The newly formed Jewish Delegate Assembly of Greater Pittsburgh, a consortium of 75 individuals representing a variety of local Jewish organizations, held its first substantive meeting two weeks ago to discuss and form a consensus on policy proposals.
Those policy proposals will form the foundation of the legislative and advocacy efforts of the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, according to Gregg Roman, director of the CRC.
The Delegate Assembly is expected to meet twice a year.
At its first meeting, the delegates discussed, voted on and passed three resolutions: countering anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity on Pittsburgh university campuses; tackling food insecurity; and addressing the inclusion of people with disabilities and special needs.
The delegates come from a wide range of backgrounds, Roman said, representing the full spectrum of religious, political and occupational identification.
While Pittsburgh’s CRC has been around since 1939, this is the first time in recent memory that it has provided a vehicle for representatives of communal organizations to come together to form and vote on Jewish policy positions, said Skip Grinberg, chairman of the CRC.
“About two and a half years ago, a strategic plan was put in place to try to find a solution to make the CRC a more effective body in the community,” Grinberg said.
The outcome is the Delegate Assembly, as well as a 12-person steering committee, that is charged with putting the policies formed by the assembly into action.
While the Delegate Assembly will meet twice a year — with additional meetings added as necessary — the steering committee meets monthly.
“What this community has not had are policy statements reflective of a certain policy,” Grinberg said. “The Jewish community as a whole has not had statements that any Jewish organization can look at and say, ‘This is the policy of the Jewish community.’ ”
A rabbi from each denomination has a seat in the Delegate Assembly; the other members are the presidents (or lay leaders appointed by the presidents) of the organizations.
About 50 of the 75 delegates were present at the meeting.
“We had a lot of participation,” Grinberg said. “People showed up, and they really participated in the discussions.”
The three resolutions that passed were the only ones presented.
Each resolution must be sponsored by three organizations and requires a two-thirds vote of those delegates attending the meeting to pass. If more than 10 delegates disagree with a passed resolution, they are invited to write a minority opinion.
The resolutions passed by the assembly are intended to reflect the opinion of the Jewish community as a whole, and not specifically the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“This structure is unique,” Roman said. “The Delegate Assembly is not under the Federation, but a partner of the Federation. The resolutions are endowed by the Jewish community, not by the Federation.”
The resolutions recently passed, as well as those to come, will enable the Jewish community of western Pennsylvania to be part of a national dialogue on social and political issues.
The resolutions will also permit the CRC to join various interfaith coalitions to change national policies, according to Roman.
“We’re trying to be leaders,” Grinberg said. “Now we can say we have the backing of the whole Jewish community [on specific issues]. That is a powerful tool to take to these organizations.”
Representatives from organizations ranging from the Jewish War Veterans, to all denominations of congregations, to student groups, all joined together to discuss and vote on policies.
“We’re shutting nobody out,” Grinberg said. “Everybody should have a voice.”
Summations of the resolutions passed at the recent meeting of the Delegate Assembly, provided by the CRC, follow:
Policy Statement on Proactive Israel Support & Countering Anti-Jewish and Anti-Israel Activity in Pittsburgh
The policy statement on anti-Israel campus activity calls for the Jewish community to educate itself about new free-speech protections related to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The policy statement also calls on the Jewish community to work with local government and university staff so that Jewish students can express their Jewish identity and express their opinions about Israel in a safe environment.
Policy Statement on Food Insecurity and Hunger
The policy statement about fighting hunger calls for an increase in federal and state support to food banks and nutrition assistance programs and for streamlined access to such programs. The statement advocates for local efforts to expand community-supported agriculture, develop community gardens and educate the public about food insecurity and nutrition.
Policy Statement on Inclusion for Individuals with Disabilities and Special Needs in the Jewish Community
This statement about inclusion of people with disabilities acknowledges that these individuals have the right of access to community facilities and the right to participate in decisions that affect people with disabilities. The statement calls for a public awareness campaign to promote positive perceptions of people with disabilities and the skills and leadership that they bring or could bring to the workplace. This policy statement has been accepted for consideration by the national policy making body at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and is expected to be adopted.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)