This Monday at 7pm, the Federation will be hosting an organizational meeting for a Community Relations Committee (CRC). There are CRCs in approximately 125 communities throughout the country that each deal with individual community issues but have a similar mission and mandate: to protect the interests of the Jewish community by enhancing understanding of and support for our community and its concerns with the broader community and by finding “common cause.”
Jewish community relations have been practiced since the moment Jews stepped into the Diaspora—Joseph in Egypt, Esther in Shushan. The formal field was created in 1944 near the end of the Holocaust when the Federation movement determined that one of the fatal flaws in the American Jewish response to the Holocaust was the lack of a united voice on the paramount issues of the day. To remedy that flaw, it was determined that umbrella bodies (CRCs) should be established to try to develop consensus and then speak with a much stronger voice in representing the Jewish community to the broader community.
Some of the more seasoned members of the Savannah community remember when there was an active CRC initiative in Savannah. For a variety of reasons, CRC here in Savannah and across the country became less strident. Over the last thirty years, core issues of Community Relations Councils fell to the background as Soviet Jews were free to immigrate, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, leading to high hopes of a lasting peace, and antisemitism had dropped to new lows. As a result, many Federations shifted from a focus on external threats to internal community issues (low affiliation rates, high intermarriage, Jewish education, etc.).
While there continues to be a need for a CRC, the community relations function of the Federation faded away. The Federation retained an internal Community Relations Committee emphasis, but it has had little or no lay participation- leadership for many years.
Growing political polarization within and beyond the Jewish community requires a common table around which to bring diverse voices to address the issues facing our community in a civil manner and seek consensus on those issues whenever possible. In addition, there is a serious and sustained resurgence of antisemitism that requires both reactive and proactive strategies to address.
Antipathy toward Israel among certain groups—including in Savannah—requires innovative ways to retain support for Israel and build greater understanding. There is also growing awareness that our security as Jews is linked to the health of American democracy.
While many of us within and without the Jewish community have different beliefs, different ways of life, different observance, we have strong shared values. It is from those values that we hope to develop meaningful, nuanced, authentic discussion and action.
If you have a desire to be a part of the initial organizing meeting, please click here and sign up to join us on Monday evening at 7pm.