Soft power describes how communities and countries exert influence through persuasion. Soft power is how countries and communities use the attractiveness of their culture, values and institutions as a means to enhance their strength and standing. By contrast, hard power implies compelling actions through the use of military force, economic or political pressure and other means of coercion.

As I have been getting to know partner-institutions in the Jewish community here in the Valley in my role as the new executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, I have been impressed by so many wonderful organizations whose work in the community and institutional models exemplify the soft power of the Jewish community.

One great example of soft power is Jewish Free Loan, which offers interest-free loans throughout the Jewish community. Some loans are to individuals and businesses to help solve problems or seize opportunities. Lately, some loans help Jewish institutions enhance security measures. We are fortunate to have JFL in our community. 

Unfortunately, there are few resources like JFL available to other non-Jewish communities here in greater Phoenix. However, thanks to JFL’s soft power and positive role-model influence, that’s changing — to the benefit of everyone. 

A few years back, some members from the African American business community approached Jewish Free Loan to learn how this dynamic model could be replicated in their own community. Subsequently, JFL offered mentorship and guidance to assist in creating an interest-free lending program to help serve the African American community. Thanks to this mentorship, UPI Loans — a JFL-style project — has been successful in setting up a similar program to serve the African American community and other communities of color throughout Arizona.

In a similar way, the JCRC builds on this approach by sharing JFL’s successful model with other communities across the Valley. A big part of the JCRC’s work is to engage in innovative partnerships with non-Jewish communities to help strengthen Phoenix civil society.

There are many other institutions in our community such as the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Gesher Disability Resources and Jewish Family & Children’s Service that serve as models to strengthen other communities. These institutions offer robust examples of the institutional models that underscore the soft power of the Jewish community.

One of the most important aspects of enhancing our community’s soft power is internalizing and appreciating the strengths of our institutions. We in the Jewish community can often be self-critical, focusing on our shortcomings rather than appreciating our strengths and successes.

When you look from the outside, however, others in our metro area see the strength of our Jewish institutions. Other organizations’ professional staff and lay leaders want to learn from our success, and in many cases, adapt or replicate our models in their own communities. This creates an opportunity for us to make connections, networks and partnerships to share our models, and use our soft power for good — even if we sometimes have to take a step back to better internalize our own strengths. 

Moving forward, the JCRC will continue to work internally to strengthen the Jewish community’s myriad interconnections, and also to project the Jewish community’s soft power externally by sharing the dynamic models of our institutions with our neighbors and partners outside the Jewish community.

Through this soft power outreach, we will help strengthen civil society here in Arizona, helping protect and secure the Jewish community’s well-being for generations to come. Persuasion is the best way to teach and share our values and build bridges across our beautiful Valley of the Sun. JN


Paul Rockower is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix.