After a period of relative local decline, the Republican Jewish Coalition is seeking to re-establish its Pittsburgh presence.
“We’re looking to reinvigorate and reboot efforts in Western Pennsylvania,” said Scott Feigelstein, the Philadelphia-based director of the RJC’s Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey region.
Despite lying fallow for nearly a decade, the Pittsburgh branch of the RJC was officially relaunched at a kickoff event on Sunday, Sept. 10 at the Trimont. Though closed to the media, the program offered a no-cost meet-and-greet with Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-District 12).
Moving forward, similar events are being planned, said Jon Tucker, the local point person who worked with Feigelstein to bring the RJC back to the Steel City. Tucker is now searching for new recruits.
“I’m hoping to find people like me who are willing to donate not just money, but some of their time,” he said.
Membership in the RJC costs $100 per year, while joining on the leadership level is $1,000 per year, said Feigelstein.
When considering what other organizations ask for in terms of a commitment, “the barrier to entry is just a little bit of time and not a lot of money,” said Tucker. The Leadership level contribution is $1,000 and offers access to the national meeting, which is always in Las Vegas in February, and leadership meetings in Washington D.C. twice a year. Of participating in those experiences, “I had access to the highest levels of the organization, and the speakers and ideas are very enriching.”
Whether through meet-and-greets or meetings, what the RJC provides is “an opportunity for people to get up close and personal with elected officials or not-yet-elected officials,” added Feigelstein.
“If you’re a Jewish person interested in learning more and expanding your horizons, it’s probably the very best way to get involved in politics that’s come along in a long time for our community,” said Pittsburgh’s local chairperson.
For those nervous that their opinions may not match the party line’s, Feigelstein explained: “We are a big-tent organization.”
According to the RJC’s website, regarding social issues, “such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, global warming and others, the RJC membership and board of directors are as divided as the rest of America on these issues. The RJC recognizes that many good people hold opposing views on these matters, and we respect the differences of opinion among our membership.”
For the organization to take such stance was refreshing, said Tucker, who switched political parties three years ago. Initially, “I had concerns that because my thoughts on social issues tend toward the liberal, I would be at odds with the group, but I’ve found that there are a lot of people like me.”
In terms of knowing where the organization is, there are a “whole host of issues” that the RJC supports, explained Feigelstein.
According to its site, the RJC “vigorously” promotes a “pro-Israel foreign policy” along with an “immediate implementation of government policies to eliminate oil dependence.”
But of significance to note is that “we are not a single-issue organization,” said Feigelstein.
“As important as Israel is on our agenda, it is not the only issue.” The RJC would like to see a “stronger and more efficient government, tax reform” and a commitment to national security, he added.
Voter registration statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of State indicate that as of May, 58 percent of registered voters in Allegheny County are Democrats, while 28 percent are Republicans.
Those numbers are not startling to Feigelstein or Tucker.
“I’m not looking for everybody” to join the organization, said the local chairperson. “We’d be overjoyed if we found 100 people who are going to be active.”
“We hope to let people in Western Pennsylvania know that we are around and that we’re a vital and growing force,” looking for members who “want to participate in that effort,” added Feigelstein.
The most important thing for people to know is that the amount of diversity that they will be exposed to joining the organization is “surprising,” said Tucker. “It’s very enriching on an intellectual level, which is something I didn’t expect and found immediately and will keep me going with the organization.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.