The 90th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the organization of Reform rabbis in the United States and Canada, was held last March in Phoenix despite objections by many members to holding the convention in Arizona, a state that had voted down the Equal Rights Amendment-Rabbi Judea B. Miller of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, New York, called for a general boycott a few weeks before the convention. “Every other organization of Reform Judaism has decided to reschedule its national convention out of states that have so far refused to support the Equal Rights Amendment “he said. “This is not said in judgment of colleagues who voted to keep the convention in Phoenix because they feared a possible $20,000 penalty to the (CCAR). That would have come to less than $20 per member for the sake of principle.”
Miller was referring to the fact that in order to withdraw from its contract with the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix, the CCAR would have had to pay a cancellation fee of $20,000. Some months before the convention, CCAR members rejected, in a mail ballot, the option of paying the fee and relocating the convention, by 85% to 15%.
According to Rabbi Elliot Stevens, Administrative Secretary of the CCAR, the contract with the hotel was signed some four years ago, before any doubts had been raised regarding the holding of a convention in an unratified state.
“Engaging in such a secondary boycott would have been an immoral intrusion into the democratic process,” said Rabbi Joseph B. Glaser, Executive Vice President of the CCAR, “as well as an indiscriminate injustice against the workers of the hotel and the hotel itself, an equal opportunity employer. This is not even to mention the question of business ethics, for which the CCAR is also on record.”
Six women rabbis, who ultimately decided to attend the convention, expressed their disappointment that “the Conference has not chosen to manifest its stated support for ERA through the boycott of non-ratified states….”
The six signatories of this statement were Rabbis Sally Priesand; Karen Fox, of the New York Federation of Reform Synagogues; Laura Geller, Director of Hillel at the University of Southern California; Rosalind Gold, of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester; Myra Seifer, of Temple Sinai in New Orleans; and Deborah Prinz, of the Central Synagogue in New York City.
The women rabbis organized a caucus at the convention at which Betty Friedan stressed that lobbying efforts on behalf of ERA should be a priority of American Jews. “The enemy of the Jews and the enemy of women are one and the same enemies This despotism (of extreme right-wing groups) is very bad for the Jews and it’s very bad for women.”
Prior to the convention, Rabbi Ely Pilchik, President of the CCAR, had asserted that it “will have as a major objective a thundering call on the State of Arizona to ratify the ERA and that is why we are going to Phoenix …. This call for ERA in several effective tones will be heard around the nation.”
The rabbis visited with state senators and representatives in order to make their positions on ERA known to the legislators. “From a practical point of view,” Rabbi Stevens said, “the visit to the Legislature had little effect since the amendment was defeated once again just prior to the convention, but the national publicity which the rally attracted was important.”