In wake of the recent shakeup in leadership at the World Jewish Congress, bloggers, pundits, and Jews around the country have been calling into question the role and import of national and international Jewish organizations such as WJC, United Jewish Communities American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League. Or as my friends at the Shabbat table asked me this week, “What do these groups do anyway?” In recent years it has become increasingly en vogue to dismiss these organizations, which are largely devoted to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting Jewish life, as being out of touch with a younger generation looking to Judaism for meaning and spirituality.
The critique is not without some warrant: Jewish life without Judaism will never sustain itself in an age when American Jews ultimately choose how Jewish they want to be. The continuation and continuity of Jewish life will not depend on fighting anti-Semitism as much as our ability to offer a positive vision of Judaism. Still, the notion that these organizations are a thing of the past is not only childish, but also portrays a total lack of understanding of the infrastructure they have built and continue to uphold.
The WJC is not just some amorphous organization. Aside from its storied history, in recent years the organization was at the forefront of helping to free Jewish dissidents under the former Soviet Union and perhaps even more remarkably took on the Swiss Banks that had been profiting from accounts held by those who perished in the Holocaust. The WJC was resposible for securing billions–that’s billions, not millions–of dollars of Holocaust restitution fees. Likewise, it has been said that UJAs across America have roughly four to six billion dollars in endowment funds (maybe I am wrong–please correct me if I am) that back up a whole range of very basic, but enormously important programs such as caring for the elderly, the poor, single parents, immigrants, and the disabled.
These organizations are not without fault, but have created a social infrastructure that is not replaceable. We forget about the myriad, hospitals, nursing homes, and child care centers that would literally not be standing if they did not exist. Yes, currently in America anti-Semitism is as dead as a door nail, but around the globe these groups continue to fight for Jews to be simply Jews. Sometimes I think of these organizations in the same way I think of government: I ask myself when was the last time my president, senator or congressman did anything for my own personal life? Then I remember maybe life’s not all about me.