Keep Congress focused on the Iranian nuclear challenge

The end of this month will bring a deadline for presenting the framework of a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  I don’t need to tell you that the next several weeks are a critical moment for us to make our voices heard. Right now it is vital that every member of our Congressional delegation hear from as many members of our community as possible.

We need to tell Congress that we support a diplomatic solution that leads to a good deal if possible. We need to say - without delay - that we support the President’s efforts to achieve this, and that JCRC’s support includes our call for our Senators to increase pressure for a good deal by showing their support for the threat of new sanctions if negotiations fail. We need to make sure as many members of our community as possible are having conversations with our delegation about these negotiations.

As I wrote last week, a member of Congress told me that one positive of all the recent politics on this issue is that in the past other nuclear proliferation agreements didn't get the congressional scrutiny they deserved. This time, he said, will be different. I am writing to you because while this may be true, we still need to do our job.

Many of our member organizations have taken public action to mobilize their own constituents this week.  I share with you this message that CJP President Barry Shrage sent out today. Within his message are links to resources from AIPAC and to this action alert from AJC Boston. ADL New England also sent an action alert on this subject this week.

With thanks for all your leadership in this crucial moment,
Jeremy Burton

p.s. We want to know what our member organizations are doing at this time. Please let JCRC know what actions your organization has or is planning to take in the coming weeks to get your members to contact the Massachusetts Congressional delegation and we’ll make sure to mention these efforts by our members in future updates.

Our Commitment to the Commonwealth

JB Governor High Res


During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, Governor Charlie Baker - along with other serious candidates for Governor - met with JCRC to discuss the priorities of the organized Jewish community. Yesterday, over 50 leaders from across our network welcomed him back to congratulate him on his victory and to take an important step toward establishing a deep and broad relationship between him, his administration, and our community.

Over the course of an hour, the Governor heard from Jewish leaders and activists about a range of issues of concern to us and our member agencies:

  • We discussed the importance of addressing poverty and investing in economic development, including workforce development, our support for his efforts to raise the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit, and opportunities for employment training and jobs for people with disabilities.
  • We talked about the flourishing MA-Israel economic partnership and directions the administration can take to continue building our Commonwealth’s ties to the global innovation economy. We are thrilled that Governor Baker continues to state publicly and affirm privately that when he is ready for trade missions, that Israel is at the very top of his list of destinations.
  • We also raised synagogue leaders' engagement with the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to pursue a multi-pronged strategy to combat gun violence, with a focus on a robust private sales background check system and the coordination of systems and agencies responsible for gun crime information.
  • We thanked the Governor for his commitment to participating in community conversations, such as Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s Action in May, and we expressed our concerns about rising anti-Semitism and our desire for public leaders to speak out against all forms of bias.
  • We talked about the social safety net and the work of the CJP partner agencies to care for the seniors and people with disabilities, to support families dealing with poverty and to address economic insecurity. And, we expressed our commitment to continue to partner with government to ensure a vibrant safety net for all the people of Massachusetts.

As we asked questions and asked the Governor to work with us on these critical areas, we also reminded him that our community is a resource and a partner to our leaders in government on a range of crucially important work and that JCRC will continue to connect with political leaders in a way that allows our differences to be discussed and our shared priorities to thrive.

We look forward to continuing yesterday’s dialogue and I am grateful to all our network agencies who came together to renew our commitment to the success of our Commonwealth.

Shabbat Shalom.

We are a Great Cloud of Witnesses

I’ve been sharing quite a bit of analysis of Israel’s elections this week. What I haven’t been sharing are the notes in my inbox and the calls I’ve received from members of the pro-Israel Jewish community here in Boston.

Many of you are applauding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s victory; others are distressed by the direction Israel appears to be taking. Some of you express your deep commitment to respecting Israel’s democratic process and supporting the government formed by its results; others are struggling with the ways in which campaign events challenge our expectations and values.

Yesterday, I noticed a tweet by Reverend Dudley Rose, expressing sadness about the elections in Israel.

Many of you will remember Reverend Rose. He is the Associate Dean of Harvard Divinity School and Senior Minister at North Prospect Union UCC in Medford. Nahma Nadich, our Associate Director, traveled with him to Israel in 2012 on one of JCRC’s study tours for our partners in the Christian clergy.

Last summer, in the darkest days of the conflict in Gaza, he stood with me on the pulpit at Mishkan Tefilla in Newton before 1,000 members of our community. He expressed a powerful message of solidarity with Israel in her efforts to protect her citizens from terror and rockets.

Rev. Rose stood with us then and I wanted to honor his sadness, so I retweeted his comment. Here, with his permission, is his response:

I’ve been thinking of you over these last troubling days. On Facebook I noted how troubling it is that here in the US and in Israel the politics of fear are not only so prevalent but also so successful. It’s a path filled with peril I’m afraid for both countries and heading toward outcomes the right actually fears the most.

I think Amos Oz has it right when he says that the one state solution for Israel is ultimately untenable for Israel’s future. Something corresponding is at stake in the US in the right’s immigration venom.

Looking in the other direction, in the mainline Protestant denominations where the BDS movement is formidable, its adherents will be more adamant now, and resistance to them less effective. All of which is to say that holding fast to hope that God will encourage and guide us nonetheless, or as the black church says, faith that God and we will make a way out of no way. Enough for now, before I ramble ever more dramatic!

Anyway, I pray you will find reasons to be hopeful. I do find some comfort in what the Christian Bible Book of Hebrews calls a “great cloud of witnesses,” people like you whom I love and can stand together with.

Blessing and Shalom,

As we come to the end of this week I draw strength from this message and others like it.

We must find the strength within ourselves to make space for those amongst us who struggle with Israel even as they hold dear our shared hopes for her. We must hold ourselves to a standard of fairness as we voice our concerns and not allow ourselves to stoop to some of the ridiculous and biased criticisms of Israel that go well beyond those experienced by any other nation, including our own.

We all recognize – including those of us who celebrate the outcome of this election - that there are implications in the fight against the delegitimization of Israel, a fight from which we will never shy away.

This is why JCRC will continue to redouble our efforts to engage leaders in Boston with Israel. This summer, Nahma will lead our next delegation of ministers to Israel together with Rabbi Carl Perkins (Needham) and Reverend Dan Smith (Cambridge).

To struggle with Israel is not to despair for her future. Those of us who stood together with Israel in dark moments last summer will continue to stand by her side. We will be Dudley Rose’s ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in our commitment to our greatest aspiration for Israel: That she thrives as a safe and secure, Jewish, and democratic state.

Shabbat Shalom.

JCRC of Greater Boston to Present Community Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah

David Eisenhower, Historian and Grandson of President Dwight Eisenhower, Will Deliver Keynote

(BOSTON) – To honor local survivors of the Holocaust and to pay tribute to those who perished, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) and its partners will present LIBERATION: FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, a community commemoration of Yom HaShoah, on Sunday, April 12th, 10:30 A.M. at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

This year’s event marks the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the New England Holocaust Memorial and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

The keynote speaker, David Eisenhower, is a noted historian and the Director of the Institute for Public Service at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. He is the grandson of U.S. General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“David Eisenhower is not only a renowned scholar of the historical era encompassing the liberation, but is also a direct descendant of a person whose life and legacy is so interwoven with the fate of the Jewish people,” said Rick Mann, Co-Chair of this year’s event . “His appearance is a gift of immeasurable value to our entire community and particularly to the aging survivors who will be in attendance.”

Max Michelson, a native of Riga, Latvia, will speak during the ceremony of his personal story of survival during the Holocaust. He went through a number of concentration camps and was liberated in Germany in May, 1945. Mr. Michelson is also the author of City of Life, City of Death, Memories of Riga.

LIBERATION: FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT is presented in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Facing History and Ourselves, and Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

Honoring Commitment to Service

I hope that the little burst of warmer weather that hit the area on Wednesday was a welcome reminder that even this brutal winter will end and that spring is just seven days away. And if spring and Passover are on the horizon, then JCRC’s yearly celebration cannot be far behind!

This year's JCRC Celebrates (look for details soon) will focus on “Generations of Service,” honoring the leaders and volunteers in JCRC’s multiple service programs including the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy, ReachOut! (for young adults) and TELEM (for middle and high school students). We will pay tribute to our volunteers, who are having such a positive impact on Greater Boston through their sustained commitment to service and are themselves so enriched by the experience.

To illustrate the depth of our volunteers’ commitment, one needs to look only at this past winter, and the “snowpocalyse” that resulted in so many closings and cancellations. In the midst of this incessant cold and snow was a planned service trip by a TELEM group (from Temples Shir Tikvah in Winchester, Sinai in Sharon and Congregation Or Atid in Wayland) to Brooklyn, a return visit to sustain their commitment to communities still suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  The trip was part of an ongoing partnership with local relief groups providing volunteer assistance to low income residents unable to rebuild their homes unaided. As fate would have it, one of the many major winter storms to hit Boston arrived just as the TELEM group was scheduled to depart. The chaperones and staff were on the verge of canceling, but the TELEM teens were insistent – no way would they miss this trip and the chance to help out this community in need! So at the crack of dawn on the following day, they headed to Brooklyn to remove debris and mold and to apply fresh coats of paints on the houses of their new friends.

Our TELEM participants volunteering locally exhibited the same depth of commitment to their work. Students from Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton were getting ready for their weekly volunteer visit with the residents of the Simon C. Fireman Community in Randolph, when the bus company that transports them cancelled due to the treacherous wintry conditions.  Undaunted by the weather, three of the teens immediately jumped into a car and drove themselves right over. Needless to say, the residents, though perhaps a bit shocked, were thoroughly delighted when their young companions showed up in their own in the midst of a snowstorm!

We’re proud of the many ways in which our volunteers are living their Jewish values and honoring their commitment to building a stronger and more vibrant community. We look forward to sharing their stories and introducing you to them at our Gala on May 19th.

Shabbat Shalom,

MA Legislature Passes Anti-Semitism Resolution

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) applauds today’s passage by the Massachusetts Senate and House of a joint resolution sponsored by Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) and Representative Lori A. Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), which condemns the recent disturbing global surge in anti-Semitism and urges measures to prevent and combat anti-Semitic attacks and incidents. JCRC recognizes and appreciates the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in advocating for such a resolution. JCRC thanks the Massachusetts Legislature for today’s resolution and its unequivocal opposition the increasing incidents and expressions of anti-Semitism throughout the world and its support of expanded anti-bias and Holocaust education programs.

The Week of the Speech

This past week was consumed by talk of the Speech delivered by Israel's Prime Minster Netanyahu to Congress.  As we enter Shabbat I want to draw your attention to two important issues—how two other speeches given this week can inform our thinking about "The" speech, as well as an op-ed that addresses an important policy issue in Massachusetts.

On Tuesday I joined fellow AIPAC delegates to watch the Prime Minister’s speech and weigh the questions of what it did or did not do for the US-Israel relationship and our understanding of the Iran nuclear talks.

As UN Ambassador Samantha Powers eloquently reminded AIPAC delegates in her speech on Monday, the U.S.-Israel partnership and our nations' support transcends political parties and any differences on the specific issue of these negotiations. Powers reminded us of the long and enduring alliance, and of all the ways that the U.S. continues to fight for Israel in hostile environments where anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel remains a reality.

Some of Netanyahu’s critics are saying that he said nothing new in Washington, but one member of Congress told me that there was a positive to the speech. In the past, deals on this issue with other countries didn't get the congressional scrutiny they deserved. Netanyahu ensured that this agreement would be on the radar of every member of congress and if advanced, would get the scrutiny it deserved.

As for the substance of any such deal, I encourage you to read a third speech delivered by Ambassador Susan Rice, national security advisor, on Monday night. Rice articulated the administration's view on the actual substance of negotiations.  Ambassador Rice deserves credit for being one of the few senior officials to appear at the conference. She honored the importance of AIPAC members’ voices in DC, and she made an argument that conflicted with some of the views of many in the room.

Important as well is the substantive position we were advocating about what a good deal looks like. The debate is not between support for negotiations and support for military conflict. We all share the goal of preventing a nuclear Iran, preferably through negotiations, but always while, as President Obama has said, leaving all other options on the table if it comes to that. When we met with our Congressional delegation this week, we talked substance, not politics, defining what constitutes a good deal— one that dismantles Iran's nuclear weapons capacity, has effective monitoring, a phased out sanctions regime, and doesn't let Iran race to the bomb after a sunset period.

In the coming weeks we're urging Congress to move on from the politics of this week and focus on the policy issues. That's their job now, to do the policy work. Ours will be to make sure that they do it, and to make sure they hear our voices in support of a good deal if possible, and no deal for now if it's not.

As for the op-ed I mentioned earlier:  As many of you know, CJP is leading an important community wide initiative on addressing Jewish poverty. Governor Baker introduced his budget this week, which included a proposal to increase Massachusetts's Earned Income Tax Credit to support working families climbing out of poverty. Please read this column by JVS' Jerry Rubin and myself published in this week's Jewish Advocate, discussing our support for the EITC and why our efforts to address Jewish poverty need to include a public policy advocacy effort.  I encourage you to share it widely.

Shabbat Shalom,

JCRC and MAJF Honor Community Leaders and Legislators at State House Reception

(Boston, MA) - The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) and the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF) hosted their 18th Annual Legislative Reception at the Massachusetts State House (Great Hall) on Thursday, February 26 at 4:00 P.M. This year’s Legislative Reception was chaired by Nancy Kaplan Belsky & Samantha Joseph.

JCRC|MAJF honored Paul Bernon and the Ruderman Family Foundation for their visionary leadership on JCRC's disability policy agenda and Senator Dan Wolf, Representative Joe Wagner and Rita Noonan from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's office.

“It is a privilege to partner with so many dedicated public servants,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC. “This year’s honorees set the bar high with their steadfast commitment to building a more equitable and inclusive society.”

“I'm honored to be recognized by JCRC, and I look forward to our continued good work together on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities,” said honoree Paul Bernon.

“The Ruderman Family Foundation is honored to partner with JCRC in promoting creative programs, which successfully include people with disabilities in our community, to the legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. "The professionalism and progressive advocacy of JCRC is unparalleled and we are humbled that they have chosen to recognize our foundation’s leadership in advocating for the rights of people of all abilities.”

State Senator Daniel Wolf, recipient of a Legislative Achievement Award, added, “JCRC continues to inspire us all with their social justice efforts and advocacy around issues that have a lasting impact in our Commonwealth. I thank them for their continued guidance, and encouragement in my role as the Senate Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”

“I am honored and I am grateful to JCRC for this recognition, and for all that they do on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations,” said State Representative Joseph Wagner. “They are a strong advocate for the Secure Jobs Program, and I am proud to say that my colleagues and I in the Legislature voted to fund that Program in last year’s budget.”

Rita Noonan of the office of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and recipient of the Legislative Staff Achievement Award, added, “I am honored to be receiving this prestigious recognition. The Jewish Community Relations Council is an outstanding organization, with such high standards, that I am truly humbled.”

Honoree Bios

Senator Daniel A. Wolf, Cape & Islands

Senator Dan Wolf is a third-term Massachusetts State Senator representing the Cape and Islands District. Senator Wolf serves as the Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. He is also the Founder and Chief Executive Officer for Cape Air in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Eighth Hampden

State Representative Joseph F. Wagner was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1991 and has been a member of House leadership for more than a decade. Representative Wagner currently serves as House chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. The committee reviews all legislation relating to state economic development policy and recommends bills to the full legislature.

Rita Noonan, Office of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg

Rita is a trained paralegal and holds a Masters’ degree in public policy from UMass Boston. Rita joined Team Rosenberg in 2008 after many years working for former Senators Cheryl Jacques and Robert Antonioni. She welcomes all visitors to the office and manages Senator Rosenberg’s office needs and calendar. Rita will soon be starting her new role as Deputy Director of Civic Engagement.

Paul M. Bernon

Paul Bernon is Co-Founder and Principal of Burn Later Productions. Paul is involved in all aspects in the company’s investments, from identifying material through the sales and marketing of each film. Paul’s film “Results” premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures, and will be released in May of 2015. He serves as a Board Member for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston and as an Overseer for WGBH, a member station of the Public Broadcasting Service, and the Boston Children’s Hospital. Paul is currently serving as Chair of JCRC’s Disability Advocacy Committee.

The Ruderman Family Foundation

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Guided by their Jewish values, they support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in their core areas of interest: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide. The Foundation provides funding, leadership, expertise and insight in both the U.S. and Israel, with offices in both countries.

What Are We to Do About It?

Last Friday, I wrote about Boston’s resiliency in the face of this winter. Today I’m thinking about another kind of resiliency – the kind we need in the face of attacks on Jews around the world.

The week began with the horrific attack in Copenhagen and the murder of two Danes, including one Jew, Dan Uzan, of blessed memory, as he guarded a synagogue. In the days that followed, we absorbed news of anti-Semitic desecration of cemeteries in France, Germany and New Zealand and a wave of swastikas on homes in Madison, Wisconsin. Of course, all of this comes after last months’ Hyper Cacher murders in Paris and the torture of Israeli tourists in Argentina.

The pace of this news can be overwhelming and it is all too tempting to throw up our arms and ask ourselves what we are to do about it.

The plain truth is that it is easy to ask this question from the comfort of our lives in Boston. Sure, we are susceptible to targeting and attacks such as those we saw in Madison and in deadly cases like the Kansas City JCC last year but by and large, we don’t live with the perpetual fears and anxieties that our brothers and sisters face elsewhere. We don’t think twice of walking into a kosher market, of standing in front of our synagogue catching up with friends, or wearing obvious indicators of our Jewishness in public.

In the history of the world, no Jewish community has been as safe, privileged, and confident to live our lives fully as citizens as we are today as Americans.

With that privilege comes a responsibility: to speak out when Argentina denies the role of Iran in the AMIA bombing and to speak out when journalists, politicians and human rights activists deny or excuse anti-Semitism by blaming it on Jews or Israel. Or when leaders in our own country – from a noble desire not to demonize nations and faiths as a whole– hedge on naming the targeting of Jews as such.

So how can we make our voices heard?

We can make it impossible to ignore what is happening. We can make our voices heard on behalf of Jews around the world. One JCRC board member tells me she has made a commitment to post every reported incident of anti-Semitism on her Facebook page! We need at least a million American Jews who take actions like this.

There are many great resources for doing this, such as sharing videos like this one from The Israel Project.

We can make sure that the world understands that it matters what American Jews think; that we have influence and do impact the course of our nation’s priorities in the world. We can make sure our elected leaders understand the urgency of this issue and that it matters that they prioritize these issues on our international agenda. We can make sure that foreign embassies and consulates know that the way in which their nations address these issues impacts how they are perceived by the American public.

This Sunday, February 22 at 1pm, The Argentinian Jewish Relief Committee of Greater Boston, JCRC and several of our members invite you to Stand for Justice for the victims of the AMIA bombing. Please join us at Boston University, 8 St. Mary’s Place room 206 and help us tell the world that the targeting of Jews and the absence of justice matters.

Sure, taking actions like these can be uncomfortable and will invite challenging conversations with some of our friends, but given what we’ve seen Jewish communities in other countries deal with this week, feeling uncomfortable is the least we can do for them.

Shabbat Shalom,