SERVING OUR COMMUNITY SINCE 1937
Excerpts from Harmony and Dissonance - Voices of
Jewish Identity in Detroit, 1914-1967
by Dr. Sidney Bolkosky
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In the 1930’s, Detroit’s Jewish community had a vibrant
mix of Jewish organizations that reflected the diverse religious, ideological and political streams of the time. But there was no communal structure to deal with the often-controversial Jewish issues of local, national and international concern. The need to better address those issues led prominent Jewish leaders in 1937 to establish the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit.
Often referred to as simply "Council" until the agency's name changed to the Jewish Community Relations Council in 2006, to better convey what the agency does and stands for, and now JCRC/AJC, it was structured as an “organization of organizations” in order to be as representative as possible. In those early days, the member organizations ranged from groups of families who came to Detroit from the same village in Europe to agencies serving the human needs of the Jewish community.
In its early years, the Council played a largely protective role on behalf of the Jewish community, fighting against anti-Semitism at home and the growing Nazi threat abroad. After World War II, the Council joined struggles in the legislative and judicial arenas against discrimination in hiring, education and housing. These campaigns, followed by others in the civil rights era of the 1960’s, brought the Council into coalition with other segments of the Detroit community.
JCRC/AJC has been a strong voice of community support for Israel since its independence in 1948. But growing concern about the plight of Jews around the world – in the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and elsewhere – led to a further adjustment in its agenda from the late 1960’s through much of the 1980’s. Greater emphasis was placed on seeking allies among leaders in government, religious and other leading institutions, and on shaping public opinion through media relations activities.
Ties between the Jewish community and the City of Detroit and its rich mix of ethnic and religious groups needed to be strengthened. JCRC/AJC formed or joined coalitions on public policy issues such as immigration and education reform, strengthened relations with local and state government, and became an active partner in community projects designed to help revitalize the metropolitan area.
As tensions between Israel and her neighbors intensifies, advocacy on behalf of Israel – for its safety and security, and for peace – is JCRC/AJC’s top priority. At the same time, JCRC/AJC remains deeply committed to our domestic public policy agenda, outreach to the non-Jewish community within which we live, and helping to build bridges between the Jewish community’s various agencies, institutions and population groups.