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Jewish Community Relations Council opens shop in Stamford

By Stacey Dresner

STAMFORD – Lauren Steinberg has been named director of the newly formed Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.

With Steinberg’s hiring, the United Jewish Federation (UJF) of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien fills the void left after the former JCRC became defunct several years ago.

“We now have got a new JCRC that is very energized,” said Peter Lilienthal, chair of the JCRC. “We have a wonderful committee and with all of the issues that could be pursued we are setting a direction of working on two main issues – those issues centered around antisemitism and also the Jewish view of what it means to help refugees.”

Lauren Steinberg said that it was particularly important at this time for there to be a JCRC in Stamford to deal with these, as well as several other issues that concern the Jewish community.

“In terms of being forward thinking, Federation was trying to establish the way to make the largest mark on the community and engage the greatest number of people, especially in this era when politics are contentious, divisive and heated,” Steinberg said. “It made sense to establish a public affairs presence that would really bring together people from across the Jewish community involved in these issues and also to open up new doors of our cooperation with all of the other communities in Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.”

In the past, those doors of cooperation have sometimes been closed, said Rebekah Raz, vice president of the UJA.

“I think with the world in which we live today, and the environment that we are surrounded with in politics and with the new administration that this is the perfect time to start reaching out to our neighbors to let them know that we are here,” she said. “A lot of them don’t know that.”

Raz cited the UJA’s “Stop the Sirens” campaign a few summers ago when Israel was being inundated with rockets from Gaza.

“We reached out to our non-Jewish neighbors to see if we could put some information in their materials. These were Evangelical churches that we know support Israel, and they didn’t give us the time of day because they didn’t know who we were,” she said. “I think being good neighbors is a positive thing. We can certainly lend our expertise, like with the refugee issue. We have experience bringing in refugees from the former Soviet Union so we have expertise that we can lend them to them, plus it is good to have their support when we are in a time of need.”

Not even a month into her new position, Steinberg was at the helm of the JCRC’s May 11 kick-off event, which featured Doron Horowitz, a senior national security advisor who works with Secure Community Network, the Homeland Security agency of the Conference of Presidents and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Horowitz participated in three events in Stamford – a briefing for Federation partner agencies on security in their institutions; a meeting with local police officials about increasing collaboration between the police and Jewish community; and an evening event at the New Canaan Library that was open to the public.

Horowitz shared his threat assessment to the local police, informing them of things “they may not have been aware of,” Steinberg said.

“He spoke about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), and how this sort of anti-Israel advocacy can turn toward antisemitism.”

“Security is definitely one of our top issue areas, the second one probably being interfaith and social justice work,” Steinberg added. “We are involved with the Interfaith Council of Southwestern CT and we are really looking to expand on our programs; reaching out to the entire community and working with the community on issues of mutual importance including immigration reform and refugee advocacy.”

And of course, Israel is at the top of the JCRC’s priority list.

“Israel is a large focus of our work, both in terms of having important conversations about the country within the Jewish community, but also reaching out about Israel to our contacts outside the Jewish community.”

At the helm

A native of New City, New York, Steinberg got her undergraduate degree in political science and modern Jewish studies from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Joint program. After working for a year at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., she got her master’s in political science with a focus on international security at Columbia.

She then went to work at the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) New York office coordinating intergroup and interfaith affairs, before moving to ADL’s national counter-terrorism office as an analyst. She stayed in that position for three years.

“I was looking at Islamic extremist threats in the United States; their use of antisemitism and specifically the recruitment and radicalization process – who are the Americans engaged in networks and conversations and the ideology? Does Islamic extremism appear to be motivated by that ideology or that propaganda? Why are they engaged and what are they doing?”

After her analyses, Steinberg wrote up reports and blogs on new developments for the ADL that were distributed to the public and law enforcement. She also travelled around the country speaking to law enforcement officials about security and the Jewish community.

Steinberg and her husband relocated from New York to Stamford last October when she was working in Manhattan for the ADL and he was working on a graduate degree at Yale.

“Stamford was the perfect mid-way point,” Steinberg said. “It turns out we love it here and we had our first child, exactly five months ago, we decided it would be great if I could work more locally. I was so excited to learn that I could do something I was passionate about here.”

Raz said that Steinberg’s extensive experience made her the perfect candidate to take over the new role at the JCRC.

“Aside from having this amazing background, she is extremely intelligent, outgoing, confident,” Raz said. “There’s an air about her – when she is talking to other people she is not wishy-washy, she knows exactly what she is talking about. She knows the importance of having a JCRC within the community. The JCRC has the unique opportunity to be the public affairs arm of the Federation…We can represent the Jewish community to non-Jews who are our neighbors and she really has the skill set to do that.”

Steinberg says she has been excited to get down to the important work of advocating for the Stamford Jewish community.

“I’m really looking forward to working with JFACT throughout Connecticut and working internally in Stamford, New Canaan and Darien to really get engaged and make an impact,” she said.

CAP: Lauren Steinberg

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