Why we Must Strengthen the Community Relations Field

by Administrator

By David Bernstein

JCPA recently performed a scan which revealed that today, at least 63 JCRC directors have been on the job for less than two years. That’s actually not unusual in today’s Jewish non-profit world. Turnover abounds.

It does serve as a reminder, however, of the need to continually build our field and strengthen our connections to each other.

I am currently working on a white paper on 21st century Jewish community relations. I’ve had the occasion to review an extensive body of literature emanating from our field from years past. There were numerous academic articles, books, symposia and even a think tank based at Brandeis University, all devoted to community relations. We have nothing of the sort today.

We may not need an entire academic field to be successful, but we do require a robust learning network that ensures continuity and navigates change.

Not only are there numerous new people coming into the field, many are coming from completely outside of the Jewish communal world, let alone the Jewish advocacy field. These newbies are highly skilled and bring fresh thinking and approaches to our work. We can all learn from them. Many, though, are unfamiliar with the core precepts of community relations, best practices, and tried-and-true approaches. They need and want training.

Training brings additional benefits that go beyond imparting a set of skills and information. When people go through training and educational programs, they get to know each other and form a sub-network within the larger organizational network. About ten years ago, I helped put together a training for six professionals who all started working at around the same time. They became a distinct cohort within the organization, staying in close contact with each other and even going to each other’s family occasions. People who train together stay together.

Now is the time to rebuild the field. The JCPA is pleased to have received a grant from the Jewish Federation Alliance to conduct such training. We still need to raise more money to bring the program to scale, and would welcome any leads you might have. Doug Kahn, the recently retired JCRC director in San Francisco and one of the great practitioners of our work, will be working with us to develop these new training approaches. We can’t wait to get started. Stay tuned for more information.

And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out my latest Op-Ed in the Jewish Week, Four Reasons To Re-engage In The Civil Rights Movement

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