Jewish Organizations Are Failing the Jews

Sometimes running a blog can seem a lot like hosting a web gathering place for political lonely hearts -- particularly running a right-leaning site in very left-leaning Massachusetts. I regularly receive emails thanking me for my site and lamenting the loneliness and seeming futility of it all. With the recent uptick in anti-Semitism, people walking the streets in our hometowns with signs comparing Jews to Nazis, and a perceived anemic reaction on the part of an organized Jewish community we've come to expect so much of, the calls have been coming even more frequently than usual.

Here's one recent cri de coeur:

I've been growing increasingly concerned about the Boston Jewish community's reaction, or non-reaction, to anti-Semitism. I recently learned that the coming week is "Israel Apartheid Week" with demonstrations planned at UMass, Ruggles T stop, and Boston College. [There was a lot more than that. — MS] As far as I can tell, nothing has been planned in response. Unless there is something I don't know about, the lack of response to these distortions is like failing to move from an oncoming train. But when I express my concern to friends and family -- even my husband -- I'm met with shrugs and a "what can you do?" attitude. Am I the only one to feel that the organized leadership is not doing its job here? I'd love to have some input beyond my relatively small circle.

Dear Increasingly Concerned:

No, you are not alone in feeling organized leadership has been asleep at the switch. I know quite a few local grassroots activists who feel the local mainstream orgs are next to useless. They're so focused on shmoozing behind the scenes, playing politics, and dabbling in leftist politics unrelated to Judaism that they seem to have lost the thread. I recently did an analysis of email alerts sent out by our local Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC -- an agency of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, with branches across the country and the agency most expected to get involved in coordinating street-level activism) that found that fully 37 percent of Boston JCRC action alerts have nothing to do with Jews or Israel. That 37% involved such important Jewish issues as global warming, tuition discounts for illegal aliens, immigration issues, affordable housing, labor issues, opposition to tax cuts -- you get the picture. They're all issues upon which reasonable people may disagree, but certainly nothing that people who think they are giving money to help the Jewish community in a time of crisis would expect their money to be going to -- and I was generous when deciding my metric for deriving that 37% number. It could easily have been worse.

The "mainstream" orgs just don't seem to feel that anything near the street matters. As long as the governor's office picks up the phone when they call, they feel like they are successfully justifying their salaries. Someday they're going to discover that after all that high-level backslapping they've had the rug pulled out from under them. So Governor Deval Patrick shows up at a pro-Israel rally -- success! He shows up shortly after at a forum sponsored by the Muslim American Society (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the group behind the new Boston mega-mosque) -- silence. The orgs are moneymaking operations. What will appeal to the elderly Jews who might put CJP in their wills? That's what the leadership asks themselves.

Is Super Sunday (the big fundraising day) more important than survival? Is "Israel" just a marketing tool to perpetuate big salaries and generous perks while these same pitchmen work assiduously behind the scenes to undermine the work of the smaller organizations and local activists who actually fight? Would the fundraising glad-handers rather make nice with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and curry relations with non-Jewish groups than cooperate with Jewish groups that happen not to share their definition of what constitutes "social justice"? (Say, wasn't that the name of Father Coughlin's rag?) Can you imagine groups whose public priorities are purported to be Jews and Israel actually being ruled by fears of appearing too "particularistic"? Believe it.