Editorial | A debt of gratitude to Doug Kahn and JCRC

Bay Area leaders across political, ethnic and religious lines are preparing to say goodbye and “job well done” to Jewish Community Relations Council executive director Rabbi Doug Kahn. After 34 years of impeccable service, Kahn has earned the accolades now pouring in.

Over the decades, he and JCRC have been the Jewish community’s most stalwart advocates, standing up against anti-Semitism, anti-Israel activities on college campuses, repression of Soviet Jews and efforts to curb religious freedoms, such as the 2011 proposal to ban ritual circumcision in San Francisco, which never made it to the ballot thanks in large part to JCRC leadership.

In almost all cases, JCRC scored victories big and small, thanks largely to Kahn’s deft diplomatic skills and powers of persuasion. As he says in our cover story this week, in whatever controversial issue he faced, no matter how contentious, he always sought consensus.

But Kahn has done much more than merely react to threats against the Jewish community. As the agency’s name suggests, JCRC is about community relations. Throughout his tenure, Kahn has built strong interfaith and inter-ethnic relationships with the African American, Asian American, Latino and Muslim American communities.

That meant the Jewish community stood with them, and they stood with the Jewish community when solidarity mattered most.

Founded in 1938 as the Jewish Survey Committee, dedicated to raising local awareness about the worsening plight of European Jewry, the San Francisco-based JCRC has over the years championed such universal issues as civil rights, fair housing and employment, equality in education, immigration rights and same-sex marriage, and has taken strong stands against nuclear proliferation, South African apartheid and domestic violence.

Despite the agency’s long history, not everyone in the Bay Area Jewish community is familiar with it, and there’s a reason for that. JCRC prefers to work quietly behind the scenes to effect change, a modus operandi that has worked well.

In honor of Kahn, we want to give a shout-out to the agency and its role in creating a better Bay Area society. And we want to also praise Kahn’s replacement, Abby Porth, a 17-year veteran of the agency who becomes only the fourth full-time executive director in the agency’s 78-year history. She apprenticed with the best, and is well positioned to lead JCRC as it faces the challenges ahead.

We thank Doug Kahn for his hard work and unstinting dedication. The Jewish community owes him its gratitude.