JCPA Focuses on Building Bridges

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Each year, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) convenes its plenum to bring Jewish community relations professionals and volunteers from across North America together to discuss social justice issues and set the national Jewish community relations agenda for the coming year. While the Jewish Community of Louisville often sends a robust delegation to participate, this year, only Ron and Marie Abrams represented the community.

This year, the Plenum was held in Dallas, TX, from February 21-23, and explored the theme, “B’yachad: Building Bridges – Acting Together.” Sessions addressed ranging from civility in public discourse to Haiti to environmental issues to Israel and more. The agenda included a number of prominent speakers.

Marie Abrams said Israeli Ambassador to the United States Dr. Michael B. Oren’s address on “Facing Israel’s Strategic Challenges” was a highlight. Oren covered Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, ongoing efforts to advance the peace process with the Palestinians and intensifying attempts to delegitimize Israel. Oren also stressed the evolving partnership between Israel and world Jewry.


Abrams was particularly struck by the ambassador’s “extraordinarily unpleasant experience at the University of California, Irvine.” She explained, “a group of very boisterous and rude students, acting in an orchestrated manner, stood up and screamed at him every minute. Several days later, he spoke at another University of California campus and the same kind of students waited until he finished and asked him very difficult questions, which he was eager to answer.”

The students at Irvine, however, “stormed out halfway through,” Abrams said. The ambassador “was sorry they left. He had hoped that they would be able to have some dialogue.”

Actions like those on the UC campuses, she stated, are part of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), which “is part of an effort to delegitimize Israel.”

Later in the Plenum, delegates passed a resolution on the delegitimization of Israel and the BDS movement. After defining the problem, the resolution states the movement is  “a distraction from the critical task of trying to bring peace to the Middle East” that “should, nevertheless, be regarded with the utmost seriousness and urgency.”

It charges that the use of these tools “against Israel evidences a troubling double standard – singling out Israel for blame” – thus polarizing communities, impeding peace and substituting international pressure for good faith negotiations.

The resolution encourages those in the community relations field to “develop a comprehensive, continental, and community-based strategy to counter the campaign to delegitimize Israel, which includes effective responses to the BDS movement and to legal dimensions of this issue, utilizing resources within the field, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations committed to this cause.” It goes on to suggest specific areas of action.

Other resolutions addressed “Breast Cancer Awareness and Treatment,” “Civility,” “Food Sustainability and Local Food Distribution,” “the On-Going Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti,” “Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Military,” “the Falash Mura,” and “Usury.”

Abrams said, “The resolution session was, as usual, lively with intelligent and frequently passionate debate.”

The full text of all the resolutions adopted by the 2010 JCPA Plenum delegates can be found at

Another session that Abrams found particularly meaningful was the Interfaith Relations Plenary with the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ and JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. These two leaders, she said, who have known each other for many years, are trying “to figure out how to work cooperatively.”

Their session was “good in describing what community relations is really about – building relationships and partnerships.”

Marie Abrams is a past president of JCPA and Ron Abrams is a past treasurer.
Leon Wahba is chair of Louisville’s Community Relations Council.

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