sides. “The diaspora is not going to do legislation in Israel, but at the same time, I think we have a right and a responsibility to say, ‘Look, this might be very good for your country, but it’s going to be very difficult for the Jews in America, or Jews in Russia etc.’ Yes, we do not vote in Israel, but we are Jews and we are one Jewish people, and our view must be taken into account.”

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