In 1985 former United States Congressman William H. Gray, III and George M. Ross, Managing Partner of Goldman, Sachs and Company and former Chairman of the Board of the AJC, Philadelphia Chapter came together over mutual concerns about the strained relations and waning communications between the African American and Jewish communities. Both felt strongly that their respective cultures and histories were a source of strength, and became convinced that exploring them together might begin a powerful, constructive dialogue. Together, they conceived of a cross-cultural program intended to build bridges of understanding between the two communities.
Congressman Gray and Mr. Ross believed that harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of young people was the place to start. As youths get to know one another, preconceptions and mistrust can be transformed into friendship and respect. Through exposure to, and education about, each other's cultures, they come to appreciate the differences and similarities between their backgrounds.
In 2011 the OU family wished farewell to George Ross and in 2013 former Congressman Rev. William H. Gray III suddenly passed. The entire City of Philadelphia has mourned the loss of these two great leaders. We carry on with the mission in their names.
Over 28 years later, the model of Operation Understanding has been duplicated in cities throughout the country. The original mission still resonates, perhaps even more so when it seems that the challenges are greater and the stakes higher. By inspiring compassionate, knowledgeable individuals who are ready to serve, prepared to lead and eager to make a difference, the effects of Operation Understanding are widespread.
Founders Congressman William Gray III
and George Ross celebrate
25th anniversary at the
National Constitution Center
on October 5th, 2010.