The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community, was formally established in 1944 by the Council of Jewish Federations, the forerunner of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The JCPA was known for many years as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC). The name was changed to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in 1997 to reflect more accurately the agency’s mission.
For over half a century, the JCPA has served as an effective mechanism to identify issues, formulate policy, develop strategies and programs, and has given expression to a strongly united Jewish communal voice. By virtue of the JCPA’s unique position and structure, our ability to reach out and motivate Jews and non-Jews alike to action is unparalleled. Through our network of 14 national and 125 local independent partner agencies, the JCPA serves as a catalyst that heightens community awareness, encourages civic and social involvement, and deliberates key issues of importance to the Jewish community.
The mission of the Council is to serve as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community in addressing the principal mandate of the Jewish community relations field, expressed in three interrelated goals:
- To safeguard the rights of Jews here and around the world;
- To dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel;
- To protect, preserve and promote a just American society, one that is democratic and pluralistic, one that furthers harmonious interreligious, inter ethnic interracial and other intergroup relations.
These goals are informed by Jewish values. History teaches us that Jewish security is linked inexorably to the strength of democratic institutions. Thus the Jewish community has a direct stake and an ethical imperative to assure that America remains a country wedded to the Bill of Rights and committed to the rule of law, a nation whose institutions continue to function as a public trust.
The JCPA reflects a unique and inclusive partnership of national member agencies, local community relations councils and committees, and the federations of which they are a component part or affiliated agency. It convenes the “common table” around which member agencies, through an open, representative, inclusive and consensus-driven process, meet to identify issues, articulate positions, and develop strategies, programs, and approaches designed to advance the public affairs goals and objectives of the organized Jewish community.
The work of the JCPA, especially in matters relating to democratic pluralism and social justice, reflects the profound Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, the repair of the world. It expresses the conviction of the organized Jewish community that it must be active in the effort to build a just society. The JCPA has the responsibility to enhance the capacity of member agencies to effectively pursue the public affairs agenda. This responsibility requires the JCPA to provide coordination, support, and guidance for public affairs initiatives undertaken by national and local member agencies, to advocate on behalf of the public affairs policies of the organized Jewish community, and to respond to those member-identified needs which strengthen their individual and collaborative capacity to advance the communal public affairs agenda.
(J Source original material)
The JCPA’s first incarnation was the General Jewish Council, formed in 1934 at the initiative of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. Its purpose was to unite the four major agencies involved in Jewish community defense in the face of the rising Nazi menace. The four were: the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Labor Committee. The founding executive director was Isaiah Minkoff, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee and a onetime Jewish Labor Bund organizer in Poland.
The council was expanded in 1944, again at the initiative of the federations, to include the local Jewish community councils around the country that were engaged in Jewish communal defense (or “community relations,” as it was known in the trade) and help them coordinate their work with the national defense agencies. The enlarged organization was named the National Community Relations Advisory Council, or NCRAC (pronounced “nac-rac”).
In 1951 NCRAC experienced a crisis. A prominent social scientist, Robert MacIver, had been engaged to study the council’s operations and seek greater efficiency. This came partly in response to complaints from local Jewish federations, which complained that they were funding multiple national defense agencies that overlapped and duplicated each others’ work. The MacIver Report recommended that NCRAC’s authority be increased to allow greater coordination, oversight and division of labor among the national agencies. In response, the two most influential and best-funded agencies, the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League, left the council.
NCRAC’s founding executive director, Isaiah Minkoff, acted to maintain the council’s legitimacy and authority as a broadly representative Jewish coalition by recruiting other national organizations engaged in public policy and advocacy. These eventually included the three main synagogue unions (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) and the largest national direct-membership organizations (B’nai B’rith International, the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization and Women’s American ORT). Also recruited was a smaller organization with conservative political leanings, the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., which together with the Jewish Labor Committee formed right- and left-wing ideological markers.
Throughout the 1950s Minkoff continued to work quietly with ADL and AJCommittee in a framework he called “non-auspices,” to maintain the broad Jewish coalition drive for civil rights, immigration reform and religious freedom legislation that had begun in the late 1940s. With that formal and informal base, Minkoff led the NCRAC into alliances with civil rights groups, principally the NAACP, in a state-by-state and finally national campaign for legislation to ban racial and religious discrimination in housing, jobs and education. The coalition for religious freedom included the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the National Council of Churches and others, and led to legislation and landmark court rulings guaranteeing and expanding church-state separation. These campaigns led to the historic passage of the Civll Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This last ended the disastrous national-origin quotas of 1924 that had trapped Jews in Nazi Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.
National Member Agencies
American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Hadassah, Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., National Council of Jewish Women, ORT America Inc., Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism