Author: Jeremy Burton

Sharing our Virtual Yizkor Service

Each year, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world honor the memory of their family members by visiting their graves. But for many Holocaust survivors and their families, there are no graves to visit, and no yahrtzeits to observe, since the specific dates of their deaths are unknown.

So, it is a long-practiced tradition of Boston’s community of survivors and their descendants, to mark the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a day of collective remembrance. Since 1967, we at JCRC have had the privilege, along with our partners, to organize a gathering every year for a service of memory, in a place that has become hallowed ground to our survivor community; the iconic statue of the biblical figure Job, outside of Brandeis University’s Berlin Chapel. Inscribed with a verse from Lamentations; “My eyes shed streams of water over the ruin of my poor people”, the sculpture by Nathan Rapaport honors the memory of the Six Million Jews who were taken from us in the Holocaust.

This has become a sacred space for survivors and their families; a place where they come together as one community, to mourn their unthinkable losses.

Each year, we hear survivor testimony, light memorial candles to remember those in the survivor community who we’ve lost in the past year, and we recite Kaddish.

This year, although COVID prevents us from gathering in person, we still join virtually in that sacred space. We invite you to watch a brief Yizkor service with remarks from Brandeis Hillel Rabbi Seth Winberg and the President of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, Janet Stein Calm.

You can also read survivor testimony from a past Yizkor service here.

May all their memories be for a blessing, and may you be sealed in the Book of Life this Yom Kippur.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Popping our bubbles in these “interesting times”

By Executive Director Jeremy Burton

Heading into Rosh Hashana, and whatever the year ahead may bring, there are three recent moments that I haven’t been able to let go of.

First moment: The New York Times had a piece this past weekend about how Jewish communities will be observing the High Holidays during COVID. As others quickly noted, amidst their explorations of Zoom services and such, they did not talk to a single Orthodox rabbi or congregation, or to any of the nearly 1/3 of American Jews who are, through our understanding of Jewish practice, not using technology to pray together on sabbath.

As large parts of the Jewish community are preparing to have in-person services next week, with great struggle in figuring out how to pull that off, this was, as Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt tweeted, “a glaring erasure.” In a year when American Jewry will be experiencing a more profound internal chasm than ever before in how we will observe the practices of our High Holidays, this omission was a consequential one.

Second moment: Not for the first time, a particular debate of interest to JCRC members exploded onto Twitter last week for a few days. In this case it was regarding a process we’ll be navigating this Fall between different camps in our own community; stakeholders in JCRC who will be debating a specific decision but are really arguing about larger ideas concerning the values and direction of the Jewish community.

What was striking though, was a conversation I had with a member of our staff, whose perception was that only one camp was particularly engaged in this social media noise. What struck me as we unpacked that observation was that while Camp A had tagged JCRC in their comments and was therefore prevalent in our feed, Camp B – for whatever reason – had tagged my Twitter feed but not JCRC’s official one. Thus, we were experiencing completely different and highly imbalanced discussions of the same issue of interest to JCRC and our members.

Third moment: Last month I watched almost all of both the Democratic and Republican conventions. I could talk for hours about my impressions of each. But a moment I haven’t been able to stop thinking about came in the very first minutes of the first night of the Democrats’ broadcast: A video of images from our nation’s recent turmoils, covered by Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”

Now, there’s a whole other post in me about that incredibly powerful song also being one of his most Christian in its imagery and lyrics, and what it feels like for me as a Jew to recognize that our “unifying” national culture is fundamentally one with which I don’t identify. But what struck me that night were the images. Swap out the music for another artist, and a large chunk of that video would have easily resonated if shown to the Republican convention audience as well. Images such as that of President Trump waving a bible in front of a church earlier this summer resonate with our two political camps in very different ways, and each views that image as an argument for its own case. It is not exactly a profound insight to observe that in this election cycle, we have two tribes having completely separate conversations about the very idea of American greatness.

My point is this, as I share my final blog post of this Jewish year: At every level –  organizational, communal, national – we are at a point of deep fracture. Our bubbles and pods and tribes lead us to interpret the world and events around us in profoundly different ways – and to understand all that we see and hear in ways that reinforce our preconceived notions. (Note: This is not suggest that all arguments and factions are equally rooted in “facts”). Our attachments to our self-isolating camps keep us from exercising our ability to have conversations about our disagreements, or to even have a shared understanding about the nature of those disagreements.

In these times of turmoil and fracture I’m reminded of a speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1965 at the University of Capetown. He said:

“There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort."

My prayer, and my determined commitment this Rosh Hashana, is that this coming year be one in which we face the uncertainty of our times with expanded imagination and creativity. I pray that we embrace an open-heartedness that enables us to listen to voices that challenge us and to the perspectives of those with whom we disagree profoundly. I want to be judged not by whether we achieve agreement and uniformity in all things, but by whether we enhance understanding and, at the very least, create a shared language that will pave the way for spirited conversations and a better society for the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom, and an early Shanah Tovah,

Jeremy

 

One Clear Winner in Tuesday’s Primary

Over the past months, I’ve used this space to focus quite a bit on the primary to succeed Rep. Joe Kennedy in the House. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, ballots are still being counted. And while it may take a little longer to have a declared Democratic nominee in this race, there’s one clear winner that emerged even before they started counting the ballots Tuesday night: Ranked Choice Voting.

Whatever the outcome in the 4th (and this isn’t a comment about the qualities of either of the frontrunners – both of whom I respect), the nominee will be the choice of less than one quarter of the voters, and the top two candidates will have, combined, received less than half the votes in a nine way race. That’s not representative democracy.

In Massachusetts, where we have no runoff mechanism, this isn’t even that unusual. In the past decade, in all three races for open U.S. House seats, candidates won their 1st nomination in a crowded field with only a plurality of the vote; Rep. Katherine Clark with 32%, Rep. Lori Trahan with 22%, and now here. These numbers don’t reflect the choice of the majority of voters. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) provides a mechanism to fix that and ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

RCV also allows us to avoid something we certainly saw in the 4th – “strategic voting.” In the final weeks we had perfectly good and talented candidates dropping out to consolidate around leading candidates – based on polling. I read multiple pieces where folks were trying to figure out who the “likely winner” could be to make sure their votes “mattered.” With RCV, we could all vote our preferred candidate AND then rank our preferences so as to not “waste” a vote on a 5th place finisher.

Further, RCV is shown to disincentivize both targeted and negative campaigning – something we certainly saw in this race. Without RCV, in a crowded field a candidate is incentivized to target their message and strategy to a small subset of the voters, knowing that while their message does not represent the majority of the district, they might still win with a fraction of the vote. With RCV in place, a candidate must find a way to speak to the majority of the voters, not only in their agenda, but also through positive appeals to the supporters of the other candidates. If candidate A wants to be the second or third choice for candidate B & E’s supporters, then they want to speak to those voters during the race and not just target a niche that gets them to 22%.

There are several other reasons to support Ranked Choice Voting but at the end of the day, we at JCRC believe that RCV improves the quality of our democracy. That’s why our Council, which has made “defending democracy” a central component of our agenda in recent years, has endorsed the “Yes on 2” referendum here in Massachusetts this November 3rd.

Over the coming two months we’ll be working with the RCV coalition to educate our community about how this voting system works, and about all the benefits of adopting ranked choice voting. We at JCRC hope that you will take the time to learn about RCV, work with us to educate your neighbors, and be a part of improving our democracy this year.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

Back to School: This Fall’s Quandary

It’s hard to imagine a time when the phrase “Back-to-School” elicited as much angst and debate as it has this summer. Schools are still in the process of finalizing their plans for the start of the school year, with major uncertainty ahead. Families, daycares, and schools throughout Massachusetts are balancing the physical safety of students, teachers, and staff with the social, emotional, and learning needs of our community’s children, all in the context of dire budget constraints.

Given JCRC’s role connecting the organized Jewish community with public leadership and resources, we’ve found ourselves on the receiving end of urgent questions from many members of our community: “Is there government funding for PPE and other COVID safety measures?” “What resources are available to camps, daycares, preschools and schools to deal with the safety costs associated with COVID?”

From the early days of  the pandemic, we have brought Jewish leadership to the table where critical decisions are being made, and we’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials about myriad COVID-related issues. This is a moment in which we’ve doubled-down on our organizational purpose; to discern our community’s values, interests and priorities, and to work together – along with our civic and interfaith partners – to address our collective needs.

So, we reached out to our legislative partners to ensure that students across the Greater Boston community have access to a safe learning environment, and that schools have the support they need during this unprecedented moment. We advocated to Governor Baker and his administration to allocate the necessary funds to all public and private schools and daycares, enabling them to access resources they will need to comply with the required safety measures. And we are meeting our responsibility to provide updated information to individual schools and communities, overwhelmed by the urgent need to locate and access these resources. Click here for our page of information on COVID safety and funding from the state.

We are also supporting the public schools of Greater Boston to meet the unique requirements of remote learning. Our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) is mobilizing and growing our cohort of volunteers to offer individualized attention to students,  an especially rare commodity this year. Many of our volunteers have already been tutoring students remotely throughout the spring and summer, taking advantage of the flexibility that tutoring via Zoom provides. Our volunteers have risen to this moment, providing crucial support to students and partnering with teachers to be a resource in the classroom.  And to their delight, they are finding that not only have they adapted to the strange new reality of connecting through screens, but that the connections with their students have actually flourished. In the words of Andy Koppel, a GBJCL tutor at the Winship School in Brighton:

 “The collaborative reading experience is remarkably effective. The students attend the sessions faithfully, and love the dedicated reading time...This has been an eye-opening and exciting experience, especially enhanced by the students’ positive attitudes and flexibility in dealing with this unprecedented and unanticipated immersion in remote learning.   

We are staying in close communication with all of the school districts in which we work, to learn about their evolving needs - and look forward to deploying our tutors who are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reconnect with their young friends.

JCRC is committed to ensuring that all students in the Commonwealth have the resources to learn safely and effectively during this incredibly difficult time, and that the schools in our community have the funding they need to do so. We will continue to be a resource for the community to access information about COVID from our legislative partners. We invite you to join our tutoring community this fall.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Why the UAE Agreement Matters

Last week brought the welcome news of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  

I’m taken aback and frankly disappointed that this development has not been fully celebrated in all quarters here in the U.S. That may be, in some part, due to how we overwhelmed we are by domestic concerns right now, or maybe because of our fractured political times and the key role that our current administration played in facilitating this agreement.  It would be regrettable if we chose to ignore this historic moment only because President Trump was the one who announced the agreement from the White House.  

As Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said this week: “Not everything needs to be partisan, and especially Israel.”  

So I’d like to take this moment to expand on our statement this week welcoming the announcement and to explain why we did so. 

First, anything that serves to normalize Israel's presence in the region is a good thing. Israel continues to be the only country that is not only challenged in the international arena for its actions, but also regularly questioned  for its legitimacy altogether. This step by the U.A.E. – and others that may soon follow – advances the just and still necessary cause of normalizing the very existence of the world’s only Jewish state.

Second, this new, important step strengthens the cause of peace. When the international community treats Israel like any other country, one which fully belongs among the nations, good things happen – such as the Egyptian peace, the Oslo Accords. Israel being treated like a pariah only amplifies the Israeli people’s legitimate sense of isolation and vulnerability as a country in a largely hostile region. Their understandable and reasonable reaction is to focus on self-defense as the primary driver of national discourse. This week’s events demonstrate to Israelis first and foremost that the benefits, for them, of peacemaking, are in fact possible and tangible; namely recognition and normalcy in the region. 

Third, “suspending” talk of plans for annexation gives everyone – including us in this county – an opportunity to step back from the heated rhetoric and emotional fractures of earlier this summer. From our synagogue Zoom rooms to the halls of Congress, we were tearing each other apart by debating and publicly criticizing something that never came to pass. At this point de jure annexation is farther from a realistic possibility than it has been for some time, a reality that, still this week, some in this country refuse to acknowledge. This past week’s events reinforce an Israeli political center that wants normalcy and engagement with its neighbors. The stakes of what could be lost for Israel’s center should talks of annexation rise again, have been heightened by bringing more Arab nations to the table of recognition, with all the commensurate benefits.  

To put it another way, as Ambassador David Friedman (someone who we at JCRC have been deeply critical of in the past) said: "We prioritized peace in the region over West Bank annexation...you can't have peace and annexation at the same time." That’s a shift. It’s a good thing. Let’s embrace and build upon it. 

Lastly, for us and for the Israelis we’ve come to know and believe in, peace with the Palestinians remains the ultimate goal. We know this can only be accomplished through building societies that recognize the dignity and humanity of the other. We believe that building and deepening public exchanges with a range of Arab countries advances a regional culture of such recognition. This development can help that process, and that is another reason that it should be viewed as a step toward progress.  

Of course, it’s only one step in a long line of many that must still be taken to build more ties between Israelis and Palestinians, so that they recognize each other’s dignity. We can hope that this past week’s developments will serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. And we urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, to achieve progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future. 

On July 24th, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) was passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would provide $250 million over five years to radically scale up peace and reconciliation programming. And now the legislation moves to the Senate. 

To learn more about the work of investing in peacebuilding and the role the U.S. Congress has to serve, JCRC of Greater Boston is partnering with the JCRC of Greater Washington and others to invite you to a program on August 27 at 2pm EDT to learn about our advocacy together with the Alliance for Middle East Peace in support of this legislation, "The Partnership Fund For Peace."It is an opportunity to learn about the legislation and the impact the fund would have on grassroots peace-building and economic development efforts in the region - directly from those doing the work, and also to learn what you can do to help champion this vital piece of legislation.  

We invite you to be a partner to the people of Israel, to the Palestinians, and to the kinds of forward-thinking responsible actors in the region who made these recent developments possible. 

Shabbat Shalom,  

Jeremy

Make a Plan of Who to Vote For

With the Massachusetts primary just over two weeks away and with voting already started, I am asked every day by friends and colleagues: “Who are you voting for, and why?”

It’s a fair question. Given my work, I have the privilege of meeting and engaging with almost every leading candidate in each cycle, in our region’s congressional and state races. But this is not a question I will answer. As the leader of a 501c3, my public comments are almost always viewed as an official pronouncement on behalf of our network of member organizations (except, maybe, when it comes to my praise of various comic books). Therefore, I should not and do not endorse candidates.

But what I can share is my process for answering that internal and personal “why.” It’s how I make a plan, before I fill out my ballot, to know who I am voting for. It’s really simple:

  • First, I ask myself: What do I care about in the leaders serving in this particular role? Of course, we at JCRC hold certain values and principles that we work for – on foreign and domestic concerns. I have some personal clarity as a voter that “I would never vote for someone who…” or “the most important thing I’m looking for in a dog-catcher is…”
  • Then, where there is an incumbent running for re-election, I can examine that person’s record: How did they vote, or if an executive office, how did they navigate the big challenges they faced in office? Where did they show up? When were they present or absent?
  • Mostly though, I want to research two things:

    1. What are the positions the candidate espouses? What have they said in their statements and position papers that tell me how they will govern and how they think about the issues that are of concern to me – in their own words. Fortunately, this is so much easier than it was twenty or thirty years ago, thanks to search engines and to candidates’ websites. Their websites also tell me something about their priorities, i.e. the issues they choose to address and feature, vs. other concerns – some of which are very important to me – that they may deliberately make no mention of. In those cases, I ask myself what that absence says about them and my evaluation of them.

    2. Who has endorsed them? Again, in this era, almost every candidate features an endorsements page on their website. This tells me a lot about a candidate. It gives me a sense of what caucuses they might sit in if elected. Who will likely have initial access to them? Who are they likely to be most responsive to on the issues I care about? I can see which advocates of a specific cause or position are putting their own reputations out there to say, “this candidate is the best choice in this race to advance my cause.” That says a lot about a candidate, for me.

It’s not that hard to make a plan for how I will cast my vote. In some races it takes a little more time. For example, in the current congressional race in the MA 4th, researching eight (as of yesterday) democratic and two republican candidates takes a little time – and while I don’t live in this district, since so many members of our community do, I’ll help you all out by including links to all eleven of their websites below.

It is time well spent. As I wrote last week, we know that our vote is our most sacred task to hold government accountable in a democracy. I for one would never vote for someone without doing my due diligence. A couple of hours of effort to inform our role in the myriad tasks and challenges ahead over two, four, or even six years terms is certainly time well spent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

As an example, the MA 4th primary candidates. These links are to their issue pages, but almost all have endorsement pages on their website banners as well, so check those out while you do your research:

Democrats:

Jake Auchincloss: https://www.jakeforma.com/priorities 

Becky Grossman: https://beckygrossman.com/issues

Alan Khazei:  https://alankhazei.com/vision/

Ilssane Leckey: https://ihssane.org/issues

Natalia Linos: https://www.nataliaforcongress.com/priorities

Jesse Mermell: https://jessemermell.com/issues/

Ben Sigel: https://bensigelforcongress.com/whyimrunning/ 

Chris Zannetos: https://www.chriszforma.com/priorities

Republicans:

Julie Hall: http://hallforcongress.com/

David Rosa: https://www.davidrosaforcongress.com/

The most powerful non-violent tool

I often say that good policy comes from good process. When it comes to the effective functioning of a healthy democracy, good process starts with an engaged electorate that votes.

I’ll keep this one brief because I know you don’t need to be persuaded: 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.

This year, like no other, the process of voting involves a few more hurdles; the clearest and most dangerous being the COVID pandemic. Here in Massachusetts, our primary date is unusually early, September 1st, before Labor Day, incurring the risk of many folks “missing” the primary. This year’s primary features several important elections that will likely determine the victors in November as well. The stakes are as high this year as they have ever been.

So, it is very important that we get out the vote ahead of and on September 1st.

“Ahead of,” because due to mobilization by JCRC and our partner advocates, Massachusetts has a new law regarding election safety during the 2020 primary and general elections. This important legislation gives all eligible voters the opportunity to vote early in the primary and general elections, allowing us to vote by mail, and expanding access to absentee ballots. 

“On” September 1st, because time is running out to vote by mail.  Even if you don’t vote early, your vote is vital. There are several races of great interest to our community in Greater Boston, including the state-wide primary for the U.S. Senate, and congressional primaries in several districts with large Jewish populations, covering large parts of Greater Boston, from Sharon, Needham, Newton and Brookline, to parts of the city of Boston, and most of the North Shore.

Our community has values, interests and priorities that will be impacted by the outcomes of these elections. And because this year’s elections amidst COVID are more complicated, JCRC has prepared a comprehensive guide to the voting process in the MA primary, including important dates and instructions for how to vote by mail or vote early. If you want to vote by mail, you need to send in your application, which you should have received in the mail, ASAP.

Of course, while JCRC is a 501(c)(3) and does not endorse candidates or political parties, I encourage you to take the time before you vote, to learn about the candidates and their views on issues of concern to you and our community. For example, in the MA 4th Congressional District (currently held by Rep. Kennedy) you might check out the video of this recent primary debate hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or this helpful candidate survey compiled by AJC New England. There are other resources as well and I urge you to research the candidates, their positions, and their endorsements before you vote.

As the late Congressman John Lewis, of blessed memory, said:

"I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy."

So please, make a plan to vote, not only in the general election, but in the primary. Tell your friends to vote and share this information widely so that they know how. Ask your congregations and organizations to help get the word out.

There is nothing more urgent right now than our participation in the democratic process, so that we can ensure that our voices will be heard.

On Holding Loss and Finding Hope

“Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem” by Francesco Hayez (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

The past few weeks have been difficult here at JCRC, as they have been for almost everyone. We said goodbye to cherished colleagues who were laid off as we suspended various programs because of economic pressures. As we gathered together as a smaller group for the first time this week, many of us were navigating new responsibilities and feeling the absence of coworkers while still holding great passion for our work and our hope for the future of our organization.

As we continue to make sense of the turmoil and disruption, both close to home and as a society, I find myself – as I often do – turning to Jewish heritage and tradition to help find meaning in the world around me.

Yesterday many of us observed the fast of the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, the beginning of three weeks of ritual mourning. These weeks follow a trajectory that begins with this anniversary of the Babylonian breach of the gates of ancient Jerusalem, and carries us until the anniversary of the burning of Solomon’s temple and the start of the first exile. That date is marked - along with a great many other Jewish tragedies, including the destruction of the second temple by the Romans (and with it the beginning of our long diaspora) and the expulsion from Spain in 1492 - by a fast on the 9th of Av, observed this year on July 30th.

I’m always struck by the liturgy of this period. The words of Psalm 137, By the Rivers of Babylon, and the funereal music by which they are sung at our tables, are embedded in my heart. They express the profound mourning of our people’s loss, expressed in a moment of transition:

There we sat,
Sat and wept,
As we thought of Zion…

How can we sing a song of our God on alien soil?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand wither…

Still, as we read the Book of Lamentations on Tisha B’Av, we find, even in the words of sorrow, that there are messages of hope and of the possibility of renewal. Even the fast itself is considered a Moed, a festival. For though it is a day of profound sadness, it is also a day of promise for a joyful future, as the prophet Zechariah assures the people it “shall become occasion for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah.” (Zech. 8:19)

These texts, our tradition, hold a triptych of emotions that feel so right for this current moment in our world: We hold the sorrow of profound loss, we sit in the anxieties and fears of a time of transition, and still we find a way to express our hope for the future. Sorrow, anxiety and hope are three disparate emotions; but we do not compartmentalize them to experience them on separate occasions.  Instead, we will sit with them all at once, because each is a piece of our current reality.

We need to grieve (and I am so grateful to Hebrew College and the other partners who organized a meaningful communal grieving ritual yesterday for those who we have lost to this pandemic). We need to name the anxiety and fear that comes with transition, and; we need to lift up hope – hope for what is possible, hope for a brighter future, hope for what we will build together in the years to come. And we need to do all of these things at the same time.

I invite you to share your losses, your fears, and your hopes as we continue to build a future for our community and our collective world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The next generation committed to telling our story

The Hebrew month of Tammuz began earlier this week. Later this month we will usher in an intense, three-week mourning period, when I will join many other Jews around the world in fasting and engaging ritual mourning to lament the many calamities in our history, from the destruction of the first Temple through the Holocaust. Commemorating and retelling our history is a sacred obligation, shared from generation to generation. This obligation is acutely necessary today, as we continue to confront the dark elements of history and determine our role in creating positive and lasting change. Educating ourselves and understanding how history can continue to cause harm and injustice are the first crucial steps in this work.

At JCRC, we are proponents of this educational work, from our guided docent tours through the New England Holocaust Memorial, to our advocacy for Genocide Education in Massachusetts schools.

And we promote education through the JCRC Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest, giving students from across the Commonwealth, most of whom are not Jewish, the opportunity to confront the unimaginable crimes of the Holocaust and consider their role in standing up to current injustices. The contest, established by Holocaust Survivor Israel (Izzy) Arbeiter, provides students with a platform to share the lessons they have learned and express their commitment to work towards a more equitable world. We challenge our youth not only to remember, but also to reflect on the power of individuals, groups, and nations to effect change.

This year’s winning essay (chosen from among 200 submissions) is written by Livia Goldschmitt, a ninth grader from the German International School of Boston. Livia writes about her role as a German citizen to not just stand up to hatred and bigotry, but to reconcile the devastating impact of a painful legacy, a crucial lesson for all of us today:

Germans were the ones who killed and I am German. But we have to confront our history to understand it ourselves and to be able to learn from it….I am not responsible for what they did. But we do all have the responsibility to not let the lessons of our history be forgotten. Click here to read the full essay.               

Sadly, we could not gather in person this year for our annual Yom HaShoah commemoration where we honor our essay contest winners. Instead, we invite you to please join Izzy in recognizing this year’s Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest Winners in this video tribute.

I hope you will join me in congratulating these bright young writers who are standing up against injustice and hate in our world.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

What gave us strength this year

Our spring ritual at JCRC is to elect our new Board and Community Representatives  – as we did at our annual meeting this past Wednesday – and to reflect on the past program year; the challenges we faced and the accomplishments we achieved. What a year this one has been. Though I hesitate to use words that are now included in every sentence of our public discourse, this past year has been one of unprecedented challenges. We’ve seen a continued rise in antisemitic violence in this country, a global pandemic, economic catastrophe, the exposure of the country’s enduring racism, and a national uproar about police violence. Israel went through three elections. Challenges to our own democratic processes and norms here in the US continue to erode the America we cherish.

At JCRC, we draw strength to persevere in the face of these challenges, from our bonds that tie us to each other within our community and to our friends, allies, and partners in Boston’s civic public space. 

We rose to face the challenge of antisemitism and to address concerns about Jewish communal security. This year, in partnership with the Governor and the legislative leadership, we secured an allocation of $1.5 million for non-profit security grants available to house of worship, community centers, and other vulnerable nonprofit institutions. The state also allocated $400,000 for a pilot program providing anti-bias training and resources to communities.

After the attacks in Jersey City and Monsey, prominent Christian leaders in Boston – our longstanding, trusted friends and partners – organized over 1,000 Christian leaders from across Massachusetts to sign a letter decrying antisemitism. And this April, over 300 people joined our Virtual Community Yom HaShoah Remembrance & Reflection program, honoring our local survivors and paying tribute to the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, with a message of solidarity from Governor Baker.

As the threats against our immigrant neighbors increase and the paths toward relief narrow, our Jewish community continues to step up. During the pandemic, JCRC and our partners in the Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN) are managing to keep our bond fund open while many others around the country have already closed. And as conditions in jails continue to worsen, our network continues to be attentive to the urgent needs of undocumented immigrants during this crisis.  

As divisions over how best to connect with and support Israel became even more pronounced, JCRC’s Boston Partners for Peace initiative launched our initial list of Community Endorsers. This group of over 60 community leaders – elected officials, Christian clergy, rabbis and others – is on record with their public support of our approach.  

As a Jewish community dedicated to living our values in the broader civic space, community service affirms our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors. For our fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service in January, we had a total of 1,108 volunteers across 13 community organizations throughout Greater Boston, tripling our numbers from the previous year.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve brought Jewish leadership to the table where critical decisions are being made about the shutdown and the re-opening. We’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials at the state and local level about myriad issues ranging from expediting the permitting process for a kosher food pantry, to the interests of Houses of Worship in the re-opening process, and advocating for the safety and protection of people who are incarcerated and at greater risk during the pandemic.

Finally, as the persistent racism that afflicts our nation erupts in the form of daily violence, our organized Jewish community is drawing on our deep partnership and relationship with leaders in the Black community. With the guidance of these friends - clergy members, elected officials, and other civic leaders - we are pursuing an action agenda to realize our commitment to criminal justice reform and the urgent work of advancing justice in our country.

Some of the challenges we now confront were not part of our collective imagination one year ago. Others are enduring and will persist long beyond this season. Still, whatever comes, we will face it with resilience and strength forged by the relationships we’ve been creating and weaving for decades. Our success in advancing our values and interests as an organized Jewish community is only possible because of the partnerships we’ve built, the alliances we’ve forged, and the relationships that we honor.

Particular challenges come and go, as do individual leaders, but our deepest values and most trusted relationships continue to inspire and sustain us. They will stand the test of time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy