How many stories about Jewish life begin with the words “David Duke,” a name unparalleled in its association with racism and anti-Semitism? I’m sure this article from the Atlanta Jewish Times was a first:
David Duke is a former Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi. He also played an important role in making Jewish Atlanta the thriving community it is today.
In 1990 he was a Louisiana legislator preparing to run for governor the next year, and people feared his political potential. One evening about 30 young Jewish adults gathered on a porch in Atlanta to hear an expert speaker discuss Duke. It was the first event for Access, the young-adult organization of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee.
Eighteen years later, Duke is a footnote in American history, having faded into the political fringes after the 1991 gubernatorial election. Access, on the other hand, has grown into a vibrant piece of the Jewish community, an entry point for people under age 40 who want to get involved and who go on from Access to fill leadership roles in synagogues, Federation and other Jewish organizations, including the AJC. It is a model of success for other young-adult groups in Atlanta, and the AJC two years ago adopted the name and approach of Access for similar groups at chapters across the country.