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Bill Gralnick

Watchdog and diplomat to be honored

By Josh Mitchell, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 11, 2004

William Gralnick scans the Internet in his Boca Raton office, clicking through local and national newspaper Web sites, punching keywords into databases, searching for clues to possible terrorist attacks against South Florida's Jewish community.

More and more these days, Gralnick finds himself doing the work of a detective. It is one of the many ways his role as the American Jewish Committee's southeast regional director has changed over the years.

"I'm a big believer in where there's smoke there's fire," said Gralnick, who turns 60 next month. "Much of Sept. 11 came out of Palm Beach County. I believe there is a line that connects the dots. It just can't be a coincidence."

For more than 30 years, Gralnick has been trying to connect the dots, whether it be exposing the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee or bringing together the Jewish and Cuban-American communities in Miami.

Today, the American Jewish Committee will honor Gralnick for his years of service, including the past 13 in the organization's Palm Beach County office, which he helped found in 1990. More than 200 guests are expected to attend the 10:30 a.m. event at the Delray Beach Marriott Hotel.

Bringing groups together

Throughout his career, which has taken him from Atlanta to Miami and finally to Boca Raton, he has built a reputation for bridging gaps between ethnic and religious groups.

Last month, for example, he was instrumental in an agreement reached by local evangelical Christian and Jewish leaders. Following two years of discussion, the leaders produced a statement, "Calling for Evangelical Jewish Understanding," that calls upon Christians to "be honest, open, and aboveboard" and to not single out Jews when spreading word of their faith. Four evangelical ministers, five rabbis and two Jewish community leaders signed the statement.

Friends and colleagues say Gralnick has a diplomatic style. He speaks softly and chooses his words precisely, they say.

"He knows representatives of virtually every religion in the area, every ethnic group in the area," said Sidney Cole, president of American Jewish Committee's Palm Beach County chapter. "He goes to programs that they sponsor. He's very deeply involved in that. That's one of his passions."

But these days, more than ever, Gralnick sees himself as a warrior. And most of the threats are coming from within the Jewish community, he says.

He cites reports that the American Jewish population is in decline, a trend he blames partly on intermarriage and lack of Jewish education.

"I am on the front line in fighting to keep the Jewish people from falling off the face of the Earth," said Gralnick, who places himself in the conservative branch of Judaism. "We are threatened internally and externally. There are only a little more than 15 million Jews. We would qualify as threatened, if not an endangered species."

May have been targeted

The latest stage of his career began on Sept. 11, 2001.

Immediately following the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York City, sheriff's deputies stood guard outside his office for fear he would be targeted. And twice in the past year, deputies have been to his home because reports indicated he might be a target of a terrorist attack.

Gralnick said those incidents have changed his perspective on life. He requested that a recent picture of him not accompany this story, and he declined to talk about his family. He also plans to move his office because it is near a parking garage.

"When I was exposing the Klan (in 1981 in Tennessee), there were sort of these rules of the game. They only went so far," Gralnick said. "But when you deal with Arab extremists, the most important thing law enforcement officials have to learn is they are facing people willing to die, whose purpose is to kill them before they get killed.... That probably has been the biggest change in my career."

Gralnick, who oversees American Jewish Committee chapters in seven Southern states, works closely with local law enforcement officials in detecting possible Islamic terrorists. In August, he organized a program that sent local deputies to Israel for a series of intensive lessons on "homeland security from a tactical standpoint."

Those close to Gralnick say he feels a strong sense of obligation to the Jewish community.

"If there was no AJC, we'd have to invent one for Bill to work for it," said Stephen Beiner, who serves on the American Jewish Committee's local and national boards. "Someone made the analogy that AJC is the Jewish people's insurance policy, and I guess Bill is the gatekeeper of that."

josh_mitchell@pbpost.com

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