JCPA Plenum focuses on social justice

JCPA Plenum focuses on social justice

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Each year, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs convenes its Plenum in Washington, D.C., at which delegates from across the country learn about pressing social issues, engage in discussion and debate, set the national Jewish social action agenda for the year to come and meet with legislators on Capitol Hill.

This year, Louisville’s delegation was eight strong – one of the largest from any community. It included Jewish Community Relations Council Chair Aya Golding, Ronald and Marie Abrams, Bryan Matthews, Ed Segal, Becky Ruby Swansburg, Ben Vaughan and JCRC Director Matt Goldberg. Marie Abrams, a past chair of the organization, facilitated a panel discussion on gay marriage. Ronald Abrams is a past treasurer.

“It was a wonderful conference,” Swansburg said. Its offerings covered a wide variety of topics.

A particular emphasis she noted was on building coalitions and holding them together. There is strength that comes from working on issues in coalition with other groups.

Delegates discussed what communities and JCRCs can do to strengthen relations with other faith groups. “Listening to our peers,” Swansburg stated, “it was clear that Louisville has done an excellent job to reaching out to other faith communities, but there is still a lot more we could be doing.” One suggestion she made is identifying key issues that can serve as bridges to other faith communities enabling our JCRC to start conversations.

“We had some very thoughtful and respectful debate on issues that not everyone within the Jewish community agrees on,” Swansburg observed, “particularly around the area of gay marriage and civil unions. It was very inspiring to see the entire Jewish community, from the Reform and Conservative to the Orthodox and most of the national Jewish organizations come together to better under each other’s points of view and find where we had commonalities and where we could make progress.”

“One of the useful aspects about this Plenum, since it was held in D.C., was the opportunity to talk to the staff of our Congressional representatives, if not the people themselves,” Segal explained, “which gave a strong feeling of ‘democracy in action’ as the legislators heard from some of their constituents.”

The group met with representatives from Cong. John Yarmuth’s and Sen. Rand Paul’s offices.

“The main issues we discussed with them were our concerns about a nuclear Iran, support for Israel, the impact sequestration has the potential to have on our community and some of the social justice issues like wage equality, our social support system, food stamps and aid to needy families,” Swansburg reported.

“We also got to hear from a number of other senators and representatives,” Segal said. “Remarkably, all voted against the sequester of funds. So, in that sense, I’m still left with the question: Who voted for it, and why?

“Assuming, for the moment, that all of our delegation, and probably most other people at the Plenum, opposed the sequester, it might have been useful to hear from those on the other side, if only to know what we were up against.”

One of the plenary sessions is devoted to resolutions that set the national Jewish social action agenda for the coming year. Local JCRCs decide which, if any, of the national priorities to pursue. Swansburg said that two resolutions were passed, one in support of reducing gun violence and the other in support of wage equality for women.

The keynote speaker, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, addressed the issue of immigration.

The plenum also offered many workshops and opportunities for networking with other JCRC leaders from across the country. The Louisville delegation coordinated their schedules so there was at least one local representative in each workshop so they could bring back home as much information as possible.

“For someone coming from a community like Louisville,” Segal observed, “one of the first things that becomes apparent is that we (Louisville) aren’t alone. There really are other JCRCs ‘out there,’ some of whom have the same problems and concerns we do, and some that have other problems or concerns. Most important is that the sense of isolation brought about by being active in a single community is forever gone.”


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