Cjfwf Head Challenges Community to Realize Fullest ‘jewish Potential’
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Cjfwf Head Challenges Community to Realize Fullest ‘jewish Potential’

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The American Jewish community was challenged here tonight to use to the fullest the unprecedented opportunities offered it by the American environment for the development of the “Jewish potential” in this country.

Louis Stern, of Newark, N.J., president of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, told the 1,200 delegates gathered here for the Council’s 32nd annual General Assembly: “We are the largest, most politically secure, most advantaged community in the entire history of our people. Environmental obstacles and handicaps are relatively insignificant. Within the congenial framework of American democracy–itself so largely drawn from Jewish sources–we have full freedom to develop Jewishly without external hindrance. In terms of Jewish potential, this community is second to none. If we fail to exploit this potential, the causes will be our own lack of vision, creative imagination and energy. I, for one, am confident that we shall have that wisdom, creative imagination and energy.”

Mr. Stern delivered his presidential address at the Assembly’s opening session, as the representatives of 218 central Jewish community organizations in the United States and Canada started five days of deliberations, evaluations and examination of the tasks facing the American Jewish community for 1964, and the years ahead. The CJFWF president summarized the diagnoses and prognoses of the problems and issues confronting American Jewry at the present time, presented previously in a number of symposia to which 40 topmost professional, lay and religious Jewish leaders of the country had presented scholarly monographs running to a total of 170 pages. (For further reports on the symposia, see JTA supplement.)


“American Jewish life,” declared Mr. Stern, “is moving out of that historical phase whose fundamental concern was survival, and is entering a new, almost unprecedented, limitlessly creative era whose objective must be fulfillment sought through the services of Jewish religious ideals. Unless the American Jewish community moves to this new level, it will have neither the emotional dynamic nor the philosophic rationale for continued existence. What should such a philosophy be?

“We can start with this as a definition: ‘Judaism is theology, doctrine, custom, ritual and ceremony which specify and dramatize our ideals; it is equally social service, social justice and every humanitarian endeavor which is guided by these ideals.’

“Our institutions will be synagogal, educational, cultural, social, philanthropic, economic, financial, medical and in whatever other form may be required to fulfill the Jewish objectives of the community. What should our objectives be?

“There are varying views among us, each with shadings and nuances. For example, there is the position that ‘only that which promotes and deepens Jewish consciousness and advances Jewish ideals and objectives is the proper business of the Jewish community.’


“A variation is: ‘The future of the Jewish health and welfare agencies does not depend as much on the sources of the financing for its strength and survival, as it does on the identification of leadership with the historical stream of Jewish life and values.’

“Still another view holds that: ‘The organized Jewish community has a dual responsibility to provide a Jewish service with Jewish intent and content for a Jewish clientele, and to provide services to the general community. There is no basic contradiction in this concept, for, in many of our programs, services can be extended to the total community without impairing the general character of the services rendered to Jewish clients. It may well be, however, that the open-door policy will alter the character of some of our programs, such as community centers and child placement services.

“These are not always compatible statements, and choices must be made. In fact, for many years, our communities, each in its own way and at its own pace, have been in the process of making their own decisions. The process is far from complete. We will need in the future sharper, more clearly defined positions, unless we plan to base our operations on slogans and rationalizations after the fact.”

Lauding the “breadth and the quality” of the numerous papers presented in the symposia, and declaring that “individually, they are often sharp and challenging,” the CJFWF president stated: “Collectively, they present both a panorama of the responsibilities with which we must deal and a set of guidelines for the solution in a somewhat different framework than the familiar questions we ordinarily face.”

The Submissions, be emphasized, go far beyond the immediate problems of campaigns, leadership, budget, allocations and similar matters which are important and not to be under-estimated. But the papers, he held, raise “broader questions” which the Jewish community must answer now, questions such as “Where are we? Where are we going? What is the future that we must anticipate if we are to deal with it? What are our fundamental purposes?”

“Many of us have been,” he continued, “in the process of planning new community centers, homes for the aged and hospitals, forced to assess the present and forecast the future. This has been an essential part of planning buildings with a life of 30 to 50 years. Have we been as thoughtful and painful with our neo institutional programs? More important, have we applied the same questions and tests to the basic reasons for our existence as Jewish community organizations? And to the present and future nature of the Jewish community? It is this framework which makes these symposium papers significant.”

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