NEW YORK (Feb. 18)
Challenging “the voices in our midst who ask whether the basic thrust of the Jewish community relations field’s domestic agenda is outmoded and unresponsive to American Jewry’s self-interest,” Jacqueline Levine, a top official of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), declared that such questions are based on misreadings of American Jews’ political opinions and voting patterns.
She countered by calling upon Jewish community relations agencies to support, as part of their domestic agenda, continued pressure on the federal government to meet its responsibilities to the nation’s disadvantaged.
Levine, who stepped down after three years as chairperson of the NJCRAC, the national coordinating body for the field of Jewish community relations, delivered a keynote address Sunday to delegates attending the organization’s annual plenary session at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Michael Pelavin succeeds Levine as chairperson.
Noting that the Jewish community relations field’s success during the past 40 years in removing discriminatory barriers and building a pluralistic society has enabled American Jewry to become materially and politically strong, Levine stated that the community’s continuing liberal stances and voting patterns on such issues as affirmative action, abortion, and school prayer and domestic social programs “grow out of a Jewish experience reflecting 3,500 years of Jewish survival.
“Out of our anxiety about that very survival, and out of our Jewish value system,” she explained, “emerge our instinctive understanding that conditions which threaten the fundamental rights of any individual in society pose a special threat to Jews.”
THE CHALLENGE FACING JEWISH AGENCIES
The challenge facing Jewish community relations agencies today, Levine asserted, it “whether we are ready once again to assume the responsibility of arousing what is best in the American people; their compassion, their understanding, their belief in the American creed.”
Citing recent Census Bureau data indicating that 33.7 million Americans –including 13 percent of all families, 21 percent of all children under the age of 18, and 33 percent of the nation’s Black population–still live at or below the nation’s official poverty line, Levine decried political leaders who hold “that such conditions are either intractable and impervious to solution, or that ‘market forces’, rather than government intervention, is the best mechanism to solve such conditions.”
Asserting that the Jewish community relations field must respond to the total agenda facing American society, Levine pointed to the dangers of restricting the community relations field’s interests and activities solely to concern for Israel, Soviet Jewry and other threatened Jewish communities.
“Were we to do so,” she declared, “we would run the risk of starving the very soil of the country and culture in which we have set down our roots, which has enabled us to grow strong and influential as advocates in behalf of Israel, and which today helps us to sustain our hard-won standing in this society.”