JEWISH COMMUNITY RELATIONS COUNCIL
Just back from the United Methodist Church Convention in Fort Worth Texas, JCPA Associate Director Ethan Felson praised the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern NJ for its pioneer work in interfaith dialogue.
Felson keynoted the JCRC May 27 Annual Meeting, speaking to a group about 150 JCRC members, plus Evangelical Christians who work closely with the JCRC and Catholics and Muslims involved in South Jersey's Catholic-Jewish Commission and its Catholic-Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
"This is a great JCRC," Felson said. "One that I and my colleagues look to for direction."
He went on to relate that his experience in Fort Worth convinced him that interfaith relationships on the local level, such as the dialogues and institutes that South Jersey's JCRC encourages, are essential. "The stakes are high," he said. "Not only in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but in a whole panoply of issues."
Felson called the recent Methodist Convention an "Alice in Wonderland Experience," explaining that while both liberal and conservative Christian groups attended, Jews could not talk to any of them. "We were in another faith community's space … not there in a supportive capacity. We talked into our wrists."
One problem that Felson sees is the need to distinguish between groups like the Women's Division of the United Methodist Church, with its budget of $30 million, that calls all Zionist leaders "terrorists" and equates the birth of Israel with "original sin," and other groups who consider themselves friends of the Palestinians and bear "authentic witness to the plight of Palestinians … from genuine concern."
There are voices critical of Israel that don't distort and that must not be silenced, "or we leave all the space to the extremists," according to Felson. Pacifists, for example, come from a different theological base. "With their talk of turning the other cheek and the evils of warfare, they are not coming from the same dark place" as a Donald Wagner- the notorious North Paul University professor who "describes Palestine as a beautiful garden and Israel as a killer vine." These voices must be heard.
Jews and other faiths are "at the beginning of an important conversation," Felson said. "We're learning that when relationships happen in the daylight, demonization becomes impossible." .