Jewish community relations work is an ancient, noble task. Our Torah recounts Joseph’s ability to help his family, our People, because of the relationship he had forged with the Pharaoh. The Book of Esther relates that brave Jewess saved her people by approaching King Ahasverosh. The tradition was continued across thousands of years through Sephardic communities of Africa and Spain and Ashkenazi Europe.
As early as 1655, Jewish community relations work had a positive influence on Jews in North America.
I enter this role humbly, in a time when many Jewish American communities are faced with escalating challenges. While our lives in America are markedly better than the lives of most in our diaspora’s history, vigilance is our watchword. Growing global anti-Semitism, manifold threats facing Israel and assimilation threaten our wellbeing. We face those threats as a community; most recently gathering to learn about the Iran Deal.
The role of the JCRC is multifaceted. The JCRC builds relationships both within the Jewish community and with our broader Richmond neighbors. We’re a consensus seeking group; making room for all and stretching the proverbial tent, just to the breaking point. Nearly all views are welcome here. We are a leadership group that strives to ensure we can all speak as well educated members of the society. And more.
I came into this role nearly two months ago. My influence here is thus far limited (and thankfully for you, so is the length of my column). I mentioned in my online e-news column that I’d use that forum for most time sensitive matters. My intention is to use this space to share big-think, while always soliciting your feedback.
As I pen this, we have successfully called for the Community Forum regarding the Iran Deal. So what can I share with you now? My aspirations for myself in this role and for our JCRC.
My colleague, Elana Kahn-Oren, is the JCRC director, at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She wrote:
We’ve seen that strong opinions about this agreement have the power to further divide our community along dangerous fault lines. As a central and inclusive community organization, [the] JCRC aims to carve space in our community for disagreement that is, according to the rabbis of the Mishna, for the sake of Heaven: “An argument which is for the sake of Heaven will have a positive outcome, and an argument which is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a positive outcome.” The controversies of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai, who led two opposing schools of thought, were considered exemplars of such constructive conflict. Why? Among other reasons, Shammai and Hillel did not allow their rivalry to keep them from seeing the humanity in each other; they continued to be respectful friends and colleagues in spite of their differences.
May it be our mission to ensure that all of our community’s conversations about the Iran Deal and about all issues moving forward embrace that spirit. May they all truly be for the sake of Heaven.
Shannah tovah u’metukah. May it be a sweet new year.
I welcome your comments. Please reach me at DFogel@JewishRichmond.org