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Local Officials of NCCJ Welcome Group’s New All-Inclusive Name

Unhappy with its name as this multicultural decade began, the venerable National Conference of Christians and Jews announced in 1991 it would be known henceforth simply as “The National Conference.”

The ensuing confusion was heard coast-to-coast:

“The National Conference . . . of what?”

“When is that national conference anyway?”

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“Those of us in public relations advised against the new name,” recalled Jerry Freedman Habush of Van Nuys, a longtime publicist for the organization’s Los Angeles region. “We all wanted to retain the initials and have a name that says what we do.”

Now Habush and other executives of the 71-year-old New York-based organization are pleased with a new name pointing to its nonsectarian efforts to combat bigotry and promote mutual respect among different ethnic, racial and religious groups:

NCCJ, The National Conference for Community and Justice.

“It’s been extremely well-received since it was formally adopted in April,” said Sanford Cloud Jr., president and CEO.

Two posters and a slogan, “We open minds"--created free of charge by OgilvyOne Worldwide for the Los Angeles chapter--have been adopted nationally by the NCCJ.

Cloud said he liked “The National Conference” name when he came to the organization in 1994, but soon found that the shortened name “was really a distraction for us.” In speeches and news announcements, Cloud and others always had to add the explanation, “formerly known as the Conference of Christians and Jews.”

And writing the name alternatively as “The National Conference (of Christians and Jews)” only made matters worse.

“It was weird,” said Jim Hilvert, executive director of the NCCJ’s Los Angeles regional office.

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Recovering the acronym NCCJ was good for community relations workers who already knew the organization by those initials, Hilvert said. Habush said he hoped NCCJ would be as recognizable one day as the initials of such nonprofit organizations as the NAACP, ACLU and ADL.

The NCCJ’s is not the only struggle over identity.

The Religious Public Relations Council recently announced a new name after 35 years: Religion Communicators Council. A spokesman said the change reflected the fact that more than half its members have “communication” in their titles. (The Los Angeles chapter, which hosted the 1995 national convention at Universal City, is currently inactive.)

The Christian Booksellers Assn., an evangelical trade group based in Colorado Springs, Colo., sought a new name in the mid-1990s to encompass the music, jewelry and clothing sold in its expanding stores and to embrace a membership including more than retailers. The annual CBA conventions have grown so large that they are now limited to major convention center sites.

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Eventually, association leaders urged the industry to simply call it the CBA, even though the full name was no longer descriptive.

“Anything comprehensive was too long,” said CBA President Bill Anderson, adding that “the cost of changing our name was too much to bring it up to the same level of recognition.”

Cloud, of the NCCJ, said in a telephone interview that only “modest amounts” were spent on experts in 1990-91 to come up with “The National Conference” and in 1997-98 to settle on a corporate logo.

The NCCJ has broadened its revenue basis since Cloud arrived as the organization’s top administrator four years ago, going from an annual budget of nearly $16 million to more than $20 million.

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“Historically, we relied on special-event fund-raising, but that percentage of our budget, while substantial, has gone down,” Cloud said. “We have increasingly looked to foundation and corporate contributions.”

Such special events can be big in Hollywood, however. Some 750 stars and entertainment executives raised $1.3 million in April at the NCCJ’s annual Humanitarian Award banquet, a black-tie affair at the Century Plaza Hotel. As if to demonstrate the NCCJ credo of respectful human relations, Barry Diller presented fellow media mogul Sumner Redstone of Viacom with the award--despite Redstone’s victory in their bitter bidding war four years ago for control of Paramount Communications.

The biggest yearly expense for the Los Angeles regional office, Hilbert said, is for its two Brotherhood-Sisterhood camps, each attended by 100 youths, many of whom do not pay the full $250 fee. The Los Angeles office in a Wilshire Boulevard high rise is one of 65 chapters nationwide. Five other Southern California chapters are in Santa Monica, Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego.

The national organization was founded in 1927 by such figures as Charles Evan Hughes and Jane Addams. It was given the lengthy name of the National Conference of Jews and Christians for the Advancement of Justice, Amity and Peace. In 1939, the name was shortened to the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

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By the 1980s, NCCJ leaders saw that name as too limited because it implied that the country’s growing numbers of Muslims, Buddhists and other religious groups were excluded. Not only that, many NCCJ programs dealt with race relations and interethnic understanding, regardless of religious considerations.

“There was a wide perception that the organization was interested only in interreligious tensions, which was far from the truth,” Habush said.

The Los Angeles chapter, housed for years in the large Wilshire Boulevard Temple, moved to its current office building about five years ago.

Although the Los Angeles office annually sponsors a Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast and a retreat for Catholic, Protestant and Jewish seminarians, many of its programs deal with high school students, neighborhood dialogues, seminars on toleration for law enforcement officers, firefighters and youth workers.

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Whether the gatherings are for adults or youths, Habush said, helping participants “to confront biases within themselves” sometimes results in “highly emotional sessions.” In the end, the goals are “to understand and value human differences,” he said.


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