Twenty local leaders have completed nine hours of training to hone their Israel advocacy skills by participating in a countrywide initiative of the Israel Action Network (IAN) of the Jewish Federations of North America.
The program, called the Community Impact Partnership, focuses on community relationship building and is being held in 17 other small to medium-sized cities throughout the country.
“This is a major program of ours to help communities develop an infrastructure to deal with the de-legitimization of Israel and efforts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel,” said Geri Palast, managing director of IAN. “It’s been a very successful program.”
The purpose of the program is to “build the capacity and knowledge” of a core of lay leaders who commit to the program for one year and who are trained to talk to community partners about issues that could pose a threat to Israel, such as academic and economic boycotts, according to Palast.
In addition to providing the training for the Israel advocates, IAN confers grant funds for participants to develop projects that can build relationships with other community partners such as mainline Protestant churches, academics, African-Americans and Latinos who “have a lot of empathy for the Palestinians, appropriately,” Palast said. “We have to be able to articulate in these communities what the issues are.”
The 20 Pittsburgh participants in the Community Impact Partnership were each invited to participate based on their interest in community relations, according to Skip Grinberg, chair of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, which partnered with IAN in offering the training here.
Each participant had to commit to attend the entire training program, which spanned three three-hour sessions over the course of three weeks.
“It was a big time commitment,” Grinberg said, “but it was designed for people to have the whole experience.”
The program included a role-playing component in which participants practiced how to communicate with other community members on issues such as the Presbyterian Church USA’s recent resolution to divest from companies doing business in Israel or an academic boycott adopted by a university, according to Grinberg.
“The whole idea is to learn to build alliances with other organizations in the community, so if a crisis comes up, you have already established a relationship with other leaders that can help as advocates,” he said. “The idea is to educate a committed group of people to build these alliances.”
The program was designed, Grinberg said, to produce “practical results.”
“It was a great background in BDS and what’s happening in the field,” he added.
The training was led by Noam Gilboord, the director of community strategy for IAN, who has worked to counter anti-Israel efforts by working with city councils, universities, businesses and church movements.
The program, which began on Nov. 30 and concluded on Dec. 18, was held at the Federation building in Oakland.
The participants in the program comprise “an incredible group of very dedicated people,” said Judy Kanal, chair of Federation’s Israel Advocacy Committee, adding that many of the participants already had “wonderful relationships outside the Jewish community; together we can only help.”
Finding common ground with other community groups “can only serve Pittsburgh as a whole,” Kanal said.
The program will serve to develop a “core mass” of Jewish leaders who will help foster community relations, according to Gregg Roman, director of the CRC.
“We are building a core of concerned Jewish citizens that would like to have the tools to reach beyond the Jewish community,” Roman said. “The training these volunteers have participated in should give them the effective community relations skill set to dialogue and engage and build relationships with new and historical demographics that form the backbone of our work [at the CRC].”
Relationship building, he said, will not only benefit the Jewish community, but will allow the Jewish community to more readily relate to and advocate for issues and interests of other communities, as is its longstanding tradition.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.