Federation leader calls for civil debate, open tent

Ami Eden

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In the wake of last summer’s bitter Iran debate, the chief executive of Jewish Federations of North America urged its leaders to ensure their organizations are welcoming to people of various political and religious stripes.

During the Iran debate, “too much of the language was vicious and beyond the pale, and has no place in our community,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA, in a keynote address Monday to many of the 3,000 attendees at the annual General Assembly of JFNA.

“We need to put aside politics, and put our energy into building bridges through dialogue, civil debate — and I emphasize civil — focusing on shared goals and mutual responsibilities toward one another,” he said.

Silverman urged his listeners to drive home the message that Jewish federations are places that welcome diversity. He said that federations should make clear that it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether 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.”

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“What matters to us is that you care and want to be involved,” Silverman added. “This is the definition of community and the distinguishing character of our federations. We need to stop drawing red lines on who’s in and who’s out, and do more to welcome and encourage Jews across all spectrums to join us in our core mission. And we need to mean it.”

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