Passing the Baton: A Message from Jacob Bender

Last Friday was my final day as Executive Director of CAIR-Philadelphia.

I assumed the new position of Creative Director on a half-time basis as of Monday, August 1, 2022.

As many of you already know, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2015, some 2 years after I was hired as CAIR-Philadelphia’s first non-Muslim, and Jewish, Executive Director. Alhamdulillah, I have so far been spared the physical ravages that have afflicted even many younger people with PD.

CAIR-Philadelphia needs a full-time Executive Director, and as I am no longer able to provide this, it is time to lower my working schedule to three days a week and spend my new free time working out in the gym; exercise being – I can attest – among the best medicines for Parkinson’s there is.

Looking back over the last 10 years, I am most proud of the nearly 100 TV, radio, internet, and press interviews I gave to the media, helping to spread CAIR-Philadelphia’s message of Islamic social justice to literally hundreds of thousands of people while strengthening interfaith coalitions for peace and justice.

Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, PhD

During this past decade, what thrilled me the most was directing our annual gala banquets, as we brought a new level of artistic and dramatic excellence to these joyous happenings, as well as becoming the talk of other CAIR chapters around the country.

Additionally, we are all blessed that, also as of this week, Dr. Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu assumed the position of Executive Director of CAIR-Philadelphia. 

Dr. Ahmet’s indefatigable energy, together with his spiritual inspiration, is exactly what CAIR-Philadelphia needs at this time in the history of our nation. I am convinced our chapter will continue to thrive under his leadership.

As the January 6th Insurrection has taught us, we can no longer assume the survival of American democracy without an activist defense strategy. Simply put, CAIR is the Muslim community’s last best line of defense against the forces of white nationalism and Islamophobia. I hope you will continue to support us with whatever gift you can.

Ten years ago, CAIR-Philadelphia and I began a perilous journey together — it was a challenge not without risks — whether a millennium after a Jew was general of the Muslim army of the Caliphate of Granada, an American Jew could direct an organization of American Muslims. For sure, some wished us to fail, those professional Islamophobes who proclaim that Islam and the Qur’an are intrinsically anti-Jewish, and who constantly accused me on social media of being a traitor to the Jews. But fail we did not, as, for example, the hundreds of Jews and Muslims and Christians gathered for 3 years in a row at Masjidullah for an Interfaith Iftar and Passover Seder.

If this journey was a success, it was also a success because of the commitment of the CAIR-Philadelphia staff: Dr. Ahmet; Timothy, our own Clarence Darrow; Sis Leena, the rock upon which we stand; and Sis Asiyah, who personifies in all she does youth’s passion and commitment; and to our current and past Advisory Board members, and CAIR-Philadelphia’s Executive Committee Members Osama, Iftekhar, Sally, Miriam, Kareem, Carlin, Dr. Rashida and Mohammed, and to Christine at CAIR-Pittsburgh, and to all who welcomed me into their mosques and homes. To all of the above: Thank You.


Jacob Bender Signature

Recognition from CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Committee and Advisory Board Members

Share your own comments in appreciation of Jacob!

“I have had the pleasure of working with Jacob Bender, an indefatigable defender of human rights, for close to a decade. What is well known about him is his record of standing for justice for marginalized and oppressed peoples. What is less well known is his wicked sense of humor; I am convinced he could have been a stand-up comedian in our world, and I am certain there is a Jacob Bender the comedian in the multiverse!”

— Iftekhar Hussain

“I have always felt that Jacob has a wonderful, friendly personality, and I strongly like him as a friend. He has always been very sincere in his efforts to challenge injustices we face in this society. I pray that Allah will bless him for his dedication and hard work to help develop and improve the CAIR-Philly programs.”

— Carlin Saafir

“I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Jacob for almost 10 years and have enjoyed every minute of it. His dedication to CAIR Philadelphia and the Muslim community is unmatched. I’m happy to call him an ally, a colleague, and most importantly a friend.”

— Sally Selim

“I first met Jacob at a meeting in Harrisburg at the YWCA in 2014, and I knew from that first meeting that he was a true ally. It was because of his invitation to speak at the first Muslim Capitol Day and his belief in me that I chose to join the Advisory Board of CAIR-Philadelphia and served for over 7 years. He always took the time to listen to my concerns about the incidents of hate and Islamophobia and helped me channel my frustration and anger in productive and creative ways. Asking me to be the emcee for the 2019 CAIR-Philadelphia banquet was one of the highlights of my life. He knew how nervous I was, but encouraged me and helped edit my opening remarks to include a joke that would calm my nerves! He always supported me and my ideas. Thank you, Jacob, not only for your sincere friendship, but for your dedication to the Muslim community and for your compassion and duty to ensure the safety of some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

— Rabiya Khan

“Jacob for many years had a passion to support human rights issues domestically and globally. After 9/11 he was also troubled about the rise in Islamophobia in the US. He wanted to make a difference. 9 years ago, he saw an opportunity to do that. He became CAIR-Philadelphia’s first Jewish Executive Director. He was brave knowing being of the Jewish faith there will be personal repercussions. But his determination to make a difference prevailed. He wanted to bridge the divide between the three faiths, he wanted a more inclusive society and justice for those that were denied that. Throughout the 9 years at CAIR-Philadelphia Jacob did just that. Through his artistic creativity, his flair for writing, and calm and cool demeanor, he was able to advocate for the Muslim community’s interests and concerns through several platforms such as newsletters, press conferences, interviews, annual reports, events and speeches. He never shied away from standing up for women’s empowerment, or the civil rights of the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Uyghurs or discrimination against African Americans. His tenure helped elevate CAIR-Philadelphia to a much higher level, and a more effective civil rights and advocacy organization for our community today.”

— Osama Al-Qasem

“I always appreciated Jacob’s unwavering commitment to furthering CAIR-Philadelphia’s mission. He has shown true leadership and created room for new ideas, faces, and perspectives to emerge. I am glad he will continue to be a part of the CAIR-Philadelphia family.”

— Miriam Abuawadeh

“I am tremendously thankful to Jacob for all of his service to the organization during his tenure. He has shown a devotion and commitment to CAIR-Philadelphia that is exemplary. We look forward to continuing to have his voice with as he transitions from ED to his new role.”

— Mohammed Zubairu
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