ABOUT THE JEWISH PEACE FELLOWSHIP
Who We Are
The Jewish Peace Fellowship unites those who believe that Jewish ideals and experience provide inspiration for a nonviolent philosophy of life. Stimulated by elements in traditional and contemporary Judaism stressing love and brotherhood, the JPF promotes the attitude of respect for man and confidence in his essential decency, These attitudes it endeavors to incorporate in the personal relations of its members and friends. In striving to eliminate the causes of war, the JPF is also concerned with the advancement of freedom and justice for all men."
Growing awareness of the Jewish roots of pacifism gave birth to the Jewish Peace Fellowship. Its relationship to Jewish communal institutions and the moral quandaries of individual Jews is a paradox of simultaneous acceptance and rejection. The birth process was a slow one, spanning almost twenty years. In 1924. the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Reform Judaism's rabbinical body, denounced the use of war by society. ( A few years later, the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly followed suit.) In the same year, when Abraham Cronbach distributed a Jewish pacifist pledge at the Central Conference Convention, few rabbis responded. The Executive Board firmly indicated that such a campaign would be harmful to the Jewish community and to the Reform rabbinical college where he taught. Rabbi Cronbach's efforts were premature.
In the midst of World War II, the Jewish Peace Fellowship was formed in 1941. Many of the members were rejected by their families as well as by the general Jewish community. Their own consciences were torn by the horrors exercised in Germany, their pacifism confronted with the necessity of opposing unsurpassed evil unleashed against fellow Jews, with no easy nonviolent answers. Yet, despite the quandaries, funds were soon coming in to JPF from official Jewish bodies.
What accounts for such a paradoxical organization? The Jewish Peace Fellowship coalesced during 1941 and the beginning of 1942 out of three groups of Jewish antiwar activists. Two groups had formed under the leadership of Rabbi Isidor Hoffman, one consisting of Columbia University graduate students and the other of Jewish conscientious objectors in the New York city and Philadelphia areas. The third group was led by Cronbach, Jane Evans, and Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld in Cincinnati. At the first united meeting, Lelyveld was named President, Hoffman vice-President, and Abraham Citron, Secretary. Abraham Cronbach, Jane Evans, and Sam Grand participate with the officers in the first Executive Board committee. The members were closely connected to the Reform and Conservative organizational bodies as well as to Jewish communal organizations, These personal and institutional ties helped when it came time to convince the Jewish community of its obligation to Jewish pacifists.
The spread of JPF was more informal, however: by word of mouth or through exposure to JPF publications. By the first newsletter in August 1942, membership has reached 53 with new chapters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. By February 1943, there were 93 members. JPF was represented on the National Service Board for Religious Objectors and engaged in various projects to assist COs and to eliminate racism. The organization declared itself at this time for the establishment of a Palestinian refuge for persecuted Jews.
Already, one of the ever-present problems of JPF emerged. Of the 93 members, only 33 contributed money. The services solicited from the organization have always outweighed its financial resources. Money was eventually sought and received from the Jewish community. Because Jewish COs were, in general, being supported in civilian work camps by non-Jewish religious groups, principally by the Quakers, the Jewish community was successfully convinced to fund Jewish COs through the JPF. (At that time, religious COs - no others were recognized - had their basic support in camps paid for by their respective denominations.) With the end of the war, however, this funding ceased.
JPF's principal function has been to link individuals working for peace and to serve as a forum for discussion of peacemaking. Sporadically, the organization has become more active. Each new burst of activity has been marked by changes in the newsletter format and upgrading of its style. In the 1950s, Tidings replaced the initial newsletter. It was followed in the late '60s by a revived Newsletter along with a new quarterly Shalom magazine. Activity remained centered around support for COs and anti-war programs.
With each moral crisis in American society, interest in JPF has expanded. As the problems have retreated from public focus, so has the visibility of the organization, It peaked, of course, during the war in Vietnam. By the summer of 1970, JPF had 1250 members and 2000 additional friends and supporters. In the peak years of CO counseling, field secretaries were placed in major regions of the country. By the Fall of 1969, Allan Solomonow became the first National Program Director. He was succeeded by Paul Schiffman and, later, Bruce Ballin.
With the end of the war, JPF had to release its field secretaries and program director for lack of money. But the founders and members of JPF had no grandiose illusions about its cope and importance. Nor did they with to segregate Jews in their efforts for peace. Their major peacemaking activities were extended in working with organizations such as the FOR, WRL, WILPF, and SABE. When Rabbi Michael Robinson accepted the presidency of JPF in 1965, he insisted on affiliation with the FOR. Close cooperation has continued under Naomi Goodman's current term in office. Leadership in the JPF has come primarily from the Chairmen and Secretaries. Besides those people already mentioned, these have included Jerome Malino, Arthur Gilbert, Asher Block, Jacob Sloan, Don Peretz, Hershel Matt, Max Ticktin and Irving Ruderman.
As the focus of concern over American involvement has shifted from Indochina to the Middle East, JPF finds itself in the same isolate position it occupied during its early days, during World War II. With the lives of a substantial proportion of Jews at stake, most Jews place their faith in military solutions to the conflict., JPF's purpose is to promote nonviolent alternatives in the Middle East and elsewhere. Individual members may disagree over political goals, but they share a basic respect for the territorial rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. One of the functions of JPF today is to lend support to Israeli COs who find themselves so completely isolated within Israeli society.
Within America, JPF continues to cooperate with other pacifist groups to work for amnesty and against militarism. Members nit only give voice to their views through the Jewish Peace Fellowship, but they have also helped open up the doors of the Jewish community to various groups (including BREIRA, Yozma, PIPA and Tzedek Tzedek) which stand for new directions in Israeli and American Jewish policy. The Jewish Peace Fellowship continues to operate in a low-key fashion, working quietly to open the channels for peacemaking and cooperating with other groups - but as a distinctive presence, giving a specifically Jewish affirmation of peace to those Jews who participate.