Author: Jeremy Burton

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

Urging legislative action

As the Massachusetts legislature begins the second year of its two-year session, there’s been chatter about town about what was accomplished last year and what remains to be done. It is no secret that this year’s budget process may be the “trickiest” in some time. Governor Baker, amongst others, has been outspoken in urging legislative action this year. It behooves us at JCRC to tell our community, our allies, and our friends on Beacon Hill what our priorities are for the remainder of this session.

1. A budget that reflects Massachusetts and Jewish values:
At a time when more and more in our society are pulling away from each other, when a tribal inclination to care only for our own is being amplified, we believe it is more important than ever to be invested in the common good and to care for each other. We support a state budget that works with human service providers in a public/non-profit partnership to ensure a social safety net, provide a ladder of opportunity, and strengthen the civic network that enriches our Commonwealth.

By continuing to invest in a robust partnership among service providers including Jewish human service agencies and our Commonwealth, we marshal our resources together to advance our shared priorities. These include:

  • Building a strong safety net for the most vulnerable, including seniors and those who are at-risk of homelessness.
  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to inclusion and workforce development focused on surmounting persistent and artificially imposed barriers to employment, including for young adults with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, and adults who have struggled to get a leg up in this economy, and;
  • Ensuring a vibrant non-profit sector, including implementation and expansion of state supplements to the federal non-profit security grants initiative, benefiting a wide array of vulnerable institutions that bear a heavy security burden.

2. A civil rights agenda that sets Massachusetts as a beacon of hope in troubling times:
We have said, repeatedly, that what has made America a great country for the Jewish community to thrive in is our protection for the rights of all individuals and our defense of the freedoms and opportunity ensured by the rule of law and the advancement of equality for all who live here. To that end:

  • We remain steadfast in our broad communal commitment, expressed last January, that the United States must not close our doors to immigrants and refugees and that our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign born neighbors throughout the Commonwealth. To that end we will continue to urge passage of the Safe Communities Act to protect the civil rights, safety and well-being of all residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety.
  • We continue to prioritize passage of the Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts. As nearly half of all states have taken related action, it is well past time to close the loophole in state law that allows state contractors to discriminate based on national origin and other immutable traits. As Massachusetts continues to compete in a global economy it serves us poorly that other hubs for international business partnerships – like Rhode Island, Maryland, New York and California – have taken action to prevent discrimination against Israeli (and other) individual owned businesses while Massachusetts remains inactive. We should be a leader in the fight against discrimination in all its forms.
  • We will continue to work for comprehensive criminal justice reform guided by the policy recommendations set by our Council last winter. While the MA House and Senate have each passed a version of this legislation, we will work, in coalition, to ensure that each house passes a final bill that addresses the crisis of criminalization of people of color.

3. Defending our democracy’s norms:
We live in a period of unique challenge for our nation, in which, as David Brooks wrote this week, we’re not just debating current policy but also working to ensure that the norms of our vibrant democracy are preserved for the future. To that end, we are all called to defend the institutions and customs that ensure accountability, transparency, and a healthy, vigorous, and respectful public debate about the issues our nation faces. We therefore will continue to urge passage of An Act Restoring Financial Transparency in Presidential Elections and will consider other legislative means to do our part here in Massachusetts to protect those norms through the establishment of new laws that preserve the fundamentals which make our nation great.

We also are working alongside civil rights and voting rights activists to secure passage of the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) legislation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences. Similarly, when one person is ensured that access, we all reap the rewards. AVR could bring hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls on Election Day.

This agenda, defined by our Council representing our 42 member organizations and the community-at-large, through a deliberative process, reflects the organized Jewish community’s priorities, established over time and evolving to meet this particular moment. We remain steadfast in our determination that through the actions above, Massachusetts can continue to be the ‘City on the Hill,’ a shining island of hope in these challenging times and a model to other states about the way forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

What are you doing for others?

Cam Campbell, 18 years old of Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, has been a passionate participant in community service since elementary school, when he started a food donation program called "Mac and Cheese for Those in Need." In high school, he joined efforts to repair homes damaged by natural disasters in New York and New Jersey on five different TELEM teen service trips. Now, Cam is lending the skills he honed as a youth on these trips to local repair efforts as part of JCRC’s Third Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday, January 15th. This time he’ll be bringing his mother, Angel, and his younger brother, Ian, along, as they work to refurbish the interior of the Second Church Enrichment Center with Rebuilding Together Boston.

Rebecca Sweder joined JCRC as a young professional in 2004 to oversee the development of an innovative new teen service learning program. Under her leadership, JCRC partnered with a dozen synagogues and schools, created a curriculum, and crafted quality service experiences at community-based non-profits throughout Greater Boston. Thirteen years later, TELEM has engaged over 8,000 Jewish teens and continues to thrive as a vibrant service program. Rebecca Sweder Platt now works as a school psychologist, and she and her husband, Charlie, have three children of their own. And though their children are only aged four, six, and eight, Rebecca knows that it’s not too early establish a habit of service, to guide and inspire her children throughout their lives. So on MLK Day this year, she and Charlie will be joining us too, bringing Jordan, Simon, and Stella with them to the Blackstone Elementary School to beautify and revitalize this Boston Public School.

Throughout the year, our service programs – The Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for LiteracyReachOut!, and TELEM – reflect our deep commitment to connecting our Jewish community to ongoing service and creating a more just and compassionate world. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service provides a unique opportunity for all to participate – children, adults, and families – whether by painting and repairing community spaces, providing a hot meal to homeless individuals, offering companionship and conversation with seniors, or spreading the word about adult education and vocational services through Jewish Vocational Service (JVS).

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?” As we heed his call on the day that honors his life and legacy, we invite you to join us in service to our community – and to his dream.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Keeping Families Together

Over the past few weeks, many of us gathered with our families and our community to celebrate Hanukkah and, together, bring more light into this dark time. As people across the Commonwealth, and the country, celebrate festivals in their own traditions, we’re mindful of the many families among us who do not have the option of being together this season.

Francisco Rodriguez has been in detention for almost half a year, separated from his wife and children. In that time, he was prevented from being with his wife for the birth of their child. Siham Byeh, detained with no warning by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while her eight-year-old son was in school, remains in detention, with no end in sight. This past year, many in our community, and across MA, made calls to ICE, and attended rallies to support them – all to no avail -until yesterday.  We were relieved to hear the news that Francisco was released yesterday, as he awaits his asylum claim to be heard. But Siham, and so many others, remain in the clutches of our broken immigration system, separated from their loved ones.

These high stakes have led other undocumented immigrants to take drastic measures to stay together with their families, like the mother in Cambridge who has not left a Harvard Square church for seven months in order to stay here with her two young children, or like the man who sought Sanctuary in a church in Jamaica Plain so he could continue to be near his family.

Through our synagogue organizing work, JCRC has galvanized hundreds of our community members and supported the interfaith community in creating systems of support for these families. In so doing, we have encountered the layers of injustice that plague our immigration system and that wreak havoc on immigrant communities.

We have learned that in 2017, ICE has detained 37% more people than last year – putting millions of tax dollars toward punishing people like Francisco and Siham, who have built lives for their families here amidst difficult challenges. We have learned that undocumented detainees have no right to counsel, and that in fact, the majority of them have no legal representation. This greatly increases their chance of being deported and places them at risk of being returned to countries of origin, rife with violence. We have watched as people who fled horrific disasters in Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua years – and in some cases, decades – ago under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have been deemed unworthy of protection by this administration (with decisions on Salvadorans and Hondurans also pending). These dynamics have thrust entire communities into whirlwinds of chaos and fear, with immigrants terrified to drive, go to work, or take their children to school.

As we marshal our resources to stand in solidarity with people like Francisco and Siyam, we’re acutely aware that many other immigrants are vulnerable to being targeted by ICE. To address that risk, we joined the coalition of organizations supporting the Safe Communities Act, which, if enacted, would prevent local law enforcement from being deputized to act as ICE agents. The civil liberties protected by this bill are now at risk, with mounting opposition being activated by groups spreading misinformation and sowing fear.

Join us in protecting our immigrant neighbors and contact your legislator to advocate for passage of the Safe Communities act.

As we near the end of a full year in this political reality, we must remind ourselves that this devaluing of human life does not reflect the best of Jewish or American values and must never become our norm. As our community statement declares, along with 42 Jewish communal organizations this past January, “we reject any effort to shut our nation’s doors on the most vulnerable. We recommit ourselves to the work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering in this world.”

In this time of darkness, we as a community will continue to defend our democratic values, advocate for fairness and decency, and walk side by side with our immigrant neighbors.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Our Annual Israel Winter Study Tour

A short while ago, I arrived in Israel. Joined by our director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell, and two of our board members, Alex Goldstein and Leah Robbins, I am privileged to be leading our annual winter study tour for Massachusetts legislators.

Two Massachusetts Senators - Joseph Boncore and Patrick O’Connor - and eleven Representatives - Linda Dean Campbell, Evandro Carvalho, Gerard Cassidy, Kenneth Gordon, Danielle Gregoire, David Muradian, Jerald Parisella, Jeffrey Sanchez, Alan Silvia, Chynah Tyler and RoseLee Vincent - will be spending the next nine days experiencing the region and learning about the challenges and hopes of this place that is so near and dear to all of us.

I’ve said it before, but with six consecutive December trips for public officials (some one-third of the current sitting members of the Massachusetts legislature have come with us during this period!) and several other delegations in between, one might think that I’d get a bit jaded. Hardly! Every trip is a unique experience for me, on three levels:

First is that, with each group, I get to experience this place I care so deeply about through fresh eyes. It’s amazing to encounter Israel and my own deep connection to our roots through the lens of someone who is seeing it for the first time. And, I get to witness as our participants fall in love with the leaders and activists who’ve inspired and energized me for years.

Second, I am confident that - as on every trip - this week, I will meet at least one interesting person here for the first time. Maybe he will excite me or, just as likely, she will challenge my thinking and understanding. But one way or another, I’ll come away with another layer, another story, another example of how – after thirty-one years since I first lived here and after visiting countless times since – I still have so much to learn about this place.

Finally, while every trip examines long-existing challenges and the layers of this region, each also presents the opportunity to come face-to-face with a unique moment and get a fresh perspective on how people here are grappling with and talking about the latest developments. This week, it goes without saying, that news is Jerusalem and the United States government’s view of this most ancient city and Israel’s capital.

Those “in the news” moments will inevitably bring us back to the enduring conversations we’ve been having for years. How do different people and stakeholders define “Jerusalem?” What does this place mean to us, and to others? How is Jerusalem an issue and where does it sit relative to other matters that come up as part of the discussion about achieving peace and a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians?

Which is to say that for folks who are here for the first time and challenging their understanding of this place in a new way, the conversation will transcend the current moment and news cycle. We will begin a broader conversation that will hopefully be an enduring one, as they continue to follow events and deepen their understanding in six months or six years.

So yes, it has been JCRC’s incredible privilege to bring so many members of the Massachusetts legislature - as well as dozens of clergy and other civic leaders - to Israel over the years. I am profoundly grateful to have the opportunity and the donor support that allows us to be here. This experience never fails to energize and inspire me. It will, I am confident, renew and strengthen my own commitment to all that we do back home in Boston to engage with Israel and to work in support of those here whose hopes and aspirations we share - for two people, Israelis and Palestinians, living in peace in two states sharing one homeland.

I hope over the coming weeks you’ll follow our journey on social media and I look forward to sharing more about our impressions when we return.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Today’s Boston Globe Letters to Editor: Disturbed by portrayal in editorial cartoon

Dear Friends,

Today's Boston Globe features a Letter to the Editor, co-signed with ADL New England, expressing that we are disturbed and offended by the anti-Semitic themes in Friday's cartoon. Here is the letter in full:

 

We were deeply disturbed and offended by Ward Sutton’s editorial cartoon in Friday’s edition of The Boston Globe (“Murder on the tax-cut express,” Opinion).

While the debate over the tax bill in Washington, including the role of political donors and private interests, is important, this cartoon promotes anti-Semitic themes.

The portrayal — singling out, among all the donors and interests who stand to benefit, a prominent Jewish individual, Sheldon Adelson; depicting him with an exaggerated hooked nose; linking him with money; and positioning him as hidden inside the train while others conduct — evokes classic anti-Semitic imagery and reinforces existing stereotypes.

At a time when hatred and bigotry of all forms are seeping into the mainstream, it is critical that the Globe and other responsible media outlets refrain from giving additional aid to those who no doubt will see this cartoon’s publication as further verification of long-established anti-Semitic views.

Robert O. Trestan, Regional director, Anti-Defamation League, New England region

Jeremy Burton, Executive director, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

I encourage you to read and share the letter, and welcome any comments you post on the Globe website.

Thank you,

Jeremy

Our Literacy Heroes: Celebrating 20 Years

All year long, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy. We’ve hosted birthday parties at nine public schools, and last spring, held our own grand celebration honoring tutor Mark Friedman (pictured with his tutee, Adam), an extraordinary leader in both GBJCL and JCRC. Last night, we wrapped up the festivities by honoring those at the heart of the program, our volunteers.

Joined by MA Rep. Denise Garlick (Needham, top right photo) and noted author Susan E. Goodman (bottom left photo), we were thrilled to welcome 85 of our literacy volunteers and school partners. Since the inception of the program, GBJCL volunteers have distinguished themselves as real literacy heroes. Every week of the school year – and in some cases, for the full 20 years of the program’s existence – these volunteers show up with teams from their synagogues or workplaces at public schools throughout Greater Boston, to help kids develop tools for success.

Among those we honored was Cindy Lutch, a team leader from Temple Israel, Natick, serving at the Hemenway School in Framingham (left photo, on right, with Pam Weil, a GBJCL team leader from Temple Emanuel, Newton). During her decade of service, Cindy has had the opportunity to work with dozens of students and partnered with multiple teachers to develop a nurturing learning environment. Among those she tutored, one young man in particular stood out. After spending many weeks together, she noticed he was having trouble reading his school work. She brought this to the attention of his teacher, and together, they discovered that the student needed glasses. After he got glasses, he sometimes needed help remembering to bring them to school. Cindy would remind him each week, supporting the student to become a better reader over the year. Cindy’s special relationship with this student and his teacher helped him to grow and thrive.

After years of tutoring, Cindy developed a model for providing closure to her students at the end of the year. Cindy takes a photo of the child and they each take a copy home. GBJCL values closure rituals between student and tutor so they can reflect on their accomplishments and express their feelings about the transition. Cindy’s innovation has now been integrated as a best practice that GBJCL recommends to all tutors. Cindy’s enduring her commitment led her to choose her successor carefully and since then, the Temple Israel team has expanded and become even more robust.

We thank Cindy for her leadership and her continued partnership with JCRC as the program grows. Her commitment to making literacy accessible to students is an inspiration to all of us and exemplifies the connection between Jewish communities and public schools that the founders of GBJCL, including Leonard Fein, envisioned.

As one of those founders, Hans Strauch (see photo), said last night: “GBJCL mobilizes the Jewish community to volunteer and help elementary school children discover the joy of reading and meet their learning goals. To see it flourish and grow is truly amazing and gratifying. GBJCL volunteers are making a tremendous positive difference every day in the life and welfare of the communities it serves. That is why we continue to support this vital program every year.”

Over the past 20 years, GBCJL has impacted nearly 10,000 students and our tutors have read over 36,000 books with these students in our public schools. This is a value of over $200,000 in volunteer hours. More than ever, it is important to continue championing our local schools, supporting the development of young people, and paving the way for them to access the opportunities our country has to offer. With the commitment of our exceptional volunteers and the support of our community, we can only imagine what we’ll be able to achieve in the next 20 years! (Volunteer pictured here at the event with a "We 'heart' our volunteers" bag filled with donated books to bring to her tutees.)

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

This Anti-Semitism. And This Anti-Semitism. And Us.

The next two statements will each annoy, at various levels, some part of the organized Jewish community that is represented within JCRC:

  1. Rising anti-Semitism and its increasing mainstream toleration on the left in the United States and around the world is a serious concern that we need to name and address as a community.
  2. Rising anti-Semitism and its increasing mainstream toleration on the right in the United States and around the world is a serious concern that we need to name and address as a community.

Barely a day goes by that someone within our community isn’t raising one of these concerns to me. I share them both.

Rarely does that same person raise the other concern. More often than not, that person tends to identify themselves with a world-view sitting in partisan opposition to where they articulate the problem coming from. Simply put, we are a community divided; not in our concern about rising anti-Semitism but in our lack of shared understanding about which forms of it are of consequence and concern for us.

And too often, rather than agreeing on the multiple threats facing us and collectively heeding the call to address them, we allow ourselves to be splintered as we argue amongst ourselves about which anti-Semitism is worse.

Like many of us who sit at the center of our communal politics and debates, I tend to come down on the side of Elu, v’Elu, This and This (to poorly re-purpose the rabbis of the Talmud). Cannot both be true? Cannot both forms of rising anti-Semitism be a threat at the same time?

It ought not to be a partisan nor controversial statement within our Jewish community to say that we face an existential threat if left-wing denial of our national identity as a Jewish people is normalized.  Or that dismissing the fact of our people’s historical origins in and enduring connection to our homeland is inherently anti-Semitic. And yes, that this ideology and the conclusions it draws threaten the safety and the future of the world’s largest Jewish community.

It ought not to be a partisan nor controversial statement within our Jewish community to say that there is an existential threat if right-wing denial of the equality of individuals and ours as Jews is normalized. Or that the advance of a politics of white supremacy and racial nationalism, of “blood and soil,” that places blame on the international and cosmopolitan Jew, puts at risk everything we’ve achieved through enlightened liberal democracy. And yes, that we’ve seen this before.

We, who strive to reflect the broad center of our community, must commit ourselves to confronting the existential threat from both extremes of the political spectrum. We can and should debate strategies for confronting them, and even weigh the best use of our finite resources in doing so, but we dare not diminish either as a real and significant threat.

The need to bridge our differences and uphold our responsibility for confronting both these threats is all the more urgent precisely because our fractured communal conversation results in our being less effective than we need to be in combating both. My own sense is that the most effective members of our community to confront the left-wing threat would be those who themselves authentically sit within the progressive world. And, conversely, the most effective voices against the right-wing threat are those of us who sit comfortably in conservative spaces. I tend to think that those speaking out against anti-Semitism from across a political aisle aren’t terribly effective speaking to an audience that they don’t particularly respect or understand on other matters. But those who’ve acted courageously in holding their own ideological peers accountable – and often enduring inordinate online abuse as a result – have inspired awe and admiration.

At times like this I think of that Nazi propaganda poster displaying “the Jew as centipede” crawling over the globe. One eye of this caricatured “international Jew” has a dollar sign; the Jew as capitalist. The other eye has a hammer and sickle; the Jew as communist. If the worst of the worst could paint us, in one fell swoop, as a threat from the left and the right, then surely we can name the threat to us today from both the left and the right.

This and this. Both must be fought. And we must all be in this together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Putting Justice in the Criminal Justice System

In our inception, we at JCRC have known from our own history in Boston that the criminal justice system is not always just.

Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon’s “The Death of an American Jewish Community” chronicles the period in the 1940s when Jewish teens experienced regular assaults by Irish gangs, often fueled by the anti-Semitic radio diatribes of Father Charles Coughlin. But following the street violence, Jewish youth were victimized once again by the police and justice system, who too often turned a blind eye to the assaults.

The ADL kept scrupulous records of the confrontations, documenting the lackadaisical response of the police to the frequent attacks on these Jewish teens. But in the infrequent cases when the Jewish youth prevailed over their assailants, the Jews were vigorously prosecuted.  The targeting of powerless Jews both on the street and in the courts served as a wakeup call to the Jewish community to mobilize and organize – leading to the founding of the Jewish Community Council (as we were then named).

Our collective experience of a failing justice system, along with the development of our commitment to civil rights for all who live in this nation, have developed within us an enduring commitment to advocating for a fair and equitable justice system. And we have turned our attention to a current crisis of epic proportions; the rampant criminalization of people of color.

It is hard to overstate the devastating toll this has had on communities of color, in perpetuating intergenerational poverty, income inequality, and family instability. When over 27 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison, then our entire society is at risk. In Massachusetts, where Latinos are 4.3 times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites – the highest disparity rate in the nation – and Blacks are 7.5 times more likely, we are called upon on to act (Sentencing Project).

Over a year ago, JCRC set about to address with renewed vigor this civil rights issue of our day, one aptly characterized as “The New Jim Crow.” Our Council invited policy experts to provide guidance and identify strategic levers for change. Last winter the Council discussed and endorsed a set of policy recommendations to:

  • reduce the rates of incarceration and recidivism,
  • reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system,
  • reform the use of mandatory minimums to provide for more judicial discretion,
  • reform our juvenile justice system to reduce the school to prison pipelines, and
  • address the impact of fines and fees associated with all aspects of the criminal justice system.

Guided by this set of priorities, we have been hard at work alongside our partner, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), to advocate for meaningful criminal justice reform. Together, we are mobilizing the Jewish community along with other faith communities to press our legislators to act.  Leaders from five synagogues have brought hundreds of people through their doors to engage with their state senators and representatives, and fifty Reform rabbis from across the Commonwealth signed on to a letter urging serious reform.

Our efforts, and those of other criminal justice advocates, have borne fruit. By a vote of 27 to 10, our State Senate passed a bill reflecting all of our priorities in varying degrees. Now we need the Massachusetts House to be equally bold and seize this historic opportunity to pass comprehensive reform.

Join me and over 150 faith leaders, elected officials, and advocates this Monday at 1pm at the State House, at the Grand Staircase to demonstrate our support and solidarity.

If you can’t make it to the State House, you can still take action by using JCRC’s Phone2Action platform. Simply text “CJR” to the number 52886. You will receive a phone script and be instantly connected to your legislator to demonstrate your support for this work. You can also sign up online here.

This is, once again, an urgent moment. And as we have many times in the past, it is one where we have an opportunity: To speak with a powerful voice and to take meaningful action to advance our community’s commitment to justice. I hope that you will join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Taking Action for a Two-State Solution

The achievement of the two-state solution has, for a long time, been a question of when and not if. We have raised a generation of the Jewish people on the idea that the two-state solution is the only resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ensures justice and security for all peoples. For our community here in Boston, the two-state solution continues to be our aspiration and the focus of our dreams about Israel’s future. And yet right now, the reality of the two-state solution seems both daunting and distant. Some have even argued that we are past the point of no return; the two-state solution is already in the rear view mirror. This is a grave mistake. We are under no illusion that achieving a two-state agreement is an easy task, or one likely to be achieved in the short-term. However, we have no doubt that there are actions that we can take to advance our vision and hopes of a peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Every observer has their own arguments and rationale for why a lasting peace appears to be distant. We have argued that the only path to a lasting peace is through direct negotiation, and we are wary of unilateral moves that seek to define the end conditions of negotiations. Both the Israelis and Palestinians have done this in at one point or another, and in the current situation direct negotiations appear unlikely in the near future.

We follow, with interest and anticipation, the efforts by the current US administration to lead a breakthrough for Israeli and Palestinian peace, one that will create a better outlook for Israelis and Palestinians. Certainly, if such a breakthrough comes we will celebrate it and support the government’s efforts. But we cannot place our hopes in the efforts of the American government. Rather, we find our hope elsewhere, in the changes happening at the grassroots level between Israelis and Palestinians. We at JCRC seek to support Israelis and Palestinians who are organizing and creating opportunities for mutual recognition, economic cooperation, and civic engagement. We are supporting the emergence of a new generation of leaders, one that can challenge the existing paradigms and move Israelis and Palestinians into a brighter, more interdependent, and peaceful future.

We are launching two new initiatives to support these grassroots efforts. The Israel Collaborative convenes groups of young leaders to develop and implement innovate projects to support peacemaking NGOs. We ran a successful pilot this summer, and will be launching a second round of the program over the next two weeks. We are also developing a new initiative in partnership with CJP called Boston Partners for Peace. This program will highlight the work of impactful NGOs in this field and provide the Boston community with concrete ways to support their efforts. The program is currently being tested with focus groups, with a launch scheduled for later this winter.

John F. Kennedy, when facing the seemingly impossible task, famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” For many of us today, helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peaceful end to their conflict feels as impossible as going to the moon did to President Kennedy. We accept this challenge because it is hard, and because it will take the best of us to make our vision a reality. Will you join us in this work?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy