It was with sadness and regret that I read your editorial on the American Jewish Congress (“The demise of a Jewish organization,” July 22).
My wife and I were longtime members of AJCongress. My wife joined about 50 years ago and I a few years later when our local chapter became co-ed. In time, we each served as president of our local chapter, and I later became the president of the NJ Region.
We joined AJCongress because it supported Israel, the Jewish community, and actively applied the Jewish sense of social justice for both Jews and the larger community.
Rabbi Joachim Prinz, the AJCongress’ spiritual and political leader when we joined, provided strong leadership, but the organization maintained vigorous bottom-up policy-making and activity. As your editorial noted, AJCongress “[took] to the streets and to the courts in defense of Jewish interests….often in coalition with like-minded groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU.” These kinds of commitment reflected a sense that the well-being of Jews in this country depended on the well being of the society that has enabled Jews to flourish. Civil rights and religious freedom belong to all Americans.
In recent years, AJCongress shifted more and more to top-down governance, with much less emphasis on community-wide social justice and social action. AJCongress failed to attract new, younger members. Whether that failure was the cause or the result of AJCongress’ new posture is hard to say. Both are probably true.
AJCongress has largely faded from public view, seen less and less in either the regional Jewish press or national media. Its current management may attribute its sad state to the recession and changing philanthropy, but AJCongress has been on its sick bed for years now, more recently on life-support.
We veterans of the good old days of American Jewish Congress should sit shiva.