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The Jewish community and American public policy.

WHEN I STARTED WORKING FOR IT IN 1950, THE NETWORK of Jewish public affairs agencies was in the throes of transformation. The creation of a new institution within that network, and the reformulation of a mission statement were still directed to the traditional defense functions: to protect the security and status of Jews in America and elsewhere. But within that context, a postwar generation was creating a new communal identity for the "American" in "American Jew," and launching a new scale of Jewish community involvement in American public policy. We did not realize at the time, if we do now, the full meaning of that renewed mission-which is today in transition again, with consequences uncertain.

Last year, the United Jewish communities (UJC), the new superstructure for much of Jewish civil government, strongly suggested that its public affairs apparatus move away from the public policy arena. This prescription was partly motivated by the belief that the apparatus was exceeding its mandate, losing its way in the modern thicket of public policy. But it has a larger bite. Commenting on the UJC's own transitional search for identity, Jonathan Sarna has proposed the possibility that "no central mission is exciting Jews in the twenty-first century." (1) Since Jews at large continue to be politically active as ever, the question in this case is whether they are excited by or agreed upon any communal public affairs mission-or should be.

The Mission

During the first half of the twentieth century, organized efforts to advance the security and status of American Jews became identified with several national agencies such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and American Jewish Congress. Around mid-century, a radical mutation took place with the systematic addition of local public affairs agencies. A few were created in the late 1930s in response to the growing presence of Nazi-like groups in larger cities. After World War Two, these local bodies proliferated rapidly, reflecting the growing spirit of populist activism across America, and a new "all-politics-is-local" consciousness. They were also the focus of an effort to find a "common table," the need for which had become tragically clear with the failure to persuade America to receive a greater number of desperate refugees in the 1930s. Scarred by that memory, the local public affairs agencies were variously established on the principle of bringing together every substantial organizat ion and congregation in the local community, with a sprinkling of individual influentials, in order to debate and seek agreement on pertinent issues.

This was accompanied by the establishment of a national network agency -- known for many years as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), now the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), which included all the local agencies, eventually numbering well over a hundred, as well as thirteen national organizations. This was a loose federation with no formal controls over its local and national constituents, but it did provide that "common table." Later some pro-Israel lobbying agencies joined this network which comprised organized Jewry's presence in American public affairs.

This new sector -- the local agencies and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs -- was a distinctive grouping within the larger network, and, for this purpose, was identified as a new public affairs institution. As a connective tissue, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs is more functional for the local than for the national agencies; the new institution as a whole added a distinctive dimension of consensus and a much broadened base of participants; unlike the national agencies, the new institution was almost wholly dependent on funds from the Federations, and was primarily affected by the changes now taking place. And this institution was born around a new strategic doctrine, which transformed the network's mission.

When the ADL had launched a major campaign against antisemitism in 1930, it had stated this purpose: "To educate the great mass in the truth concerning the Jews and to demolish the foibles and fictions that are now part of the mental picture of the Jew in the public mind." (2) But by mid-century, it had become clear that good-will campaigns were not nearly enough. In 1950, Isaiah Minkoff, the founding director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, told the organizing meeting of the Association of Jewish Community Relations Workers that "[f]rom dealing with incidents and specific acts of defamation, we have now come to the general concept of trying to change the status of the Jew." (3) And in 1953, after its annual gathering of constituents, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council reported the following consensual philosophy: "The overall objectives of Jewish community relations are to protect and promote equal rights and opportunities, and to create conditions that cont ribute to the vitality of Jewish living. Those objectives can be realized only in a society in which all persons are secure, whatever their religion, race or origin. Jewish organizations devoted to community relations activities seek to direct their energies towards the erection of such a society." (4)

From Revolutionary times on, Jews had often appealed to the exceptional doctrine, which Theodore Parker called the "American Idea" in 1850, and Gunnar Myrdal called "the American Creed" a century later. But never before had the organized Jewish community so explicitly enshrined at the center of its defense strategy the understanding that the security and status of Jews depended not just on defending Jews against specific attitudes or acts of antisemitism, but on building a society in which everyone's first class legal status and equality of opportunity were guaranteed.

Theodore Parker had defined the core American Idea in terms of three "simple" thoughts: "all men have unalienable rights ... all men are created equal ... government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights." (5) Jews had been electrified by this American doctrine of equality from the start. Mordechai Sheftall of Georgia wrote his son in 1783 that "an intier new scene will open it self, and we have the world to begin againe" (sic). (6) But even Sheftall could not anticipate the full portent of that official doctrine for the Jews. Its central thrust was the supremacy of achieved over ascribed status. But it did not just mean, in its fulfillment, universal equality of rights and opportunity; as an expression of that individual equality, it also limited the authority of majority over minority groups--ethnic and religious--within the society,

In short, this doctrine opened up the possibility that America could become one of two modern kinds of society in which Jews could live and flourish freely. One is a society like Israel which they run themselves as a majority; the other is a society in which they are a minority but guaranteed security and equal status. America is the seminal experiment in the latter possibility. That was the ultimate meaning buried in the mandate for this institutional mission to "erect such a society" around its root, the American Idea.

Of course, this institution and its network never spelled out such a grand vision of its mission's end, but the communal ideology which developed around the core American Idea fit the temperament of the politically conscious among the Jewish post-World-War-Two generation. Whether we came from the alcoves of New York's City College--where a few years before we had loudly equated American imperialism with that of Germany--or just from the ranks of those "making it," the enthusiasm of Jews for America rose to new levels, benighted exceptions noted. The new enthusiasm was primarily roused by that distinctive equality-principle which had prevailed against the anti-American-Ideas of early twentieth century Europe-and was promising to prevail against the ugly realities of an earlier America.

This enthusiasm exceeded the former appreciation expressed by Jews as beneficiaries of a tolerant nation for an ancillary reason as well; never before had so many Jews been so directly engaged in the relevant public policies of a Diaspora society. Not only were individual Jews gaining in influence but organized Jewry was also attracting dramatically more attention from public officials. Constant processions of mayors, school board members, local and state legislators, and Congressmen came to consult with their Jewish constituencies on local ground; while the Congressmen and other national politicos consulted with agencies in Washington. And in those days, there was an effective Jewish consensus on most issues on the agenda.

The Jewish agencies always maintained a non-partisan stance, at least with respect to candidates or explicit political party endorsement, one reason why almost all the new local agencies were euphemistically dubbed Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) and why the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council was initially given its name. But the conversation with these politicians was always about relevant public policy-whether on matters of church-state, discrimination, immigration, school curriculum, or humane-slaughter laws which would outlaw kosher butchering. While the agencies spent much more time and resources on educational, organizational, and coalitional activities, most of those activities turned around public policy considerations.

In 1953, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council listed five major and consensual Jewish imperatives. First named was a U.S. immigration policy, "free from racism and other discrimination." This goal was followed in order by civil rights; effective tactics against Soviet Communism "based upon the American democratic tradition of civil liberties"; (7) fuller application of American civil liberties in general; and protection of religious liberty, including the Constitutional separation of church and state.

This newly shaped Jewish public affairs network helped to recast American immigration laws in a manner which Jews had futilely tried to do in earlier years. The result was liberalization of the refugee provisions and elimination of the discriminatory national origins quota system. This Jewish institution was also instrumental in helping to pass the civil rights laws against discrimination, which sped the economic and social integration of Jews. And in general, this agenda represented an intersection of fundamental Jewish security needs with a congruent agenda of the American society in a particularly dramatic moment of history.

Some influential Jews and some scattered protests had once persuaded Theodore Roosevelt to make an official, if fairly meaningless complaint to Russia about its treatment of Jews, and his Secretary of State privately commented: "The Hebrews, poor dears, they think we are bully." (8) That kind of dismissive paternalism no longer applied. Even though it still sometimes exaggerated its influence, the Jewish community was now not just a supplicant but a player on public policy issues of its concern.

The Decline of Legitimacy

The strength of any voluntary organization depends first on the perception of its legitimacy--its appropriateness of purpose and credibility as an agent of that purpose. Of course, any group of like-minded people who get together to promote the cause about which they are like-minded is at least minimally authentic in political terms, depending on its size or other source of influence. But beyond that, the organization's legitimacy depends on its standing with respect to the issues in question, its constituency's particular stake in and experience on those issues.

"Defense Advocacy" in support of a group's own self-interest has been accorded a high level of legitimacy by nothing less than the Constitution, which guarantees the right to petition the government "for a redress of grievances." Despite all the pejorative talk about "interest groups," one of the fundaments of democracy is that individuals and groups have special standing to press their own perception of self-interest, not dependent on others' noblesse oblige. This, at mid-century, was the primary function of the Jewish community's public affairs network, especially of its new institution, just as it is the primary function of the NAACP and similar agencies for the African-American, Latino and Asian communities (9)

In the first half century of the twentieth century, the legitimacy of the pertinent national Jewish agencies was unquestioned, rooted in their defense of Jewish security and status. The augmented mission of the institutional network--now including an explicit embrace of the American Idea--remained unquestioned.

But small cracks in the common front began to appear after only a couple of decades, ironically because of spectacularly paced progress in related issues. To begin with, the urgency of that frontline mandate to protect American Jews began to evaporate. Domestic antisemitism spectacularly waned--in the practices of discrimination, in surveyed attitudes, and in even more telltale patterns such as the disproportionate number of identifled Jews elected to Congress and other public office by constituencies 95 per cent or more non-Jewish. At the same time, any credible danger of America becoming officially Christianized receded. In sum, American Jews became economically and politically integrated to a degree and with a speed that could not have been imagined in the 1940s. When questioned, Jews have always responded cautiously, most of them continuing to insist that antisemitism is "a major problem today in the U.S." However, followup questions usually unmask that response as largely a foreboding about future possib ilities, which Jews are understandably reluctant to relinquish, rather than an assessment of current realities. But in real time, the Jewish fear of second-class status and even disenfranchisement in America has dissipated.

Insecurity about Israel now largely feeds the foreboding. In repeated questioning, few Jews place the locus of serious antisemitism in the spheres of American economic or political life; many more indicate that it lies in hostility towards Israel. The early annual NJCRAC agendas did not notably include Israel's security or its relationship with America. There was a certain innocence about Israel's security, and lurking in the wings was also some concern about classic charges of dual loyalty.

After the events of 1967, it soon became apparent that Israel's security depended as much on America's support as American Jewish security depended on the strength of the core American Idea; it also became apparent that there was a relationship between those two equations. Aside from concern about Israel itself, Jews understood that if America abandoned Israel, it would, in some important way, be abandoning American Jews as well. American Jewish status was one of the foundations on which this country supported Israel. Overwhelmingly, Americans said that Israelis were "more like us" than were Arabs. Activity on this issue clearly fit the conditions of "social action" and took its full place in those discussions with political figures--although it was the non-tax-exempt American Israel Public Affairs Committee which lobbied most directly in Washington.

The realization of the American Idea as it applied to the institutional agenda seemed well on its way by the 1970s. But for those who had absorbed the new ideology, African Americans were the hard litmus test. If the first-class status of black Americans could not be achieved, then the kind of society in which Jews could feel most secure was not assured. It was no accident that both Parker and Myrdal had built their formulations on the unique American equality principle around the black experience. And this was not just an abstraction for Jews; recent history had refreshed the Jewish fear of a serious breakdown of democratic order. When riots occurred in modem America, Jews trembled more than most.

The passage and enforcement of civil rights laws, in company with an agreeable economy, led to a rapid advance in equal opportunity for blacks probably not paralleled by any past minority/majority society. But even that could not dispel the conditions which had made Thomas Jefferson so eloquently tremble for future American generations. A large sector of African Americans was caught inextricably in patterns of ghettoized poverty, which seemed to call for more complex remedies. The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council's annual consensual report of 1966/67-carefully noting the violence which had broken out in Newark, Detroit and elsewhere-announced a consequent agenda change: "Until last year, the struggle has been almost entirely for equal rights, for equality under the law.... But during the past year, the emphasis in the struggle shifted away from equality as a theory and towards a right to equality as a fact and as a result.... The next step in the fight for equality is the abolition of pove rty." (10)

That shift in language presaged some difficult problems for the public affairs consortium. As it turned out, the language itself was fatally flawed. The phrase, "equality as a theory" suggested that legally proscribing specific breaches in the American Creed could not in itself have a factual and practical result. But subsequent voting laws did have such a result, as did the laws against discrimination. A working axiom of the new institution, backed by a mountain of postwar research, held that strong law and directly altered cultural behavior were not only the front-line instruments against discrimination, but the most effective way to reform attitudes.

In hindsight, that 1966/67 NJCRAC proclamation would have served better by simply referring to a need to help repair-and avoid the consequences of-the centuries-old gap between the American Idea and the black American reality. At first, the authenticity of the Jewish public affairs network was not so strained by proposals towards that end. There was consensual support for the early affirmative action programs such as compensatory education and active implementation of the civil rights laws-short of quotas.

But when the institutional agenda on domestic issues became more detached at points from the American Idea itself--as it segued into issues like eliminating poverty for all, or improving air quality--the authenticity of the Jewish agencies faded. It is not that Jews oppose the universal elimination of poverty or bad air. And it is legitimate, even commendable, for any number of Jews to join together to promote such ends. But there is no unique experience or stake to give such a group special standing on those issues, especially in proposing Jewish remedies for them, and more especially when the group offers to represent the Jewish community.

Given its more uncertain footing in some of these new issues, some parts of the Jewish public affairs apparatus began to lean much more heavily on two alternate sources of authenticity: the principle of Tikkun Olam in the Jewish religious tradition, and, de facto, political party platforms-which for Jews turned out to be most often the Democratic Party platform.

As Howard M. Sachar and others have documented, the affirmative religious duties of American Jews towards all humans did not noticeably rise to the top of their communal public affairs agenda until the turn of the twentieth century, in conjunction with the Social Gospel movement of American Protestantism. But as the public affairs apparatus moved into issues more detached from its initial mission, the imperatives of prophetic social justice were increasingly cited as motivating background-although they provided fewer and fewer practical clues to social remedy. (11)

A recent statement on the environment by 503 American rabbis is a case in point. Citing Genesis, wherein man is commanded to tend the Garden of Eden, the rabbis have a right and obligation as Jews to express their sense of urgency about environmental action. As Americans, they can certainly assemble in support the Kyoto Treaty or other specific remedies, as they did. But neither that rabbinical group nor a civic institution representing the Jewish community has authentic standing to say that the Kyoto Treaty is the Jewish way to tend the garden.

There are, however, specific remedial recommendations on such complexities in the platforms of political parties, where they certainly belong. Since Jews vote in extraordinary disproportion for Democratic candidates, it is not conspiratorial but natural enough for the public affairs apparatus to arrive at positions on the more complex issues which bear a striking resemblance to those of the Democratic Party. And the public affairs elite, the leaders of many of the controlling agencies in the network are even more Democratically orthodox than the affiliated Jewish population as a whole. In the same year (1996), for example, that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs annual report, along with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, strongly opposed "family cap and other restrictions on welfare," over 8000 Federation donors across the country, surveyed randomly, overwhelmingly supported caps and supported or evenly split on other restrictions.

As early as the 1975/76 NJCRAC report, scarcely a decade after the rationale for an expanded agenda, the Anti-Defamation League abstained from some of the proposed remedies for a spate of economic and social ills, noting mildly that while it appreciated the "deep social awareness" exhibited, "several of these concerns are outside the scope of [NJCRAC's] charter." The items in question were largely overlooked as long as the network's consensual imperatives and its overall authenticity were still strongly in place. But the grumble, which began to follow the appearance of some of those "detached" issues on the agenda, also began to grow among some of the Federation leaders for whom contentiousness is understandably in bad fund-raising form.

At the same time, the Federation establishment had other reasons for wanting their public affairs agencies to rearrange their agendas. They had new priorities around concerns with Jewish identity and the support of expensive social service agencies, now heavily dependent on the welfare state. As the representative of the United Jewish Communities and the Federations in Washington, DC, has pointed out, some 50 to 60 percent of Jewish social service agency funds now come from federal or state governments. Some Jews had worried about that growing dependency, but it was already too late-and the competition is severe for such funds. The local Federations had long wanted their agencies to devote more of their energies and public affairs expertise to securing those funds.

The Future

All these considerations underlay the complaints surfacing towards the end of the century from the topside of the Jewish establishment, the main financial support for the new institution, some of whose leaders began to feel confused about the nature of its mission. In 1995,37 of the 4l Jewish Community Relations Council directors, responding to queries from Brandeis University's Perlmutter Institute, affirmed the need for more discussion about their future mission. (12)

In June, 1999, the Federation of New York city dispatched a letter to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, complaining that it was "out of touch" on some of its policy positions, followed by a somewhat similar letter from the Chicago Federation. One of the letters raised the question of whether "it is even appropriate for an organization to speak on behalf of the Jewish community on some of these issues." The suggestion was made that the JCPA might better spend its public affairs energies on, say, helping to find government funds for the senior social services of the Federations. There followed in the next year the report issued by a joint committee of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the United Jewish Communities but driven by the latter, which called for the JCPA to be "re-engineered ... to increase its leadership in organizing hands-on social justice campaigns, and reduce its emphasis on yearly policy-making." An artful statement, it acknowledged the need to protect "a just American society"--an d then made a sharp distinction between public policy consideration and "hands-on ... social justice" volunteer projects to directly help the illiterate, the homeless, and the foodless. It is, of course, disingenuous to say, as the report does, that involvement in "social action" projects will "teach people how to effectively think about and engage in policy," if at the same time, the opportunities to think about and engage in policy itself are diminished.

These recommendations for public policy aversion were directed towards the new institution--the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Community Relations Councils--the only part of the public affairs network over which the United Jewish Communities and the federations had strong control. As Burt Siegel, the head of the national association of JCRC directors, pointed out: "JCPA can't ignore that federations provide JCPA and JCRCs with resources to do what we do. It's foolhardy to say we're not going to pay attention to what the federations think we should be doing." (13)

Under that pressure, the JCRCs themselves had already been moving away from public policy. Fewer than one out of 10 of the reporting local directors said that their agencies had discussed or taken positions on environmental issues, although JCPA had prominently stated policies in that area. (14) And in general, 7 out of 10 agreed that "it has become more difficult to find Jewish consensus on domestic social issues." (15) On "racial and gender discrimination," notably including currently contentious issues of affirmative action, one third of these JCRC directors reported "little" activity, many fewer reporting "great" activity--a far cry from earlier agendas. Furthermore, the JCRCs had already become deeply involved in efforts to secure government funds for Federation social service agencies. Half of the reporting JCRC directors indicated that their agency activity towards that end was "very great," and two thirds said it was increasing--all in all, a higher level of activity than was reported for any other is sue. (16)

Helping the federation social service agencies secure at least their share of government welfare funds is an authentic function--and mission--for these public affairs agencies. And since the UJC has not indicated that it is opposed to policy declarations, which are free of loud dissension, what is bothering those JCRC leaders who, according to Siegel, "are concerned that there may be such a moving-away from the public-policy agenda that it will become irrelevant"? (17) Some JCRC leaders feel that in their zero-sum fiscal game, a disproportionate allocation of resources to raising funds from the government may drive out the ability to engage sufficiently in public policy, even on matters directly connected to Jewish security. And that may be a valid concern. Short of looking for an antisemite under every bed, perhaps the instinctive foreboding of the American Jew should not yet be airily dismissed. Note the potential of an Israel-related fall-out from anti-U.S. terrorism.

One clue to that cautionary note may lie in a couple of stray survey findings-the last one in a comprehensive survey commissioned by the ADL in 1992-about the admitted "indifference" of a significant sector of Americans to bigotry. (18) It found that while the antisemitic proclivities of the American people have declined radically, a sizable minority admit they would vote for an overtly antisemitic candidate not because but despite of his antisemitism, if he is an advocate for their important self-interests. That is the classic stuff of Jewish foreboding. Most to the point, embodied in this clue is the suggestion that Americans who say they would reject such a candidate, despite their personal self-interests, would do so because of their over-riding commitment to the ideals and practicalities of the American Idea. These findings are more suggestive than definitive, but they support other evidence and intuition that the containment of overt attacks on Jews is a destructively narrow view of Jewish security. The y point exactly to the rationale of the institution's renewed mission.

Of course, it may be that the mission as envisioned around the last mid-century can no longer be fulfilled, and that there is no longer the need to do so. "Progress" has been defined as the constant progression from simpler to more complex problems. And, on the institution's way to the twenty-first century, this kind of progression began to affect some of the most authentic of Jewish security issues, which themselves became increasingly contentious. It was not just that these issues became innately more complex, but that they seemed less simple as some of the security fears diminished-and as critics of the conventional views became more emboldened and vocal.

Notably, while the Jewish population has remained firmly opposed to sectarian church-state breaches, a line has been more often drawn between sectarian church-state separation and pluralistic religion-state separation. This happened as larger portions of the community became more concerned about their Jewish identity and less fearful about their security, with the professional elites holding the more conventional positions. In a Steven Cohen/Charles Liebman survey in 2000, a majority of the Jewish public approved Christmas carols in the schools as long as Hanukah songs were also permitted-but a significant minority disapproved, as did an overwhelming majority of Jewish Council for Public Affairs leaders. (19) In a 1997 Brandeis survey, Jewish Federation donors were virtually split on whether seasonal religious displays in public parks should be allowed if they were multi-denominational, as in mangers and menorahs-while Jewish Council for Public Affairs leaders overwhelmingly opposed.

These public policies are germane to the majority/minority dimensions of the American Idea and continue to deserve discussion and reflection by the organized Jewish community. Another such set of demanding issues surround the contemporary phenomenon of "multiculturalism," which sectors of the institution have had a tendency to generally applaud because of the institution's useful associations with other ethnic leaderships. But some of these leaderships have come to define multiculturalism in terms of a kind of rampant separatism, to be supported by public policy.

Our society has to balance the dimension of the American Idea, which legitimates tribalism as an extension of individual choice, with the dimension which upholds integrative rights for the individual. It is not an easy balance, complicated as it is by the vested interests of some ethnic leaders, by some politically partisan considerations, and even by some ambiguity within a Jewish community preoccupied with problems of Jewish identity. It is a public policy problem deeply related to the American Idea. It requires more thought and attention by the institution. So does the related problem of affirmative action, about which some agencies of the institution have become shy.

The civil rights issue may have epitomized, with singular clarity, the conjunction of American Jewish self-interest with the American Idea. Issues such as church-state separation, multiculturalism, and others evident on the horizon will require more complex thought and will confound easy consensus. But the Jewish community as such still has a responsibility somehow to confront those issues and to help shape their consideration not only in American society but also among Jews themselves.

At the least, the old organizational pattern seems outmoded. Within the umbrella, some kind of orderly pluralism will now have to be found, wherein diverse and minority viewpoints on public policy can be more actively recruited, respected, debated, even expressed-while maintaining a common presence around issues connected to Jewish security and the American Idea. There are already some Jewish Council for Public Affairs experiments with a more inclusive pluralism which, if nothing else, could advance the kind of reflective consideration which many public policy issues now require-and, one can hope, inhibit some of the institutional adventures down inauthentic and partisan garden paths.

The tendency to have this institution speak on public policies, detached from its mid-century mission statement, serves to dissipate focus and credibility-and is therefore a form of disengagement from that mission. But the opposite tendency to have this institution minimize involvement in public policy altogether, is also a form of disengagement from that institutional mission.

The signs of disengagement on all sides may indicate something more fundamental: the depletion of Jewish enthusiasm about America and the American Idea which was at a peak fifty years ago. That enthusiasm may be buried in the detritus of successive cultural assaults of nihilism, self-indulgence and common cynicism, not to mention the kind of multiculturalism that calls for the deconstruction of the American Idea. In a discussion of this concept, a student at the University of California at Berkeley recently said that if the "American Idea" were raised there, the campus would ring with laughter. (20) Fifty years ago, even at that campus, the Idea was being explored more fully than ever before and most of the students, veterans of World War II and Korea, and their younger siblings-including a contingent of refugees from the alcoves of New York's City College-were not laughing. They did not start laughing for another generation.

It has become clear that unless there is a serious, even religious "Jew" in "American Jew," the American Jewish communal identity will not be whole or very meaningful. But it will also be qualitatively less meaningful if there is no "American" in that identity beyond a matter of residency or tolerance. As Arnold Eisen wrote in Taking Hold of Torah, it does not make sense "for the Jewish community to concentrate on the 'Jew' in American Jews while leaving the 'American' to other [non-Jewish] institutions.... We require a certain kind of society if we are to be at home in this country." (21) That "kind of society" begins with the core American Idea; that is where Jewish and American civil ideologies engage with each other most critically; and that is where the new institution consisting of JCPA and the local JCRCs has served a unique role. If it is all of America which suffers from this depleted enthusiasm, the Jews should be the last to succumb. Perhaps this institution and its mission cannot be maintained in its earlier form, but the relationship between Jews and the public policies surrounding the American Idea is too important to let that mission slip away without a more vigorous and thoughtful struggle.

EARL RAAB was Executive Director of the San Francisco area Jewish Community Relations Countil from 1950 to 1987 and Founding Director of the Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University from 1989 to 1994. He is the author, with S. M. Lipset, of Jews and the New American Scene (1995).


(1.) Ami Eden, "Charity Chief Mulled Quitting Over Agency's Inertia," Forward, November 10, 2000, P. 15.

(2.) Proceedings, Thirteenth General Convention, B'nai Brith, April 27, 1930, Cincinnati, Ohio, p. 177.

(3.) Isaiah M. Minkoff, "The Profession of Jewish Community Relations Workers," in Community Relations Papers, Association of Jewish Community Relations Workers, June 1950, New York, p. 3.

(4.) Program Plan, 1953 , National Jewish Community Relations Council, New York, 1953, p. 3.

(5.) Theodore Parker, "On The American Idea," in The Slave Power, edited by James K. Hosmer (Boston: Centenary Edition, 1907), XI, p. 250.

(6.) Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, Jews and the New American Scene (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), frontispiece.

(7.) Program Plan, 1953, p. 5.

(8.) Howard M. Sachar, A History of the Jews in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 225.

(9.) Defense Advocacy depends on some implicit underlying values, and a second level of advocacy function goes to values other than those related to self-defense. This falls on a more variable scale of urgency, starting with official values so central to the identity of the group that the acceptance or rejection of those values in public policy will make a difference to the group's sense of comfort in America. The conference of American Catholic Bishops, for example, will press public policy antithetical to birth-control measures. At this edge, Value Advocacy can be valid, but its role in the public policy arena is less compelling than Defense Advocacy partly because so many Catholics disagree with some of the bishops' positions, partly because the values involved in the Defense Advocacy--especially of racial, ethnic and religious groups--are so patently congruent with the official values of the American society.

(10.) Program Plan, 1966/67, National Jewish Community Relations Council, New York, p. 3.

(11.) At the 1996 convention of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, one of its most distinguished liberals castigated political conservatives for trying "to put a Judaic cover on their conservative views," saying that "there are no Judaic principles about specific economic policies or programs." He was right, of course, and his reasoning applied as well to liberal opinions about economic--or scientific--policies.

(12.) "Results from Survey of JCRC Directors," Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University, 1995), p. 5.

(13.) Quoted in Ami Eden, "Big Donors Seen in Move to Rein in Policy Council," The Forward, 9/22/01, p. 1.

(14.) "Results from Survey of JCRC Directors," p. 1.

(15.) "Results from Survey of JCRC Directors," p. 5.

(16.) "Results from Survey of JCRC Directors," p. 3.

(17.) Ami Eden, p. 1.

(18.) The earlier surveys on these findings are cited in Harold E. Quinley and Charles Y. Glock, Anti Semitism in America (New York: Free Press, 1979), p. 13. The latest finding is in ADL Anti-Semitism Survey 1992, Tabular Report #2, conducted and published by Mattila and Kiley, Inc. (Boston: Matttila & Kiley, Inc., 1992), p. 8.

(19.) Steven M. Cohen, Religion in the Public Square: Attitudes of American Jews in Comparative Perspective, Survey II [pamphlet] (Philadelphia: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 2000), p.3.

(20.) Informal discussions by author with UC Berkeley students, August 2001, comment by Senior Devorah Lauter,

(21.) Arnold Eisen, Taking Hold of Torah (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 162.
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Author:Raab, Earl
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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