When Washington, D.C., City Council member Trayon White Sr. spread a conspiracy theory about the Jewish banking family the Rothschilds controlling the weather in March, the news went viral.
The story of his outrageous remarks was published by Jewish community papers and in mainstream news outlets nationally.
It fell to Rabbi Batya Glazer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington to develop an appropriate response. As the JCRC’s director of D.C. government and community relations and director of D.C. and Maryland interfaith relations, Glazer was ideally suited to the task. With a long history of interfaith work and much experience in building bridges, Glazer was able to temper anger with reminders that White didn’t realize what he was implying.
“Batya’s ability to try to find the good in situations served as helping to make sure we had measured judgment,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington.
Her capacity for adjudicating fairly is one of the many qualities, Halber said, that will make Glazer successful at the JCRC of Greater Philadelphia, where she will take the reins as director in early August. Glazer announced the move on Facebook last week, in a humorous post sure to endear her to native Philadelphians: “I am excited to be going home again to the land of hoagies, Italian water ice and jimmies on my ice cream,” she wrote, alongside photos of the LOVE statue and Independence Hall.
Glazer came by her love for Philadelphia honestly: She grew up in Haddonfield, N.J., just 10 miles southeast of the city.
“If you’re from Haddonfield, N.J., you think of Philadelphia as your city,” she said. “Now, if you’re actually from
Philadelphia, you scorn the people from New Jersey who think of Philadelphia as their city. As one of the staff members of the [Jewish] Federation [of Philadelphia] mentioned, ‘We allow them to root for the Eagles.’”
Glazer pointed to her interfaith and coalition-building work as accomplishments of her nearly 10-year tenure with the Washington JCRC.
When Bikur Cholim wanted to put a kosher food pantry into Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., the organization was having a hard time finding the right person to address. It turned to Glazer, who turned to her friend Father Charles Cortinovis, a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, who talked to the hospital.
“And when we walked into the room to discuss setting up a food pantry, it was the entire leadership of the hospital in the room there to figure out how to make that happen,” Glazer said. “And I had just called my friend Charlie.”
Though she has fewer contacts in Philadelphia, Glazer looks forward to reaching out in order to get up to speed: “I am most anxious to talk to as many people as I can to understand the community. It helps that I like people.”
Halber doesn’t think it’ll take her long.
“Batya will hit the ground running and achieve because she’ll know instinctively the 50 people she needs to know,” he said.
Creating those relationships is important in both representing the Jewish community’s interests and working to benefit the community at large, Glazer said. “What’s good for the Jews is good for the community, and what’s good for the community is good for the Jews.”
More than just coalition-building, Halber said, Glazer wanted to get things done. Halber called her “a catalyst for action.”
“Sometimes, all it takes is a group of caring, concerned individuals to sit around and spend some time, and Batya is one of those individuals,” he said. “People always think, ‘Someone is taking care of it.’ Well, she was taking care of it.”
For her next chapter, Glazer said she wants to continue her interfaith work, but also do a lot of listening to understand what the community is already doing and what would be a good fit for the city.
“I’m really excited. There’s so many opportunities in Philadelphia,” she said.
In particular, she said, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia told her the community is just starting to deal with anti-Zionism and anti-Israel protests from the left in a way it hadn’t before. Glazer anticipated that would be an issue she would be addressing.
Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said part of what they were looking for was someone with interfaith bona fides, deep knowledge and who would reflect the diversity of thought and perspective in the community.
“We wanted to be very careful to select someone who was going to be well respected, but also who knows how to listen,” she said. “The Jewish communities of Greater Philadelphia are vibrant and diverse, and I know Rabbi Glazer will do a tremendous job of bringing people together and advocating for our common causes, just as she has in her position in Washington, D.C.”
Glazer will replace Adam Kessler, who resigned from his position in March after 10 years as director.
Additional reporting by Hannah Monicken.
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