On February 27th, we attended the Cleveland Hillel George B. and Else Golden Memorial Lecture featuring, William C. Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America. Mr. Daroff, three time alum of CWRU, is Chief Lobbyist for JFNA, and was speaking on “Current Issues Facing the Jewish Community.” Mr. Daroff started off explaining that despite claims of exclusivity and protectionism within Judaism, that from the earliest interactions with God, Jews have understood that the "mandate to make the world a better place is in our DNA."
Therefore it is imperative that the Jewish community (and by extension its federations) not only assist the Jewish society - but also assist our neighbors.
An example is emergency response, in which the Federation mobilizes to help Jews and non-Jews during hurricanes, earthquakes. During Katrina, the New Orleans’ Jewish community federation ability to respond was destroyed, so the JFNA stepped in. Willam Daroff himself traveled through New Orleans’ Ninth Ward immediately following the hurricane, and the Federation determined not only to assist the local efforts, but address the regional need as well. So they also toured Biloxi, Mississippi, where they found that a crucial mission would be to address mental health assistance - and UJA Federation of New York partnered with the Mental Health Association of Mississippi to open the Center for Community Resilience in Biloxi.
A global concern is combating the assault on the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
Daroff reported that Secretary of State Kerry is in almost daily conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at this moment, preparing Israel and the diplomatic world is predicting an agreement (with reservations on all sides) in the spring. He notes that most agreements thus far have been met with violence, which made the agreements untenable, but the steps are being made, with purposeful intention by the US to bring both parties to agreement.
Daroff said that total dismantling of Iran's nuclear program is the current critical existential issue for Judaism. He elaborated that if the international community is being so careful about North Korea with its possibility of having nuclear capability, and it has no country it wishes to wipe off the map, a similar situation in the Middle East, with likely proliferation by other Middle Eastern key players would be catastrophic.
Q. What's the weakest part of the national Jewish community?
A. Organizational Judaism. Many funds are going to outdated organizations, which moves us off mission. Perhaps a big problem is who's at the table (ie, old guys). He noted at one recent event of a room filled with men, only three were active on twitter.
Q. A question asked of Arafat back in the day: Is this optimism realistic?
A. If Abu Mazen truly has the authority to decide on the behalf of the Palestinian people, and Mr. Netanyahu is satisfied that Israel is assured the right security precautions, then that's good. One sign of the future is that Arab Israelis want to be part of Israel - they are hard working people, and they help enable a shared future.
Q. How much is the Syrian civil war and the Egyptian uprising affecting the peace process?
A. We've seen over the years that there's never a good time. We're engaged, and have potential to do good. The bad news is that the rebels are more al Qaeda-ized, but the good news is that Israel has mostly been left out of the regional instability. No one thought Assad would last this long. Unclear whether Syria will ever be one country again. The involvement of Hezbollah and Iran is troubling. Tens of thousands of Syrians have entered Jordan. Zaatari, the refugee camp a few miles east of Mafraq, is essentially the fourth largest city in Jordan. He noted that the current developments in Egypt are promising, with cooperation between Israel and the new Egyptian government moving forward.
He also noted that when the US was in secret negotiations with Iran, it was the Saudis who told Israel -- and this confluence of interest between the Sauds and Israel should prove a good development.
Q. Education is increasingly a luxury Jewish families cannot afford.
A. That is a problem that Sheldon Adelson could (and may yet help) solve. But the solution is really up to the entire Jewish community. Jewish Federations are currently the largest funders of Jewish education, but still cannot solve the problem. It's a billion dollar issue. Some solutions include Hebrew and Yiddish charter schools, voucher pgms, and promising state level programs in New York and Pennsylvania.
After the lecture we met friends the Hexters and Lee C. Shapiro, Director at Access Jewish Cleveland.