Author: Jeremy Burton

A Jewish approach to this moment

Next Friday, JCRC will be closed as Jewish communities around the world celebrate Shavuot. We will retell and re-live the experience of Moses ascending Mount Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments. The week leading up to Shavuot is the final week of the Omer, the intentional counting of the 49 individual days and the full seven weeks from the Passover Seder until this holy day.

This year, for nearly all of us, these seven weeks (and then some) have been spent sheltering at home. It seems almost impossible that we will now mark our second major Jewish holiday season without congregating in person for Torah reading, or for the recitation of our Yizkor memorial service. Counting the Omer has been very much on my mind this week as I’ve been immersed in the public discourse about physical distancing, government health directives, and personal sacrifices. Governors and mayors are easing restrictions. Here in Massachusetts, we now have guidance on safety protocols for re-opening Houses of Worship. While that guidance that has been criticized by some, we at JCRC recognize the multiple pressures facing our Governor and appreciate his efforts to provide guidelines for our safety.

Across the nation, even as a wide majority of Americans continue to support the difficult sacrifices of physically distancing, there is tension and debate regarding the balancing of constitutional rights, personal freedom, and collective safety. This plays out in ways both large and small as when some people refuse to practice basic measures like mask wearing in public spaces.

These debates about freedom and collective responsibility evoke the connection between our holidays. Passover celebrates our individual freedom, our liberty from the tyranny of slavery in Egypt. Shavuot marks the establishment of a collective law. This weekend, we celebrate the establishment of a social contract between the Divine and the People, but also – and more importantly – among the people. And these holidays are connected because the gift of freedom is incomplete without the gift of law.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of England, explains it thus:

“If freedom means only that I can do what I want, then my freedom will inevitably conflict with yours. If I am free to steal, you are not free to own...That is why Judaism sees the exodus as the beginning, not the end, of the journey to freedom. The culmination came in the giving of the Law. The biblical vision is of a society in which no one will be at the mercy of others. Its rules and institutions aim at creating a social order of independent human beings linked by bonds of kinship and compassion...The freedom to do what we want creates individuals. It does not create a free society.”

In the connection between Passover and Shavuot, we see values and ideas upheld and articulated, not in opposition to each other, but rather in conversation. These values – freedom and social order –each can be of greater import to us at any given moment. But neither is fully realized without its relationship to the other.

It is within this notion that we have an opportunity to offer a deeply Jewish approach to engaging the complexity of this moment. We must insist on having a society that prizes freedoms – enshrined in our constitution - including of assembly and worship. At the same time, with those freedoms come the responsibility of building a collective social well-being, both through laws and through our individual responsibility.

We can choose, as every Jewish denomination and nearly every synagogue in America has, to see state and local directives as a baseline, not a ceiling, for the precautions we take in gathering and protecting all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us.

We can choose to embrace masks, not just because of local civil directives, but as a way of saying to our neighbors that we are ultimately interconnected, responsible to each other and for each other’s health and well-being.

We can choose to take these steps and others, not as a way of winning a fight between left and right but rather as an articulation that we are, still, one society. We can affirm that citizenship in that society means valuing and living within the dynamic tension between personal freedom and collective social order and responsibility.

The journey in the wilderness formed the Jewish people. So too will we be transformed as a nation, as we journey from what we were before this pandemic to what we will be when it is over. Our Jewish tradition, and the days and weeks we’ve been counting off while sheltering at home, have something to teach us about the kind of society we are striving to shape.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Jewish community is committed to social distancing

A central part of our work at JCRC, in good times and bad, is to ensure that government and civic leaders are listening to, understanding, and addressing the interests and values of our Jewish community. I emphasize the plural “s” on each of those because rarely are we uniform in defining those priorities and concerns.

This week, I want to lift up one specific area where I am hearing wall-to-wall unity on our community’s voices.

But first, a little bit of background on how we’ve been working to advance our community’s agendas with our government in recent weeks.

Since the earliest days of the stay-at-home order, our government affairs team has been working closely with the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office to provide a coordinated voice to our congressional delegation on the needs of the Jewish and non-profit sector. That resulted in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans being extended to include non-profits (and an estimated $20 million or more to our local Jewish organizations). And there have been public, national mobilizations to support efforts by our delegation, including Rep. Moulton’s efforts to include non-profit relief in the next package. We’ve also continued to work with our delegation on our local priorities, for example supporting efforts by Senators Warren and Markey and Rep. Kennedy to investigate events last Friday at Bristol County House of Corrections.

We’ve been working with our institutions, as well as our interfaith partners, to put Jewish leadership into the spaces where decisions are being made around the shutdown and the re-opening. We’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials at the state and local level about a range of issues. We’ve coordinated joint efforts by Jewish and general camping providers to be heard as part of a re-opening plan. Our rabbis have been in leadership roles in public and private engagement with Governor Baker, Attorney General Healey, and Mayor Walsh, amongst others.

I have no doubt that if we went down the litany of concerns that have come up in that work, little of it would fall under the “one thing we all agree on” even as all of this work reflects large portions of our community’s concerns.

Which leads me to one thing I want to lift up today: the wall-to-wall unity of our faith institutions, our congregations and rabbis, on social distancing during a pandemic. As some voices in other faith communities have demanded a quick re-opening of house of worship, the Jewish voice has been different. Yes, of course, our synagogues view congregating in faith as an essential need, especially in times of pain and suffering. But across the nation, they’ve taken a strong public stance to support and encourage continued social distancing where possible.

When a few western states never closed, all the synagogues went dark anyway. When some states re-opened hastily, across the denominational spectrum the synagogues chose to remain closed, as in Georgia.

In recent days, rabbis across the denominational spectrum in Missouri issued a public letter saying that voting by mail is a religious imperative. The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement made a similar statement (and if Massachusetts doesn’t act to extend vote by mail for this fall’s election, some rabbis here are already talking about following their example).

Yesterday, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, told Dr. Anthony Fauci that the OU “was advising congregations to wait two weeks past government opening dates to start returning to congregational prayer.”

My point is this: It’s not my place to tell rabbis, synagogues, and denominations what to do. However, it is JCRC’s responsibility to provide them with the information and tools from our government partners, so that they can make informed decisions. It is also our charge to lift up their voices in the civic space.

So when, in other communities, some are representing that faith gatherings are essential and must be opened up immediately, I want to underscore how, within the Jewish congregational leadership, there is near unanimous thinking to move slowly and not reopen our house of worship immediately, even when governments allow it. That’s our message right now to our civic and elected leaders.

I welcome your thoughts and input as we continue to advance the values, interest, and priorities of our community in the public square.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Defending democracy during a pandemic

Most people don’t remember that 9/11/2001 was a major primary day in New York City. I cast my vote for a nominee for mayor just minutes before the first tower was struck. After the second tower was hit, the governor rightly suspended the voting for two weeks. The notion of postponing the general election briefly became an issue, when the term-limited incumbent floated the idea of extending his tenure for a few months. But in the end, there was no delay, and the general election was held on its regularly scheduled first Tuesday in November, a celebration, of sorts, of the city’s resiliency, less than two months after the worst day our city had ever endured.

That memory resurfaced for me a few weeks ago when Wisconsin residents were forced to make an impossible choice between protecting their personal health and safety in the face of a deadly pandemic, or as “the People,” protecting their collective right to vote. The long lines in Milwaukee that election day were both an outrage and an inspiration, a profound act of civic duty and an insistent defense of democracy amidst this pandemic.

In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed. For JCRC, the health of our democracy is so essential to our self-interest as Jews and as Americans, that our mission states that we “promote an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.”

For JCRC, those aren’t just words. They are guiding and enduring values that have informed our policy work and our advocacy for over 75 years. In the spring of 2019, before our current crisis, our Council – through its deliberative process of study and debate – adopted principles for defending democracy. At the time, our Council stated that:

Judaism’s view of human society includes many values that are key to a democracy. In accord with these Jewish values, the hallmark of a well-functioning democracy is the primacy of “We, the People”: an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials truly representative of home communities, from whom power flows. However, both history and current events are replete with policies and practices that water down the principle of “We, the People” by empowering the elite over the general populace.

This week, our Council met for our first regularly scheduled meeting since the onset of sheltering in Massachusetts. We began by taking the time to check in with and extend care to each other as a community. But we also spent time hearing from partners about the challenges ahead in conducting a free, fair, and safe election this fall in the midst of these daunting challenges.

Yesterday, building on our mission and our principles, we recommitted to comprehensive voting rights and affirmed our support for specific actions, including:

  • Expanding absentee voting including no-excuse absentee voting, permanent absentee voting, and other increased vote by mail options;
  • Preserving in-person voting, carefully balancing the safety of poll workers and voters, and minimizing suppressive tactics.
  • Expanding early voting options.
  • Advocating for immediate federal action and funding to support state and local elections, implementation of these reforms, and the United States Postal Service’s capacity and solvency to meet the increased demands from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with urgent priorities in human services, secure institutions, and caring for our neighbors, we’ll be working on these issues in the coming months. When this pandemic is over, we’ll continue to work on reforming and protecting our democracy, as we have for over 75 years now, because, as the Supreme Court held, over a century ago, in Yick Wo v. Hopkins: the right to vote is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.”

The strength of our community and the resiliency of our society is protected when we act on our enduring values and principles, even – and especially – in a crisis. Once again, we are called to take affirmative action to defend our rights and the rights of all Americans. Please join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

Meeting the Challenge of this Moment

In the early weeks of this sheltering experience, I’d find myself getting a little bit annoyed by some of the posts I was seeing online. There was, and is, a certain amount of “competitive suffering” going on; a sense that the particular circumstances in which I was under lockdown (or not) were worse than yours.

As I sat with these, and in some moments felt unseen in the specific ways that this has been hard for me, I came to recognize and name for myself that everyone is suffering right now, each in our own way (ok, maybe not so much the guy on his yacht trying to find a safe harbor in the Caribbean, but almost everyone). We gain nothing by engaging in competitive suffering. We gain everything by recognizing and affirming everyone’s pain right now, acknowledging what each of us is dealing with, and giving support in whatever ways we are capable.

However, still, this pandemic and our society’s response have in fact exposed cracks in our society that opened gaping chasms amidst COVID-19. 

That “essential” work rest heavily on low-paid workers, many without paid sick leave, lifts up disparities in our economy and in the protections available based on status and class. That this virus has impacted communities of color far in excess to their percentage of the population lifts up the enduring impact of racial disparities and health. Even within the Jewish community, the virus appears to have impacted Haredi communities – many living with larger families in smaller apartments and with fewer economic resources – far harder than some of the rest of us.

Yes, these and other fractures in our society existed before this, but COVID has made their impact far more visible and thrust them more visibly into our public consciousness (with the help of some very skilled organizing and pushing by advocates in impacted communities).

I’ve been thinking about the days and years after Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, another time when disaster exposed the chasms of our society (and may I recommend Floodlines, a fantastic podcast miniseries produced by The Atlantic that dropped just as COVID-19 was shutting us down). About a week after the hurricane, I attended a meeting of some of the nation’s largest Jewish family foundations and leaders from many of the Jewish federations. The Jewish communal system had quickly raised well over $20 million to support recovery and rebuilding, with the goal of ensuring that every synagogue and Jewish camp in the Gulf would have the capacity to do so.

I remember the president of one family foundation – widely known and rightly credited for its visionary and extraordinary investment in creating Birthright Israel and other Jewish identity and education projects – challenging the assembled leaders: “How could we ignore the vast disparities in the impact of Katrina?” he asked. “We will be defined not just by what we do for ourselves, the Jewish community, but also by what we do for others, for all those struggling to recover.”

In the hours that followed, the federation system, led by its national office and a few extraordinary communities, including CJP here in Boston, set aside substantial resources (millions of dollars) to be specifically designated as Jewish support for recovery of other parts of the Gulf community, with the money channeled through the organization I was working for at the time, Jewish Funds for Justice. With Jewish communal capital, followed in coming months by six and seven figure gifts from philanthropists of various political and ideological stripes, we launched the Isaiah Fund. This fund was an interfaith partnership to build homes and support economic recovery in New Orleans. We established a grants fellowship for community organizers from African-American, native tribes, Vietnamese fishing communities, and other hard-hit populations. And we created a range of service programs bringing Jewish college students and young adults to those communities to help.

I look back at that work, and the six years in which I was privileged to lead the Fund’s program team in a Jewish response for all of Katrina’s victims, on behalf of the Jewish federation movement, as one of the proudest moments of my career before coming to Boston.

I hope that, once again, we will meet the challenge of this moment. It’s a different moment of course – far more all-encompassing in the national and global reach of this crisis. Our Jewish community is suffering profoundly. And yet, I know that when we have the will, we have the capacity to remember that everyone is in pain, that we are all suffering and that it is in our collective interest to rededicate our efforts to healing the chasms of our society before they engulf us all.

I hope that you will join us in that work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

P.S. Join JCRC's Fund-a-Need Campaign!
We're raising funds to benefit JCRC’s vital programming in our efforts to combat hate, stand with immigrants and our most vulnerable neighbors, promote peace for Israel, and engage our community in service

Our community is taking action

I hope that this finds you managing as best as one can in this challenging time. It is difficult to absorb and process all that is happening in our world, and all that has ceased to happen – at least for now.

We at JCRC, as always, are rooting our response in our understanding of our core purpose. We are advocating to uphold the social safety net and to secure a just society for the most vulnerable populations. The urgency of and need for this work is, as always, heightened in times of crisis. More and more members of our Greater Boston community are struggling to meet their needs on the most basic level.

JCRC’s advocacy and organizing teams are working hard from our homes to advocate for our neighbors, pivoting in our work to secure needed resources for those who need it the most during this time. Our recent advocacy work includes:

  • Leading the charge with our colleagues across the country and our partners at Jewish Federations of North America to urge Congress to expand the Paycheck Protection Loan (PPL) program for vital nonprofits. After our collective initial success in making sure that nonprofits were included in the first round of Small Business Administration (SBA) PPL loans, we are now working to ensure that the next phase of the legislation that calls for an additional $250 billion for the SBA loans is accessible to larger nonprofits. We’re monitoring the process closely and will be advocating for additional funds to further address community needs in subsequent legislative packages.
  • Submitting written testimony to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities for an online hearing this Monday on H.4622—An Act to Provide Short-term Relief for Families in Deep Poverty.
  • Facilitating final certification and permits from the City of Boston for a kosher food pantry in the city so that the community was able to move quickly to meet new and urgent needs in this time.
  • Leading with our partners in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) to draft a letter to the Governor, in which we pledged the support of the faith community in fighting COVID-19 and addressing the crisis, while also inviting his partnership on access to health care, rent, and mortgage accommodations, and responding to the perilous situation of those who are incarcerated. The letter now has over 70 signatories from across faith communities, including many area rabbis. A delegation of clergy met with the Governor (virtually) this week.
  • Continuing to bond out those in immigrant detention - including people detained across the country, since many other ICE offices have been closed. As conditions worsen inside jails, and in this season of Passover and freedom, JCRC and our partners have bonded out 62 people over the past month.

Our community is stronger when we speak together in one voice. I hope that you will continue to join us in these efforts, by calling your legislators and engaging in the weekly action items that we are sharing with the community.

As I find myself, like all of us, physically distanced from community, I am also finding strength in the willingness of our community to build social connections by taking action on our moral responsibility to each other and our neighbors in this challenging and uncertain time. Thank you for joining us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

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Join JCRC's Fund-a-Need Campaign!
We're raising funds to benefit JCRC’s vital programming in our efforts to combat hate, stand with immigrants and our most vulnerable neighbors, promote peace for Israel, and engage our community in service.

Sharing our 2019 Impact Report

Each week, I use this message to convey a sense of the challenges that face us as a community and share the many ways that we at JCRC address them. This week, as we prepare for Passover, I am delighted to share our 2019 Impact Report with you. Here you can view in one place, the many ways in which your support has enabled us to raise our voices and deepen our partnerships to combat antisemitism, bigotry, and hatred in all forms, stand with immigrants and our most vulnerable neighbors, promote peace for Israel, and engage our community in service.
 
I am grateful to you for your support – by listening to us, providing your wise counsel, sharing what we do, volunteering with us, and donating to us. Because of you, we are able to rise to today's challenges, not only by preparing for crises and ensuring that Jewish institutions have the means to stay secure, but also by engaging our community in myriad opportunities to act on our Jewish values by pursuing justice for our neighbors and ourselves. And in the last few weeks, when faced with the Coronavirus crisis, we were able to pivot quickly, mobilizing our community in response to urgent needs through our #TakingActionStayingConnected campaign, both within our community and beyond.
 
Through years of relationship building, we’ve been able to develop the trust to engage in critically important conversations and leverage our collective power to achieve goals more ambitious than any of us could ever accomplish on our own. We have rolled up our sleeves to tackle the thorniest challenges facing Greater Boston together, be it the ever-growing divisions over how best to connect with and support Israel or the increasing threats against our immigrant neighbors.
 
To continue and expand upon this important work, I hope you will consider participating in our “Fund a Need” campaign. Your sustained generosity enables us all go from strength to strength.
 
Shabbat shalom – and wishing you and yours a healthy and safe Passover,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
JCRC Executive Director

Taking Action, Staying Connected

My, how rapidly the world has changed this week. Yet I am hopeful. We’ll get through this. And I believe we’ll be stronger for it. As Garrett Graff wrote this week, what we are doing now to #FlattenTheCurve is a “collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit, a fundamental statement of how we stand together as a species.”

I was watching a comedy on Netflix last night in which two fellows meeting up at a café embraced each other in a big “long time no see” kind of hug as they arrived at the table. It felt surreal, and reminded me of what it was like, 18 years ago, to watch 1990’s movies where families saw their loved ones off at the gate for departing flights – a world in the very recent past that is now so very different.

So yes, we’re resilient, and yet we’ll be changed by all this. We’ll return to work, to our congregations and schools, maybe even to sporting venues, but the world will be changed; even if we don’t know exactly how yet.

But one thing that need not change are our core values, our commitment to community, our belief that we are bound together with each and that our resiliency in challenging times comes from our commitment to the collective good.

So, for JCRC, even as we are profoundly changed in what we can do this week – with our volunteers not serving as reading buddies in public schools, our Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers unable to do face-to-face people-to-people work, our inability to show up on Beacon Hill to testify and rally in support of our immigrant neighbors – what hasn’t changed is the purpose of our work, why we do community relations.

That, “why,” our belief in the building of bridges and strengthening of bonds that tie us to each other and to the civic public space, remains more urgent than ever. These are the ties that give us the fortitude to flatten the curve, to help those who are most struggling right now, to be good neighbors in hard times.

That’s why I’m proud of the work our team has been doing this week, to keep us all focused on the “why,” even as the “how” has changed – for now.

We’ve launched a campaign to take action and stay connected, building bridges during this period.

Some opportunities to take action:

  • Join us for our Pathways to Peace Learning Series: a six-part webinar series featuring Israelis and Palestinians telling their stories of identity, friendship, and cohesion even during a time of social distancing. On Tuesday, March 24th we will have a virtual, facilitated conversation between Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'Wad at 12pm. As members of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian societies living side-by-side in the West Bank, they will share their powerful story of coming together to learn each other's stories. Then on Thursday, we will hear from certified tour guide Mike Hollander for a talk titled "Jerusalem - Borders, Barriers, and Beliefs."
  • Help distribute valuable information on COVID-19 this Saturday, during a citywide distribution of important information to every home and in multiple languages. (For those whose Shabbat practice would permit participation.)
  • Create a “Soup In A Jar” kit for our partner shelters and food pantries. These soup mixes can be used immediately or at a later date. For more information, contact Grace Farnan, TELEM Coordinator

I hope that you’ll join us in this effort to help our partners, support our neighbors, and continue to be good citizens this week and in the weeks ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building connections while we’re separated

With the World Health Organization declaring a coronavirus “pandemic” this week, we are all entering a new and difficult phase of this challenge to normal life. Earlier this week, in response to Governor Baker declaring a public health emergency here in Massachusetts, JCRC began taking significant steps to limit in-person social interactions through our staff and programs. Today, Friday, we have moved to a remote workplace for an extended period in the near future.

Of course, we’re not alone in these steps. Institutions, congregations, and businesses across our community are also taking these steps. And because we’re listening to the experts, experienced professionals in public health, we understand that we all have a role and a responsibility to “flatten the curve” on the spread of this virus.

Without diminishing the urgency and importance of every step we can take to minimize transmission, it’s not easy. Not touching our faces is hard, even unnatural, for human beings. So is profound social distancing. Ours is a community and society of gatherers; baked into the DNA of Jewish community is the notion that we need to be together as ten adults to perform some of our most sacred rituals. Our nation’s foundational document protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as part of our first constitutional freedoms.

As one pastor put it on a recent Zoom call with our Christian partners, separating ourselves from our neighbors goes against everything we believe in. At the same time, our tradition tells us that whoever saves one life (even at the expense of other good deeds), it is as if we had saved the world. And every health expert is telling us that physical distancing will save lives.

So here we are. I worry, not just for my own family and for our staff and friends, but for our society. In the midst of one of the most vicious electoral cycles in our modern history, the last thing we needed was large-scale isolation and dependence on social media for news and engagement. When I see pushes online of “things to do in quarantine,” like a booklist that pushes a specific worldview or narrative, I worry about us amplifying our self-confirming biases. And most of all, as someone with good health and a salaried income, with paid sick leave and health care, I worry about the more vulnerable who enter this challenge without the same resources and resiliency.

If you share these concerns, I invite you to join me in committing to building bridges and connections even as we separate ourselves physically. I’m committing myself in the coming weeks:

  • For each event that is postponed, I will reach out and FaceTime with someone with whom I don’t connect regularly.
  • I will read books that challenge my worldviews and expose me to new ideas, whether those be volumes making the case for perspectives I’m disinclined to share, or novels that take me into cultures other than my own.
  • Every day that I am working from home I will use my social media platform to lift up examples of people who are doing good deeds and practicing bridge-building in ways that are responsible for this moment.

Over the coming days, our team will  be rolling out a number of ways to stay connected to and supportive of our partners – from the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence groups who are canceling spring visits to the US to the kids in local under-resourced public schools who work with our literacy tutors. We’ll be mobilizing in support of vulnerable immigrants, many of whom don’t have healthcare and depend on hourly wages, and for policies providing relief to the hardest hit, including some of our vendors in the hospitality industries.

And, I want us to stay connected with you. Tell us how you are taking steps to maintain and build connections in the weeks ahead. What books are you reading? How are you helping our neighbors? How are you touching the lives of others even as we cut down on physical engagement?

Inspire me. And help us inspire others to be the good neighbors we all need to be right now.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

AIPAC and How Bipartisanship Matters

This essay was originally published in The Times of Israel.

“Our challenge is less to calm the forces that are pelting our society than to reinforce the structures that hold it together. That calls for a spirit of building and rebuilding, more than of tearing down. It calls for approaching… institutions with a disposition to repair so as to make them better versions of themselves.” – Yuval Levin, A Time to Build

I thought of these words while attending AIPAC’s policy conference this week.

I came because I believe that for the United States to be an effective leader on the world stage, we need a comprehensive foreign policy – one that is built on a strong, bipartisan consensus. I’ve written before about the fraying global credibility of the United States as a consistent partner, which is due to the failure of incoming administrations to uphold the international commitments of previous opposing party administrations, and, in some cases, the outright reversal of those agreements. Our commitments are most reliable when they are built on a broad foundation of support across Congressional aisles. When bipartisan commitment is lacking for an agreement – whether on climate change or on how to contain Iranian ambitions – critical support does not endure beyond one administration. But the security relationship with Israel is the best example of the ongoing commitment that results from bipartisan support through Congress after Congress, under both parties’ control, upholding and sustaining ten-year agreements made under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Because we desperately need more of that credibility in the world, I believe in the importance and value of institutions like AIPAC; the rare spaces these days where Americans come together despite partisan differences in support of a bipartisan shared agenda on key foreign policy concerns.

This week, as in the past, there was so much that I appreciated at AIPAC, like the diversity of voices and the honest conversations, including explicit main stage calls to support Palestinian rights and statehood (which we support). There was some candid criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank by supporters of the US-Israel relationship. There were some speakers that didn’t resonate as much for me, making the strong case for policies that I don’t agree with. But hearing those voices is a part of committing to bipartisanship.

I welcomed the message of “yes, and” from some on the main stage; the articulation of “and this is how I work for two-states” as part of a statement that “yes, I’m committed to Israel’s security.” Notably, it was exciting and validating to hear Senator Schumer announce his support for the Partnership Fund for Peace on the main stage this year. It’s an area we’ve focused on at JCRC for several years, under the leadership of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, as an essential component of how we engage with the conflict.

Still, when I see that bipartisanship which AIPAC strives to represent being strained – from without and within – by the fractured politics of our time, I worry. When I see those in or seeking power working to replace the pursuit of shared values across political ideologies with doctrinaire, partisan approaches to the world, I worry. And when our allies and enemies watch us with increasing doubts about our will, knowing that our commitments, which are no longer bolstered by broad consensus, are not likely to last more than 4-8 years, I worry.

For decades, AIPAC has framed American support for Israel as one in which we have “friends, and potential friends.” Notably, this week we heard a distinct shift to the effect that “some people will never be our friends.” It was hard to hear this, but – in the hyper-fractured politics of our time and with some who are waging an active war on the US-Israel relationship – I have to agree, sad as that makes me regarding the state of our nation.

But if the core of this work is about building and maintaining bipartisanship on foreign policy and support for the US-Israel relationship, then it is also true that some of our friends, regardless of their love of and devotion to Israel, are doing us no favors either. Not for the first time, a very small number of speakers at AIPAC used that platform to make hyper-partisan attacks across the aisle, to applause from some part of the audience; I believe that they do as much damage to our purpose as the ones who attack the movement from outside. I hope that AIPAC will find a way to convey more clearly that these voices hurt our movement, and will educate participants to not respond to such overly partisan attacks when they come.

I care about the continuing success of AIPAC and about the success of American bipartisan leadership in the world.

Yuval Levin challenges us: “This is not a time for tearing down. It is a time to build.”

Let us continue to build together a broad consensus where we can.

Building a more just Commonwealth

When we celebrated JCRC’s 75th anniversary last year, we marveled anew at the forethought of the founding fathers (yes, they were all men at the time) in recognizing the need to form what we now call the “organized Jewish community, by founding an umbrella institution  “for the purpose of acting in unity in matters relating to civic protection” for the community. And every year at our Legislative Reception, we recognize our organized Jewish community’s partners in government who have allied with us to build a more just Commonwealth; one that embodies the most cherished values of our Jewish community. This event, which will be held this year on March 26th, celebrates not only our honorees, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, and the investment in coalitions that ensure access to economic opportunity, quality of life, and independence for all in the Commonwealth. Our work is animated by our communal commitment to defending civil rights for all Americans and safeguarding long-fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry of all forms.

On behalf of JCRC, the Mass Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF), our member organizations, and our partner agencies, we are delighted to be presenting awards to five public servants who help further our shared agenda: standing with immigrants and refugees, advocating for criminal justice reform, fighting for economic justice and education, supporting our Jewish social service agencies, and allocating resources to protect vulnerable communities through the Non Profit Security Grant Program. We work with these and many other public officials to enshrine and execute policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our own community.

On March 26th, we will honor these remarkable public servants:

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Senator Sal DiDomenico (Everett) – From his first term, Senator DiDomenico has been a trusted partner on many of our key priorities, most specifically the charge to provide a ladder to economic opportunity for all people. He was the Senate lead sponsor on the recently enacted “Lift the Cap on Kids” legislation to ensure that families in poverty have access to needed supports and has led efforts to provide job training opportunities for immigrants and refugees.

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Representative Claire Cronin (Easton) – Representative Cronin was the House lead on the ground-breaking Criminal Justice Reform legislation from 2018, pursuing a vision of justice and dignity. Rep Cronin is quickly rising in the ranks of the House and is widely respected as a fierce advocate for her constituents and the advocate community.

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Representative Jeff Roy (Franklin) – Representative Roy is a strong partner in the fight against rising antisemitism and hatred. As a former School Committee member, Rep Roy views education as a crucial tool in fighting bigotry, and has joined the fight with JCRC, ADL, and our partners by filing a Genocide and Holocaust bill for the past three sessions, with the explicit goal of teaching children across the Commonwealth how unchecked prejudice can escalate to atrocity.

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Boston City Council President Kim Janey – Council President Kim Janey is a leader on the City Council on issues of equity, civil rights, and criminal justice. She has helped JCRC bring Boston Partners for Peace organizations, comprised of Israelis and Palestinian peacebuilders, to meet with leadership at City Hall. Councilor Janey is a dedicated advocate for education, housing, and small business development, and works to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources in her district.

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Brian McKeon (Assistant Chief of Staff for Cabinet Affairs – Office of Governor Baker) – McKeon has played a key role in the funding and implementation of the Non-Profit Security Grant program, coordinating conversations with the policy team, the budget writing team, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. He is a dedicated public servant who works tirelessly behind the scenes as a key point person in the Governor’s office to shape the implementation of critical policies.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these five individuals, along with the hundreds of elected and appointed officials, staff, and civil servants who honor their duty to the Commonwealth. Our legislative agenda is bound by this common theme of our shared humanity, whether it be standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees seeking safety and security, ensuring that people with disabilities and seniors live independent lives of dignity, or providing crucial security measures for members of our community.

We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these five leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners.

I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy