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May 19, 1989 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I CLOSE-UP

H L D ING THE H

Seymour Reich, the highly
visible president of B'nai B'rith
and chairman of the Conference
of Presidents of Major Jewish
Organizations, is the closest
thing the Jewish community has
to an official spokesman.

JAMES D. BESSER

Washington Correspondent

I

n some ways, Seymour Reich is like
the man with his finger in the dike.
On one side is a long line of
American Jewish leaders and the
distinctive style they brought to
Jewish life. Reich himself is a kind of per-
sonification of that style — a leader who
doggedly climbed through the ranks of a
mainline organization, who was raised on
the notion of service to fellow Jews and the
overwhelming imperative to avoid the ap-
pearance of disunity in Jewish ranks.
On the other side of the dike are the
Michael Lerners of the world, the Peace
Now groups and the growing number of
younger Jews who are trying to develop
different ways of expressing their Jewish
identity — and who have very little use
for the organizations that have tradi-
tionally been the backbone of Jewish
communal life.
To his detractors, Seymour Reich rep-
resents the last gasp of the old leader-
ship; to his supporters, he is recharging
the tired batteries of traditional Jewish
organizations.
To his critics — almost all of whom are
nervous about speaking about Reich for
the record — his high-profile style
typifies a system in which ego and ambi-

24

FRIDAY, MAY 19, 1989

tion count for more than competence and
vision.
But to others, Reich is giving the
Jewish communal world a badly needed
shot in the arm. The changes he has
wrought at B'nai B'rith, some say, are
clear signs of Reich's ability to identify
and deal with the problems that have led
to hard times for the traditional Jewish
organizations.
About one thing there is little debate:
Seymour Reich is at the pinnacle of
Jewish organizational life. After a long,
steady rise through the ranks, he now is
in his second term as president of B'nai
B'rith, the world's largest Jewish
organization.
And late last year, Reich was elected
chairman of the Conference of Presidents
of Major Jewish Organizations, the um-
brella organization consisting of the
leaders of most traditional Jewish
groups. In this role, Reich is the closest
thing the Jewish community has to an of-
ficial spokesman.
But his hard-won power comes at a
time when the community is at a
crossroads — a complex juncture
wrought of the intifada in Israel,
demographic changes in the Jewish

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