• Upcoming Event

  • 26 Jun

  • An Open Letter Regarding Recent Mass Teachers Association Activities

    Dear Valued Members of Our Community, 

    Since the events of October 7, 2023, we have seen a rapid deterioration of public discourse and an acceleration of binary and reductive narratives about Jews, Palestinians, Israel, and the war in Gaza. We have seen this from city and town halls and in public statements from organizations narrowing the space for understanding and dialogue. This narrowing has led to so many in our community feeling isolated, afraid, and without voice.  

    It is our job as a community relations council to bridge this discourse and to widen the conversation while clearly calling out antisemitism. We do this work through relationships towards building a shared understanding of the diversity of the Jewish community and our relationship to Israel.  

    Community relations at its core is a practice of dialogue and has been the vehicle for our work since our founding 80 years ago. At the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), we build relationships with elected leaders, interfaith partners, community organizations, and through our recently launched initiative, with K-12 educators. Our educational partnership portfolio seeks to build relationships with school districts and educational organizations to address antisemitism and create safe and inclusive schools for all students. We are profoundly aware of the responsibility with which we must approach this work and to whom we are accountable in this work.  

    In that spirit, we are obligated to share our concerns regarding recent actions taken by some members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (the MTA), in the wake of the October 7 Hamas-led attacks and throughout the ongoing war in Gaza. At a moment of immense trauma and suffering among Israelis, Palestinians, and diverse communities throughout the Commonwealth—many of whom have ties to the peoples most intimately affected by the ongoing conflict—some members of the MTA have, at times, relied upon pernicious and inflammatory rhetoric.  Much of this rhetoric is at odds with the objectives of critical thinking, cultural sensitivity, and the compassion that is at the heart of public education. Jewish students, teachers, and community members who support nuanced and robust learning experiences and who want to grapple with difficult but necessary questions, are taken aback by some of the messaging from the MTA in recent months, which plays into familiar and dehumanizing antisemitic tropes.  

    Professional organizations, such as the MTA, are and should remain vital parts of an ecosystem of teaching and learning. However, education associations also have a responsibility to model and epitomize a spirit of civil discourse and inclusive deliberation, the very skills needed for constructive participation in civil society. Through recent actions, the MTA has alienated many teachers, who have sought the counsel of JCRC because they feel unheard, undervalued, and marginalized.  Such recent actions include the language adopted in the MTA’s December 9, 2023 resolution, the centering by an MTA task force of an anti-Zionist organization  which has an explicit track-record of promoting and amplifying antisemitism in a teacher training webinar, and needlessly coupling concerns for anti-Palestinian racism with a campaign of anti-Zionism in classrooms.  These actions have produced a critical mass of messages and actions that are exacerbating mistrust and discord rather than engendering trust and healing in schools across the Commonwealth. While it is our understanding this webinar does not represent the official position of the MTA, its framing and promotion by the MTA exacerbates tensions.  

    In an age of rising antisemitism and increased feelings of Jewish vulnerability, public education plays a crucial role in promoting a vision of American society based around the values of pluralism and democracy. Historically, the MTA has endeavored to uphold these values. JCRC, which has long been a partner and ally to unions in Massachusetts, hopes that the MTA would continue to be a leader and partner in the work of bringing forth a society that safeguards the dignity and humanity of all people, through their advocacy on behalf of teachers who, themselves, strive to make all students feel safe, seen, and valued in schools. However, since October 7th, some leaders and members of the MTA have contributed to an erosion of trust which is not only harmful to Jewish teachers and students but, also, to the long-term educational objectives of fostering a culture of exchange, meaningful dialogue, and an embrace of different perspectives and worldviews.  

    JCRC recognizes the importance of a strong, well resourced, public education system in promoting a healthy civil society where diversity is valued and all peoples can live with confidence in their welfare and that of their neighbors. At their best, schools exist to teach students to think critically by being exposed to a range of perspectives. They challenge students to reach their own conclusions when teachers encourage curiosity by asking questions and inviting inquiry. However, the promotion of an agenda that is often antisemitic, and the reliance on rhetoric that adopts dangerous tropes, shuts down inquiry and deliberation.  

    JCRC shares the concerns of educators who are deeply distraught by the rise of antisemitism in America today. We also are deeply alarmed by the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. We are unwavering in this stance and we know that schools have a role to play in addressing bigotry, hatred, and fear of difference. No student or teacher deserves to be othered in schools, no public leader deserves to be called out through hateful rhetoric and terms.  

    We welcome every opportunity to build trusting and transformative relationships with educational leaders who are also committed to this vision of school and society. We continue to encourage members of the MTA who are as troubled as we are to engage directly and thoughtfully with their union leadership to address these concerns. We encourage those who wish to foster dialogue and relationships with JCRC regarding K-12 education to contact our Director of Education Partnerships. 

    While we are immensely disappointed with several of the MTA’s recent actions, we are confident – in our conversations with grassroots members of the MTA – that there is potential for a future where through relationship building and shared dialogue we can work with educational partners to heal rather than harm, for the sake of every teacher, student, and community member in our fragile yet precious society.  

    Jeremy Burton, CEO 

    JCRC Greater Boston