Founded on interfaith goodwill, modern-day MCCJ, formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), has been celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
From the beginning, its mission was to advance understanding and respect for all faiths, races and cultures through advocacy, education, dialogue and conflict resolution. For 85 years, MCCJ has been making its mark whenever possible.
MCCJ will hold its 85th anniversary celebration on Mar. 14 at the Intercontinental Miami Hotel, 100 Chopin Plaza, to honor several deserving South Florida leaders with the Humanitarian Silver Medallion. A reception starts at 7:30 p.m. with dinner at 8:30 p.m.
Since 1946, the list of Silver Medallion winners has read like the history of Miami, but it has been the history of the United States that has propelled MCCJ into action.
In 1923, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ addressed the growing power of bigotry, racism, and inter-group prejudice exemplified by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1928, a committee on goodwill between Christians and Jews was developed and NCCJ, was created to address the growing issues by developing programs to encourage positive interfaith relations. To this day MCCJ’s interfaith clergy dialogue has been the longest running in the nation.
The first major undertaking of NCCJ was a two-day seminar at Columbia University in January 1929 to include Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. An exhibition covering four walls displayed a collection of anti-Catholic tracts and handbills from the infamous hate campaign against Democratic candidate, Al Smith.
In 1933, NCCJ pioneered the “Tolerance Trio” of a minister, a rabbi, and a priest setting a new and dramatic pattern for brotherhood in America. On Feb. 19, 1943, President Roosevelt spoke during Brotherhood Week stating, “We are fighting for the right of men to live together as members of one family rather than as masters and slaves.”
From 1945 to 1955, A.W. Gottschall was the regional director of NCCJ during a particularly trying time. Among critical agenda items, they addressed the wave of mob violence in Alabama, and the need to develop strategies against it happening in Florida, which resulted in anti KKK legislation.
By July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to end segregation in the Armed Services, setting a precedent for the booming Civil Rights Movement. In Miami in December 1951, emergency meetings were called by the Miami City Commission in response to a series of bombings. During this period, it was common to receive hate mail and telephone threats, as evidenced by a testimonial from Mrs. Senerchia, wife of Miami mayor Chelsie Senerchia, who received a bomb threat.
Between the late 1940s and late 1960s, and led by black Americans, the Civil Rights Movement provided the context that officially ended racial discrimination and gained equal rights under the law to protect every American’s constitutional rights, regardless of color, race, sex or national origin. With a sense of urgency, a burgeoning of local NCCJ chapters expanded throughout the U.S., establishing community roundtables and dialogues, while creating interfaith groups that brought Christians and Jews closer than ever before.
Whenever social injustice tool place, this organization has stepped up to the plate to make their voices heard. That was the case in 1978 when two fraternities were accused of anti-Semitic activities at the University of Florida. In a mailgram to the University, Board of Regents and the Florida Education Commissioner, NCCJ members wrote in part that “All individuals committed to the Judeo-Christian ethic stand appalled that at a contemporary university, such anti-American action could take place in desecration of the concept of a free society and free university.”
The following year, 160 Dade and Broward County priests, ministers, and rabbis joined forces in a paid advertisement in the Miami Herald sponsored by MCCJ. In it, they deplored the American Nazi Party philosophy as manifested in a Chicago rally that weekend with its racist and anti-Semitic nature. This was the largest clergy statement in the history of South Florida, according to Frank J. Magrath, regional director and VP of NCCJ.
MCCJ began honoring Miamians in 1946 with its coveted Humanitarian Silver Medallion Award whose deeds and contributions were concurrent with MCCJ’s mission of building an inclusive community. The recipients that year were Henry Hyman, Daniel J. Mahoney, and Dr. James Wilson. This year, the honorees are Imran Ali, Jaret L. Davis, Robert Josefsberg, and Cheryl Little. The Robert H. Traurig Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Marvin Leibowitz (posthumously), and jointly to Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields and Arva Moore Parks.
The Interfaith Clergy Medallion will go to Rabbi Frederick Klein.
What began as a coalition of Christians and Jews, has today turned into a human rights organization dedicated to the fair, just and empathic treatment of all people, races, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Building an inclusive community for over eight decades, MCCJ has now become more relevant than ever, given the increase of discriminatory, biased and stereotypical rhetoric and actions we are experiencing.
By educating and training young leaders through “Camp MetroTown” and “Student Voices”, MCCJ has helped combat bullying and cultural bias. These signature programs have highlighted the benefits of diversity through advocacy, education, dialogue and conflict resolution. This year, MCCJ received its largest contribution ever, a $289,000 grant from AmeriCorps to launch a youth mediation program.
Throughout the course of its 85 years, MCCJ has continued to convene leaders, stakeholders and regular citizens over frank discussions to find solutions and make recommendations about local issues and challenges affecting the community. The 85th anniversary Silver Medallion Celebration is co-chaired by Cristina Pereyra-Alvarez and Cesar Alvarez, with honorary chairs Marsha and Brian Bilzin, and Gail Ash and Albert E. Dotson Jr.
The Humanitarian Dinner and 85th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Ceremony will be emceed by WPLG news anchor Calvin Hughes. Sponsorships begin at $5,000 and individual tickets for the awards dinner are $500. For reservations or information, call 305-755-6096, or visit www.miamiccj.org.