Jewish Community Relations Council meets in an era of discord and rising antisemitism

  

Toxic polarization “stops being ideas and starts being about our identities,” said Rabbi Sam Englender, speaking at the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Annual Meeting. It’s something to try to eliminate, he said. 

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation held its annual meeting June 17, with Englender as a speaker. The meeting also featured a review of some recent JCRC work and an election of new board members. The JCRC is supported by the Federation Annual Campaign.  

The JCRC exists to speak as the representative of the Jewish community on issues of public affairs and public policy by convening and mobilizing the Jewish community through education, advocacy, social justice and support for Israel. There are 21 organizations who send local representatives to the local JCRC, representing varied neighborhoods and streams of Judaism.  

Rabbi Moishe Steigman delivered a d’var Torah at the meeting. He talked of Aaron and Miryam of the Torah, with their good qualities and peacemaking, and how that should enter all of us. 

Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, introduced Kai Gardner Mishlove, who became director of the local JCRC in April.  

Gardner Mishlove discussed the JCRC’s Racial Equity Task Force (see “Edot Midwest,” p. 6), plus the organization’s work advocating for the Holocaust education bill, which has been signed into law. She also noted the JCRC’s work regarding the scheduling of some college start dates for Rosh Hashanah (see story, p. 4), Kippah Day sponsored with the Catholic-Jewish Conference and work with Souls to the Polls.  

The JCRC issues an annual antisemitism audit, which has been reflecting the marked nationwide increase in antisemitism in recent years. It also responds to antisemitism.  

“This work is not easy, but it’s something that we must do, and it’s something that is a joy to do. It’s very important that we remember why we are here and why we are doing this work,” Gardner Mishlove said. “We need more than ever to come together now to stand in solidarity against antisemitism and the many manifestations of antisemitism and bigotry.” 

Meeting attendees voted on and approved some for new positions, include a slate of board members.    

Rabbi Sam Englender  

Rabbi Sam Englender is an outreach manager for the One America Movement, a national nonprofit that seeks to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. 

Englender said polarization itself is not a problem – that can lead to healthy debate. Toxic polarization is the problem. He said toxic polarization leads to us thinking we know everything about someone based on one thing, like whether they are wearing a mask.  

Human beings create groups, like packs of wolves, to help us do things we can’t do on our own, Englender said. But groups can collide, he added. 

Englender also cited research showing we are not as far apart on issues as we think.  

Englender reminded people to “be the best version of ourselves.” One can be an “in-group moderate” by critiquing their own side, but it can be hard to do, he said. 

“Mix it up and stop sitting at the same table at lunch,” one of his slides said. “You don’t have to agree with everyone at the table about every single thing.”