On Wednesday, September 17, in a ceremony held in the Member's Room of the Library of Congress, attended by ambassadors, Members of Congress, religious leaders, and others, Ambassador Rudolf Bekink of the Netherlands presented Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, with the inaugural Anne Frank Award for Human Dignity and Tolerance. The honor acknowledges those who have worked to "confront intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination while upholding freedom and equal rights."
"The Netherlands and the United States have been friends for more than 400 years, in part because both our nations share a respect for justice and human rights," Ambassador Bekink said after the ceremony. "Rabbi Saperstein has dedicated his life to confronting intolerance and anti-Semitism, upholding human rights, and helping people of different backgrounds understand each other. I can think of no one better qualified to receive the inaugural Anne Frank Award for Human Dignity and Tolerance."
During his 40 years of leadership at the Religious Action Center, Rabbi Saperstein has championed issues of social justice, including domestic and international religious freedom. He has led several national religious coalitions, including the Coalition to Protect Religious Liberty, and played a key role in crafting legislation such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He serves on the board of numerous national organizations including the NAACP, People for the American Way, National Religious Partnership on the Environment, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the World Bank's "World Faith Development Dialogue." Rabbi Saperstein also helped incubate the "Shoulder-to-Shoulder" campaign, an interfaith coalition formed to end discrimination against Muslims.
"I am truly honored to receive this award that highlights the importance of ensuring vital freedoms for all. Intolerance - whether it be religious or any other kind of prejudice - threatens the rights of people around the world and must be opposed wherever it is found," Rabbi Saperstein said. "That this award bears the name of Anne Frank - whose diary is perhaps the most enduring literary legacy of the World War II era, an inspiration to the three generations since, and an astonishing document with urgent lessons to the world today - makes this award especially meaningful."
Rabbi Saperstein, in his acceptance speech, reflected on his 1959 meeting when, as a child, he had the opportunity to meet and talk with Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father. Addressing several issues evoked by Anne Frank's legacy, he spoke of the obligation to ensure all girls have access to education to fulfill their potential; the need to halt proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; and the obligation to ensure religious freedom for all and fight anti-Semitism across the globe.
In 1999, Rabbi Saperstein was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, created by a unanimous vote of Congress. In 2009, he was appointed by President Obama as a member of the first White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The Anne Frank Award for Human Dignity and Tolerance is part of the Royal Netherlands Embassy's "Holland on the Hill" campaign, a renewed effort to strengthen the ties between the Netherlands and the United States and highlight the values both countries share. Rabbi Saperstein was one of two individuals to receive honors on Wednesday, the other being Canon Andrew White, the legendary "Vicar of Baghdad," who has achieved extraordinary interfaith cooperation under enormous stresses. Both were selected by the Advisory Committee, which included: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Bill Huizenga and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (The Dutch Caucus); Michael Abramowitz (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum); Katrina Lantos Swett (Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice); Ronald Leopold (Anne Frank House Amsterdam); Yvonne Simons (Anne Frank Center USA); and the Netherlands Ambassador Rudolf Bekink (non-voting member).
Along with the award, the Library of Congress presented a small display on the careers and writings of Rabbi Saperstein and Canon White.