LGBTQ rights: When consensus and leadership collide

A recent article about negotiations over a potential resolution on transgender rights at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA, the national network of JCRCs) raises interesting issues about the challenges of reaching consensus in the community relations field.

I love the JCPA resolutions process, in which national agencies and local JCRCs come together to debate issues and adopt positions. It is remarkable that the organized Jewish community gathers across our wildly different institutions and communities to engage in a parliamentary process of agenda setting each year. It reflects our aspiration to at least try to act as one - to establish some shared vision of what we stand for as a community.

To convene those disparate institutions successfully, the bar has to be set higher than “majority rules.” Multiple accommodations are made to protect the integrity of this diverse group with their varied interests; including a super majority on resolutions and in limited circumstances, veto power that can be exercised by the religious denominations. These accommodations have enabled all members to stay at the table, and act together as one unified people.

In some ways, our process in Boston, through JCRC’s Council, echoes the national one. Though no one has a veto, each of our 42 member organizations has a vote alongside community representatives. They serve on policy committees that draft and debate our principles, and a super-majority then adopts those principles to inform our statements and actions on behalf of Boston’s organized Jewish community.

Sometimes these rules – super majorities, vetoes, and consensus – prevent us, as a JCRC or as JCPA, from speaking to certain issues in ways that many or even most of our stakeholders would want. However, when we are at our best in deliberating on policy, we are doing so with the legitimacy and authority that comes from fully representing the diversity of our community.

When it comes to LGBTQ civil rights, these dynamics have played out in ways that have made me proud to be part of the Boston Jewish community.

We were the first JCRC in the country to publicly support civil marriage equality, back in 2004. Equally noteworthy, we did so with the support of leaders who didn’t personally share this view, but who respected the will of our community so profoundly that they did not walk away from our communal table. Similarly, we’ve led in the fight for transgender public accommodations, and are participating in the coalition that will fight to defeat a ballot referendum to roll them back in Massachusetts this fall.

Nationally, JCPA has handled this same set of issues quite differently. When JCPA debated same-sex relationships in 2013, they didn’t come to a consensus despite the support of over 80% of American Jews for this position. They never even came to a vote. Nor did JCPA ever address many other issues of LGBTQ equality as a result of this logjam. Now it is unclear if they’ll be able to find a consensus this year that allows JCPA to act in support of transgender civil rights. The result has been that JCPA, an organization that self-identifies as a civil rights advocate, has been absent from some of the most profound civil rights issues of our time. And it is only fair to point out that JCPA has led on some trans rights issues, such as military service.

In 2013, I said that the primacy of maintaining a communal table on things we can agree on is a core principle for any CRC director. And we in Boston support the notion that only through consensus can we speak in our most powerful voice. JCPA’s challenges in taking on matters of LGBTQ equality effectively raises questions about their identity and role as a civil rights advocate. The absence of a shared national vision by the organized Jewish community on LGBTQ equality is both personally painful, and, frankly, problematic in a body that claims to represent all of our community’s members – a frustration I shared with the reporter who called me for comment on the story. My hope is that those inclined to oppose a resolution on transgender rights will find a way to work with the proponents, so that we can speak broadly and as powerfully as we can, in support of transgender rights.

Wrestling with diversity and reaching consensus can be slow, painstaking, and messy. But it is only through acknowledging divergent viewpoints and engaging in open debate and negotiation that we can truly honor the multiplicity of our community’s views. That is the work of democracy and that is the work of community relations.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Can the Olympics really be universal?

Nahma Nadich

A message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:

I may be revealing my age when I share a vivid childhood memory of visiting my grandmother, of blessed memory. After a hearty meal of her delicious kasha (it was almost always kasha – her culinary repertoire was not vast) we’d settle down to watch her favorite TV program: the Lawrence Welk show.

She loved the kitschy bandleader and his wholesome music, but what she really loved were the credits that followed. She’d scan the scrolling text, reading aloud in her thick Russian accent, each name of someone she assumed to be a Jew, kvelling anew with each discovery. This pride in the accomplishments of our people was not limited to the geniuses behind Welk’s “art”. The same proud proclamations accompanied the announcement of achievements of all kinds – the arts, sciences and every other field of human endeavor.

I felt just like my grandmother this week, when I reacted to a sporting event, in a way that mirrored her brand of TV watching. Lydia Jacoby, the extraordinary teen aged swimmer from Alaska stunned the world by beating Olympic champion Lilly King to win the gold in the 100m breaststroke. Mid cheer, I was seized with a desperate desire to know the most essential fact about the new gold medalist. IS SHE A JEW?

Naturally, I reached out to Twitter (or more precisely “Jwitter”), where I discovered that I was not alone in wondering.  My curiosity was noticed by the JTA, which immediately investigated, and much to the disappointment of Jewish fans everywhere, concluded that we could not count Jacoby as a Member of the Tribe.

What is it with our obsession in claiming notables and taking credit in their accomplishments? As amused as I was by my grandmother’s careful record keeping, it also made me a bit uneasy, since as a young person, I aspired to a more universalist worldview, one in which we were all members of a common family. But as I get older, I understand her better. It’s only natural to get an extra thrill when someone close to you – from your family or from your people – is recognized for their achievements. I’ve been relieved to witness the same phenomenon from other minority groups, particularly ones also accustomed to seeing their members too often denigrated and maligned. I remember hearing my colleagues at an LGBTQ health center excitedly debating whether certain prominent figures were a part of their community, and I’ve seen the joy experienced by Black friends when accomplishments of Black leaders are recognized and celebrated.  

Maybe it’s only natural to watch the Olympics with a special focus on “our people” whoever they are, just as our eyes are never averted from watching our own children perform in a class play. And maybe even shouting “USA!” from our sofas, is to be expected from time to time.

But thankfully, the Olympic experience doesn’t demand that we abandon all universalist impulses, even when as we revel in our particularistic victories. The global athletic community also has the power to transcend national boundaries, as I was reminded during another thrilling moment in women’s swimming. American swimmer Katie Ledecky, the most decorated female swimmer of all time, and the holder of the world record in the 400 freestyle, was beat in that event by Australia’s Ariane Titmus. The women immediately embraced, celebrating each other’s  astonishing performances, and in an act of true sportsmanship, Titmus credited Ledecky for spurring her on, saying “I wouldn’t be here without her”. The women may be on different teams, representing countries across the Globe from each other, but what they share -a love of the sport, superhuman discipline and a relentless desire to be the best – is much greater than all that divides them.

Olympics notwithstanding, I’m not much of a sports fan, and as a Bostonian, I don’t always get what all the fuss is about. But it turns out, there are some profound life lessons to be learned from sports, even ones that are relevant in my line of work. Whether it comes to international athletic competitions or community relations, there is definitely a time and place for a laser focus on our own, a time to recognize, and take pride in our people’s achievements – and a time to embrace the human family, to marvel at the diverse tapestry of humanity and  to celebrate all that binds us together.

But I’m still not entirely convinced that Lydia isn’t Jewish.

Shabbat shalom

Action Items and Talking Points on Cambridge City Council (CCC) Resolution

Background

On May 17th the Cambridge City Council (CCC) held a hearing to advance a BDS initiative. Policy Order 2021 #109 directs the city manager to “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard Incorporated over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East.”  The target of this resolution is Israel. Here are things to know.

Take Action

  1. Cambridge Residents: In lieu of testifying, you can sign on to this letter detailing your opposition. The letter will be presented to the City Council during the meeting to demonstrate the strong opposition by Cambridge residents to this resolution.
  2. Encourage your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others in your network who are Cambridge residents to sign this letter by sharing this email with them.
  3. An individual may signup to speak before the Cambridge City Council via telephone to the City Council office on Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., or on-line via the City’s website, starting at 9:00 a.m. today.
  4. You can also submit written testimony to the entire City Council by way of email
  5. Please make sure to indicate when signing up or emailing that you are addressing POR 2021 #109 on the May 24th

Talking Points

1. The CCC Proceeded with the Hearing with Full Knowledge That Many Jews Would Be Excluded

The Cambridge City Council proceeded with a hearing on the resolution after having been notified, days in advance, that many interested parties would not be able to attend due to observance of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.   Councilor Zondervan communicated that he supported disenfranchising Jews in stating, “I appreciate that it is the Shavuot holiday, but last week it was Eid. That didn’t seem to prevent the Israeli government from bombing and evicting and terrorizing Palestinian people.”  We are grateful to Councilor Patricia Nolan, who stepped in to ensure that the actual vote would be deferred until Monday May 24th. We hope that others will speak to the apparent readiness to disenfranchise Jews.

2. The CCC Resolution is a Sham

According to the City of Cambridge’s assistant city manager for finance, it has been nearly seven (7) years since Cambridge has had a direct purchase order with Hewlett Packard. In other words, the resolution is addressing “a problem” that does not exist. It is a sham, whose only purpose is to demonize Israel.

3. Singling Out Israel and Holding It to a Unique Ethical Standard Raises Troubling Questions

There are hundreds of American companies that are working overseas and engaged in transactions that could be tied to questionable human rights practices. Examples include energy companies like Aramco in Saudi Arabia (persecution of religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community) and technology and consumer companies like Apple and Foxconn in China (child and slave labor).  Why is the CCC focused only on a company that does business with Israel? This focus on Israel betrays a deeper and concerning animus to the world’s only Jewish state.

4. CCC Proposes to Hold HP and Israel to a Standard It Does Not Apply to Cambridge Based Companies

If the CCC is intent on disassociating itself from companies that violate human rights then it need not trouble itself with events halfway around the world. A March 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, for example, cited 82 major corporations that have items in their supply chain created by Uyghur slave labor. Some of these are prominent tech and retail companies with large offices and stores in Cambridge (we are glad to provide additional information). Other companies with stores in Cambridge are selling merchandise from companies that reportedly have product made with Uyghur slave labor in their supply chain. Is the City of Cambridge concerned that it may be doing business with these companies?  Might the City of Cambridge be extending benefits to some of these companies? Have members of the CCC paused to ask these questions?

5. The Accusation that Israel Practices Apartheid is False and Malicious

Like with other BDS initiatives, the primary purpose for proceeding with Policy Order 2021 #109 is to advance false and malicious ideas that will serve to delegitimize Israel. BDS has been rejected by everyone from Joe Biden and Barak Obama to Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Kennedy, Jamal Bowman and governors from all 50 states.  Yet, proponents continue to try to advance their claims by cherry picking data to support extreme and unsubstantiated claims.  Here is what they will not tell you.

Israeli policies in the West Bank are primarily motivated by security concerns arising from the sustained violence that has resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands of Israelis.  These policies can be the subject of honest debate, but it is a false and malign distortion to suggest they are racially motivated, much less akin to apartheid.  Resolutions that advance such ideas distort the reality on the ground and provide cover to groups like Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group that rejects peace and co-existence with Israel on any terms. This is a dubious role for an American city.

6.  One Sided BDS Narratives Undermine Prospects for Peace

BDS initiatives, such as the one now under consideration, are deceptive and misleading. They spread false malign information about Israel, fuel polarization, and strengthen the hands of those who reject peaceful co-existence. In this time of heightened tensions, we might hope that elected leaders would seek ways to promote engagement and reconciliation.  The CCC, however, is contemplating a different path, one that will further inflame tensions and foster division. The vehicle for this is a resolution that ignores one side’s commitment to violence and its contempt for peace, while conveying a false view of the actions and views of the other. The losers of such hubris are always the Palestinians and Israelis, who hope for a new day where peace is possible. The City of Cambridge can be part of the solution or pour fuel on the fire. Which will it be?

“Unity.” That’s it. That’s the message.

“Unity.”

That’s it. That’s the message.

This week, President Biden delivered what is, to my mind, the best and most important inaugural speech we’ve heard in generations. It didn’t have the poetry of a Reagan or Obama speech, but it had, at its core, an urgent faithfulness to the “American Idea,” and a deep sensitivity to the fragility of our national project. It was a call to action for every patriotic American to commit ourselves to the work of achieving one central goal: “Unity.”

It only took hours for some to question whether our new President was committed to this work, to challenge the notion that it is even possible, and to, of course, knock one another around on social media.

On Wednesday the President said: “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”

This week, as we prepare to mark International Holocaust Day of Remembrance on January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I’m reminded of the work of survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl. He taught us that even in the darkest times we can survive; that no matter what challenges we face, we have a freedom, via our choice of how to respond to the most daunting circumstances. We can persevere by nurturing a hope for the future within ourselves.

It bears repeating that comparisons of present-day circumstances to the Holocaust, a uniquely horrific chapter of history, are never wise or warranted. But what wisdom can we draw from Frankl, who survived the unimaginable with a sense of hope and purpose?

It struck me while listening on Wednesday, that this week we will continue to read the Exodus story in synagogue. In the Torah it is God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. In America in 2021, our President – a man of deep personal faith – is reminding us that our future and our hopes for our nation obligate each individual American to choose not to harden our own hearts.

We all need to make a choice now. Are we each, as individuals, on the side of renewal and commitment to the very idea of a shared national project as Americans, or are we not?

For me, the answer is a most enthusiastic “yes!”

At the same time, I reject the misguided notion that unity demands conformity. I am well aware of the danger inherent in that premise.

Unity has, in the past, been to the detriment of freedom and diversity. We know this as Jews who have experienced, far too often, a demand for national unity that included “one church”, a so called “unity” that excludes us. I can also recall this exclusion as someone who understands the history of my LGBTQ ancestors who were forced into the closet for the sake of conformity. Today, it can be rightly observed that there is, at times, an unhealthy and unproductive demand within some communities and movements that require conformity in all matters.

The goal of our unity is not to suppress debate and differences. It is, as the President put it so clearly, to bring to an “end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal.” It is vigorous debate over policy, but with civility built on “tolerance and humility.”

Unity requires the hard work of a shared national idea, a story we tell about who we are and a project to which we dedicate ourselves, as one. That’s no easy task, in no small part because within our shared national story, we need to make space for experiences that differ from how we personally perceive the world.

On a panel last week, I talked about “the American Creed,” which in some ways can be summed up as a promise: “In this country, if I work hard and follow the rules, I can give my children a better life than the one I know.”

The challenge of that promise is that for more and more Americans in these times of expanding economic gaps, it is not the reality they experience. At the same time, for many Americans - in particular those experiencing our nation through the fractures of caste or racism - it is a promise that they have never known.

Unity requires that we listen to those stories and attempt to understand the differing experiences of our shared national narrative. We need to have the humility to know that ours is not the only interpretation of this great nation, and commit to debate policies, with civility, that can renew the promise of America, for every American.

This shabbat, as we read the words to “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt” I’m remembering the call to action we heard from our President this week, and renewing my commitment to my personal responsibility as an American, to the freedom and unity of all Americans.

For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it

-Amanda Gorman

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC to Present Executive Director Jeremy Burton with Warren B. Kohn Award

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shira Burns
1.12.20

JCRC to Present Executive Director Jeremy Burton
with Warren B. Kohn Award
 

(Boston, MA) The Jewish Community Relations Council is pleased to announce that the JCRC Board of Directors has unanimously voted to present Jeremy Burton with the Warren B. Kohn Award on his ten-year anniversary as Executive Director. The Kohn award is presented by JCRC to an outstanding Jewish community relations professional in memory of Warren B. Kohn, a past president of JCRC. JCRC will present this award as a part of the JCRC Celebrates Gala in September 2021.

Jeremy joined JCRC as Executive Director in October 2011, after playing major leadership roles in many Jewish nonprofits as well as political campaigns. Under Jeremy’s leadership, JCRC has thrived as a national model for community relations.

“Jeremy is a unique Jewish leader who combines head with heart and a deep love of the Jewish People with a passion for American democracy,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, President & CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “In challenging and divisive times, our community is blessed to have a leader like Jeremy, a voice of conscience and conviction, who helps us all to navigate complexity and competing values with nuance and integrity. Jeremy has earned this honor because of who he is as a leader. I am grateful for his partnership and friendship.”

"Jeremy has dedicated himself to developing deep and enduring relationships within and beyond the Jewish community," said JCRC President Stacey Bloom. "He cherishes his collaborations with our Jewish organizational partners, and his interfaith relationships are based on profound respect, authentic openness, and a generosity of spirit. Jeremy is the rare leader who feels responsibility not to any one segment of our community, but to its totality. He embraces and honors his duty to discern the concerns, hopes and aspirations of the organized Jewish community, to communicate them beyond our community, and to mobilize action on their behalf in the halls of power. Jeremy is a national thought leader in the Jewish community, and a leader the Boston Jewish community looks to again and again."

“Jeremy came to us not only with extraordinary political acumen honed over decades of leadership in the public arena, but with a deep love for and commitment to the Jewish community acting on its most cherished values,” said Deputy Director Nahma Nadich. “Jeremy’s clarity of vision propelled JCRC to distill and amplify its core mission of building a Jewish community that is civically engaged and connected through enduring partnerships beyond our community, in service to Jewish concerns and the collective good.”

Past Recipients of the Warren B. Kohn Award:

  • 2018: Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League
  • 2016: Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Temple Hillel B’nai Torah
  • 2012: Nahma M. Nadich, Jewish Community Relations Council
  • 2008: Alan S. Ronkin, Jewish Community Relations Council
  • 2005: Larry Lowenthal, American Jewish Committee
  • 2000: Nancy K. Kaufman, Jewish Community Relations Council
  • 1996: Barbara Gaffin, Jewish Community Relations Council
  • 1992: Sheila Decter, American Jewish Congress
  • 1989: Leonard P. Zakim, Anti-Defamation League
  • 1987: Philip Perlmutter, Jewish Community Relations Council

JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton Bio
Jeremy came to the Jewish community from a career in political strategy and public communications, having worked for New York Mayor David N. Dinkins, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, the 1996 Clinton/Gore Re-Election Campaign, and the New York State Assembly & Attorney General, among others. Previously he was the Senior Vice President of Programs at the Jewish Funds for Justice, and Vice President of Programs at the Jewish Funders Network. Jeremy also served as a board member of Keshet, working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life. Jeremy writes and speaks widely about challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish community. He has been published in the Boston Globe, Times of Israel, New York Jewish Week, the Jewish Forward, and the Washington Post: On Faith. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency included him in their “Twitter 100” list of the most influential Jewish voices on Twitter. You can follow him @BurtonJM.

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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JCRC Celebrates: 10 Years of Jeremy Burton

JCRC Celebrates: 10 Years of Jeremy Burton

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Jeremy Burton joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) as Executive Director in October 2011, after playing leadership roles in many Jewish organizations as well as government and political campaigns. Under Jeremy’s leadership, JCRC has thrived as a national model for community relations, with a core mission of building a network of Jewish organizations that is a leader in the public square, connected through enduring partnerships beyond our community in service to Jewish concerns and the collective good. Under his leadership, JCRC spearheaded a Jewish communal response to stand with our immigrant neighbors in the face of detention and deportation by creating a robust interfaith network to provide sanctuary, court accompaniment, pro bono legal assistance and bond funds to targeted immigrants. His vision for American engagement with and support for grassroots civil society activists laid the foundation for JCRC and CJP’s joint initiative, Boston Partners for Peace, an innovative model to promote the work of shared-society organizations in Israel and the Palestinian Areas and connect them with the Boston community.

JCRC Celebrates
Host Committee
(in formation)

Bill Gabovitch ², Co-Chair
Nancy Viner, Co-Chair

Jill & Jordan Aberman
Sarah Abramson
Rabbi Laura Abrasley ¹ & Julie Childers
Stephane Acel-Green
Geraldine Acuña-Sunshine &
Gabriel Sunshine
Diane & Andrew Alexander
Joan E. Ruttenberg &
David M. Abromowitz
Susan & Aron Ain
Avi Almozlino
Susan Leopold Ansin
Risa & Steven Aronson
Susan Shevitz & Lawrence Bailis
Debby Freedman Belt & Erik Belt
Barbara & Carl Berke
Michelle & Darren Black
Stacey G. Bloom ² ³
Joyce & Michael Bohnen ²
Rabbi Elizabeth & Matt Bonney-Cohen
David Borrus
Jill Smilow & Howard Brick
Rabbi Danny & Micol Burkeman
Elise & Marc Busny
Susan Calechman ²
Amy Caplan &
Geoffrey Lewis ²
Mark Charendoff
Karyn Cohen & Michael Leviton
Lisa Popik Coll & Arieh Coll
Lino Covarrubias
Lisa Danetz & Craig Smith
Erica Daniels-Strater & Charles Strater
Beth & Michael Davis
Tamar Davis & Allan Galper
Margie Ross Decter
Dr. Suzanne H. Diamond
Dr. Marna Dolinger
Michael Doppelt
Pamela Leskar & Jonathan Dudley
Diane & Neil Exter
Ethan Felson & Daniel Schapira
Renee & Steven Finn
Nancy & Steve Fischman
Reva Gold Fischman & Eric Fischman
Lisa Kessel Freedman & Josh Freedman
Nanette & Jose Fridman
Valerie & Mark Friedman ³
Irene & Rabbi Ronne Friedman
Deborah Frieze
Linda & Michael Frieze
Lauren & Bill Gabovitch ² ³
Nicole ¹ & Joshua Gann
Elisha & Sam Gechter
Janet & Eric Giesser
Reni Gertner

Catharyn & Mike Gildesgame
Beth & Scott Gilefsky ¹ ³
Janet & Richard Goldenberg
Jill Goldenberg ² ³ & Sidney Kriger
Alyssa Biller & Alex Goldstein
Amanda & Campe Goodman
Stacy Goodman & Ingolfur Agustsson
Molly & Jeff Goodman
Shira Goodman & Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz
Julie & Philip Gordon
Janet & Mark Gottesman
Beth & Larry Greenberg
Louis Grossman
Laura & Rabbi Eric Gurvis
Danielle Harsip
Lesley & Ben Inker
Janette Hillis-Jaffe & Rabbi David Jaffe
Cindy & Andrew Janower
Samantha Joseph ¹ ³
Rabbi Shira & Saul Joseph
Michelle Stern & Neal Karasic
Nancy K. Kaufman
Fredie Kay
Judith & Steven Kaye
Meryl Kessler & Scott Oran
Nava Cretu-Kessel & Barnet Kessel
Idit Klein & Jordan Namerow
Amy Schottenfels & Jonathan Klein
Rachel Schiff & Alex Klibaner
Susan Tafler & Charles Koplik
Josh Kraft, Patriots Foundation
Rabbi Claudia Kreiman ¹
Stuart S. Kurlander & David L. Martin
Jill & Ed Kutchin ¹
Marcia & Alan Leifer
Rabbi David Lerner
Emily Leventhal & David Rontal
Barbara & Frank Litwin ¹ ³
Laura & Ery Magasanik
Sophie & Rick Mann
Elana & Ariel Margolis
Jane Matlaw
Miriam May & Professor Shaye Cohen
Ruth W. Messenger
Rabbi David Meyer
Diane & Steven N. Miller
Mik Moore
Beth & Michael Moskowitz
Nahma Nadich & David Belcourt
Judith Obermayer
Marilyn & Dale Okonow
One8 Foundation
Caren & Ben Pearlman
Rabbi Barbara Penzer & Brian Rosman

Elana Kling Perkins & Rabbi Carl Perkins
Rabbi Jay Perlman

Sarah Perry & Tony Kingsley
Beth “Missie” Polasky & Sam Furgang
Ilissa & Lon Povich ¹
Frances Putnoi
Jeevan Ramapriya
Sari Anne Rapkin
Dena & Michael Rashes
Rachel & Joel Reck ²
Michal Regunberg
Diane Richler
Charlene Rideout
Dalia & Eric Ritvo
Julie Altman & Alex Sagan
Leah Robins ¹ & Daniel Sternberg
Nancy & Phil Rosenblatt
Shell & Stuart Rossman ²
Caroline Gammill & Nathan Rothstein ¹
Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels
Diane Sandoval
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
Kimberlee Schumacher
Daniel & Irene Serfaty
Ellen & Steven Segal
Mimi & Jim Segel ²
Ellie & Barry Shrage
Risa Shames & Neil Silverston
Barbara & Ed Shapiro
David Shimoni
Robin & Mel Shuman
Martha & Donald Siegel ²
Gabrielle & Benjamin Sigel
Rabbi Becky Silverstein & Naomi Sobel
Leslie & Craig Slater ¹
Susan & James Snider
Susan & Alan Solomont
Cathy Stern
Jennifer & Seth Stier
Hans D. Strauch
Hope & Adam Suttin ² ³
Gerri & Ken Sweder ²
Jacki Hart & Robert Trestan
Elaine & Wally Viner
Nancy Viner
Rabbi Andrew Vogel
Lisa & Neil Wallack
Kathy Weinman ¹ ³ & Cam Kerry
Dani Weinstein
Jennifer & Amiel Weinstock ¹
Debra Wekstein & David Kravitz
Sonya & Sean Wilder
Marla & Jeffrey Wolk
Justin L. Wyner ²
Dan Romanow & Andrew Zelermyer ¹

¹ JCRC Board Member, ² JCRC Past President, ³ Celebrates Program Committee Member
Last updated July 22, 2021

 

Institutional Sponsors

Klarman Family Foundation
one8
Patriots Foundation
Ruderman Family Foundation

JCRC Celebrates
Honorary Committee (in formation)

Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman
Young Merchants Club

Congressman Jake Auchincloss

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, President
Hebrew College

Rabbi Marc Baker, CEO

Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Representative Ruth Balser

Representative Christine Barber

Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chair
Armenian Assembly of America

Lori Barnet & Jeffrey Savit, CEO

Jewish Big Brothers & Big Sisters

Herbert Block, Executive Director

American Zionist Movement

Miriam Berkowitz Blue, Executive Director
Hillel Council of New England

Senator Joe Boncore

Gretchen Marks Brandt, Interim Director
Synagogue Council of Massachusetts

Mayor Paul Brodeur

Senator Will Brownsberger

Representative Dan Cahill

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell

Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

Lino Covarrubias, CEO
Jewish Family Service of Metrowest

Senator Cynthia Creem

Representative Claire Cronin

Representative Lori Ehrlich

Senator Barry Finegold

Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn

Reverend Laura Everett, Executive Director
Mass Council of Churches

Eric Giesser, New England Regional Director
AIPAC

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg

Representative Kenneth Gordon

Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond,
Co-founder and Pastor

Bethel AME Church

Dalit Ballen Horn, Executive Director
The Vilna Shul

Representative Hannah Kane

Idit Klein, President & CEO
Keshet

Robert Leikind, Regional Director
AJC New England

Senator Jason Lewis

Representative Adrian Madaro

Representative Paul Mark

Senator Michael O. Moore

Senator Patrick O'Connor

Kathleen Patrón, Lead Organizer and Executive Director
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Senator Becca Rausch

Senator Michael Rodrigues

Cindy Rowe, Executive Director
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action

Jerry Rubin, CEO
Jewish Vocational Services

Amy Schectman, President and CEO
2Life Communities

Gail Schulman, CEO
Jewish Family & Children Service

Barry Shrage
Former CEO, Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Brandies University

Alison Silber & Senator Eric Lesser

Rev. Daniel A. Smith, Senior Minister
First Church in Cambridge, Congregational (UCC)

Rabbi Mark Sokoll, President & CEO
JCC of Greater Boston

Senate President Karen Spilka

Rev. Burns Stanfield, Co-Chair
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Janet Stein-Calm, President
American Association of Jewish
Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants of Greater Boston

Senator Bruce Tarr

Reverend Nancy Taylor, Senior Minister
Old South Church

Temple Beth Elohim

Robert Trestan, Executive Director
ADL New England

Yusufi Vali, Director
Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement

Beverly Williams, Co-Chair
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

Rabbi Elaine Zecher
Temple Israel of Boston

Election Preparedness Strategies Guide for Houses of Worship

From the Massachusetts Council of Churches, Black Ministerial Alliance, Jewish Community Relations Council and Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center:

We know this election season is a time of increasing anxiety. Religious leaders in Massachusetts are working with civic leaders to be prepared for safe and secure voting, the free exercise of first amendment rights, and safety for vulnerable communities. We are also planning for potential protests, if the current President wins or loses. We aim to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We hope these preparations are unnecessary. And, we know that there have been increases in hate crimes against certain targeted communities, including Black churches, immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews and LGBTQIA peoples, as white supremacists have felt emboldened to act out. To ensure the safety of all people in the Commonwealth, and to prioritize the security of vulnerable communities, we recommend religious leaders across the state consider these recommendations:  

1. ENCOURAGE EARLY VOTING:

As religious leaders are often trusted sources in our communities, use your authority to encourage your people to vote early. Early voting by mail is good, early voting in person is better. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Tues Oct 28. Early in-person voting helps minimize large crowds on Election Day Tuesday Nov 3. Find your early voting date and location on the MA Secretary of State’s website here. Any questions, call 1-800-462-VOTE (8683). Every Massachusetts resident should be able to cast their ballot. If you experience trouble voting, Common Cause’s non-partisan election protection hotline is 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

2. CREDIBLE COMMUNICATION:

We know that news moves quickly, and false rumors spread easily. Do not share information that you cannot verify from a trusted source. If there is a need for solidarity in body or in prayer, make sure that you are following the directions from trusted leaders. In the event that a particular community is targeted, do not step in unless you are asked to do so. Through the week prior and following the election, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, Black Ministerial Alliance, Jewish Community Relations Council and Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center will put out requests, if needs arise. Keep an eye on these social media accounts. If you have a need, contact one of these four organizations.

3. PLAN IN THE EVENT OF PROTEST:

We know that not all communities experience increased police presence as a sign of safety. We know that not all clergy are called to, or are able to, place their bodies in the streets if protests arise. We know not all protesters receive clergy presence as a sign of peace. And, we’ve seen that the visible presence of religious leadership can calm down tense and potentially violence escalation.
 
For those who are called to this work, we ask that you prepare yourself. Training for clergy on de-escalation will be offered online on Friday October 30, 10-12pm.
Pre-registration is required here.

BE WISE AND BE CAREFUL

In the days ahead, use good judgement. Keep your eyes open. If you see something suspicious, each municipality generally has a police tip line (In Boston, call 1-800-494-TIPS). Keep your eyes open for anything that looks out of sorts. Report anything that’s not right. If you serve a community that may be targeted, contact your local police department now to establish or re-establish a point of contact. Update your House of Worship’s safety plans, if you have one.
 
This is the terrible reality of increasing antisemitism, anti-Black racism, xenophobia, homophobic and misogynistic white supremacist violence; houses of worship are often targeted. If your house of worship experiences an incident of bias or hate, please also consider reporting to the Anti-Defamation League.
 
We care more for bodies than buildings, and the desecration of sacred spaces is a real possibility.
 
We pray none of this preparation is necessary. We pray for peace and justice in this land. May this plague pass over,
 
Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston & Boston Ten Point Coalition
Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston
Massachusetts Council of Churches

Representation matters

This week's Friday message is from Aaron Agulnek, JCRC Director of Government Affairs

Seventy-five years ago this month, JCRC was founded by a group of Jews demanding a seat at the table in civil society. They were living through the worst of times for the worldwide Jewish community, where inaction led to destruction and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. With no unified voice to compel collective action, and with limited representation in government, all the pressure fell on a few prominent Jews.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr, his only Jewish Cabinet member, was an easy target for anti-Semites. Morgenthau shied away from any perception that he favored Jewish causes for fear of embarrassing the President and providing more fodder for the scurrilous claim of dual loyalties levied against Jews. However, by January 1944, Morgenthau and his colleagues at Treasury could no longer remain silent. They prepared a report with an initial title: “The Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews,” which led FDR to issue Executive Order 0417 and establish the War Refugee Board.

Though still novel in the 1940s, Jewish representation in the upper reaches of Government was not unprecedented. Only 25 years earlier, Justice Louis Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court. He was met with virulent antisemitism from fellow Justice James McReynolds. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “McReynolds was an out-and-out anti-Semite, and he treated this brilliant man with utter disdain. When Brandeis would speak at conference, he would stand up and leave the room… Brandeis ignored it. 'Dignity' is the right word to describe his response to that bigotry."

Rather than shy away from his background and values, Brandeis led with them, proving to the nation that being Jewish and American were not incongruous. He inspired a young, mostly-immigrant American Jewish community, seeking a future in a country in which it was still finding its collective footing. Brandeis’ legacy to the Jewish community goes much deeper than his judicial chops and world-altering decisions. He cemented a sense of belonging to a wandering people.

Today, there are Jews serving at all levels in government, proudly representing their constituents. Where necessary, many have directly asserted their Jewishness in public spaces. There was no clearer example than the public debate following the attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Chabad centers here in Massachusetts.

JCRC led and championed an advocacy campaign enlisting rabbis, synagogues, day schools, and other communal institutions for the expansion of a grant program to provide security enhancements to houses of worship, community centers and other vulnerable institutions across the Commonwealth. In late May, the Massachusetts State Senate debated an amendment to the State budget to increase its funding.

When the amendment was called, lead sponsor Senator Eric Lesser (Longmeadow) like any effective senator, framed his remarks in the context of public safety and the proper role of government. He spoke about the rise in antisemitism, attacks against mosques, the targeting of LQBTQ community, and the burning of a black church in Springfield the night of President Obama’s election in 2008. But when Lesser began sharing his experience as a Jew, a deep silence fell over the Senate chamber. He expressed the deep sadness and despair he felt when he learned of the murders at the Tree of Life synagogue, just as he and his young family were at Shabbat services.

Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (Newton) described how her temple has balanced security with inclusiveness; Senator Cindy Friedman (Arlington) spoke about the recent incidents at Chabad in Arlington; Senator Barry Finegold (Andover) shared a story about the security conversations he had with his rabbi for his daughter’s bat mitzvah; Senator Becca Rausch (Needham) spoke of her children and her concern for their safety at a Jewish day care; Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler (Worcester) spoke about the impact that violence is having on our communities; all under the watchful eye of our Jewish Senate President, Karen Spilka (Ashland).

Seven Jewish senators, from every corner of the Commonwealth, each sharing their vulnerability and trauma; each speaking from their own lived experience to advocate powerfully for their – our – community, sharing their pain and bringing their petition directly to the floor of the Senate for redress. Representation matters.

But for many in our society, representation is still a distant dream. There are currently zero African-American and zero Muslim senators in the State Senate. There is a single Latina senator and two LGBTQ senators. Representation is not just about numbers, but also about the power of personal testimony, in compelling justice for marginalized communities. Only when we represent our own interests in the halls of power can we effectively protect and defend our community’s interests. We need to demand no less for other minorities. Shirley Chisholm said it best, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” When debate ended and the roll call was taken on Senator Lesser’s amendment (which passed 40-0), the impact of the debate had a lingering resonance in the chamber. Twenty minutes later, when offering up his amendment to codify the Hate Crimes Task Force, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr opened with these remarks:

…I have been a member of this body a fairly long time and I have never been prouder …. What makes this so extraordinary are the types of remarks we heard around the chamber where members were willing to come into this chamber and share their thoughts about fear and anxiety and concern for themselves, and for all of us. That takes character, it takes commitment and it takes dedication. What just happened in this chamber is so extraordinary in some ways because … hate lives in darkness. It thrives on concealment. And it preys on fear. Do you know what happened here? People brought the reality of the threat we are faced with right into the daylight and said here is it and we are going to stand up to it.”

With the inspiration of Brandeis and Morgenthau at our back, the Jewish community is better represented today than it has ever been in history of the United States. May their memory inspire us to stand up for ourselves and others, and may it grant us the wisdom to make space for the yearnings of other peoples in their dreams.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron Agulnek

Prepping for AIPAC

As the AIPAC Policy Conference begins this weekend in DC, I am thinking about a survey that’s creating a buzz in our world.

Last October, the Mellman Group reported that an overwhelming majority of Jewish voters – 92% - identify as “generally pro-Israel” while only a marginal 3% consider themselves “generally not pro-Israel.”

This has come up in recent months as we witness groups identifying as both Jewish and anti-Zionist providing cover for those employing anti-Semitic tropes that go beyond fair criticism of Israel’s government and polices. And when we see and hear some  political and interfaith leaders cite those groups as validators (e.g. “but I’ve met with my Jewish partners and they say…”) we can factually point out that: when some on the left say that they are engaging with and listening to the American Jewish community, but they are only talking to fringe anti-Zionist groups, then they aren't really interested in what American Jews think, feel, and experience.

There’s another data-point in this report, of even greater interest to me, regarding the 92%:

“fewer than a third (32%) say that they are also supportive of the current Israeli government’s policies. A majority (59%) say that they are “pro-Israel,” but critical of at least some Israeli government policies, with 24% critical of many of the government’s policies.”

In other words, American Jews have an overwhelming consensus on our commitment to the future of a Jewish state, but we are divided into three fairly significant camps over the direction of the Israeli leadership.

There is however, another layer, one not covered in survey questions; how do we understand our unique role as American Jews in giving voice to our criticisms?

Historically, our community has been organized around the understanding, most memorably articulated in the “Blaustein-Ben-Gurion” agreement of 1950, that “the State of Israel speaks only on behalf of its own citizens” and that “the allegiance of American Jews is to America alone, and should put an end to any idea or allegation that there is such a thing as ‘dual loyalty’…” We built a network of institutions, including AIPAC, that acted with an understanding that whatever our diversity of views and our differences with Israel’s leadership, we would mostly – and in particular on matters of security – express those views privately.

For the past 25 years, these norms and understandings have been fraying; both Jewish communities have been increasingly open about challenging each other. When Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and Ariel Sharon withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, each had public tension with some portions of American Jews who didn’t rally behind their governments. Over the past decade, American Jews have formed institutions – both on the progressive and conservative side, and very much within our 92% consensus of support for a Jewish state – that have openly challenged Israeli security policies with which they disagree. More recently, many of us have been openly frustrated when Israel’s political leaders speak on behalf of all Jews, including us Americans, in ways that effectively absolve our own elected leaders of their role in amplifying antisemitism in our country.

In an era when any fool with a twitter handle can amplify any extreme idea, the norms of a relationship between two Jewish communities built on public comity and solidarity has become increasingly challenged. Legacy institutions, whether it be AIPAC, a JCRC, and others, are navigating these changing norms.

I perceive AIPAC as a coalition across at least some of those differences; a coalition that comes together to support the enduring bonds of the US-Israel relationship. AIPAC works because it relies on the notion that while we may individually be supportive or have critiques of any particular Israeli government, our agency with regard to criticism of Israel is best, and mostly, to be shared privately and always in loving and respectful ways. And while that notion of agency is changing - and others at the JCRC table come down resolutely on the side of public critique - this particular branch, representing large portions of the Jewish community, works because it bridges its internal divides over that critique.

So on Sunday I will arrive, as I do every year, in DC for the AIPAC conference; the single largest annual gathering in DC to advocate for any policy agenda, reflecting the depth and breadth of support for our nation’s connection to Israel.

There will be evangelical Christians, LGBTQ, African-American, Feminist, Latino and Labor leaders all together in one room. But mostly, there will be American Jews, and we Jews will be a diverse bunch. Many will be from among the 32% of us who generally support the policies of Israel’s government, and many of us will be amongst the 59% who are not.  But there will be some established understanding amongst those present that, at least in this space, our critiques or lack thereof do not unite us.

Next week we will hear conflicting voices including Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of the Israeli opposition leaders - patriots each of them as well. And we’ll be there even in our disagreements about our role in publicly criticizing Israeli policies – including some millennial Zionist leaders who wrote a public letter to the Prime Minister this week.

I believe that Jewish community is best served when we remind ourselves that at the end of the day we’re a small people. We are bonded to each other by our history, our values and what unites us - including the vast consensus we hold as American Jews: to support and work for a Jewish, secure and democratic state of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

An Urgent Agenda

It has been over twenty years since the American Psychiatric Association deemed so-called conversion therapy (attempts to “repair” a person’s sexual orientation) to be harmful. Still, shockingly, 698,000 LGBTQ adults, including about 350,000 people who received treatment as adolescents, have been subjected to this traumatic practice in the U.S. alone.  Last month, after years of effort, the practice was banned for minors in New York, making it the 15th state to do so.

You may be surprised to learn that Massachusetts is not among the states that have banned this practice for minors. JCRC wants that to change.

Boston JCRC has a long and proud record of openly advocating for LGBTQ rights. Many years before I arrived here, Boston was the first Jewish community relations council in the country to fight for marriage equality. JCRC has supported legislation against conversion therapy in the past. And just a few weeks ago our Council’s Public Policy Committee unanimously affirmed that House Bill 2848, a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors in MA, should be one of JCRC’s priorities for this legislative session. I’m proud that we will be working to ensure that teenagers are no longer subjected to this sadistic practice masquerading as “treatment.”

Our advocacy on this bill, along with all our government affairs priorities this legislative season, once again reflects our commitment to defending civil rights and safeguarding long fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry. We are committed to working with our partners in government to enshrine policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our community.

In 2017, the ADL tracked an 86% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools right here in Massachusetts—with many of these incidents involving Holocaust-related imagery and language. We need to act decisively to stem this disturbing tide. So, we are working with ADL to advocate for passage of An Act Concerning Genocide Education, to mandate Holocaust and genocide education in social studies classes in Massachusetts, enabling students to understand how unchecked prejudice and hatred can escalate to atrocity.

These are just two of seven bills that JCRC supports in our current Legislative Agenda, which includes a bill to protect immigrants being targeted for deportation, and others to help individuals and families overcome obstacles to opportunity and inclusion. Our legislative collaboration includes parties in the private and public sectors: philanthropists, social service agencies, our network of member organizations, and community leaders.

Each year at this time, we take the opportunity to recognize our partners on Beacon Hill who have joined with us to build a more just Commonwealth and a more vibrant democracy. JCRC’s annual Legislative Reception celebrates the importance of building powerful coalitions to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for all in the Commonwealth. We lift up the work of the organized Jewish community to unite with others and act together for an urgent agenda; from civil rights to human services, economic opportunity to safety and security, supporting the vibrant MA-Israel partnership, and the protection of democratic values.

On March 5th, JCRC will honor four remarkable public servants who exercise their leadership to promote the common good. We will present awards to Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Joan Lovely, Representative Ron Mariano, and Springfield Council President Justin Hurst. These four public servants have answered the call for leadership in a time of great challenge, to address the urgent issues before us.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these four individuals, who honor their duty to the people of the Commonwealth. We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these four leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners. I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy