Pittsburghers took to Cleveland last weekend in the name of advancing the interests of the Jewish people, supporting Israel, and promoting social justice, representing the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council at the annual conference of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to make connections with people who are addressing similar issues around the country,” Cindy Goodman-Leib, chair of the CRC, said as she made her way west. Joining her at the JCPA 2016 three-day conference were Skip Grinberg and Josh Sayles.
Apart from offering opportunities to network and learn best practices on issues ranging from how to confront the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses to forging new pathways in civil rights, the event, which ended Monday, brought together hundreds of activists to shape the umbrella organization’s agenda.
“It used to be that they passed resolutions on issues like hunger or human trafficking or anti-Semitism,” said Grinberg, a vice-president of JCPA. “But what happened is they passed these things but never had an action plan.”
When Grinberg mentioned this critique to Susan Turnbull, JCPA’s lay president, she agreed and made Grinberg co-chair of a strategic planning committee.
“What JCPA is going to do is do much more with local CRCs, and there’s about 125 of them,” said Grinberg. “Before, there was just a national body passing stuff; now they are getting more into the weeds.
“The organization is evolving,” he added, pointing to JCPA’s new president and CEO, David Bernstein. “But I think it is in a very positive way, and David Bernstein is making it happen.”
Since taking the reins of the organization in December, Bernstein has engaged in a “listening tour” with local CRCs around the country. (His predecessor, Rabbi Steve Gutow, was recently named an adviser to the political arm of the left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street.)
During a March visit to Pittsburgh, Bernstein told The Jewish Chronicle, “I’m getting to know some of our Jewish Community Relations Councils [and] getting a sense of how we can help the Community Relations Council movement around the country.”
Citing the organization’s commitment to developing more “grassroots relationships,” Grinberg said that JCPA is moving in the right direction.
The Pittsburghers were excited to be seeing Bernstein’s management up close in Cleveland, but Sayles, director of Pittsburgh’s CRC, also noted the opportunity for staff and lay leaders to collaborate during the conference.
“It’s really helpful to know and speak with other talented people and not always reinvent the wheel,” he said. “A lot of us are doing work that is very similar and yet very different in a lot of ways, and it’s our role in each of our individual communities to represent our communities and our priorities when we are standing up for Israel or opposing BDS or finding different ways to do social justice and tikkun olam.”
Joining the Cleveland conversation were representatives of JCPA’s 125 local CRCs and 16 national member agencies. The scheduled speakers included former Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio); William Daroff, director of the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Connie Schultz; and Yaron Sideman, Israel’s consul general for the Mid-Atlantic region.
“I think Pittsburgh has a lot to add to the conversation,” said Goodman-Leib, “and there are many things that we can learn.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.