JLC Executive Director: Jewish Ideas Can Strengthen and Renew American Conservativism

Written by Kol HaBirah Staff on . Posted in Features

The Jewish Leadership Conference (JLC) aims to develop a new political and cultural vision for American Jewry, and to bring together Jews who believe that conservative ideas can help strengthen the Jewish people, the Jewish nation, and the American civic future. The JLC is organizing its second annual conference on Jews and Conservatism, which will take place on Oct. 28 in New York City. Kol HaBirah spoke to Jonathan Silver, executive director of the JLC, to learn more.

Tell us about the Tikvah Fund and the Jewish Leadership Conference.

The Tikvah Fund is a publisher and an educational institution, working both in the United States and in Israel. Tikvah’s mission is to bring the enduring questions of the human condition into conversation with great Jewish texts, figures from Jewish history, and Jewish ideas. Tikvah’s focus is about Jewish excellence and Jewish wisdom, and it isn’t primarily political, but one of the things that Tikvah sponsors is our work at the Jewish Leadership Conference, which is more political in nature.

At the JLC, we’re interested in making two different kinds of arguments:

First, that there are some conservative ways of thinking and policy ideas that can strengthen the American Jewish community. A culture of school choice has the potential to liberate the tax dollars of Jewish families to pay for Jewish education; the Jewish support of religious freedom for all Americans is also of particular benefit to our community; a more conservative analysis of America’s alliance structure in the Middle East will tend to be better for the U.S.-Israel relationship. There are many more examples of this kind.

Second, we want to argue that there are some key Jewish ideas — ideas from the Biblical and rabbinic tradition — that can strengthen and even renew conservatism, such as intergenerational responsibility, human dignity as the root of human equality, and the importance of family. We believe that the Jewish tradition has an extraordinary contribution to make to the American public square.

Can you give our readers a preview of what will happen at the Conference on Jews and Conservatism this year?

We’re just getting started, and so this year’s conference is really about bringing together the most important and interesting Jewish intellectuals who are asking the kinds of questions we think the community should be thinking about.

Ayelet Shaked, Israel's justice minister, will be speaking about the whole question of the Israeli judiciary, and whether an activist judiciary imperils both the democratic and the Jewish identities of the State of Israel. We will be honoring a real hero: the human rights champion Natan Sharansky — a Soviet refusenik, active in Israeli politics, to whom the Tikvah Fund will award its Herzl Prize, celebrating Mr. Sharansky’s life and career. He will join Elliott Abrams to discuss geopolitics.

We mourn the loss of Charles Krauthammer, who wrote about everything under the sun but always paid special attention to Jewish ideas and the State of Israel. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and Rich Lowry of the National Review will reflect on Dr. Krauthammer’s legacy as a fount of conservative ideas.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, the winner of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s 2018 Canterbury Medal, is a rising star. He is the rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York and runs the Straus Center at Yeshiva University. He will speak about Judaism and the cultural preconditions for American freedom. 

Lastly, Dan Senor, author of “Start-up Nation,” will join Seth Siegel, author of a really interesting recent book on Israel’s hydrotechnology, to discuss the status of Israeli entrepreneurship and the conditions that have led to this entrepreneurship.

What type of crowd are you expecting?

Last year was our inaugural conference and we had 370 people. They came from 20 states in the U.S., as well as Mexico, Canada, and Israel. People are just starting to discover the conference, so our hope is that we’ll welcome many more guests this year.

Attendees won't be uniform or homogeneous — some are attracted to the conference because they believe in the Israel-U.S. relationship but are not necessarily religious; others care about threats to religious freedom; and there are some people who come to our events because they are worried about the resurgence of anti-Semitism.

As I speak with people, I have noticed that there’s a real anxiety among parents and grandparents who are getting ready to send their children off to the University of Maryland, or George Washington University, or Johns Hopkins University. They look at what’s happening to religious students on campus and they’re worried, and I don’t blame them. This year’s conference features a session on how to think about the campus crisis.

What is interesting to you about the Greater Washington area and Baltimore Jewish communities?

So many Jews in this area have a heightened sense of politics and care a lot about public affairs. The community in Baltimore is one of the strongest affiliated [Jewish] communities in the U.S. outside of New York. We'd love for them to join us and for them to bring Torah and Jewish wisdom into the conversation about public affairs.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Only that readers who are interested in our work can also subscribe to our free weekly podcast. “Kikar: Conversations in the Jewish Public Square” is available on iTunes and wherever you get your podcasts.