On September 24, as Pope Francis was performing Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation — who’d been knighted by Pope Francis in 2015 — was presiding at the organization’s 50th Anniversary Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria. Recapping his decades’ long interventions and negotiating accomplishments, Schneier recalled his own journey as a survivor who had lived under both Nazi persecution and Communism.
Recipient of the Foundation’s World Statesman Award, United Kingdom Prime Minister honoree David Cameron — in a video address — thanked Rabbi Schneier for his work to promote tolerance and freedom. “With dictators waging war, states invading their neighbors with impunity …more safe havens opening up for terrorists, more people joining the extremist death cult opposed to everything we believe in — freedom, rule of law, democracy—they have to be protected, nurtured, fought for every single day.”
“The key lesson you learn from the Foundation’s work is that it is our responsibility not just to our immediate family or community, but to a much broader group,” said Laurence D. Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock and recipient of the Appeal of Conscience Award which was presented to him by Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of The Coca Cola Company and himself a 2009 Appeal of Conscience honoree. “The business community and most of all the financial industry,” said Fink “has too often forgotten their sense of responsibility… that goes beyond the immediate group of shareholders and executives. It extends to our employees…society as a whole… People don’t live their lives quarter by quarter—businesses should not either… The incessant focus on the short term hurts our ability to build a more meaningful lasting growth and inclusive society.”
“My wife is over at St. Patrick’s” said Stephen A. Schwartzman, co-founder, Chairman and CEO of The Blackstone Group and a 2010 Appeal awardee as he presented the Appeal of Conscience Award to Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. Announcing that since he was seated next to “Madame President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic”, Gorsky decided to tell the following story: “About 100 years ago my 16 year old grandmother immigrated from Croatia and came over on a boat with about $25 in her pocket… She met 2nd and 3rd cousins then came to Kansas City, Kansas – worked in a sausage factory, raised five daughters and who would have thought her grandson would be here tonight—pretty remarkable.”
“Most of you know us for baby powder and shampoo…the fact is that we are involved in about every aspect of health care. Our founder, Dr. Robert Wood Johnson, was a bit paranoid…because it had been a family company and was going public. So he wrote a document of 140 words in which he talked about responsibility [that] the first obligation is to the patient—mothers, fathers, and the doctors, the nurses who use our products. The second obligation was to our employees to make sure they have a good place to work and treated decently — remember this was in the l940’s. And the third obligation…give back to the community in which we live. Last, he placed the shareholder. This was long before social corporate responsibility.”
Former deputy U.S. Secretary of State and Appeal trustee John Negroponte read a message from President Obama and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who touted Schneier “for his 50 years of hard work on behalf of religious freedom and human rights.” Launched with an invocation by Appeal of Conscience trustee His Eminence Archbishop Demetrius, Primate, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the dinner concluded with a benediction by Appeal of Conscience Foundation Vice President Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.