Indy JCRC Annual Meeting ~ May 22, 2018
Remarks of Lindsey Mintz, JCRC Executive Director
Good evening. My name is Lindsey Mintz, and I’m truly honored to be serving as the Executive Director of our community’s JCRC.
Last year, as we marked the JCRC’s 75th Anniversary, I spoke about the resurgence of antisemitism in the 21st century and the ways we’re seeing it manifest here in Indianapolis, on campuses, in schools, and even on the devices our teens are holding in their hands every day.
The first meetings of the Indiana JCRC (yes, Indiana! Not just Indianapolis) took place in 1942. Over 100 JCRCs were founded across the U.S. during and immediately after WWII as the Jewish community came to grips with what we had not been able to do: to speak with one voice to the powers that be, to sound the alarm loud enough and effectively enough to prevent, or even mitigate, the Holocaust from unfolding. So, at the very core of the JCRC’s mission is safeguarding the Jewish people by combatting antisemitism.
But even before the emergence of JCRC’s in the middle of the last century, the organized American Jewish community has always understood how essential it is for our ultimate security in this country, that American society needs to have democratic institutions that are sound; that pluralism – whether ethnic or religious – must be celebrated; that civil rights must be protected; that civic engagement be valued as an obligation; and that fundamentalism, extremism, and certainly antisemitism never be allowed fertile ground to grow.
“Enlightened self-interest” is a term that explains how we understand that it’s in our best interest as Jews that members of society around us be healthy, educated, fed, safe, and employed. And, by the way, our Jewish texts, prophets, and rabbis all command us to value, lift up, and address these challenges as well.
Over the past 75 years, the Indy JCRC has worked, and advocated, and fought for all of these issues by (1) building relationships with civic leaders and policy makers so people know the Jewish community and our understand our perspectives, (2) by building coalitions to strengthen our advocacy, and (3) by conveying the concerns of the Jewish community with integrity to policy makers at all levels of government. We’ve done this work really well, and often behind the scenes.
Which is why, I think, I’m still asked, “What exactly is community relations?” Well, while JCRC staff may be the community relations “professionals,” we are actually ALL in the business of community relations. Each one of us – whether Jewish lay leader or Jewish professional – whether an educator, student, stay-at-home parents, lawyer, or physician – whether a teen or an empty-nester – and really, whether you accept this premise or not – each one of us represents the Jewish people every single day, every time we have a conversation with someone who’s not Jewish.
Just as Birthright utterly changed the Jewish experience beginning the in the 1990s, ensuring that every Jewish teen or young adult would have a free trip to Israel – and just as PJ Library has been changing the Jewish experience by overhauling the field of Jewish publishing and children’s book writing to ensure that that every Jewish child (and her family) receive a free Jewish book every month – I will submit that today, we are at the beginning of the next tidal wave movement for American Jews – or at least we should be.
And that movement is Community Relations. OK, I didn’t get a degree in marketing, so it’s not branded yet with a catchy name. But the idea is this: Just like Birthright and PJ Library have qualitatively altered the American Jewish experience for all Jews, no matter their affiliation, we need to initiate a similar sea change understanding with respect to community relations. We need every Jewish person to see him or herself as a Jewish ambassador – because whether you think so or not, you actually already are.
We have a responsibility to make sure members of our Jewish community feel equipped to engage effectively on issues of the day with their Jewish voice. The current moment is witnessing an explosion of activism, which is great. There are so many problems to tackle and it’s good that people are engaging – and it’s great that members of the Jewish community are engaging. But, social media feeds only confirm what people already believe to be true (confirmation bias). And what people are finding is that when they’re scrolling through their feed to learn about the need for systemic criminal justice reform, they find articles posted about how the militarized police state here is a result of Israel’s influence on our law enforcement. When they’re at a rally to support women’s rights here in the U.S. holding their #MeToo signs, they hear a speaker reference Gaza and are told that the feminism is not compatible with Zionism. And when they march for Pride carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David, they’re told to leave because Zionism is racism and is an offensive “trigger” to oppressed people.
What is going on? The short answer is: Intersectionality. The long answer merits an entire evening’s program, which we don’t have time for this evening, unfortunately. For now, a quick description will have to suffice, and I will share the words of JCPA CEO David Bernstein: “Intersectionality holds that various forms of oppression — racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and homophobia — constitute an intersecting system of oppression.” Bernstein describes two forms of intersectionality, one “inclusionary” that can bring people together in understanding systems of discrimination and power, and the other “exclusionary” where “it’s used to purge social justice causes of anyone who doesn’t agree with the entire package of ideologically extreme views.” Translation: increasingly, Jews and supporters of Israel are not allowed unless they check their Zionism at the door.
What is a Jewish activist to do? How should we be thinking about – and engaging with – today’s challenges? As Americans? As Jews? As Zionists?
This is where the JCRC comes in. The Jewish community relations field has for decades been building bridges to other minority communities in order to create a more just society. Now is the time we bring the process and skill-set of relationship building out into the mainstream.
As with so many things, first comes education. What are the most pressing challenges? Why should we care? How can we make a difference? Who can we partner with that might amplify our voice – and theirs?
I’m doing some of that education here tonight, and hopefully it’s piquing your interest to engage – and answering the question WHY.
Our next role is to build the scaffolding, and then equip you with the tools that will give you the confidence to engage in a way that not only feels “right” for you – but also in a way that’s effective.
Then, it’s a matter of scaling up. Through our newly formed Community Engagement & Intergroup Affairs Committee, chaired by Carly Turow and staff by Aaron Welcher, we will be educating members of the Jewish community, and then training them – YOU – on the best ways to engage, whether on social media, or in person, whether in groups or one-on-one.
At the core of this training we will explore ways to listen resiliently and become “proximate” with people who may not be like us. The “work” is seeking out and building relationships (it’s right in our name, after all) with those whose path we may not naturally cross: with members of the black community, Muslim community, gay community, and immigrant communities.
Last year, we started chipping away at the education piece – conducting a half dozen salons, large and small, to bring members of the Jewish community up to speed – describing the increase in antisemitism and how it’s manifesting, and share the ways we were reacting to the increasing need for our support.
We then presented a series of programs that would be proactive in nature by preventing antisemitism and anti-Zionism from taking root here in central Indiana – and at the same time, help strengthen the Jewish identity and love for Israel among young people. This proactive approach is what I spoke about at last year’s annual meeting.
And where are we this year? The JCRC is now a strong staff of FOUR full time professionals helping to design and implement the programs of our Stand Up & Speak Out initiative and our Community Engagement & Intergroup Affairs Committee. After 10 years as our Director of Government Affairs, David Sklar has been promoted to Assistant Director. In December and January we welcome two young Jews to the Jewish professional world: Aaron Welcher, our Program & Communications Coordinator, was born and raised here in the Indy Jewish community, just graduated from IU-B last year, and likely taught most of your kids how to swim at the JCC pool! Marla Topiol relocated to Indianapolis to become our community’s first Israel & Antisemitism Education Coordinator. Although born and raised in New Jersey, Marla most recently lived in London for a year where she earned a Masters in European Jewish history, and then Rehovot Israel for a year, where she taught English.
The Stand Up & Speak Out initiative involves three “baskets” of programming. One area will focus on helping Jewish youth and their parents confront antisemitism by leveraging some of the ADL’s proven workshops, which equip middle and high school Jewish youth (and their parents) with effective responses and strategies to address antisemitic incidents and bullying in all its forms. (Marla has been trained by ADL to facilitate their Words to Action workshop for 6th – 12th graders.) The second area will build on the work we’ve been doing for several years in collaborating with the Institute for Curriculum Services to provide teachers in our middle and high schools free curricular materials they can trust – as well as training opportunities – to help them teach accurately about Jews, Judaism, Jewish history, Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (This summer we will help host ICS for its second teacher training conference here in Indy.) And the third area will be to design and launch an application-based 8-week intensive Israel Engagement Fellowship for Jewish high school juniors and seniors that will include content-rich programming, interactive workshops, and speakers from major national Jewish organizations so they have the skills to counter anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel, particularly on college campuses.
With our JCRC professional team in place, with a fully engaged Board and active Committees, and with the support of the Federation and all of you, the JCRC is poised to implement proactive and effective programming that will help members of our Jewish community – from Jewish teens to empty nesters – combat antisemitism, fight for a just society, and engage on Israel.
I want to close my remarks with several “Thank You’s” including to the Academy for hosting us, to Mayor Brainard for speaking to us, to those representing elected officials, to all of the Jewish professionals and lay leaders who made it a priority to be here this evening, and to our current Board President Steve Klapper. Being the President of the JCRC Board is no easy task (to which many of you can attest), but doing so between surgeries adds another level of intensity to the job. Steve, you’re doing a remarkable job of incorporating the additional “balls” that JCRC is throwing at you into an already impressive display of juggling on your part! Thank you!
And finally, I would like to thank my husband, Jason. There is simply no way I could do this work – work that I love – without his unwavering support – of both me, and our family.
Serving the Jewish community as our JCRC’s Executive Director is a responsibility I take seriously, and an honor I cherish. Thank you for the privilege.