WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the onetime standard-bearer for outreach to the non-Jewish world whose influence has waned, is loosening its financial and organizational ties to the Jewish Federations of North America in a bid to reassert its traditional role.
The decision announced Monday to go it alone, announced in a press release and a two-page brochure that will go out to Jewish organizations, will free the JCPA to pursue liberal agenda items that are favored by American Jews but can alienate or unsettle donors to the federation system who are more conservative or at least more cautious about maintaining an appearance of being nonpartisan.
The decision marks a resolution to tensions that surged in 2020, when JCPA was among 600 Jewish groups to sign onto a full-page New York Times ad declaring “Black Lives Matter.” That set off alarms among some conservative donors because of the anti-Israel positions adopted by some of the Black Lives Matter movement’s leading individuals and organizations.
As a result, JCPA and JFNA entered into talks about their shared future. Insiders said last year, as tensions burst into public view, that it was likely that the ailing JCPA would fold wholly into JFNA.
Instead, after a process that included officials from both groups as well as from local Jewish community relations councils, which are mostly controlled by their local Jewish federations, the decision was to tease apart the organizations. The decision means that JCPA will no longer officially speak on behalf of the community relations councils, and also will not draw dues from them or from the 16 national organizations that have funded it up to now.
But while the group will take on a fundraising challenge, those who engineered the new structure say it will also be insulated from the difficulties of arriving at a consensus in an increasingly polarized political environment.
Rabbi Doug Kahn, the retired longtime director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council who was a consultant in the restructuring, said the new arrangement is meant to offer a positive answer to the question, “Can we move forward in a way that enables us to be more impactful on our core issues, and more nimble at the same time, while retaining close relationships with our key stakeholders going forward?”
Rori Pickler Neiss, who heads the St. Louis JCRC, was among a number of local community relations council directors who had lost hope that the JCPA could adequately represent them. Now she said, she was hopeful it could resume its role of convening a national Jewish consensus around critical issues.
“The model of consensus-building in the way that some of the mainstream organizations talk about it has really been consensus towards a very narrow group of voices that wants to claim representation of the entire Jewish community,” she said. The newly constituted JCPA “is opening itself up to what could be greater consensus in a sense of a much broader community than many of our models have allowed for.”
The brochure tied to the split indicates some of the issues on which the renewed JCPA will advocate. “JCPA will represent a strong independent voice within the American Jewish community on issues aimed at strengthening our democracy and commitment to an inclusive and just society out of the belief that such conditions are essential in a pluralistic society and for the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel,” it said. “The reset takes place against a backdrop of rising antisemitism, racism, bigotry and hate, and polarization, and continued threats to our democracy.”
The group is launching two new initiatives, both apparently likely to dismay conservatives. 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.”
Some of the 16 groups that have paid dues to the JCPA in the past are supporting the restructured group. The new JCPA will rely at first on a three-year commitment from the UJA Federation of New York, one of the biggest pillars of the JFNA.
It’s not clear yet how the more conservative among the 16 groups will react. Nathan Diament, the Washington director for the Orthodox Union, said his group would wait and see how the new JCPA develops. But he said he regretted the polarization that led to the change.
“The trajectory of that JCPA is a reflection of the of the broader trend, more than anything about the JCPA itself,” Diament said. “It’s harder to find consensus these days with regards to Israel, it’s harder to find consensus with regard to a large list of domestic policy matters. I mean, even while we were in the JCPA we were in the position of having to dissent on some prominent issues.”
David Bohm, the current JCPA chairman who led the restructuring talks, said the organization would remain nonpartisan — but acknowledged that it’s become harder to maintain the perception.
“In today’s polarized environment, people get accused of being partisan when they take a stand on any issue, so I don’t know if that can be totally avoided,” he said in an interview.
The JFNA in a statement welcomed the new configuration. “We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with JCPA — as we always have — as it tackles issues of importance to Jewish communities in its new format.”
In an interview, Elana Broitman, JFNA’s senior vice president for public affairs, said the new configuration would allow the JCPA to delve deeper on its favored issues. “If the JCPA is focused on particular issues, they can perhaps go into more depth on those issues that they had the opportunity to before,” she said.
In the past, the JCPA has taken positions on issues like voting rights, gun control, immigration rights and abortion, because they were favored by the local JCRCs with which it consulted and which sent delegates to its annual conference. Those JCRCs often initiated liberal policies, in part because they were favored by an American Jewish grassroots that polls show trends overwhelmingly liberal.
Another factor was the give and take in local community relations: Jewish groups seeking support for Jewish issues from Black, Latino, Asian American and other minority groups were happy to reciprocate on those groups’ favored issues.
But the JCPA’s profile on those issues has diminished in recent years; the smaller donor base triggered by the 2008 recession forced the vast majority of JCRCs to fold into their local federations, and to reflect the priorities of the federation donor base as opposed to the congregations, Jewish labor groups and fraternal organizations that once drove the agenda for Jewish community relations.
Tensions between the JCPA and the JFNA intensified in the summer of 2020, after a Minneapolis policeman murdered George Floyd, triggering civil rights protests and the “Black Lives Matter” ad by Jewish groups that JCPA signed onto.
The JFNA CEO, Eric Fingerhut, insiders said then, was not happy about having to explain to donors why JCPA was embracing a group identified closely with a movement perceived by some conservatives as radical and anti-Israel.
The new JCPA is betting that there are donors ready to support a progressive domestic Jewish lobby. In addition to the three-year grant from UJA-Federation, two other grants will come from a past chairwoman of the JCPA, Lois Frank, and its current chairman, Bohm.
Bohm, an attorney who assumed leadership of the JCPA in 2021, said the group would take a hit by losing the JFNA’s allocations and the dues it collects from the 125 community relations councils — but he expected to make it up with money from foundations invested in the the JCPA’s new agenda, including from individual federations.
“We expect we may lose some funding,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s not significant.”
“We are beginning to hear from foundations that have not historically necessarily focused on community relations, but now recognize why that is such an important part in the toolkit,” Kahn added.
Bohm said the board would be independent and limited to 30 people. “We will continue to have board members who are either JCRC directors or current or past chairs of JCRCs, but they will not be representing their specific community,” he said in an email after the interview. “Instead they will represent the Jewish community relations field as a whole.”
JCPA’s annual budget is now less than $2 million, Kahn said, down from nearly $4 million in 2015, and its staff has dropped from 13 in the 2000s to four. The group is seeking a fifth staffer now and hope eventually to employ at least 13.
Beyond polarization, a number of factors have been at play in diminishing the role of consensus-based Jewish community relations. There has been a flourishing of single-issue nonprofit groups, many of them Jewish, that are more attractive to donors than general interest groups.
Kahn noted that in the mid-1990s when many of the agenda items the national Jewish community pursued for decades seemed to be resolving themselves: Peace was breaking out between Israel and its neighbors, the Soviet Union collapsed and freed its Jews to travel, immigration reform was on track and race relations appeared to be improving.
“There was this shift from focusing on the external challenges or threats to more of the internal threats within the Jewish community,” he said, referring to an emphasis on Jewish education to counter assimilation.
The fragility of the hopes for peace and democratic growth in the 1990s were made evident in subsequent years with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the eruption of the Second Intifada and the rise of nativist sentiment and its attendant bigotries, culminating in the Trump presidency.
Kahn said his hope was that the JCPA would once again assume the role it played from 1944, when it was founded as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council: raising Holocaust awareness and taking the lead in promoting immigration in the late 1940s, establishing the Black-Jewish alliance in the 1950s, defending Israel in the 1960s, and advocating for Soviet Jewry until the USSR’s collapse.
He saw hope in the turnout of non-Jewish support for Jews after the recent deadly attacks on Jewish institutions, including the gunman who massacred 11 worshipers in Pittsburgh in 2018. “I think this model will enable that kind of solidarity-building around issues of common cause to grow infinitely greater than it’s been able to, up until now,” he 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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