Marci Gerston of the Silicon Valley CRC with Marty Cooper and Maxine Richman. /JCPAMarci Gerston of the Silicon Valley CRC with Marty Cooper and Maxine Richman. /JCPA

The national Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) has recognized the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s Community Relations Council with a program excellence award for its work on the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty. Each year, the award is given to a CRC that successfully implements exemplary programs that set an example of what other CRCs can do in their communities.

“This award is a symbol of the work the CRC has done in the area of social justice. It signifies that the Jewish community is playing a role in working to reduce poverty and improve civil rights in our state,” said Marty Cooper, director of the CRC. “It is recognition of our dedication and leadership on these issues.”

The CRC was instrumental in founding the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty in 2008. The coalition serves as a faith-based voice on systemic issues that underlie poverty and calls on elected officials to make a commitment to cut poverty in Rhode Island.  Maxine Richman, an active member of the CRC, is its co-chair. Rev. Betsy Aldrich Garland is the chair. The CRC plays an ongoing active role in the coalition.

The JCPA, an organization of more than a dozen national groups and more than 125 community relations councils, presented the award at its annual plenum, called the Jewish Community Town Hall, which was held Oct. 10-13 in Washington, D.C. The meeting of activists sets the community relations agenda for the organized American Jewish community. Richman, from the CRC, represents Rhode Island on the JCPA board of directors.

In Rhode Island, the CRC works on a number of issues that impact the Jewish community, including poverty, gun violence and domestic violence. “We do this through advocacy at both the state and national levels,” said Cooper.

He said the CRC is providing support for the Living on the Edge initiative. It has taken an active role in reducing gun violence statewide. And it is working with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “I am an active member of the ‘Ten Men’ program whose purpose is to let people know that domestic violence is an issue that needs to be condemned. It’s not just a women’s issue; it’s a men’s and a women’s issue.”

The CRC is also working with the Holocaust Education and Resource Center of Rhode Island (HERCRI) to make sure legislation is introduced to require Holocaust and genocide education be taught in middle and high schools throughout Rhode Island. “We believe this education will greatly reduce the bullying epidemic in the schools,” Cooper said.

Of course, he said, much of the CRC focus is on Israel advocacy. In addition taking the lead locally on day-to-day issues, the “Can We Talk About Israel” program that promotes positive dialogue about difficult issues is ongoing.

During the JCPA meeting, for the first time in more than nine years, the Rhode Island CRC was the primary sponsor of a resolution asking the JCPA and its membership to advocate for the United States to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide that took place at the turn of the 20th century. The resolution passed easily, according to Cooper.

Cooper will co-chair the CRC director’s meeting that follows the Town Hall. During this meeting, local CRC directors discuss issues that impact their work, such as BDS, Iran, the Syrian refugee situation and anti-Semitism.

“This is tremendous validation” of what the Rhode Island CRC does, said Cooper.

FRAN OSTENDORF is editor of The Jewish Voice.