I recently attended the 2013 Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) Plenum with no expectations other than my personal goal of gaining a national perspective on the work I do as United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Community Relations Council vice chair. JCPA represents 14 national and 125 community member agencies with the purpose of repairing the world through activism.
As a professional advocate for children’s health and education issues, it was a natural fit for me to become a lay leader of the CRC starting off as legislative action committee co-chair evolving into vice chair. I thought the CRC byline was brilliant: “Motivate. Educate. Advocate.” Beginning my tenure, I was clear on “motivate” and “educate,” but fuzzy on what Tidewater CRC’s issues would be to “advocate.” The existence and support of Israel, of course, being an automatic in my mind and one shared by our community as evidenced by the plethora of fantastic programs and speakers the CRC has presented on Israel. But when it comes to domestic issues, putting my personal beliefs aside, I sought the guidance of JCPA.
The first day of the Plenum focused on Israel, kicking off with a great discussion between Michael Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States and Jeffrey Goldberg, a renowned journalist published in numerous publications including The Atlantic and Bloomberg View. The two men are friends and neighbors, so it was a very lively, very informative discussion. The day continued with forums and workshops such as “Reframing the Zionist Narrative” now that there are many players when it comes to support for Israel such as AIPAC and J Street; and “Iran: What Communities Need to Do Now,” stressing the importance of an emergency action plan in each and every community if the need should arise—I say “if” because I am a glass half full person who feels peaceful resolution will be sought before the need arises for violence, but many in the room felt the question is a matter of “when.”
The second day, centered on social justice and domestic issues, started with a session that I found most personally resonated with my values and beliefs. The session “From Many Paths to The Creator, A Common Path to Social Justice” included Sister Simone Campbell from NETWORK: a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Reverend Jim Wallis from Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice, and Rabbi Steve Gutow, JCPA president. There was very little that all three faith leaders did not agree on when it came to putting our faith into action. The Judeo-Christian value system is based on loving thy neighbor, sharing our prosperity, serving the common good, and seeing all human beings as created in God’s image.
I asked myself, how does our Community Relations Council not speak out on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens and those that are discriminated against or even on those issues concerning public safety in order to uphold our belief in the sanctity of life, and the environment as partners in the ongoing work of Creation? Through our advocacy day in Richmond—“Date with the State”—our CRC has done a great job on advocating on behalf of our Jewish agencies—Jewish Family Service and Beth Sholom Village, and now is the time that we take a stance on some of the broader state and national issues, not just those affecting our Jewish community, but the community at large. Of course we care about our own fate, but the Jewish people are better than that. My belief that we must do all that we can to put our faith into action was reaffirmed at this year’s JCPA plenum and validated when every participant’s packet contained a book with one of my favorite quotes, from Hillel in Pirkei Avot in the Mishnah: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now when?”
by Megan Zuckerman