Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is truly an honor to be here today. I would especially like to thank Deputy Ambassador Leyla Moses-Ones for her kind hospitality during my visit.
I stand today before you on holy soil. I stand before you today on the very ground, in the very nation that had the courage to do what few others dared to do for our people. I stand before you today first and foremost to offer what we in Judaism call Hakarat Hatov – a recognition, or rather a deep appreciation for favor rendered. I stand before you today humbled before those who withstood the terrifying murderous Nazi war machine and said – we will not give up our Jews to the slaughter, we will not look the other way, will not be bystanders, we will be active participants in doing what is right no matter the cost. I cannot possibly stand before you today without first saying - thank you.
As a Vice President of the American Jewish Congress I am fortunate to represent an agency that has fought and striven for the re-creation of the Jewish state since 1918.
Our 100-year old mission has been, and continues to be, the promotion of the shared values of all faiths, in America, in Europe, and all around the world.
Under the leadership of President Jack Rosen, the American Jewish Congress has reached new heights, and we are working today, stronger and more compellingly than ever, to promote international cooperation and dialogue between faiths and peoples. These efforts and relationships have brought to me a cherished relationship that I now have with Sokol Bejleri – and I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank him for introducing me to this magnificent land.
As a modest man, Sokol never wished to be bathed in accolades. However, I’m sure much to his chagrin, I feel obligated to provide him the praise he deserves.
Sokol came to the United States many years ago with little money, and no connections. One of his young daughters was involved in terrible accident, and required a specialized surgery. The surgery would have consumed all of Sokol’s hard earned savings. Sokol was offered a financial lifeline from the hospital. The surgery was to be paid for by the Hospital’s charity. My friend Sokol did not accept the money, because of his pride and self-sufficiency.
He did what he thought was right. He provided for his family, in the best way he knew, and stayed true to his principals, even when it was most difficult.
Today he is a remarkable man and respected in New York City, and in his industry. He is a leader in his community, who loves his country. We have collaborated on a number of humanitarian projects, including a top-notch school in my native land of Pakistan. Sokol Bejleri is a value to your nation, and Albanians everywhere.
Israel and Albania have many shared qualities to be proud of. Both countries understand what it takes to maintain our values, culture, and human rights, even in the shadow of unfriendly foreign powers.
The United States is the land of my citizenship, the land that has provided for myself and my family. There are over two-hundred thousand Albanians in the United States, and they are also all valued citizens and members of their communities.
I understand that there is a wonderful saying here in Albania, it roughly translates as: “the honor of an Albanian cannot be sold or bought in a bazaar.” This proverb is emblematic of the Albanian People. As you very well know - during the dark days of Nazi occupation, our people were hunted and caged like animals across Europe. Under the noses of Axis invaders, the Albania people gave Jews fleeing Central and Southern Europe refuge and aid. They gave them clothing and shelter and they were called by Albanian names to deceive the Nazi occupiers. They did not surrender the Jews in Albania – your neighbors – into the hands of death. You did not turn your backs on our people, and that is something we can never allow to be forgotten.
This Albanian Principal of “Besa” saved many thousands of lives. Albanians gave their “Word of Honor” to the Jews they cared for.
There is a saying here in Albania, that when you drink water, remember the fountain. The Jews will never forget the “khasidei umót ha'olám” or the righteous men and woman who have aided our people in those of times of darkness. Since the gloom of the Second World War, and the fall of Communism, religious liberty has flowered across much of the world, including Albania.
Today, Albania enjoys a great relationship with the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I hope that we can continue to strengthen and deepen these interactions in order to benefit our people.
At the same time, Albanians are among the most pro-American people in Europe. In the challenging times we live in, it is important for us to know that the freedom loving people in United States and Albania share common values and are committed to our enduring friendships. We understand that basic freedoms, especially the freedom of religion, as well as free press and an independent judicial system must be protected by free and open elections. The Albanian principal of “Besa” will strengthen people and empower them to build a stronger future. Albania is a young and vibrant democracy with much promise. Moving forward, let us celebrate the values we share.
All of us that are present here, should know that you can always count on the United States. We have a true friend in Albania and Albania has a true friend in the United States. We should continue to strengthen this alliance, and I look forward to all of us working towards preserving our friendship.
The United States, the State of Israel, and Albania may look forward to many years of close and open friendship. It is my hope that our nations may be united by the values we share.
As I noted earlier, the American Jewish Congress, works tirelessly to promote interfaith dialogue. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, share similar values. The values of our common biblical Father Abraham continue today in Albania, and they are exemplified by Baba Mondi and the Bektashi Community.
The Bektashi, a community based on the principles of tolerance, love and mutual respect often find themselves as well in a hostile world that does not share these values. There are millions of Bektashi that face discrimination for simply upholding their core views that our enduring religions are based upon. There are thankfully individuals that bravely stand out in defense of human dignity. This is the gift of Baba Mondi.
I have recently had the privileges of meeting with him, and I have found him to be a great man of faith who is deeply committed to promoting religious tolerance and harmony. He is revered and respected by people of all faiths in Albania, the Balkins, and around the world.
Baba Mondi has worked hard to engage with people from other faiths and exemplifies the renown religious coexistence and religious tolerance of Albanians. He has worked to create bridges of communication with people of all faiths – including the Jewish people. He has cultivated valuable personal relationships with Jewish leaders and he has engaged in promoting joint initiatives between the Bektashi and the Jewish communities. In addition, he has expressed his determined support for the Jewish State. Several years ago, Baba Mondi refuted and corrected a Middle Eastern ruler’s unjustified verbal attacks on Israel. It is easy to condemn the actions of enemies, or competitors. It is easy to make examples of those with whom we do not share values with but it takes the greatest courage to stand with those whom we share values in the time of their adversity. It takes courage, to challenge the status quo.
Baba Mondi has said:
“There is no room for violence in religion. Religion should be pure spirituality.”
Every day, news images of religious intolerance and prejudice flash across the news, and media. Attacks on the dignity of free worshipers create fear and tear down communities which took decades to build. Indeed, there is no room for violence in religion.
If history is to teach us anything, we will learn that men and women of good will with a just and moral cause have the power to change the world for the better. The Abrahamic religion, our religion teaches its followers to do good. It teaches people to actively take responsibility, care for one another, and seek order and harmony.
The divisive nature of global discord can be reversed by interfaith understanding and a universal belief in human worth and dignity.
Baba Mondi’s efforts have had an untold impact in bringing our two communities together in the cause for justice and freedom. It is such an honor for me, a Jew born in Pakistan, to present such an award.
Together we continue to expand religious freedom, promote a free and open society, and build a better future for our children.
Baba Mondi, your efforts to promote peace, strengthen brotherhood, and advance interfaith partnerships and dialogue will make this world we share a better place.
On behalf of the American Jewish Congress, it is my great pleasure to present this Profile of Courage Award to Baba Mondi, the leader of the Bektashi World Center.
Baba Mondi, my dear Friends, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen
There is a deep and mutual feeling of friendship between the United States and Albania. It is, in fact, a strong relationship that was forged almost one hundred years ago – a relationship that was grounded in the inestimable and pivotal support of the United States, more specifically President Wilson, for Albanians’ right to self-determination. It is a relationship that has its ups and downs, but that remains, still today, the most important part alliance that Albania has and that can aspire.
The United States is the one essential country in the world – a beacon of democracy as no other country in the history of mankind. It is no surprise that the all those aspiring for freedom – and especially Albanians - look upon the U.S. as the lodestar among the nations. Albania has no better friend than the United States and it is up to all of us to safeguard this friendship and to build, through it, a better future.
I bring a small token here today. To modestly celebrate this most important of friendships.
I have been asked by my dear friend, Congressman michael t McCaul, ranking member of United States congress, house of foreign affairs committee to present this flag which has been flown over the United States capital in honor of baba mondi and the Bektashi community. This flag is a symbol of the free world and a gift to a man of faith that has devoted his life to serving and guiding others. A man that cherishes the values of tolerance and harmony; the values of freedom and sincere respect for human rights. A great and pious man - a lodestar for his faithful followers and so on.
Over time, I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to affect change. But, we can either complain how hard it is for change to overcome, or we can try to be one of those men or women of good will and attach ourselves to causes that can make a difference. It is much more satisfying to live that way, and if we’re lucky, one day we can say we did something meaningful to help bring about change.
Baba Mondi has lived such a life, by working hard to engage with people from all faiths; by bringing divisions and fostering long-term partnerships; andby elevating communication and mutual understanding.
It is my distinct honor to present today the flag of the united stars of America of the star-spangled banner, to Baba Mondi, as a token of friendship and appreciation. May god bless you all.