This past month, I attended the annual Plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella advisory organization of the 125 JCRCs around the country and 17 national agencies. Other delegates from Louisville were JCRC Chair Bob Sachs, JCRC Executive Committee Member and Frank Family Fellow Becky Ruby Swansburg and past national JCPA lay leaders Ron and Marie Abrams. The Plenum this year was in Atlanta, GA.
What makes the Plenum special is the quality of the sessions and the quality of the presenters, and this year was no different. Although the opening session required a small change in cast as scheduled speaker Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni could not attend due to an Israeli Foreign Ministry strike, the session did include Jerry Silverman, president Jewish Federations of North America; Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; and Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward newspaper. Among the varied topics discussed at this and other sessions were Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, Iran sanctions, human rights, poverty, interfaith partnerships, etc.
One of the featured speakers this year was David Makovsky, Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Having just been added to the American team overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he could not divulge any specifics, but he did offer a moment of hope in saying that the world would be surprised as to how far each side has moved.
The winner of this year’s Albert Chernin Award was Abe Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League. He spoke about his life story as a Holocaust survivor and how that informed his life work in combating anti-Semitism and defending human rights.
Becky Swansburg was prominently featured throughout the Plenum, as she was one of two Frank Family Fellowship recipients who spoke about the impact of their trip to Poland and Israel. She also has been nominated to be the vice chair of the Resolutions Committee, and even presided over the adopting of one of the resolutions.
The resolutions, which guide Jewish communities and Agencies in their policy positions, were not heavily debated this year and received almost Universal acceptance. Resolutions on Combating Human Trafficking, Fighting Anti-Semitism, Increasing the Minimum Wage, Government Support for Education, and Furthering Inclusion of Those With Disabilities were accepted almost unanimously without much comment.
Resolutions promoting LGBT rights and reproductive rights for women received comment (The Orthodox Union Dissented on Reproductive Rights as they are opposed to abortion generally, but they did not veto the resolution which they had the power to do), but were also passed.