CRC, AJC unique despite common goals
By Deborah Moon
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Last month, the Community Relations Committee and local American Jewish Committee jointly addressed religion in schools and hunger, while separately AJC tackled the genocide in Darfur and CRC took on hate education in Palestinian schools.
Those weighty topics and the alternating collaboration and division of labor are nothing new for the only two Jewish organizations in Portland with staff people devoted to advocacy.
“(AJC area director) Emily (Gottfried) and I are the only two professionals in this Jewish community who do advocacy on a full-time basis, and it’s not enough,” said Robert Horenstein, community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
Gottfried echoed those sentiments: “Isn’t it better to have two people doing this work? We make so much more of a presence.”
The pair work together on Interfaith Advocacy Day during each state legislative session, co-host candidate forums and head for Salem to address issues impacting the Jewish community, such as social services.
While the two organizations seem similar in many ways, both directors said they have differences and they draw on each other’s various strengths while pursuing their respective, often overlapping, agendas. Both are members of national organizations—AJC and Jewish Council for Public Affairs—and reflect those groups’ structures. The two directors described their different focus similarly: the CRC is a convener with an active political arm, while the AJC often focuses on interfaith efforts.
“The CRC acts as a convener of different (Jewish) organizations,” said Horenstein. “We are a reflection of the entire mainstream Jewish community. On our committee, we have humanists to Kollel (an Orthodox education and outreach group) and all in between. Almost all the congregations and other organizations like NCJW, Hadassah and AJC are represented.”
He noted that CRC operates on a consensus, rather than majority vote, system. The 36 members represent 19 organizations. On a close vote, the CRC seldom espouses a position because it is seen as a divisive issue, he said.
“When we see a strong majority favors a position, that’s when we take a position,” he said.
Often, that means finding commonality on issues that initially seem divisive. For instance, the CRC was able to oppose Measure 36, which banned same sex marriage—even though the committee was split over the issue of same sex marriage.
“We opposed it on church-state grounds,” said Horenstein. “We didn’t have a mandate to oppose
the ban on same sex marriage other than as a religion and state issue.”
On the other hand, AJC looks to its national organization to take the lead on major issues. The genocide in Darfur, sustainable energy and hate crimes are major areas of focus. Locally and nationally, AJC works within the Jewish community and the interfaith community on those and other issues.
“We are a Jewish organization that reaches out to the non-Jewish world,” said Gottfried. “National (AJC) considers itself the diplomatic arm of the Jewish community. … We have a history of working with different ethnic groups.”
For instance, locally AJC has hosted ongoing dialogue groups with Catholics, blacks and Latter-day Saints. They host interfaith events such as an annual Passover seder that draws participants from Muslim, Protestant, Catholic and other faiths, as does the annual Thanksgiving gathering.
AJC also took the lead on creating the Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park.
Horenstein said that knowing AJC is focusing on those issues, the CRC can concentrate on other areas.
He said the local AJC often takes advantage of the CRC’s paid lobbyist Alan Tresidder to help with its lobbying efforts in Salem, while he looks to AJC’s national resources on church-state issues when he has a question in that area.
Gottfried said she is grateful both for the connections she is able to draw on through Tresidder and also for Horenstein’s expertise on Israel.
“Bob is such an expert personally on Israel issues,” she said. “Bob is a great local resource who is really helpful.”