Meet the Purim Ball Honorees: Ambassador Alfred Moses and Fern Schad
March 21, 2019 by
Ambassador Alfred Moses—lawyer, Navy Vet, former president of the American Jewish Committee, observant Jew, father of four—has been a Jewish activist all his life with, as he describes it, “one foot on the universalist side and one on the particularist side.”
In practical terms that has meant an unparalleled generosity directed towards personally important causes, including the arts – a passion he shares with his wife Fern – and the Jewish community. It has also meant, as Fern describes it, seeing at every turn the bigger picture and a brighter future.
In the mid-1970s, Alfred recognized that there was a pocket of Jewish life forgotten by the world, tucked behind the Iron Curtain, sitting under the boot of Romanian dictator Nicolaes Ceausescu. “It was the Great Divide. Unless you experienced it, you can’t imagine what it was like. It was the land of eternal darkness,” he told graduating Georgetown Law Students when he was bestowed an honorary degree in 2013. For thirteen years Moses quietly shepherded visas to oppressed Romanian Jews. Those efforts enabled thousands to leave for Israel.
But it wasn’t just Jews who needed his help. As he told Georgetown, “The Ceausescus were oppressive toward many segments of Romanian society, not just Jews. We managed to get Christian clergymen out of the country.”
And it wasn’t just people. They also printed bibles, when the Romanians had banned their printing, and in the mid 1980s he pressed the State Department to help him save the Great Synagogue of Romania, which was slated for destruction.
In the early 1990s Alfred was appointed Ambassador to Romania under President Bill Clinton. He spent three years in the post, helping, as he later put it, “move Romania from darkness to light.”
Back at home, as a leader in the American Jewish community, Alfred turned his attention to Jewish Day Schools and at nearly 90, he’s far from done. As he notes, he recognized years ago that the community had to stress education. Eventually, he played a transformative role in establishing the Moses Family Middle School at Milton. “It seemed to me that the formative years were being ignored,” he told the Washington Post in 2015. “Let’s try and get children through the eighth grade, and it’s more likely to have a lasting impact on them.”
He continues, “For Jewish survival we need knowledgeable Jews,” he says. “Jews who derive a sense of pride from being Jewish. Jews who believe that being Jewish is meaningful in their lives and it’s hard for that to exist from memory and familial relationships alone.” School, he insists, is the key. “It’s not just identity building, it’s being Jewishly knowledgeable.”
Milton has had the great good fortune to benefit from that belief.