Changes to national Jewish group could affect interfaith dialogue

  • January 5, 2011
Canadian Jewish CongressAfter more than 30 years of official dialogue and 60 years of nurturing a genuine bond, Christians and Jews in Canada may be looking at a new relationship as the organization which has represented the Jewish side in the dialogue is either phased out of existence or significantly reorganized.

The Canadian Jewish Congress, the 91-year-old organization that represents the interests of most Canadian Jews, could cease to exist as early as June. That doesn’t mean Catholics won’t have a Jewish partner in the dialogue next year, but it may mean a more limited focus on Israel and related political issues, Catholic and Jewish dialogue partners told The Catholic Register.

Dr. Victor Goldbloom, who has participated in official Christian-Jewish dialogue in Canada since the first body was established in 1977 — and unofficially since he became a friend of Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger in Montreal in the 1950s — said there’s no indication a new Jewish organization would seek to replace Jewish representatives in Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Though Goldbloom fears a more narrow and partisan organization may replace the CJC, he doesn’t believe a more intense focus on lobbying and advocacy will change interfaith relationships. Goldbloom praised the Catholic side in the dialogue as “rock solid” despite the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. 
“When we have had significant frictions with the Anglican Church, and particularly with the United Church of Canada, the Catholic Church has been rock solid in its commitment to dialogue and to sharing mutual concerns — including concern for the welfare of the state of Israel,” Goldbloom said.

“If the CJC became more political I don’t think it would change an awful lot,” said Fr. Murray Watson, a Catholic representative in Christian-Jewish dialogue. “But I think it might marginalize some of the really good religious conversation that goes on.”

A source close to the reorganizing process on the Jewish side hoped long-standing relationships would remain intact.

“The hope is that the good stuff remains. Nobody at this stage knows what this entity is going to look like,” said the source, who is not authorized to speak to the media.

Reorganization of most of the large Jewish organizations in Canada began more than seven years ago when a group of major donors to the United Jewish Appeal, unhappy with Canadian Jewish advocacy on behalf of Israel, created the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy. With considerable influence over the purse strings for the CJC, the Canada-Israel Committee, National Jewish Campus Life and other organizations, CIJA has pushed for amalgamation and rationalization of services and programs.

Current plans call for a new structure bearing a single name in June. Some are pushing for the new organization to be called the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Israel is often a topic in Christian-Jewish dialogue. A sharper political focus from the CJC might force churches to be more clear about their position on Israel, according to Watson.

“There’s never one of these meetings I’ve been to that didn’t involve Israel in some way or another,” he said. “The question is not so much whether we talk about politics, but given that politics is at the centre of the discussion, can we find ways to talk about religion?”

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