Federations Leader Appeals for Pluralism in Jewish Life
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Federations Leader Appeals for Pluralism in Jewish Life

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A call for pluralism in Jewish life in North America, abroad and in Israel was issued here Wednesday night by Shoshana Cardin, President of the Council of Jewish Federations. She was making her Keynote address to more than 3,000 Jewish leaders from the United States, Canada and overseas attending the 55th General Assembly of the CJF.

The commitment to pluralism "nurtures mutual respect among specific ideological groupings and seeks the pursuit of unity even in the midst of serious differences," Cardin declared in her address entitled "Klal Yisrael — Federation’s Role in Building Community." This also is the theme of the entire convention, which ends Sunday.

"We believe that honest differences can be a source of creativity. We believe that the agenda which unites us is far more powerful and significantly more compelling than the agenda which divides us," she said. Furthermore, Cardin stated, "We are committed to a civil, even if passionate discourse. We are opposed to shrill and strident discourse."

The CJF leader emphasized that "the Federation environment must not be used to leverage specific religious or ideological support at the expense of other religious persuasions and ideologies … Respect for different ideological, religious or political persuasions — we accept. Demanding that one ideology or persuasion prevail to the exclusion of others — we decry."


Cardin’s address was a dramatic reaffirmation that the CJF is a collectivity of diversity in unity and the unity of diverse elements and views, all working to "enhance the opportunities for effective community building" and making it "a shared responsibility," as she put it. All Jews, Cardin declared, "should be participatory Jews." She noted that "Judaism is not a spectator ideology."

Her address was in many ways markedly different in scope and substance than those CJF presidents have delivered in previous General Assemblies. It was less concrete in terms of organizational guidelines, but more powerful in terms of a philosophical guideline for "a vision of Klal Yisrael at home, abroad and in Israel."

Without specifying, her urgent appeal for pluralism in Jewish life alluded to some of the discordant and vexing religious, social and economic issues extant in Jewish life.

These ideas include: the ongoing conflict over who is a Jew; the role of the Orthodox establishment in Israel; the nuclear weapons build-up by the United States and Soviet Union; the Reagan Administration’s economic and social policies affecting the lower and middle income segments of American society; the Jewish community as a single or multi-issues-oriented community; and attitudes toward abortion, the sanctuary movement, and the kind of leadership the Jewish community requires to assure its vitality and viability.


Cardin also obliquely criticized financially affluent movers and shakers in the community who seek to use their influence to try to sway the Federation movement toward their views, as well as the Reform movement, which has indicated that it would have to rethink its financial contributions to Israel unless it was allowed a greater role in religious affairs.

"CJF and Federations must maintain an open forum where all can participate, where all can express themselves without feeling threatened and without threatening others. We must be extremely wary of tactics which may be coercive or tactics which may seek to threaten our ability to respond to the needs of Klal Yisrael by withholding money," she said.

"Money should not and cannot be used as an instrument for the pursuit of specific ideological or religious primacy in the pursuit of power or to redress grievances … I call upon our co-workers in ali the ideological and political movements of Jewish life to remain fervent and passionately committed to their ideologies — to seek to persuade — to seek to engage one another through creative, civil and effective discourse.


"I must, however, be candid. I fear that a significant segment of our people can be alienated as a result of the animosity and hostility that is being generated in our communal framework. Some may even choose a spectator role because of this negativism."

Cardin urged the assembled leaders to "be prepared to take risks and design new approaches — test new ideas and experiment with new modes in the art and science of what the French call ‘engage’ in order to build a more just, more open and more equitable larger society."

Cardin said the task of Federations is to maintain an effective and all-inclusive Jewish community by demonstrating "that our doors are open to all who can belong … to all who may wish to participate but don’t know how.

"Jews in our continental community, affiliated or unaffiliated, detached or even alienated, must begin to feel viscerally that the communal enterprise — the Jewish Federation — wants them, is ready to embrace them and make room for them …

"We should not set preconditions, on the contrary, we must convey the message that our communal enterprise — the Jewish Federation — extends itself and invites every individual and every discrete group into an interdependent relationship with community, representing our belief that ‘all Jews are responsible to and for one another’."

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