July 17, 2024
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Is the Federation Tent Really Open For Disagreement?

Jerry Silverman said it’s time to make up and move ahead.

On Monday, Silverman, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) told some 3,000 attendees at his organization’s General Assembly (GA) that the language between Jews on last summer’s Iran nuclear debate “was vicious and beyond the pale.”

This year’s GA, held in Washington, D.C., was occurring on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, just minutes away from the GA, met with a demeanor of cordiality instead of coldness.

Silverman told the group that “politics need to be put aside,” and that the energy of the Jewish community needs to be focused on “building bridges through dialogue, civil debate—and I emphasize civil—focusing on shared goals and mutual responsibilities toward one another.”

He went on to tell the crowd that diversity is welcomed in federations. He said it doesn’t matter if you go to “synagogue weekly or hardly ever; if you’re affiliated with J Street or with ZOA; if you’re supporting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, Stephen Harper or Justin Trudeau; if you’re married or single, partnered or it’s complicated; if you’re gay, straight, bi- or questioning; if you have children or don’t; if you’re among our very biggest donors or if you give little or nothing at all.”

We agree with Silverman that the federations must do a better job of opening that big tent, like our patriarch Abraham opened his, to more members of our Jewish community.

Mr. Silverman: There was still something missing, unsaid. That big tent needs to be expanded to also include Jews who still feel their voices were ignored during the Iran nuclear deal process. The tent needs to be open to Jews who aren’t just “straight,” but who also seriously have challenges even with the Supreme Court’s legalization of marriage equality. Those Jews who do believe in the Second Amendment right to own a firearm should not be afraid to be part of the Federation conversation as well.

And, Mr. Silverman, as knife-wielding Arabs terrorize Israeli Jews, shouldn’t your message have been a strong support of Israel to end the violence from your “tent-mates”?

And there is a difference when comparing J Street to ZOA. J Street supported the Iranian nuclear deal, ZOA did not. Mr. Silverman, we would hope that Federations across the nation would be sensitive that there are many Jews who are still simmering over the president’s actions and who feel excluded because of it. Federation needs to be an open house where Jews can say “our disagreement isn’t finished” just because the JFNA president delivered a Kumbuya speech at the GA.

We are aware that Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged Monday to President Obama that the nuclear deal is on its way to implementation.

The president even acknowledged that he won’t seek a two-state solution in the spirit of peace before his term is up. But the two leaders agreed to work together as nations to stop ISIL, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups from reigning in the Middle East.

Both leaders deserve the full support of JFNA.

We wish you would have mentioned that perhaps more forcefully.

Because if the tent is truly open, then those views that aren’t politically correct or unpopular need to be part of this transparency. We agree that we’d hope the vicious language would tone itself down.

For that tent to be truly for everyone, we must be able to include voices that don’t necessarily flow with the prevailing legislative, judicial, social or Federation tide. Sometimes it’s that lone voice in the tent that speaks the truth. No matter how big or open the tent, Mr. Silverman, we have to hear that voice. Now that voice is the scream of an Israeli mother stabbed by a terrorist or a 13-year-old boy maimed while riding his bike.

In what part of the tent do we find them?

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