Pittsburgh Jewish communal professionals returned from the nation’s capital energized by their time at JCPA2020.
The Feb. 8-11 gathering, which served as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ national conference, was an opportunity to hear from thought leaders and connect with fellow professionals, explained Laura Cherner, assistant director of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council.
Her colleague Joshua Sayles, director of Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, agreed: “It’s always nice to convene with colleagues and lay leaders from all around the country who care so much about community relations and combatting anti-Semitism,” he said.
Sessions throughout the three-day affair ranged from “Elevating Jewish Values on Poverty and Human Needs” to “Speaking About Israel in Progressive Circles.”
Apart from featuring well known panelists such as historian and author Deborah Lipstadt, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Rabbi Asher Lopatin, this year’s conference promoted particular strategies in addressing the presidential election. Specifically, many of the sessions addressed the need to amplify civic engagement, explained Sayles.
“This is going to be a much more contentious and polarized election than I think we are typically used to, but the message is the same: Get out and vote. No matter what your party preference is, it’s important to express your opinion at the polls,” he said. Along these lines, it’s critical that “everybody has fair access and is able to get to the polls no matter what community they’re part of or what their income level is.”
While portions of each day were dedicated to addressing familiar topics, such as Israel or Jewish communal security, increased attention was given to black-Jewish relations. Whether by referencing rising tensions resulting from the slew of recent anti-Semitic incidents in New York and New Jersey, or by advancing new means for joint advocacy, panelists discussed developments in the historic relationship.
In a JCPA tweet during a session titled “Changing Communities: Black-Jewish Relations in a Time of Growing Anti-Semitism and Racism,” Rabbi Shais Rishon, a New York-based black-Jewish rabbi, was quoted as saying, “When we talk about black-Jewish relations, we’re speaking with invisible parentheticals: (non-Jewish)black-(white)Jewish community. Unless we address this, we will continue to talk past each other.”
Sayles was pleased to see such focus on the topic.
“Black-Jewish relations is something we’re working on in Pittsburgh,” he said.
The national conference is not only about hearing ideas, but cementing thought through action. To further the work of JCPA staff and affiliates and build consensus among JCPA’s 17 national agencies and 125 community relations councils, conference-goers adopted resolutions.
Among the resolutions passed this year were those concerning a working definition of anti-Semtism, gun violence prevention, restorative and rehabilitative justice, marijuana legalization and federal judicial nominations.
“We are proud that Pittsburgh was a lead co-sponsor on the critically important resolution that defines anti-Semitism for the entire Jewish community relations field,” said Sayles. “The language standardizes the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of anti-Semitism, which was broadly used by both the Obama and Trump administrations, as a standard definition for CRCs throughout the country. This will serve as a useful tool for us to educate our legislators, school administrators, clergy and community leaders when working to explain the nefarious nature of hate targeting the Jewish community. Our newfound ability to say that the IHRA definition is broadly accepted by an entire field of Jewish communal advocates throughout the country only strengthens our ability to do this important work.”
Cherner and Sayles are eager to impart lessons learned at the conference. Joining them in sharing ideas will be JCPA board member and CRC member Randy Whitlach, who also attended the D.C. gathering.
“I’ve been to several of these before, and the JCPA leadership mission to Israel, and I always walk away with not only more insight and new understanding about issues that affect us as Jews but with a better understanding of how these issues affect other allied diverse communities,” said Whitlach.
As the Steel City contingent develops a plan for disseminating the information received, Cherner noted the immediate benefits gained by having gone to the conference.
“I thought it was great to share best practices with experts in the field and to hear from some of the most well-respected voices on issues relating to anti-Semitism, Jewish community security and Israel,” she said. “We’re looking forward to bringing that expertise back to our community.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.