By Michael Sudhalter
Cantor Elisa Abrams Cohn of Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS) in Arlington expressed her gratitude toward second-term Arlington Mayor Jim Ross for starting the “Mayor’s Jewish Advisory Council” (JAC).
It’s the first time in the history of the Metroplex’s third-largest city (and the seventh-largest city in Texas) that such a council has been established.
“Mayor Ross loves learning about the diverse people of Arlington and building awareness and coexistence,” Abrams Cohn said. “It’s important to work to open lines of communication.”
Abrams Cohn is one of 10 members — and the lone spiritual leader — of the JAC, which includes members of CBS; Barry Abels, Jewish Federation of Tarrant County & Fort Worth executive director; and Amy Berger, American Jewish Committee (AJC) Dallas associate regional director. The JAC meets as needed and regularly communicates with the mayor’s office. Thus far, they’ve had two meetings, in August and October, respectively.
“It certainly is in line with the mayor’s objectives to know the pulse of the community and to determine actions for the benefit of the people of Arlington,” Abels said. “This is a great opportunity for our community to create friends and allies. In today’s environment where antisemitism, racism and hate are on the rise, it gives us a top-tier forum to bring issues and determine solutions. It’s a great model for other communities to ensure that all voices are heard.”
The JAC co-chairs are Pam Sudbury, CBS past president and Arlington citizen since 1999, and Brent Sasley, a political science professor at The University of Texas at Arlington. The committee is rounded out by Cathy Frisinger, Jane Freidlin, Sarah Hatler, Lani Aldaba, Lisa Rein, Ben Weiger, Barrett Garrison, Brent Sasley, Janet Aaronson, Phil Kabakoff, Joel Schwitzer and Howard Rosenthal.
The seeds of the JAC started in June when Ross visited CBS to discuss a trip that he took, along with several American mayors, to Israel. The trip was sponsored by AJC.
“It provided a greater opportunity to see how mayors in other countries deal with similar issues, including infrastructure, policing and homelessness,” Ross said.
During his trip last summer, Ross met a mayor from a southern Israel community who was murdered during the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7.
The JAC has become that much more important, given last month’s attacks and Israel’s subsequent response. The JAC had a Zoom meeting with Ross to provide its perspective on the ongoing crisis in Israel.
“[The JAC] gives us an opportunity to better understand how the conflict affects our Jewish community here in Arlington,” Ross said.
Abrams Cohn said that one of the mayor’s key priorities is ensuring that antisemitism, Islamophobia or any type of hatred does not manifest itself in Arlington.
One of the main thoroughfares in Arlington is Division Street, but Ross is trying to build more unity and less division.
Thus, the mayor’s office has created 10 councils and a task force, so that Ross can go directly to communities, rather than relying on assumptions.
These are the councils:
- Education Coalition
- Veterans Affairs Task Force
- Asian Advisory Council
- Black Advisory Council
- Jewish Advisory Council
- Latino Advisory Council
- LGBTQ Advisory Council
- Muslim Advisory Council
- Older Adults Advisory Council
- Women’s Advisory Council
- Young Adult Advisory Council
“We’ve been very fortunate in Arlington,” Sudbury said. “We’ve had a good group of mayors who really care about the city and kept it progressing along. Having these advisory councils means that Arlington wants to be fair, inviting and welcoming to everybody.”
In Arlington, mayors are limited to three two-year terms. Ross hopes the councils continue in the future, but it will ultimately be up to his successor(s).
“Arlington is the fifth most diverse city in the nation, and it benefits us to have these councils,” Ross said.
In addition to establishing these councils, there are All-Council Gatherings with two councils present, with the others listening and asking questions.
The JAC is set to present in May, which also happens to be Jewish Heritage Month.
“We are excited about the All-Council Gathering,” Abrams Cohn said. “It is an opportunity to better understand each other. It provides a chance to laugh, bond and ask questions that we may not be able to ask otherwise. We are collaborating with the mayor and the other councils to strengthen a diverse community.”
The mayor has tasked each council with developing a mission statement, vision statement and priorities.
Sudbury shared the following:
The mission of the City of Arlington’s Jewish Advisory Council is: (1) To provide information, understanding, and advice to the Mayor of Arlington regarding Jewish life in Arlington and Tarrant County; and (2) To liaise between the City and the local Jewish community.
The Jewish Advisory Council envisions a city of caring and acceptance within and between its Jewish population and the broader public. We see an informed and engaged citizenry, and a healthy and safe Jewish community.
Sudbury also listed the JAC’s priorities:
- Advocate for the Mayor of Arlington to publicly adopt a statement against antisemitism.
- Providing educational resources and training to teachers and staff at Arlington ISD to combat antisemitism.
- Official adoption of Jewish holidays in the AISD calendar.
- Provide funding for security of Jewish and other religious institutions.
- Establish ongoing communication with the City about antisemitic activities in Arlington and the surrounding areas.
With regard to the funding for security, Sudbury said the State of Texas provided CBS with a security grant to pay for an Arlington police officer to be present at the congregation. She hopes the city can help to provide additional funds, as security accounts for approximately one-third of CBS’ budget.