Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World (Jewish Lights, 2006) pp. 186-187.
Jewish Priorities, Re-examined (pps. 186-188) …Closer scrutiny of the field of Jewish communal relations in the last two decades reveals a decisive move away from the broad-based liberal agenda of mid-century to a more narrow, self-interested agenda… Not only did the Reagan presidency complicate the calculation about who were the Jewish community’s real allies on social and political issues, but there were also changes afoot in the priorities of the Jewish federation system that funded the national Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)and its affiliates all around the country. The federation system was becoming increasingly focused on internal concerns. On top of the communal agenda was the defense of Israel. The next major priority was concern about Jewish continuity raised by the findings of 1990 National Jewish Population Study. At a time when the demographics showed that the American Jewish community was at risk as a result of rising intermarriage and assimilation, communal policy suggested that communally funded Jewish organizations should stay focused on those issues that would clearly advance Jewish group interests. In the view of many leaders in the federation system, those issues did not include the broad domestic agenda championed by liberal Jewish communal professionals. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s local affiliates of JCPA were having their budgets cut by their parent federation bodies and pressure mounted on JCPA to restrict itself to issues around which there was communal consensus. Whereas the focus of Jewish advocacy had once galvanized around issues of broad societal concern, now the greatest energy in the domestic arena focused on seeing to it that the Jewish community got its fair share of government funding for its own social service agencies. Many local Jewish communities hired lobbyists to work state capitols for the growing amount of government dollars being made available for social service delivery. Here was a pocketbook issue for the Jewish community because of its many agencies providing just such social services, and not just to Jews. In interviews with ten Jewish community relations professionals working around the United States, only one felt that her agency’s commitment to social justice issues was at a level equal to or greater than what it was fifteen years ago. All the others reported a major retreat from a social justice agenda. One professional, bemoaning the decreased willingness of the Jewish community to take leadership on a central domestic social justice issue, contrasted the Jewish community’s willingness to challenge President Reagan’s tax cuts and domestic spending cuts in the 1980s and the refusal of the federation system to mount a similar challenge to President Bush’s similar policy direction in the early 2000s... …This trend was a blow to those Jews who were long committed to balancing the Jewish communal Exodus agenda with a more universal Sinai agenda.

Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. Do you believe that the Jewish community needs to be “out front” on public issues that do not directly impact on Jews? What, in your mind, are those issues?

2. Who do you think “speaks” for the Jewish community? Whose actions register on the public consciousness as representing the Jewish community? Rabbis? Leaders of Jewish organizations? Jewish members of Congress? People with high public profiles in business, academia or popular culture who happen to be Jews?

3. How important is it that the good works of Jews be done under Jewish auspices? Is making a gift to alleviate world hunger through Oxfam—a secular non-profit-- different in kind from a gift serving the same purpose through Mazon, a Jewish non-profit organization?

Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)