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December 22, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-12-22

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Editor's Letter

A Promising Voice


about spurring camaraderie and mutual respect even where
differences exist.
He had the courage to say, "To whatever degree there has
been a sense of disenfranchisement or sense that certain
viewpoints have not been listened to or respected, we're
going to make sure that those viewpoints are, in fact, given
an opportunity to be heard. And that will mean perhaps
some new mechanism for doing so."
He vowed to work with President Wendy Wagenheim to
assure that the Council not only invites public comment
within the parameters of the new policy, but also inspires
frank board debate so the community feels its diversity is
getting a fair hearing.
"That doesn't mean that the outcome is going to be signifi-
cantly different than from what it has been:' Cohen said,
"because there's an area of consensus the. Jewish community
already has out there."
True, but just to some extent. The Jewish community pro-
file is less defined than we may think; debate rages on every-
thing from school vouchers to gay rights to territorial disen-
gagement. Building consensus has become harder as out

Robert Cohen spoke

earnestly about building

bridges through the echoes

of dissent — and about

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JARC serves

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%.'>030000.00000-000000, 00,

spurring camaraderie and

mutual respect even where

differences exist.

spectrum has widened and the penchant for corn-
promise has weakened.
Robert Cohen seems sincere and savvy. He comes across as
wise to the challenges ahead. We owe him the opportunity to
act on his ideas for positive change and growth. At the same
time, we must stand vigilant to assure that the Council's
metamorphosis is best for the Jewish community. ❑

JARC's specially-trained
professional .staff provides

• In-home care and -
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like what I heard when I met the new executive director
of the Jewish Community Council, Detroit Jewry's public
affairs voice and a source of controversy over how it rep-
resents the public's affairs.
As we sat in my Southfield office at the Detroit Jewish News
on Dec. 9, Robert Cohen laid out his strategy for rising above
the fray: respecting what the public
doesn't like about Council policy while
maintaining the Council's right to
debate and ponder in pursuit of consen-
sus. He pledged a fundamental review of
Council structure, function and out-
reach. He has a special interest in inter-
faith relations, as do I.
Consensus, of course, is a relative
Robert A. Sklar state. No one can speak fully for the
Jewish community. Jews don't see the
world through one lens: There might be
a majority view on some issues, but certainly not others.
So there was common ground when Cohen, a Jewish com-
munal veteran and former TV news director, described the
search for consensus as a moving
target depending on the issue.
"On some issues, you're going
to require a higher level of agree-
ment to get a sense of if the com-
munity stands behind it," he said.
"Other times, it may not be that
important to have a really hard
number. It's our responsibility to
be addressing that on an ongoing
While he said he believes the
Council has been doing that over
the years, I contend that it could
do better. That is why I'm glad to
hear Cohen say his arrival will
focus closely on how decisions
are made and publicized. I'm
bothered when the Council says
Robert Cohen
its decisions are unconditionally
on behalf of the community; they
no longer result from a delegate assembly but rather a board
of directors. I appreciate that the Council is an umbrella for
200 member organizations, but ultimately, the board chooses
what it wants to consider with limited public input: That will
change some with the Council's new, less-restrictive public
comment policy; I trust that, over time, the policy will
become even more engaging. The policy must expand if the
Council truly hopes to feel comfortable articulating both
what it stands for and to what degree it represents the Jewish
community. Board members can't possibly poll the organiza-
tions they represent for every Council vote.
Cohen sees the Council role as three tiers that I think do
interconnect: the interface between the Jewish and secular
worlds, the promoter of Jewish values in and outside our
community, the creator of texture in a Jewish community
becoming increasingly more diverse.
As we talked, I found Cohen eager to learn what I thought.
On the job just three weeks, he came across wanting feed-
back, insight and dialogue, not barriers. He spoke earnestly
about building bridges through the echoes of dissent — and

• Advocacy to obtain public
services and benefits

Do you know what the Jewish Community
Council is?

• Preparation for community

Is making a public comment something
you now might do at a JCCouncil meet-

Send letters to:
letters@thejewishnews.com .

Contact us. We can help.

248.538.6610, x 332



December 22 2005 5

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