Treasure Trove: An award named for Herzl recognizes those who make the world safer for the Jewish people, including a Canadian prime minister

Established in 1936, the goal of the World Jewish Congress is to protect Jewish communities around the world and to allow Jews everywhere to live freely, without discrimination or the threat of persecution.   

The WJC’s Theodor Herzl award is its highest honour and recognizes individuals who work to promote a safer, more tolerant world for the Jewish people through international support for Israel and enhanced understanding of Jewish history, culture and peoplehood. Past winners include former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres (2012), United States President Joe Biden (2016) and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley (2019).   

In 2017, this award was presented to General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for presidents George H. W.  Bush and Bill Clinton. Powell played a leading role in planning the invasion of Panama and in the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in the Persian Gulf. He was the secretary of state to president George W. Bush during the Iraq War.

Powell was a Yiddish speaker, having learned the language as a teen while working in a Jewish-owned store.

Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney received the award in November 2023. In accepting it, Mulroney gave a remarkable speech about antisemitism which concluded:

“Antisemitism, born in ignorance and nurtured in envy is the stepchild of delusion and evil and is a scourge that must be eradicated. It will not be stamped out in my lifetime, nor in the lifetime of my children, or even, sadly, in that of my grandchildren.

“But as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us: ‘Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing fine or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith.’

“I urge you all to keep the faith in the trying days to come.”

As we start a new year, in these trying days, let us indeed keep the faith.