By Noah Appley | Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta Administrator

and Harvey Rickles | JCRCA President

As we celebrate the new year, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta wishes all a sweet and happy new year: l’shana tova tikatevu.

The JCRCA provides a common table for the Atlanta Jewish community, bringing together Jewish organizations, synagogues and individuals to work on shared social justice issues. The JCRCA works to build consensus and advocate for causes consistent with Jewish values.

We host the Social Action Council, which brings together social action chairs from synagogues to support cooperative social action/social justice efforts. The Holocaust Community Council brings together the groups that commemorate the Holocaust to share information, develop a common calendar and support cooperation. Through lectures, town-hall meetings, the Hunger Seder and other community programs, we focus on our social justice priorities to fight discrimination, protect vulnerable populations, educate the community, and support the continuity and security of Israel.

Working Toward Civil Dialogue

We are all aware of the increasingly polarized divisions in our community, manifested by heightened vitriol in the debate over the Iran pact and recent community controversies regarding invited honorees, speakers and funding. Passionate disagreements are part of our religious heritage. We continually argue and refine 5,000-year-old laws to maintain their relevance. However, disagreement does not mean we should abandon the respect and understanding that are the hallmark of a strong community. We must reverse recent trends and actively learn from the other voices in our debates. We must learn to share our views with respect and candor.

To address this, the JCRCA began an initiative that seeks to support civil debate and increase engagement despite disagreements. On Sunday, Aug. 9, the JCRCA hosted 37 Jewish community leaders from Atlanta synagogues, Jewish organizations and distinguished opinion leaders in a program focused on meaningful discussion of our shared support for Israel despite dramatically different perspectives. Led by Rabbi Melissa Weintraub of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ Resetting the Table initiative, we spent the day emphasizing meaningful engagement on opposing views. This was a first step toward addressing the threat to our community that stems from disagreements over what is best for Israel. We will continue moving forward.

Advocacy for Tikkun Olam

The JCRCA is also a committed advocacy group, and we engage with elected officials at the state and federal levels to pursue our goals of a better, more just world. In January we adopted a legislative agenda to increase access to health care, fight sex trafficking of minors, and reduce hunger. In June we celebrated when the governor signed legislation achieving one of those goals, namely the enactment of the safe harbor law, which protects children who are victims of sex trafficking. We are also proud of our work fighting the “religious freedom” legislation intended to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community. Our email campaign helped prevent the passage of this onerous legislation.

We still have much work to do with our Cover Georgia coalition fighting to eliminate the Medicaid coverage gap that prevented 400,000 Georgians from accessing health insurance completely paid for by the federal government. Whether it is hunger, voting rights or other tikkun olam issues around which we have agreed, we will continue to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Educating the Community

The JCRCA is proud that our work extends beyond the Jewish community. Next month, at our fourth Georgia Council for the Social Studies teachers convention, we will be featured speakers discussing Judaism, Israel and the Middle East to social studies teachers from across Georgia. As GCSS exhibitors, we will continue a program that has distributed thousands of textbooks to social studies teachers to enrich their understanding of these subjects.

Moving Forward Together

In this season of forgiveness and regeneration, we hope that our community will move forward without the rancor and attacks that have recently marred our communications. Let us commit to respect speakers with whom we disagree and not to challenge their loyalty to Israel or Judaism because they have different opinions regarding what is best for Israel. We look forward to working with you to strengthen the unity of our community and to serve the common good here, in Israel and throughout the world.