What makes a mensch? In German, the word mensch translates to person; however, the word has a richer subtext in the Yiddish language and culture. Despite its origin, a mensch can be someone from any religious background or gender that can be relied on; someone who always acts with integrity, honour, and humility; and someone who is always kind and considerate. There are few higher Jewish compliments to pay someone. The Mensch International Foundation was created in 2002 when Steven Geiger, a Hungarian refugee born to Holocaust survivors, witnessed and feared the growing antisemitism in Hungary under far-right leadership. In response, Geiger established the Mensch Foundation “to develop an educational curriculum to stamp out stereotyping and anti-Semitic and racist thinking.” On Friday morning, September 16, 2022, American University’s School of International Service (AU SIS) in Washington, DC, proudly hosted the Mensch International Foundation Awards to recognize a handful of menschen; individuals who embody that single word, “mensch.” This year’s Mensch awards were significant as it was the first ceremony ever held in the nation’s capital and was dedicated to the victims of 9/11. The ceremony recognized and honoured Fiona Hill, Eli Rosenbaum, Rabbi Michael Beales, Kenneth Feinberg, and Ambassador William B. Taylor. Notably, it was also the first time the Mensch Award was presented to a Muslim, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service, a Wilson Center Global Fellow, and former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom and Ireland. He is a prolific academic, author, poet, playwright, filmmaker, and diplomat. In addition to his lengthy resume, Ahmed is now the first Muslim to be recognized with the Mensch Award for his lifelong commitment to pursuing religious harmony and dismantling prejudice. The wall of the Abramson Family Founders Room bears this quote from Eisenhower: “the waging of peace demands the best we have, the best young men and women that we can find in this great effort which must go on around the world.” Similarly to Geiger’s story in Hungary, Ahmed feared the growth of Islamophobia in the US fueled by a misunderstanding after 9/11, 2001. In response, Ahmed helped form the first Abrahamic Summit at the Washington National Cathedral with the Bishop and the Senior Rabbi of Washington. In 2005, Ahmed was recognized for his interfaith work in DC with the First Annual Bridge Builders Award by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, the Humanitarian Award (the highest honour of the Chapel of Four Chaplains), and an unprecedented Evensong dedicated to him by the Bishop of Washington. Ahmed’s scholarship has earned him praise such as “The world’s leading authority on contemporary Islam” by the BBC; “The Dara Shikoh of modern Islamic leaders” by renowned historian Stanley Wolpert; and the “21st century Muslim Alexis de Tocqueville,” by SIS Dean Emeritus Louis Goodman. It has been firmly rooted in developing a fuller understanding of the Muslim world in the West. Ambassador Ahmed has often said in his Islamic Studies classes, where he regularly invites Rabbis and Jewish colleagues to speak to his students, that “the hateful phenomenon of antisemitism is also a threat to Islam because it can lead to Islamophobia.” Ahmed’s long history of fostering strength and unity between the Jewish and Muslim communities is best represented by his “Building Bridges Between Jews and Muslims” nationwide tour with Judea Pearl, an Israeli computer scientist and UCLA professor who lost his son, Daniel Pearl, to extremist violence in Pakistan. Ahmed received the first-ever Purpose Prize alongside Professor Pearl for their inspiring message of friendship. Ahmed’s lifelong work has shown that he is a genuine mensch and a person to be emulated along with the other mensch recipients, who are worth mentioning as each of their stories expanded the richness of the term “mensch” and what it means to them. Fiona Hill, a former Senior Director at the US National Security Council on Russian and European affairs, became a person of well-known integrity by standing witness in the impeachment of Donald Trump. She remarked how she looked up to Ambassador Ahmed’s interfaith work and how she was significantly impacted by her late Pakistani friend, Malika, who shared the same ideals. The following recipient, Eli Rosenbaum, has been described as “the world’s most successful Nazi hunter” for his work as the former director of the Department of Justice, Office of Special Investigations. Rosenbaum spent three decades committed to the accountability of human rights violations and has most recently investigated war crimes in Ukraine. His reception speech emphasized the importance of moral character in government leadership above anything else. Rabbi Michael Beals, the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue in Wilmington, Delaware, and an Alum of AU SIS began his reception remarks by playing the Shofar, an ancient musical horn, which he explained is a reminder of “teshuva,” to return to your original goodness. Rabbi Beals then recounted his first meeting with then-Senator Joe Biden at a shiva for an elderly member of his congregation. Biden, who Beals described as a mensch, arrived by himself to pay respects to the woman who had donated $18 to every one of his campaigns since 1972. Recipients, Ambassador William B. Taylor, as well as Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, could not attend the event in person but have led careers of great integrity worth recognizing. Past recipients of the Mensch Award also included prolific peacemakers like former President George H. W. and Barbara Bush for their assistance in evacuating Jews from Ethiopia in the late 1980s and their support for the newly independent Poland and Hungary after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Lastly, surprised one of the hosts, Dean Emeritus of SIS, Louis Goodman, with the honour Mensch award. Dean Goodman has been a constant north star for the School of International Service. Under his leadership as Dean from 1986 to 2011, SIS became the largest school of international relations in the United States. Dean Goodman took the opportunity to recognize one more mensch: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who encouraged the founding of AU’s School of International Service in 1957. Since then, its faculty, students, and alumni have embodied his charge to “wage peace.” In fact, the wall of the Abramson Family Founders Room, where the Mensch Awards were held, bears this quote from Eisenhower: “the waging of peace demands the best we have, the best young men and women that we can find in this great effort which must go on around the world.” When asked why he chose American University to host this year’s Mensch Awards, Steven Geiger said, “It is a university dedicated to the ideals of Freedom and Democracy and the values of having a just society.” Listening to the panel of distinguished recipients was a privilege for me and the other AU students present. It re-established a commitment to decency and goodness, which I believe is what motivated most of my peers at SIS to pursue work in International Service. I agree with our newly appointed Dean of SIS, Shannon Hader, who, in her opening remarks, celebrated what “the human spirit coming together to recognize our hardships, to come up with solutions, and build bridges… means in confronting the complexity of our world today.” Her hosting of this event inspires great confidence in her leadership of SIS and its many future bridge-builders. The example set by the recipients, especially our AU faculty, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and Dean Louis Goodman, reminds us to strive for goodness first and foremost. With increasing instances of conflict and intolerance worldwide, international menschen are needed more than ever. The writer is a student at American University, US.