Unity is indispensable to the well-being of the Jewish people. In this post-pandemic era, I embrace our community gathering in person.
Like the rest of our increasingly polarized world, our Jewish communities may seem rife with division. In the US, the political beliefs, religious affiliations, and ethnic backgrounds within our communities prove as varied as the diverse societies in which we live. Right, Left, Center, and disaffected. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, hassidic, non-denominational, and atheistic. Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, Ethiopian, or multiracial. The vibrancy and diversity of expression of Jewish life is multifaceted and must be appreciated as such.
Judaism has been a pluralistic tradition for millennia. But out of this whirlwind of religious, cultural, and political diversity emerge commonalities: Though a people of many customs and practices, we share a unified sense of peoplehood and a foundational set of values; at times discordant in our worldviews, we come together on a set of core issues; and as both history and the rabbis have taught us, we have a shared past and future. And we should share the present as well.
As the chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – the umbrella organization representing 50 diverse Jewish institutions in the US – I am committed to minimizing our differences and embracing our shared values and priorities.
Advocating for Jewish Unity
I have spent my entire adult life serving and advocating for the Jewish community in positions that run the gamut from president of my local synagogue in Westchester, New York to the national president of American Jewish Committee.
I have also devoted myself to advocacy for people with disabilities, a cause I will always champion. Embracing the entirety of our community means leaving no one out, especially those living with disabilities and those who have previously not found a place.
The Conference of Presidents has long endeavored to voice the shared views of Jews in the US. Despite a changing political, economic, social, and religious landscape, it has succeeded in doing so. I want to, and have a calling to continue to apply that winning formula over the course of my tenure.
American Jews constitute a bloc on an important set of issues. We are all resolute in our determination to fight the rising tide of antisemitism that has struck at our synagogues, homes, schools, and community centers.
We also believe that the safety and prosperity of the Jewish state is central to our collective future. Even as we sometimes differ on the events on the ground – especially of late – we will remain steadfast defenders of Israel’s right to live in peace and security, as well as fierce opponents of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Israel, too, finds herself divided at this moment. We will continue to stand by her as we continue to encourage dialogue and conciliation in the Jewish state. We are brothers and sisters.
Unity is indispensable to the well-being of the Jewish people. In this post-pandemic era, I embrace our community gathering in person. In a time when divisions are exacerbated by social media and the digital world, real-world encounters dispel misunderstandings, and forge the ties of friendship that give the word “community” its full meaning.
I ask our Jewish friends, both inside and outside institutional life, to aid me in this mission. Each of us is called upon to be involved in the life of our community right now.
I am honored to assume this new role and determined to continue the mission of the Conference of Presidents and its 50 member organizations, and look forward to raising our community up in abiding respect and unity over the months and years ahead.
Harriet P. Schleifer is the Chair of the Conference of Presidents.
This piece was published in The Jerusalem Post on August 25, 2023. To view the original or listen to it online, click here.