Our duty: to raise our voices for those who have no voice

Our duty: to raise our voices for those who have no voice

In West Orange attorney Jared Silverman’s opinion piece, “What are the priorities of Jewish advocacy groups?” (July 27), he asks a pointed question about the communal agendas of three Jewish advocacy organizations: the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). After exploring their websites, Mr. Silverman expressed his disappointment that organizations created to advocate for, and advance the priorities of, the Jewish community are less concerned today about Jews and Israel than about a broader social agenda. 

Mr. Silverman, among others, is asking: Do our communal organizations care more about rallying behind Syrian refugees than fighting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the growing condemnation and criticism of Israel? Are they devoting more resources to advancing criminal justice reform than fighting a growing anti-Semitism? In short, are we ignoring the obligation to look out for our own while we pursue justice for other minorities and persecuted groups? And, in a follow-up question that Mr. Silverman didn’t ask (but that many have), are those groups there for us when Israel is attacked at the United Nations or when Jews are targeted by anti-Semitic hatred?

It’s a question that strikes a chord among Jewish professionals and lay leaders who care deeply about strengthening Jewish community while honoring the Jewish value of tikkun olam. As director of the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, one of 125 member organizations of JCPA, I will respond in the name of my organization.

Let me begin by explaining what it is we do and the mission-driven criteria that guide the work of the CRC. 

As the political, educational, and advocacy arm of the federation, CRC’s mission is to expand understanding and awareness of the key issues facing the Jewish community, build relationships and coalitions with the interfaith and inter-ethnic communities on issues of shared concern, act as liaison with our political and civic leaders, and mobilize the Jewish community to advance support for, and deepen connections with, the State of Israel. Our mission is to secure the future of the Jewish people through lobbying, educating, and building relationships, and to work toward a just society based on our values as Jews and Americans.

Let there be no mistake — the safety and security of Israel is central to our mission, which is why CRC sponsors Talk Israel retreats for college students; recruits top high school students for its Write On For Israel program, which trains them to lead the pro-Israel community on campus; and lobbies for anti-BDS resolutions at the State House in Trenton and in local city councils. 

On the domestic front, we engage proactively with interfaith groups to build understanding, meet regularly with elected officials to advance our Jewish agenda, and this fall will take a delegation of major donors to Washington to meet with federal lawmakers. Supporting Medicaid and continued assistance for our community’s most vulnerable, including Holocaust survivors, and lobbying for increased security funding for our Jewish institutions will be at the top of our legislative priority list.

So yes, our primary interest is education and mobilizing on issues that have an impact on the Jewish community. But our work would not be nearly complete without acting on behalf of other communities as well and honoring one of our most cherished values: to care for our neighbors and advance a just and compassionate society. In lobbying against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, we seek to protect all those who are vulnerable in our society, including the elderly and disabled, regardless of religion or ethnicity. In protesting the travel ban and advocating on behalf of refugees, we remember our own history as Jewish refugees fleeing the evils of inhumanity on foreign shores. 

As Jews we are duty-bound to raise our voices for those who have no voice. It is a test of who we are and what we stand for that dictates our response as a community and a Jewish communal organization.

And in a country where one out of every three black men will be incarcerated for crimes as petty as drug possession, straining an overcrowded prison system and deepening the vast socio-economic problems in the African-American community, we believe it is a moral imperative to stand up, as we did in the last century, to advance social justice and demand reform of the criminal justice system.

There are some in the Jewish community who will ask, “Where was African-American support for us when a fringe group within the Black Lives Matter movement accused Israel of ‘committing genocide’ in its treatment of Palestinians under occupation? Why has the African-American community not stood with Israel against years of Palestinian terrorism and international condemnation?” 

The question of who will stand with us when the chips are down is a valid one. But most of us in the community relations field believe this is exactly the moment when we need to build new bridges to the African-American, Hispanic, and Muslim communities, among others, and to forge those relationships that open doors and create a deeper understanding of American Jewry and our connection to Israel. 

We do this work out of enlightened self-interest. We act to strengthen our own future in American society but, more importantly, to create a just society with equal opportunity for all. 

Put another way, we do this not for what others will do for us. We do this because of who we are.

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