Leah Pisar, President of the Aladdin Project

December 10, 2018


Q: You have successfully balanced a career in politics, writing, and the arts in both French and English. What is the most valuable element of speaking multiple languages, and how does language impact the effectiveness of cross-cultural dialogue?

The greatest gift my parents gave me was to bring me up in a tale of two cultures. The languages, of course, feel like a great source of inner wealth; and starting off bilingual as a child has made it easier to pick up other idioms along the way. But there is something even deeper and more precious than that: this dual prism on the world can bring a much more nuanced perspective on situations of all sorts.

Q: Can you tell us about your role as President of the Aladdin Project and the mission of the organization?

The Aladdin Project works to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, racism of all sorts and Islamist extremism through education, intercultural rapprochement and youth outreach. As the daughter of one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, I feel a very strong duty to transmit what my father, who was a great optimist despite all that he endured, taught me: that there is no such thing as hereditary enemies, and that one must heed the lessons of the past in order to protect our dreams of a peaceful and prosperous future. Alas, these days it seems that those lessons are not being heeded, which makes Aladdin’s work all the more vital.

Q: You were Director of Communications for the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton. How did this experience at such an early phase in your career influence the path you took afterward?

It was, of course, a life-shaping and thrilling adventure, that brought exposure to so many different things: First and foremost, the burning issues of the day. But also the importance of working as a team, of being as precise and meticulous as possible, of learning when to be quiet but also when to speak up. President Clinton often spoke of the importance of being “on the right side of History.” That notion is perhaps has stuck the most and inspired so many of his disciples to just try to do the right thing in any given situation, and to work even in modest ways to make the world a bit more harmonious.

Q: At a time when political parties feel more divided now than they have been in decades, what is the role of a nonpartisan organization like the French-American Foundation whose goal is to encourage dialogue and cooperation between people with different opinions?

This is all about building bridges, not walls. The French-American Foundation has played a vital role in the transatlantic dialogue ever since its creation, creating channels of exchange and dialogue even when diplomatic relations were not at their best. I remember how active we were in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, when bilateral relations went through a really rough patch. Programs like the Young Leaders, but also the Military Symposia or the Journalism Exchanges bring together individuals whose perspectives are forever changed and help to forge friendships and frank, constructive exchanges.

Q: What inspired you to join the Board of Directors of the French-American Foundation?

All they had to do was ask!