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The mission of the Jewish community relations field is two-fold: 1) to safeguard the rights of Jews here and around the globe, and 2) to preserve and enhance democratic pluralism in the United States. It has long been an article of faith for the American Jewish community that without a strong democracy in the United States the goal of assuring the rights of Jews would be impossible to achieve.
The JCPA was created in 1944 by the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, and was known for the first 25 years of its existence as the National Community Relations Advisory Council (adding the word "Jewish" in the 1970s and thus becoming the NJCRAC). In the winter of 1996, as part of a number of changes adopted during a wide ranging strategic planning process, the name was changed again to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The JCPA provides the common table around which member agencies -- 122 local community relations councils (CRCs) and 13 national agencies -- sit to develop the policies, programs, and approaches to public policy issues that impact on the American Jewish community. Committed to the reciprocal principles of voluntarism and common cause, the JCPA operates on a consensus-building model, one that assures the fullest support of the goals of the community.
Historically, the field has achieved extraordinary success. The elimination of barriers to full Jewish participation in American society, assuring a strong strategic relationship between Israel and the United States, and advocacy for civil rights and liberties for all Americans represent landmark accomplishments for the organized Jewish community. Today, the community relations field remains central to the articulation of communal policy, Israel advocacy, and Jewish continuity.
Through its inclusive, consultative process, the JCPA identifies and prioritizes issues, and then develops, implements, and coordinates national public policy responses for the organized Jewish community. The JCPA program development process takes place year round culminating in the approval each spring of the annual Joint Program Plan, which contains the organized Jewish community's consensus public policy positions on a wide range of issues. It is designed for use by influentials both within and beyond the Jewish community, including top CRC and national agency leadership and staff, national, state, and local legislators, and other opinion molders. [Click here to see the 1996-97 "executive summary" of this important policy document]
The strength of the JCPA inheres in its ability to access the grassroots American Jewish community through the local CRCs. The annual JCPA plenum (conference) is the highest policy-making body of the agency. Each Spring hundreds of delegates from around the country gather together and set the course for the coming year. The annual Hillel Spitzer Forum, which is held in conjunction with the JCPA plenum, brings student activists together with community leaders and activists. Between plenary sessions, the JCPA Board of Directors, which meets quarterly, is responsible for agency governance.
Collaborative decision-making and program implementation are central to our functioning. The JCPA's three principal task forces are: the Task Force on Israel and Other International Concerns, the Task Force on Equal Opportunity and Social Justice, and the Task Force on Jewish Security and the Bill of Rights. In addition, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), whose purpose is to increase Jewish communal involvement in issues of the environment and environmental justice, is located in the JCPA. Finally, the Campus Advisory Committee, established at the behest of the Council of Jewish Federations, regularly brings together representatives of major Jewish agencies that function on the campus to effectively shape campus-based programs to support Israel, combat bigotry, and engage in the public affairs agenda generally.
We are convinced that community relations has a central role to play as an instrument of community building, and are keenly aware of the importance of reaching out to young, marginally-affiliated Jews. In this light, and taking our community's new emphasis on Jewish "continuity" quite seriously, the JCPA has undertaken a major pilot project on leadership development known as the New Leaders Project (and made possible by a series of philanthropic grants). This project is designed to bring marginally-affiliated Jewish activists into closer relationship with the organized Jewish community. Operational in four communities as of the Spring of 1997, we anticipate its expansion throughout the system during the coming years. The JCPA believes that recognizing and supporting programs to bring about the involvement of young people -- after graduation as well as on the campus -- in public affairs is crucial to the success of any broad-based Jewish continuity effort.
Polls taken over the years suggest that American Jews remain deeply committed to the struggle for equal opportunity and social justice. The mandate charged to the JCPA and the community relations field generally is to acknowledge the role that Jews choose to play in the broader community and provide authentic, meaningful, and responsive vehicles for such participation under Jewish institutional auspices. We seek to assist activists who happen to be Jewish to become Jewish activists, committed to and involved in the organized Jewish community.
Michael N. Newmark, St. Louis
Susan Abravanel, Portland, OR
Michael Bohnen, Boston
Marvin Catler, Hartford
Suzanne Engman, Des Moines
Dr. Jacob Kirshner, Middlesex County
Paul N. Minkoff, Philadelphia
Steven Schwarz, Wilkes-Barre
Alan Sieroty, Los Angeles
Dr. Stephen Stone, Springfield, IL
Elaine Wishner, American Jewish Committee
Ronald Abrams, Louisville
Frederick N. Frank, Pittsburgh
Albert E. Arent, Washington, DC
Jordan C. Band, Cleveland
Lewis D. Cole, Louisville
Aaron Goldman, Washington, DC
Jacqueline K. Levine, MetroWest
Lynn Lyss, National Council of Jewish Women
Theodore R. Mann, Philadelphia
Michael A. Pelavin, Flint
Arden E. Shenker, Portland, OR
Maynard I. Wishner, Chicago
Bennett Yanowitz, Cleveland
Executive Vice Chairman
Martin J. Raffel
Albert D. Chernin
Mark X. Jacobs
COEJL Office Manager