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.

Boston Strong: Realizing the Vision

With the 117th running of the Boston Marathon this week, I imagine I was not alone in feeling grateful to celebrate Patriots’ Day as a return to a community wide gathering of support for thousands of runners, from elite athletes to average people taking on the Herculean task of completing the 26.2 mile course, this year in the wind and rain.  And yet, as for many of us, the memory of the mayhem and horror of 2013 was fresh in our minds and hearts, as Boston Strong shirts and banners appeared throughout Marathon week.

I found myself recalling the community events in the wake of the bombings during that surreal April week, including the large gathering at the Holy Cross Cathedral, when we joined with our Mayor, Governor, and President to mourn our losses and rededicate ourselves to our most cherished values. But the moment that has stayed with me most profoundly was one on a setting far less grand, with fewer luminaries -  a somewhat impromptu gathering of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) in a Catholic church in Dorchester where we came together to share reflections on this unprecedented week. Originally planned as a candidate event for the US Senate special election, that night was transformed into a celebration of  the true meaning of ”One Boston” — a community where we hold each other in tragedy, we walk together in facing challenges, and we reach across our differences to find solutions.

When I think of Boston Strong, I see a community that unites across the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic lines that too often divide us, while working to ensure that all of our people have equal access to the immense resources that our world class city has to offer.

GBIO exemplifies the meaning of Boston Strong. This broad based coalition of 50 religious congregations and other local institutions has played a critical role on multiple issues, from securing millions of dollars for the construction of affordable housing, to protecting worker rights, renovating schools and most notably, securing landmark health care reform in the Commonwealth.

 JCRC has been a proud member of GBIO since 1999, and we have trained and supported synagogue leaders to join with other faith communities in waging these powerful campaigns in the public square. The most recent congregation to join GBIO is Temple Sinai in Brookline. Their leaders sought to invigorate their social action work as well as connect with faith communities across Boston’s neighborhoods. As a result of the deep relationships they’ve developed, they’re now playing leadership roles in GBIO’s next major gathering. Sinai’s Bonnie Gilbert will be co-chairing the event, along with Rev. Ray Hammond from Bethel AME and Felice Mendell is lending her expertise in affordable housing to chair a team on that issue.

After more than a dozen years and many victories, it was time to step back and ask where the GBIO community wanted to go next, what challenges our shared community needed to address, what opportunities we could pursue to realize our potential. After conversations with thousands of members, a new platform has emerged. GBIO is recommitting to health care cost containment and gun violence prevention, while also deciding to take on new campaigns to public education in Boston public schools, criminal justice reform and housing affordability and homelessness. But beyond these issues that were selected, the group has also forged one vision for a Boston where the promise of this great city can be realized for all.

On Tuesday May 12, GBIO will hold its Rededication Assembly (Trinity Church in Copley Square, 7:30pm – 9:30pm) to move forward on a shared vision for the future with Boston’s and the Commonwealth’s newly elected public officials. In attendance will be Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo, Attorney General Healey and Mayor Walsh, along with 1500 GBIO members.  I look forward to being there with our partners– this time not to mourn a collective loss but to embrace a powerful and more just vision of our community. I hope you will join me to reaffirm our commitment to a Boston that is truly strong.

 Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

The Courage to Tell and Retell

This week we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Though the event was widely covered in the local press, not included in that coverage was a private moment I’d like to share with you; one that’s stayed with me all week.

After the public ceremony at Faneuil Hall and the New England Holocaust Memorial, our keynote speaker, David Eisenhower, historian and grandson of General Dwight Eisenhower, joined a small lunch to thank some of the donors and volunteers who made our program possible. He was asked a question about how he came to dedicate his professional life to writing about and teaching the history of World War II.

One moment in Eisenhower’s response jumped out: David told us that, growing up, his grandfather and his father John– who also served in the war –never talked about the war once they returned from the front. What they did talk about, copiously, was the Civil War. David had fond memories of rich weekly discussions with his father and grandfather, as they made their way through the classic works about that time period. He came to understand that the older men chose to share their passion for military history with him through a “proxy war” since they were not yet ready to relive their own recent painful experience in World War II. 

I was deeply intrigued by this idea, not just in the moment of Yom HaShoah, but also in the wake of our recent Passover experience.

The Jewish people tell and retell our ancient story of trauma and slavery in – and eventual liberation from – Egypt every year, not only with ease but with a sense of celebration. Yet for so many of us it is far harder to share the traumas that we experience personally, and that are still fresh and tender in our memory.
 
Many survivors were unable to talk about what happened to them for many years, if ever. Eisenhower’s story is yet one more reminder of the courage that it has taken for every single survivor of the Shoah to find a way to tell his or her own story, as Max Michelson did for us this past Sunday, and to bear witness to unimaginable horror. The Haggadah reminds us of the obligation of each generation b'chol dor vador to tell and retell the story of our subjugation and eventual liberation.bAnd we do so, not simply to relive the trauma but to lend it meaning, reaffirming our commitment to cherish freedom and to fight oppression. Together may we transform our trauma and become a living memory to all who have perished, as we honor their legacy for generations to come.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

JCRC Welcomes Today’s Bipartisan Senate Foreign Relations Committee Vote on Iran Deal

JCRC welcomes the bipartisan compromise by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on legislation to provide for congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, if and when an accord is reached. The organized Jewish community of Boston believes that a diplomatic resolution is the ideal path to end the threat of Iran being able to become a nuclear power. The current framework agreement presents the possibility of a successful deal while also raising areas of concern that need to be addressed in order to ensure that it is a good deal.
 
Today’s compromise, if adopted into law, will enable our representatives in Congress to ask questions while working with President Obama to ensure the quality of any deal. We hope that the spirit of bipartisanship shown today will establish a new phase in the debate over and the evaluation of these negotiations, one in which our reasonable questions can be addressed thoughtfully and honestly without political manipulation or partisanship of any nature.
 
We welcome Senator Markey’s vote as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support this bipartisan compromise. We thank him for the time and thoughtful consideration he has given in recent weeks to us and others who are deeply invested in the outcome of these negotiations. We urge the full Senate to take up and pass this compromise bill, which the President has indicated he will sign. We call upon Senator Warren to join Senator Markey in supporting this compromise when it reaches the full Senate.

j-burton-signature

Jeremy Burton
Executive Director

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Jill Goldenberg
President

JCRC of Greater Boston Announces Winners of 9th Annual Holocaust Essay Contest

(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston has announced the winners of the 9th annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest.

The theme for this year’s contest was Liberation: From Darkness to Light. Students from Greater Boston in grades 6 -12 were invited to write a 400–800 word essay reflecting on the following quote from Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace laureate and holocaust survivor:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The winners of the 2015 Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest:

Upper Division

1st place
Donaldo Jean-Baptiste, Malden High School, 12th grade

2nd place
Kaitlyn Rabinovitz, Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, 11th grade

3rd place
Nicholas Zink, German International School of Boston, 9th grade

 

Lower Division

1st place
Madison Lomax, Tenney Grammar School, 8th grade, Methuen

2nd place
Geryes Geha, Timony Grammar School, 6th grade, Methuen

3rd place
Ashley Sullivan, Timony Grammar School, 6th grade, Methuen

Winners were recognized at LIBERATION: FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, a community commemoration of Yom HaShoah, on Sunday, April 12th, at Faneuil Hall in Boston. The featured speaker was author and historian David Eisenhower, grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 5-star general who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.

All winners will receive a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, November 11, 2015. The first and second place winners in the Upper Division will also be awarded a $1,000 scholarship to participate in the spring 2016 teen heritage March of the Living (MOTL) trip. The goal for MOTL (motl.org) is for young people to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and to become leaders vowing "Never Again.” The MOTL scholarships are made possible due to the generosity of the Kempner Family Foundation.

The 9th Annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest is named for 89 year-old Holocaust survivor Israel ‘Izzy’ Arbeiter of Newton, a lifelong rights activist who lost many family members in the Holocaust. Izzy is a past president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston.

LIBERATION: FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, the community commemoration of Yom HaShoah on April 12 was presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), with support from Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Facing History and Ourselves, the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and many generous donors.

Reaching Out Beyond Mitzvah Days

I read with interest a recent Boston Globe article that explored issues regarding the burden that some non-profits experience when well-meaning volunteers donate time that, well, may not be needed. The article made me pause to reflect on the work that JCRC does in the community. Are our volunteers having the impact we hope for?

To address my concern I sought out leaders from our ReachOut! program to hear about their experience and their thoughts about the article. 

“Through ReachOut!, we've served approximately 8,000 meals to members of our community at the First Parish soup kitchen in Cambridge. We offer the dignity of serving a meal at a dinner table to individuals who may be ignored the rest of the week,” said Jonathan Sclarsic, a member of the ReachOut! Steering Committee and a volunteer for over 3 years. “Food insecurity is a real issue in our community, one that we often don't notice. ReachOut! not only makes a real difference by serving meals, but helps bring to light the challenges of hunger and homelessness.”

Jonathan’s comment belies the conventional wisdom about young adults — that they are too busy focusing on their burgeoning careers and on their social lives to think about volunteering.  People will tell you that the most you can hope for is for them to volunteer very sporadically, maybe participate in an annual community service event or as we often call them in the Jewish community, “mitzvah days.”

But in fact, that has not been our experience. Since ReachOut!’s inception, the leaders who envisioned and ultimately designed and implemented the program were clear about the experience they wanted to offer their peers who volunteer – and the service they wanted to provide the community. They understood that their service would have meaning to them and impact on the ground, only if it were ongoing and occurred within the context of interpersonal relationships. So together, we created a program of weekly volunteering in small groups, through 9 week cycles that occur twice a year.

As a result, we developed strong partnerships with community based nonprofits, and depend on their expertise to craft service experiences that are not only fulfilling for our volunteers but also respond to real need on the ground. We limit the number of volunteers to ensure that they are truly needed. And we build a sense of community among our volunteers, through Shabbat dinners and opportunities to reflect together on their service experience.

Five years into it, the program is continuing to build steam – reaching out to new partners, attracting new volunteers, and developing new leaders. In fact, our volunteers have asked for more service opportunities as they continually raise the bar on their commitment. The cycles have grown to 12 weeks, and this year for the first time, they’re adding a summer cycle – since community needs don’t go on hiatus and volunteers don’t want a break during the summer months!

Here is a list of where our ReachOut! volunteers are currently serving:

Hunger and Homelessness
Senior Connections
Youth Connections
Adult Education

To learn more about ReachOut! for yourself or for a young adult in your life, visit http://bitly.com/reachout15

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

Is This Seder Different from All Others?

Those of you who follow me on social media know that over the past week I had the pleasure of attending Passover sedarim hosted by three of our member organizations; AJC, ADL and the Jewish Labor Committee. I Facebooked, Instragrammed and Tweeted from each of them but since many folks aren’t on those platforms, I decided to write about the experience as well.

Here’s a taste of what I wrote:

Excerpted from TheJewishAdvocate.com

Each haggadah took the traditional 10 plagues and added a modern interpretation, whether ADL’s “prejudice, racism and homophobia,” JLC’s “teaching violence, neglect of human needs, and fomenting vice” or AJC’s “antidotes to plagues of our time” including “equality, coexistence and democracy.”

Each reading called upon personal testimony from participants to make the same essential point: that we honor the Passover experience by connecting ourselves to the struggles of our own time and that Jewish memory, rooted in Egypt and Exodus, binds us to all who are strangers, downtrodden, overlooked and ignored in our world today.

I hope you’ll take the time to read my entire column in this week’s The Jewish Advocate.

As most of us prepare to celebrate a seder of our own tonight – whether it’s your first of the season, your fourth, or something in between – I hope you’ll join me in considering a simple idea that sits at the center of JCRC’s work in the public square: that our Jewish experiences, along with our connection to communities around us, shapes our perceptions of the issues our world faces today and enables us to understand what we must do to meet those challenges.

Wishing you a joyous Passover and a meaningful Seder,
Jeremy

JCRC Statement on Developments in Iran Negotiations

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) is following reports today out of Lausanne, Switzerland that a framework agreement has been reached between the P5+1 and Iran.  The organized Jewish community of Boston reaffirms our continued belief that a diplomatic resolution is the ideal path to end the threat of Iran developing the capacity to become a nuclear power.  We appreciate and honor the indefatigable efforts of Boston’s own Secretary of State John Kerry in these negotiations.

At this time, we do not have sufficient information about the details of today’s developments to know whether this agreement achieves the goal of ending the threat of a nuclear Iran. We look forward to learning more and we will be consulting with our member organizations in the coming days. A good deal should and must be able to withstand public debate and scrutiny.

JCRC urges the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to scrutinize any agreement in the days ahead to insure that it is one which achieves its stated goals.  We look forward to hearing the voices of the delegation in support of a good deal for all concerned.

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,
Dudley

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.
Jeremy

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,
Jeremy