It was a diverse crowd -- bishops and housewives, judges and secretaries, black and white, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jew -- that gathered at a downtown black Protestant church Wednesday to salute a Jewish human rights leader.
"Brant Coopersmth is the only person who could bring this wide range (of people) together," observed Mayor Marion Barry in his tribute to the guest of honor.
"Through the years he's tried to do things for the city that we all wanted to do," the major continued. "His goals were all goals."
Coopersmith is director of the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee. But the nearly 300 persons who assembled to salute his 30 years of service recognized a far wider range of activities.
In the 1950s and 1960s he was deeply involved in the civil rights movement. In 1965 he worked in the Montgomery, Ala., headquarters of the famed march from Selma to Montgomery on behalf of voting rights for blacks led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
In more recent years Coopersmith's causes have been varied. Mayor Walter Washington named him chairman of the Citizen's Commission on Legalized Gambling in the District of Columbia. He is a trustee of the United Way of the National Capital Area and of the United Planning Organization and has served as secretary of the District of Columbia's Commission on Human Rights.
Coopersmith has been a moving force within a handful of downtown Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders committed to serving the needs of the poor.
The Rev. Robert Pruitt, pastor of the Metropolitan Memorial AME Church, which hosted the luncheon, and a fellow member of the coalition of downtown religious leaders, paid tribute to Coopersmith's wide range of concerns.
Pruitt paid tribute to Coopersmith as "one of the foundational pillars that makes the wheels of government turn with more ease." Coopersmith, he added "is a breath of fresh air in stagnant waters."
In a dramatic gesture of interfaith amity, Imam Khalil Abdel Alim of the World Community of Al-Islam in the West presented Coopersmith with a copy of the Koran. He made the presentation, he said, "not as a Muslin to a Jew but as one human being to another human being."
Alim, who serves with Coopersmith on the Interfaith Conference of Greater Washington, added that "at a time when there is so much (religious) conflict in other parts of the world," there is a "growing positive relationship between Muslims and Christians and Jews here."
Coopersmith's long-time colleague at the American Jewish Committee here, Hyman Bookbinder, said that Coopersmith's commitment to a broad range of community problems, instead of focusing on so-called Jewish issues, was in the best Jewish tradition.
"What's good for the Jews is good for all people," Bookbinder said. "Brant has served the Jewish cause so well by reminding us never to forget the broader agenda."
Coopersmith, who grinned broadly throughout the tributes to him, responded in characteristic fashion by urging financial support for the various cause represented by persons who had saluted him, including the NAACP, the building fund of Metropolitan AME Church, the United Jewish Appeal.
Then he told the people who had assembled to honor him: "What we've got in common is I think we are people who care -- care for people, care for the community, care for one another. If this occasion, which has brought us together in my honor, has moved that caring forward, then I accept that honor."