WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has tapped Amy Spitalnick, who spearheaded a successful multimillion-dollar lawsuit against neo-Nazis, as its next CEO.
The decision is a sign that the group, called the JCPA, is pursuing a more assertively liberal approach. For nearly 80 years, it was an umbrella for local Jewish community relations groups, and was affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America, which has historically been driven by consensus across local Jewish communities. But in December, it split from the federation system and rebranded as a more explicitly progressive group.
The statement Monday announcing Spitalnick’s hire highlighted her work at the helm of Integrity First for America, the nonprofit that underwrote a successful lawsuit against the organizers of the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. The statement emphasized fighting for democracy against hate as priorities, and called Spitalnick “a powerful national voice on issues of democracy, antisemitism, extremism, and hate.”
Spitalnick, 37, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she would focus on building relationships with other communities that are vulnerable to hatred and erosions in democracy.
“There needs to be an organization that wholeheartedly recognizes how deeply intertwined Jewish safety is with other communities’ safety and how bound up that all is in a broader fight for democracy at this moment, and builds the sorts of coalitions within and across communities that are essential to moving the needle,” she said.
The organization will remain nonpartisan, Spitalnick said, but she made no secret that she especially opposed many of the tropes peddled by Republicans including former President Donald Trump, who is a leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination.
“We are grappling with a wave of anti democratic extremism that is deeply tied to rising bigotry and hate,” Spitalnick said. “And we see this in many forms — we see this with the attacks on immigrants and how so many of the conspiracy theories that underpin, for example, election lies, happen to utilize anti-immigrant and antisemitic conspiracy theories. We see this with the attacks on the trans community and on drag shows, where for example, neo-Nazis are using those attacks and those flashpoints to actively recruit for their violent antisemitic hate.”
Spitalnick was a communications official at J Street, the liberal Israel lobby, before transitioning into the rough-and-tumble of New York politics as the communications director for Mayor Bill DeBlasio and then in the state attorney general’s office. Last year, she was named director of another progressive Jewish group, Bend the Arc, but ultimately declined the position.
She earned a reputation for giving as good as she would get from her bosses’ critics and rivals. An email exchange she had with Tucker Carlson in 2015 made headlines when Carlson and his colleagues lambasted her with misogynist and vulgar language.
She was characteristically blunt last week after Carlson’s firing from Fox News after a history of using racially charged language. “When reporters write the story of Tucker Carlson, do not gloss over who he is,” she wrote on Twitter . “He is a raging white supremacist, misogynist, and bigot who has done more to normalize violent extremism and hate over the last few years than nearly anyone else.”
Spitalnick’s style is a sharp departure from the tone that the 79-year old organization had taken until December, when it announced an amicable divorce from the Jewish federations structure and its emphasis on consensus. It also means the group will be led by a millennial woman, a rarity among large national Jewish organizations.
“This now makes two millennial women at the helm of legacy Jewish organizations,” said Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. “I’m looking forward to getting in good trouble together as we push Jewish organizations and leaders toward justice.”
Founded in 1944 as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council — it changed its name in 1997 — the storied group was at the forefront of Jewish community advocacy for decades, from rescuing Europe’s Jews and opening up immigration to allow refugees to enter the United States to the Black-Jewish civil rights coalition, pro-Israel advocacy and advocacy for Jews in the Soviet Union. It received funding from dues paid by scores of local Jewish Community Relations Councils and from 16 national Jewish groups.
In recent years, as the American — and American Jewish — populations became more politically polarized, JCPA’s consensus-driven structure made it increasingly difficult for the group to take noteworthy stands on the issues of the day.
A turning point was the group’s decision in 2020 to sign a statement recognizing Black Lives Matter as a leading civil rights body. Officials in the Jewish federations system, which underwrote much of JCPA’s funding at the time, thought it was reckless to endorse a movement despised by most Republicans, and which has been accused of vehement opposition to Israel.
That spurred an effort to roll the JCPA directly into the Jewish Federations of North America, a shift that JCPA defenders said would place Jewish community relations under the purview of major donors, who tend to be more conservative than the grassroots.
Instead, the current chairman, David Bohm, led a split from the Jewish federations that would guarantee JCPA’s independence. Bohm and one of his predecessors, Lois Frank, joined UJA-Federation of New York in providing a substantial cash influx that would allow JCPA to function for three years.
That led to the divorce from the Jewish federations, and the end of dues that had come into the organization from the local and national groups. A JCPA official said Spitalnick would be expected to diversify the funding base, and did not count out a return to the dues-paying format.
Freed of the fear of alienating a multitude of stakeholders, the announcement in December laid out two prongs that located JCPA robustly in the liberal camp: One would focus on “voting rights, election integrity, disinformation, extremism as a threat to democracy, and civics education.” The other would focus on “racial justice, criminal justice reform and gun violence, LGBTQ rights, immigration rights, reproductive rights, and fighting hate violence.”
Bohm, in restructuring JCPA, brought in the heads of two local community relations councils — Jeremy Burton of Boston and Maharat Rori Picker Neiss of St. Louis, who had previously said the old structure — and its inhibitions — made it increasingly irrelevant. The JCPA announcement this week came with quotes from Neiss and Burton lavishing praise on Spitalnick.
“Through her unwavering commitment to social justice and her demonstrated leadership in public policy advocacy, Amy is poised to usher in a new era of progress and impact for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,” Neiss said.
The release said JCPA would continue “to support a democratic, Jewish, and secure state of Israel” but otherwise did not address the divisions over democracy and the judiciary currently roiling the country and its supporters abroad. It also didn’t address the erosion of support for Israel on the American left in an era when Israel’s governments have trended increasingly to the right.
Asked about differences between the Jewish community and other communities over Israel, Spitalnick said it was important not to cut out other communities. “It means working across those differences where possible, and building those relationships, and sometimes that means staying at the table even if we have fundamental disagreements,” she said.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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