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Jewish Journal

Revitalizing the Core

by John Fishel

September 18, 2003 | 8:00 pm

We live in an extraordinarily diverse and pluralistic city. It is in our Jewish DNA to want to participate in making the world a better place. It is also in our self-interest to live in a place where the societal needs are being adequately addressed. That is why The Jewish Federation must aggressively reposition itself as a compelling player in the field of community relations with a strong Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). To do so at a time when financial resources are limited is a challenge, but it is certainly doable if we tap into the abundant creative energy in our community.

The Federation is committed to a strong and vibrant JCRC.

Engaging residents of our community to impact the "urban agenda" is the objective. But the agenda of the organized Jewish community must be redefined in a thoughtful, targeted and strategic way to successfully mobilize human resources beyond the core of active, identified Jews. This important core must be supplemented with participation from the scores of involved, but often assimilated Jews. The opportunities for leveraging individuals who burn with a passion for tikkun olam (healing the world) is not only possible but necessary.

Last week we began to engage people about what a future JCRC will look like.

The Federation will work to build a community relations agenda that enhances the decades of intergroup and interfaith activity that has made the JCRC so vital an institution to the organized Jewish community. It is a portal through which Jews will walk if they feel it can make a difference. Thus, it is vital for the JCRC to become a more active outlet for a broader group of volunteers.

The JCRC has a base of strength from which to grow. KOREH L.A., the Jewish response to illiteracy, is a magnificent example of volunteer action. With the continuing generosity of the Winnick Family Foundation, KOREH L.A. has become the largest volunteer children's literacy project of its type in Los Angeles, helping children in our public schools learn to read. Through the support of the Jewish Community Foundation, The Holy Land Democracy Project is working with children in Catholic schools to educate them about Israel.

So why stop there? Let's consider a range of other programs directed at children in schools. This would provide a compelling example of the Jewish community's engagement in an area of concern to all. We can, with planning and action, build extraordinary bridges to the Latino and other ethnic communities around issues of this type.

The extraordinary government-relations work of the Los Angeles JCRC in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento has led to the granting of funds for California's first Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), has staved off Medi-Cal cuts for some of our local agencies' critical programs and has led to the adoption of stronger hate crime legislation.

Beyond the critical service we provide in maintaining public support for essential programs of our agencies, we can engage these agencies in the creation of the new JCRC agenda.

Jewish Angelenos participate in disproportionate numbers as leaders in organizations addressing public education, health, welfare and even the environment. Our goal is to engage these activists so that they see that the JCRC is relevant to their interests. We live in a place where people do not always communicate or cooperate with others who care deeply about the same societal goals. The JCRC must reach out to a broader base of influential Jews to exchange ideas, successes and failures and to strategize about the communal urban agenda.

Where are the opportunities to engage more volunteers? Virtually every synagogue has a social action committee. Let's create a mechanism to tap into these powerhouses. And how about a plan to take the younger leaders of our community and broaden their involvement? The College Campus Initiative, a collaboration of the JCRC, Hillel and the Shalom Nature Institute, provides college students on seven local college campuses with exciting social action opportunities, as well as training in Israel advocacy. The New Leaders Project gives Jewish young professionals an opportunity to learn about the broader Los Angeles community and to develop leadership skills. These are great examples of the good works of the JCRC. Let's figure out the tactics to use the graduates of these training programs to be the leaders of the JCRC today.

Last week we met with members of the JCRC to discuss its future. They reminded us of the proud history of JCRC in protecting our interests and serving as the leading framework for the voice of Los Angeles Jewry to the broader community. The opportunities to once again revitalize and expand with meaningful action exist. The recent work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force of this Federation recognizes the need to narrow the focus of our activities in order to ensure impact, while bringing resources to those activities. Let's make the urban agenda of this organization the centerpiece of the new JCRC. And let's create a positive force for substantive action. I believe that the resources to implement that force, human and financial, will be a communal priority.

John Fishel is president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

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