I am sending my remarks today because the holiday of Sukkot begins this evening. The Jewish Federation offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the first two days of the holiday.
First, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of those lost and injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Over the holidays I spoke to several people about the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). It is one of the most important functions of the Jewish Federation and has a long history of success in our community. People had questions about its membership, how it makes decisions, whether it is affiliated with any national Jewish organizations, etc.? Here, then, is a backgrounder on our JCRC.
The chairman of the JCRC is Michael Weiner, past chair of the Jewish Federation. The JCRC is made up of both organizational representatives appointed by their respective congregations/agencies (two-thirds of the council), and at-large community members (one-third of the council) appointed by the chair in consultation with the JCRC Executive Committee. Every local congregation—from Humanist to Orthodox—and three community agencies are represented at the JCRC table, making it, arguably, the most broadly representative body in our local Jewish community (for organizational affiliates, click here and scroll to the bottom).
Operationally, the JCRC, which is nonpartisan, retains a lobbyist (with support from Cedar Sinai Park) who works in Salem on the state legislative priorities of the Jewish community, such as protecting Medicaid funding and augmenting child nutrition programs. The JCRC regularly reaches out to state legislators as well as elected officials at the federal and municipal levels. Much of the work of the Council is done in three separate committees—Legislative Advocacy, Israel Advocacy and Intergroup Outreach.
The JCRC makes decisions based on consensus, meaning that a vote of at least 62.5% is required to adopt a position after thorough debate and discussion. When no consensus exists (i.e., on issues where the community is clearly divided), no position is taken. All decisions concerning public affairs issues are made public; all JCRC community programs are open to the entire public and are generally free. Also, minutes to JCRC bimonthly meetings are sent to all Council members, including, of course, organizational representatives, who are encouraged to share them as widely as they would like.
Any member of a JCRC-affiliated organization may request to have their respective representative bring an issue to the Council for consideration. In addition to JCRC members, observers from JCRC-affiliated organizations are welcome to attend JCRC bimonthly meetings whenever there is a vote scheduled on any public affairs issue during the discussions/ deliberations that precede the scheduled vote. We are one of a handful of JCRCs in the country who allow observers to attend any part of any meeting.
At the national level, the JCRC is an affiliate of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which is made up of 125 JCRCs around the country along with 16 national Jewish agencies, including ADL, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, American Jewish Committee and the public affairs arms of the Reform, Reconstuctionist, Conservative and Modern Orthodox movements. In essence, on the vast majority of issues, our JCRC has the same positions as these other member organizations (which also represent their local affiliates).
The JCRC is aligned with the agenda and priorities of the JCPA on matters of public importance, including such things as civil rights and economic justice issues, prevention of gun violence, the combatting of anti-Semitism and support for Israel. Our JCRC even has input in helping to shape the national agenda (e.g., in securing the adoption of a national resolution, drafted by our local JCRC, in support of measures to fight wage theft).
On Israel, the JCRC works to forge a consensus recognizing that there is a diversity of viewpoints around the table, in the local community and at the national level. This may leave some issues without a consensus and thus the JCRC will take no position.This often happens with issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, we have a longstanding position in favor of a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict, and we strive to combat efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Last May, in keeping to our commitment to a two-state solution, the JCRC, after a difficult yet respectful discussion, approved a draft JCPA resolution (still under consideration at the national level) which, states:
“Recognizing that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be immediately achievable, we urge the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel to take steps to ensure the two-state solution remains a viable option. Prohibiting settlement expansion beyond the security barrier is one such step that Israel can take to preserve the possibility of a two-state outcome….”
The JCRC works regularly in coalitions with other faith and ethnic communities on issues that we have in common. Most recently, the JCRC spearheaded the creation of the Interfaith Coalition for Dignity in response to the upsurge in hate crimes and incidents of bigotry and intolerance in the greater community. The coalition includes leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and Mormon communities. The JCRC has also conducted many dialogues with other groups in the community, including a Black-Jewish dialogue that has resulted in several important partnerships.
We recognize the challenges within a JCRC and that consensus cannot always be achieved. This happens both on the local and national level. We do, however, greatly value the debate and deliberations of the JCRC membership.
The Jewish Federation is proud that for over 50 years, the JCRC has served as the public affairs advocacy voice of the local Jewish community, promoting mutual understanding with other faith communities and fighting against injustices. At the national level, the Portland JCRC is well-respected, having won two JCPA awards for “excellence in programming.” For more information or to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I am open to any thoughts, comments, or questions by replying to this email.
Have a chag Sukkot sameach and an early Shabbat shalom.