Purely by coincidence, this year’s AJC Distinguished Civic Leadership Award winners happen to be named Moses and Aaron. Ring a bell?
Biblical namesakes aside, this year the seas will part for Moses Libitzky and Aaron Tartakovsky, two men of different generations who share a passion for Jewish community activism.
Libitzky and Tartakovsky will be given their awards at an AJC San Francisco gala on Tuesday, May 21 at the City Club of San Francisco. Rather than simply accept a plaque and smile for the camera, the honorees will engage in a dialogue with Manny Yekutiel, founder of Manny’s, the popular Mission District café and social gathering place. The discussion will focus on the intergenerational aspects of Jewish community activism going forward.
Libitzky is glad to see some intellectual heft to the proceedings. “I’m thrilled,” he told J. “What’s the purpose of doing this without something of substance?”
Why did the American Jewish Committee select Libitzky and Tartakovsky? Said AJC’s San Francisco director Matt Kahn: “We select honorees who embody the values of the organization, and both do that in their Jewish advocacy.”
In Libitzky’s case, the East Bay-based real estate entrepreneur is one of two Bay Area representatives on the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a national partnership between the Islamic Society of North America and AJC. Its role is to fight against hate crimes and discrimination.
“It’s been interesting,” Libitzky said of his service on the council. “It’s good to build relations in general. The council works on common issues like hate crimes. We tend to stay away from areas of Muslim-Jewish friction.”
Though pro-Israel advocacy has been a cornerstone of his Jewish community activism — Libitzky has served on the boards of AIPAC and Birthright Israel, among others — he said his interest in bettering Muslim-Jewish relations can be traced back to 9/11.
“I just like to understand things,” he said. “When 9/11 happened, I realized there was something I didn’t understand. It prompted me to take a closer look at Islam and how that could lead to an event like 9/11. Once I started learning a bit, I wanted to learn more. It’s a very complex landscape.”
That interest culminated in a fact-finding trip Libitzky, his wife, Susan, and scores of others took in December 2017 to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. It included a lengthy meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Libitzky also was responsible for bringing Yahya Staquf, an Indonesian Muslim cleric and secretary-general of the Nahdlatul Ulama (a worldwide Muslim organization) to AJC’s Global Forum in Jerusalem last year.
Tartakovsky is the recipient of this year’s Lloyd R. Sankowich Award for Young Leadership. His day job is CEO of Epic CleanTec, an S.F.-based environmentally conscious wastewater treatment company that won the grand prize in the Climate Innovation Showcase at last year’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.
Though only 29, Tartakovsky has lived a lifetime of Jewish community involvement. His mother, Anita Friedman, is the long-serving executive director of S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, as well as a current or past board member (including stints as president) of many big-name Jewish endeavors, including AIPAC and the USC Shoah Foundation.
Tartakovsky said that while growing up he interacted “with almost every Jewish organization.”
Tartakovsky is also co-founder of 3GSF, or Third Generation San Francisco, a forum for grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. The group has partnered with AJC on various Holocaust-related projects.
“Everything I do in my professional life I view through a Jewish lens,” he said. “All the work I do to ever so slightly move the world in the right direction is infused by my Jewish values, to make the world not just a more Jewish place but a more human place. I don’t compartmentalize.”
Said Kahn of Tartakovsky: “Aaron is very well regarded by his peers, as well as by Moses Libitzky’s generation. He’s not just sitting on the sidelines. He’s done so much work on behalf of Israel advocacy and environmental bridge building.”
Though several decades older, Libitzky sees a lot of similarities between himself and his younger colleague.
“We have an incredible gift in Jewish values,” he said. “It’s the basis of most of civilization and we don’t want to see that dissipated and lost. So preserving Jewish community and structure is important, not just for the Jewish community but for everybody.”