Author: Jeremy Burton

Walking in the World Together

I always take note when one of my weekly posts seems to have struck a chord and last week’s blog, about fatigue and resilience, clearly did for many of you. This week, I’d like to tell you a story about our community’s support of the Ukrainian people, one that I’m holding closely going into Shabbat; since for me, it speaks to the very heart of what I shared last week. 

You may recall that a few weeks back I wrote about showing up for our partners, and specifically about answering a call from a pastor with whom I have a deep relationship. I wrote then that weaving connections among communities fosters a sense of obligation that inspires us to unite and support each other. At that time, I didn’t mention the name of the pastor who had reached out on a Saturday night asking me and us to stand with him and his fellow clergy in support of (then D.A.) Rachael Rollins. 

Now I will share that this Saturday night call came from Rev. Ray Hammond, co-pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.

I mention it again because, this Wednesday, we were together in community at a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization Clergy caucus and Pastor Hammond pulled me aside to ask how I and we were doing as a community with all that was happening in Ukraine. He informed me that his church had been following the events there with great pain for all the people suffering. He noted how, quite often over the years, he had heard JCRC leaders, going back to my predecessor Nancy Kaufman, talking about the latest trips to Dnipro and the excitement we had for the revitalization of that community. Pastor Hammond informed me that his church had decided that they wanted to do something meaningful to support the relief efforts, and, knowing that our Jewish community in Boston was so deeply attached to our sister community, the congregation would be making a $2,500 donation to CJP’s Ukraine Emergency Fund.  

Upon my return to my office there was a letter from Rev. Hammond’s wife and co-pastor, Rev. Gloria Hammond, addressed to myself and Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel. With permission, I quote to you in part:

We have partnered with you in social justice work for three decades and, like you, we are appalled by the naked aggression and oppression being visited upon the people of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. We welcome any opportunity to resist that kind of violence and imperialism. And we welcome the opportunity to remember that when our congregation (as part of a national movement) was calling attention to naked aggression and oppression in South Sudan two decades ago, JCRC and CJP partnered with us. You came to our rallies, supported our fundraisers, and joined in our advocacy efforts. You supported that work organizationally and through the efforts of many member organizations, especially our sister congregation Temple Israel.  

Thank you for giving us a vehicle to not only express our outrage, but offer relief to the victims of senseless war. And thank you for a 30-year partnership in the pursuit of justice, locally and globally. God bless you. 

I cannot imagine a more welcome reminder this week of the power of partnerships built over time. It speaks to the essence of what community relations is all about: that when we build deep relationships and strong bridges between leaders and communities - often over years and through many challenges - we can forge bonds of obligation that invite and inspire each of us to do more than we can do alone; to stand up for each other, to support each other, and to walk in the world together.

I closed my note last week saying that finding resiliency in challenging times comes through an awareness of how we choose to respond to events around us. I wrote: 

“We don’t always get to choose the challenges we face. We do get to choose how we face them. I, and we, choose to face them together.” 

I am so grateful to Pastors Ray and Gloria, and all the members of Bethel AME, for reminding me and us this week that we are in fact together in this world and this work. Their kindness and generosity remind us once again of how experiencing the partnership of friends can be an act of building resilience. And, in doing so, they demonstrate how all of us can “walk the walk” of living out our obligations to our neighbors as well.  

With gratitude and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

 

Finding Resilience Through the Fatigue

I’m hearing fatigue lately, in many conversations I’m having; and, if I’m honest, feeling it in myself. 

Fatigue that makes me want to turn off the news as the Russian assault on Ukraine enters its fourth week and as the horrors on our news feeds seem to only increase by the day (the AP’s reporting out of Mariupol this week, including children being buried in mass graves, will stay with me for a long time). 

Fatigue I experience about restrictions as we’ve passed the two-year mark since the pandemic state-of-emergency first locked us down. Even as much is re-opening, still over 1,000 Americans are dying every day from COVID and friends like Alex Goldstein at @FacesOfCovid continue to document their lives. 

Fatigue I feel for our leaders and activists right here in Boston who mobilized in 2015 to support Syrian refugees, then again for asylum seekers, since last summer for our Afghan allies, and who are now preparing to receive and support Ukrainian refugees.   

Fatigue I feel in our work with colleagues and partners as another year means yet another round of vicious campaigns to demonize Israel, Israelis and Jewish-Americans on local campuses; and as they prepare for what sometimes feel like inevitable “rinse and repeat” fights against those who seek simplistic (and biased, ahistorical) solutions to the complex and challenging realities of the world. 

This fatigue is natural. I certainly recognize myself in the voices of friends and family who tell me they need – or can’t bring themselves – to turn off the news, to stop checking twitter, etc… We all need a break. As someone said to me this week: “We’re lurching from crisis to crisis. Is this the new normal?”  

I hope not. 

This week I’m holding the experience we had on Wednesday, as so many of us in Boston joined our friends in Dnipro for a live reading of the megillah on Purim from their Golden Rose synagogue (a space many of us have been in over the years and where I’ve had the honor to be called to the Torah). It was emotional to see people we know, gathered to celebrate this joyous holiday, knowing that they are under fire, on the front lines, in dire jeopardy.  

I can’t even begin to imagine their fatigue.  

I have no particular words of wisdom right now other than to say that it’s ok – for those of us who can - to take a Shabbat from all this; a time out, a respite, the break that we all need.  

But I’m reminded as well of something I often say at the end of our study tours to Israel, after we’ve met our inspiring Israeli and Palestinian friends – who we’ve come to know and support through Boston Partners for Peace - who work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding and dignity. They are on the frontline, building a better future for themselves and their families and for their neighbors. They are the resilient ones. And they need to keep living and enduring even if we walk away. So, I ask, who am I to give up on these people? Who are we to walk away as long as they are resolved to keep toiling together? 

I admire and honor this resilience and persistence: Of the people of Ukraine; of our Israeli and Palestinian partners; of the refugees arriving here, and of the members of our community who volunteer and work with them; of the students who are dealing with hostility on campus and the professionals who support them; of the families still dealing with loss from COVID and the folks who are providing them care and those who keep documenting this loss.   

And I will take this Shabbat. I need it. And I encourage you to do whatever your personal respite is. It’s okay. We all need it. And I know that together we can be inspired by this resilience and find the resilience within us that we need to stay with all of these people, and to keep doing this work with them.  

We don’t always get to choose the challenges we face. We do get to choose how we face them. I, and we, choose to face them together. I hope you do as well. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

Our Legislative Work: Nonprofit Security, Aid for Ukraine, and more

It’s been a busy week for us on Beacon Hill, as most are. And as is often the case, unless you follow our social media closely, important updates can easily slip by. So as we come off of our JCRC/Mass. Association of Jewish Federations legislative reception just last night, allow me to draw your attention, briefly, to a few other items of interest this week. 

As you probably recall, in 2017 we worked with Senator Eric Lesser, along with Senators Cindy Creem, Harriet Chandler and many others, to establish a pilot Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant program to supplement and complement the federal Department of Homeland Security pool. What began as a $75,000 pilot, has – with active support from the legislative leadership and the governor – grown to a $1.5 million annual pool. This past week, the latest cycle of grantees received notifications. 

This week, 22 Jewish organizations across Massachusetts – synagogues, schools and a cemetery association – received a combined $732,238.29 in funding. 

I joined Senator Lesser in welcoming this latest round of support for our community and others who are targets of hate and violence. As he said in our statement together:  

Hate does not discriminate. It happens in Springfield, it happens in Quincy, and it happens in Boston where Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight times in broad daylight this summer. 

In this time of vulnerability, we welcome efforts by the Commonwealth to protect non-profit institutions that may be targets of antisemitism and violent extremism. These grants will make a meaningful impact for our community. I am grateful to Senator Lesser, all of our partners on Beacon Hill, and the coalition we’ve built of Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues and other Jewish communities that have worked together in recent years to get here.  

This year, federations across the Commonwealth are calling for a doubling of this grant pool.  

On another, equally critical note, last week I wrote to you about things you could do to take immediate action to support the people of Ukraine as they struggle against the continuing onslaught of the unprovoked Russian aggression. Included in that note was information about how to urge our Congressional delegation to secure federal military and humanitarian aid. I’m pleased to report that this aid was included this week in a Congressional emergency package.   

Also this week, after consulting with MA Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, we’re supporting state legislative action requiring the Massachusetts Pension Reserve Management Fund (PRIM) to identify and divest from companies doing business with the Russia state. This comes days after we welcomed action by Governor Baker directing state agencies to terminate any contracts they have with Russian state-owned companies.  

As we wrote in our letter endorsing this legislation:  

Any money invested in Russia or companies doing business with the Russian state is tacit approval of the reprehensible actions taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and those who prop up his regime.  

Finally, if you missed it last night, you can check out this year’s Legislative Reception on our YouTube channel.  We celebrated the work being done by our network of agencies to welcome refugees from Afghanistan. We expressed, again, our support for the Work & Family Mobility Act – which we hope will be sent to the governor for his signature very soon. We honored a fantastic group of legislative leaders on Beacon Hill, some of the staffers who’ve been key partners in advancing our shared priorities, and one amazing Cambridge City Councilor who we’ve come to respect and admire for her leadership combatting BDS there. This being the final year of the Baker-Polito administration, we also took time to thank the outgoing governor for all the ways he’s been a partner and friend to our community over the years.  

(By the way – In case you missed them, you can also see most of the programs we’ve hosted in recent years, our ever-growing library of speakers series, on our website and YouTube page). 

Its been a busy week, covering a diverse range of issues of concern – and not even close to all of the priorities we’re working on up on Beacon Hill. It’s a testament to our community that we can hold this diverse range of concerns – reflecting the values, interests and priorities of our community – and be effective on so many fronts. That’s thanks to all of you; our members, our partners, our network. 

For that, we’re grateful, and we look forward to our continued work together. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

  

Showing Up for Ukraine

When horrible things are happening in the world – like the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine; an act of territorial imperialism and an assault on the democratic determination by the Ukrainian people – I find myself looking to others to make sense of the situation for me. In despair and frustration, I may be inclined to doom-scroll and devour thought-pieces, as I do with other crises playing out at home or across the globe. 

As often as not, it is too easy to fall into a trap – of equating passion with genuine expertise and replacing nuanced subject matter analysis with bias-confirmation assertions from those with no knowledge in a particular field or institution. 

This tendency is natural, and I strive – not always successfully – to resist it in myself. But it speaks to a natural aspect of the human psyche; when we feel powerless to affect troubling events, we want answers: “Why” is this happening? “Who” is responsible? “Tell me where to direct my fear and anger." The answers yielded by this process are often un-nuanced, confirming pre-existing biases, and inaccurate as well, not taking into account the whole picture. 

Though these ‘answers’ may provide a channel for our anger, and our sadness, when we limit ourselves to these inquiries, it prevents us from answering the more urgent questions: 

  • What am I called to do in this situation? 
  • How can I make an impact? 

I, for one, have no illusions that I can snap my fingers and – on my own – end a war, establish peace, end hatred and violence and bigotry in our world, or stop climate change (to name just a few examples). I can’t control that awful things are done in the world, putting people in harm’s way; including to people we care about personally in our Jewish sister-community in Dnipro. I can’t, through magical thinking, make bad people disappear and stop bad things from happening to good people. 

What I, and we, can control is how we choose to respond to these events and these people. We get to decide how we show up for Ukrainian people under fire; how we engage with threats faced by our friends and families around the world; and how we deal with challenges right here at home. And we can choose to channel our focus and energies productively, to support institutions that are doing the work and meeting the moment in ways that reflect our values and our interests. 

So rather than just despair and walk away from what’s happening in Ukraine, or doom-scroll and retweet tirades, or tell you who to be angry at, here are some suggestions of who to support right now and how to take action: 

  • Stand with Ukraine. Join us, and AJC, in calling on Congress to work with the administration to impose crippling sanctions on Russia. Moscow must be cut off and isolated from advanced technology and the international financial system, and individuals in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle must be sanctioned immediately. 
  • Contact your member of Congress and thank them for overwhelmingly (and unanimously in Massachusetts) supporting a resolution of support for Ukraine. Let them know that you support their efforts, and those of the Biden administration, to send additional and urgent security assistance and defensive weaponry to Ukraine.  
  • Send emergency aid through our member, Action for Post-Soviet Jewry. They have a long and proven track record of providing direct relief and are organizing emergency kits and supplies.   
  • Donate to CJP’s Ukraine Emergency Fund. These dollars will provide direct support to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and partners on the ground in Ukraine to help the most vulnerable. Assistance will include food, shelter, medicine, and other basic needs. 
  • Follow JCRC on Twitter and Facebook where we’ll continue to share action alerts and giving opportunities from our trusted partners within and beyond the Jewish community.

We can’t always determine what is happening in the world. We can’t always control events that affect us. But we can choose how we act in response to these challenges; in ways that make a meaningful impact and that channel our passion and our concern productively, and in ways that reflect our values and interests. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Working Together to Confront Antisemitism

Before I discuss some local events this past week, allow me to express that – like so many of you – my heart and my mind are very much with Ukraine as I write this. Our Jewish community in Boston has deep connections there; I’ve been privileged to visit our sister Jewish community in Dnipro three times, including twice on solidarity missions after the Russian invasion of Crimea. Our partners at CJP continue to be engaged and supportive, making emergency grants in recent weeks. You can learn more about their work and the partnership here

Here in the Boston area, these have been disturbing and frightening days of a different sort. Last week we learned that the perpetrator of the 2019 arson attacks against Chabad centers in Arlington and Needham, and a Jewish owned business in Chelsea, was an actual Nazi from Quincy. The other night we watched as some 20 people, carrying a Nazi flag, disrupted a book reading in Providence. And, it seems like every other day there’s another swastika found at Curry College in Milton.  

All of this has me thinking about JCRC’s founding in the early 1940’s, as another wave of antisemitism was ripping through Boston. Our Jewish community came together to create this Council to provide a coordinated response for engaging with government, local media, and the faith community (particularly, then, the Catholic church). The JCRC was, quite literally, established to deal with an organized Nazi effort in our city (as documented most recently in Nazis of Copley Square by Professor Charles R. Gallagher, S.J. of Boston College). 

Some eighty years later, it can feel like we’ve come full circle, with a present and real threat from home grown Nazis in our region. 

Of course, there are things that are different about the challenges we face in confronting antisemitism here in Boston in 2022. For example, we must openly address – as I did a few weeks ago when we worked with CJP and ADL to convene the community after Colleyville – that not all violent attacks on our community are coming from white supremacists and neo-Nazis; as we saw in Brighton last summer, where the attacker was an Egyptian Muslim.  And not all challenges are violent, such as the effort last fall by some on the left to tarnish now-Mayor Michelle Wu by claiming she was being influenced by “sinister” “Zionist” donors. 

This multi-layered and multi-directional antisemitism is how I found myself talking to the Boston Globe twice this week. On Sunday, I talked to Linda K. Wertheimer about how some on the left, as we’ve seen in California, are obsessed with inserting a “Liberated Ethnic Studies” agenda into classroom curriculums. This agenda singles out Israel for excessive condemnation, and denies the Jewish historical experience as being one of an oppressed minority in Western Civilization 

Then, on Thursday, I spoke with Yvonne Abraham about white supremacy and these violent Nazi attacks on our community here in Boston, how we got here, and why we at JCRC take it personally.  

Of course, there are other ways in which the current crisis is different for us, here in Boston, than the one eighty years ago. Most particularly and obviously, we have allies – in government, local media, and the faith community.  

Allies like U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who as Suffolk DA pursued the Brighton case as a hate crime and promised to hold people accountable for antisemitic attacks; and then, this last week, arrested - in Stockholm, Sweden - the brother of the Quincy Nazi for his role in covering up what she characterized as an act of domestic terrorism.  

Allies like Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Galvin, who, last Friday, issued a proclamation formally endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as “a clear, comprehensive, and non-legally binding definition.” JCRC has, for many years, supported and encouraged the use of this definition and we welcomed this leadership here in Massachusetts.  

Allies you’ve seen if you’ve been to any of our community gatherings in recent years – most recently in December when we gathered to “Shine a Light on Antisemitism”. You’ve experienced the powerful support and allyship of leaders in the faith community and amongst other elected officials.  

There’s a lot of work we need to do. The challenges are immense. But nearly eighty years later, we at JCRC remain committed to meeting the challenge as a community, to working together with these allies, and to forging others, as, together, we pursue a path forward. 

I hope you will be part of this work with us. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

Taking a Stand Against Holocaust Distortion

On Thursday we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the global day set by the United Nations marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on January 27, 1945. 

I had the privilege a few years ago to visit Auschwitz. As anyone who has been there would tell you, the scale of the place is overwhelming. Despite everything I know and have learned about the Holocaust, I was completely unprepared for the size of this place. The sorting ramp – a railroad platform - where arriving Jews were separated and condemned to death or forced labor (or, horrifically, violent human experimentation) seems endless. As one walks from there on the path to the death machine, one only begins to absorb the scale of this space where 100,000 people were being kept at any given moment in slave conditions as they awaited the gas chambers.  

100,000. 

That’s a scale equivalent to the population of the city of Cambridge, where I live.  

I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot this week, as several disheartening events unfolded directly related to Holocaust memory and education: 

  • Last weekend Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the opponents of COVID vaccinations in the U.S. had it worse than Anne Frank: "Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.” Recall that this teenager was killed by the Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen death camp, because she was a Jew. (He has since apologized, after being publicly condemned by his own wife, but we should note that this comes as part of a history of offensive Holocaust analogies.)  
  • On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Tucker Carlson devoted an entire Fox News show to promoting and perpetuating the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory – which centers Jews in a conspiracy to destroy Western, i.e. Christian and white, civilization. That’s the same conspiracy theory that was referenced by those “Jews will not replace us” chants in Charlottesville in 2017. ADL rightly called it out.
  • And, in Tennessee, the McMinn County school board unanimously removed from their curriculum Maus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel depicting the experience of the author’s father, a Holocaust survivor. As one board member said “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids.” As if the only way to teach history is to ignore or deny the bad parts 

Still, in the midst of all of this, there is cause for hope. With leadership from Germany and Israel, the United Nations overwhelmingly adopted a resolution taking a stand against Holocaust denial and distortion (Though there was one unsurprising holdout - the Iranian regime).  

And locally, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts returned a stolen painting to the family of a Hungarian survivor, in what their attorney described as “a model restitution process.” 

I can’t stop thinking about the scene yesterday in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, where the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Mickey Levy, said the Kaddish – the Jewish prayer to honor our dead. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s also a reminder of the potential of a people to face a terrible wrong in partnership with their victims, honestly, and forthrightly.  

And, I remind myself that, for the first time, we in Massachusetts marked this week’s anniversary with a new state law in place that we at JCRC were proud to advocate for, along with key partners, mandating Holocaust and Genocide education in our schools.  

Three years ago, after visiting Auschwitz, my primary observation in that moment was: one cannot ever fully understand the scale of the Shoah, the death camps, and complete devastation, but still, we must make the effort to do so. One cannot begin to truly comprehend Auschwitz without walking in this place, but we must make the effort to do so.  

Not everyone is blessed with the opportunity for that tactile experience, but we are all still able – even if only for a finite number of years– to bear witness first-hand to the memories of the survivors, and to become stewards and transmitters of those memories to future generations.  

Progress is indeed possible. But it takes work. A lot of work. Especially in these times when there are those who choose to minimize, distort, or deny.  

We’ll stay at it. And I hope that you will too. 

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy Burton

JCRC Executive Director

What to Read After Colleyville

Like everyone in our community, I’m going into this Shabbat with the events of last Shabbat, in Colleyville, Texas, very much at the front of my mind. I find myself not having much to say that I haven’t said before; and appreciating things that have been said by several others this week.   

So, here are a few pieces I’d encourage you to read this weekend, and one action I would urge you to take: 

Time and again I’ve written that it is not our responsibility as Jews to fight antisemitism. That responsibility falls to the communities from whence it comes: the churches and mosques, our society as a whole. It is, however, our role as Jews, the impacted and targeted community, to help our neighbors see and appreciate what we are experiencing, and to understand what antisemitism is. 

To that end I commend to you two new pieces this week about what antisemitism is and how to understand it: 

Laura Adkins explains in the Washington Post how antisemitism is, at heart, a conspiracy theory: 

While we often rush to characterize these attacks as emanating from the “right” or “left,” this is not a helpful impulse. Antisemitism transcends such binaries. Reducing the conspiracy theory to a political argument only makes combating it harder and can blind people to antisemitism when it is advanced by those in their own circles. Instead, we must attack the problem at its roots. Rather than looking for political solutions or pointing fingers across the aisle, we should be combating the myth of Jewish power. 

And Yair Rosenberg explains in The Atlantic how well-meaning people who say they oppose antisemitism can still get it wrong (as we saw in some statements coming out of Texas on Saturday):  

The FBI later corrected its misstep, but the episode reflects the general ignorance about anti-Semitism even among people of goodwill. Unlike many other bigotries, anti-Semitism is not merely a social prejudice; it is a conspiracy theory about how the world operates. This addled outlook is what united the Texas gunman, a Muslim, with the 2018 shooter at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, a white supremacist who sought to stanch the flow of Muslims into America. It is a worldview shared by Louis Farrakhan, the Black hate preacher, and David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard. And it is a political orientation that has been expressed by the self-styled Christian conservative leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran’s Islamic theocracy. 

On Tuesday night, JCRC joined CJP and ADL to convene a community briefing with over 1,200 people to share information and resources, and to hear from Joseph Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Boston; and Rachael Rollins, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. If you missed it, you can watch it here.  

As I said that night, we do need to, and can have a conversation clearly, publicly and thoughtfully about the perpetrators of all the attacks on our community these past few years, from white supremacists, black nationalists, and – in Brighton and Colleyville – an Egyptian and a British national who are Muslim.  

But in having that conversation, we also, I said, need to be aware of and lift up voices of our partners and allies, including a dear personal friend of mine, Imam Abdullah Antepli, who spoke at a JCRC event this past September. Imam Antepli has been outspoken in addressing antisemitism within his own community – before Colleyville, and again this week. I encourage you to read or listen to an interview he gave to Jewish Insider on Tuesday.  

(While you are at it, you might want to read this op-ed by Antepli’s co-director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative, Maital Freidman, on what we as Jews can learn from his leadership as a model for the Jewish community on how to combat hate within our own community) 

I recommend to you this piece in the Boston Globe today by JCRC’s vice-president, Samantha Joseph. She writes from a deeply personal place as the daughter of a congregational rabbi. She also writes with pride about the work we do at JCRC advocating for government funds toward non-profit security. 

Thank you to Samantha, and to all these friends who put their thoughts to paper this week. They’ve helped me think through the events of last Shabbat and they guide my thinking, this week and always.  

Finally, I said I would have an action item for you. If you haven’t done so already, I ask you to contact your Members of Congress and urge them to double the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NPSG) funding this year.  

We’re proud of the work we’ve done over the years together with Jewish Federations of North America and with JCRCs around the country to advocate for this resource, and for a supplementary Commonwealth grant fund here in Massachusetts. These funds have had a significant impact in helping our institutions with the resources they need as they make hard choices to continue being places of gathering and vibrant Jewish life despite recent threats. Now you have a role to play in ensuring that more funds become available, and that our government meet its responsibility to ensure that we can continue to enjoy our freedom of assembly and worship. 

Take action, enjoy these readings, and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton

JCRC Executive Director

Relationships of obligation and accountability

With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse
With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse

This past week, after much delay, Rachael Rollins was installed as the new U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. You may have seen some media in recent weeks about concerns for her personal safety, along with that of her family, in the wake of many threats she has received (an unfortunately not atypical experience for women, and women-of-color in particular, in high office).  

A few weeks ago – coming back online after Shabbat - there was a message for me from a pastor who has been a long-time friend and ally: will you sign a letter with several pastors, and ask rabbis to join you, calling on the Attorney General to address Rollins’s security needs? And, we need an answer by Sunday.  

We’ve got our own process at JCRC on responding to allies. We quickly consulted some of our members and huddled with our executive committee that night. We had some questions about some of the letter’s framing; but there was no question we would respond affirmatively to our partner. I called the pastor and told him that yes, I would sign the letter. We also reached out to our network of rabbis, many of whom signed on enthusiastically within that short window. The Boston Globe reported on that letter last week; and again, on short turnaround, well after 10pm on Wednesday night, another ask came from the pastors, to join a media event at the Moakley Courthouse, outdoors, in the bitter cold the next day. 

There was no hesitation on my part. I cleared my calendar and I went. I was proud to be there – along with Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel in Boston – together with several ministers, many of whom we’ve been in deep relationship, and some of whom are relatively recent acquaintances.  

When I spoke, I evoked the very recent memories of how Rollins was the first public leader to show up when Rabbi Noginski was brutally attacked in Brighton last summer; how she stood with us that first morning after and unequivocally characterized this assault as an act of antisemitism. She asserted that people needed to be held accountable, made an example of, and pursued through a civil rights investigation. DA Rollins has our back, I said, and we have her back in the face of the threats she is now receiving. 

Afterwards, one of the pastors with whom I am close, commented that I must have had to navigate some complexity to show up here, given that he knows that the Jewish community is not of one mind about some of Rollins policy agenda. Not at all, I replied. This one was an easy call.  

And therein why I tell you all this. Because standing up for our U.S. Attorney in this moment wasn’t easy because it “was the right thing to do” (though it was the right thing to do). It was easy because of the relationships involved. It was easy because she’s had our back when we needed her, yes. But also because of the relationships with these ministers, many of whom have shown up for us time and time again over the years at the drop of a hat. Some of whom I’ve been privileged to bear witness to as they navigated their own complexities in order to stand with the Jewish community. Because we’ve built relationships together that have fostered trust between us, even when we disagree; relationships of obligation and accountability that also catalyze our ability to do more for each other.  

What I’m thinking about going into Martin Luther King Day, is not about any one specific policy change – though those are certainly important - to address the still incomplete work that he challenged us to do. It is, rather, about how we must be together with each other; the fostering of our obligations to each other to do that work, and more. It’s the weaving of the connections to others and not being “just” of and for our own communities. Connections that move us from a culture of many siloed communities to being one community; that obligate us to each other – as leaders and citizens - and that challenge ourselves to do the things that are hard. 

This is not easy work. These relationships take time, years of honest and often hard conversations, of real listening, and of showing up for each other in all sorts of ways. But the benefits are mutual, empowering, and transformative. 

Recommitting to the hard road that leads, eventually, to transformation; isn’t that what this weekend is about? 

I hope you’ll join us in that commitment and that work. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton, JCRC Executive Director

p.s. If it is in keeping with your Shabbat practice, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins will be making one of her first public appearances in her new role tonight at Temple Israel in Boston. She will be the guest speaker at their annual Shabbat Tzedek service. The community is invited.  

What I’m Grateful for This Year

This being the last blog post I’m planning to write this year (we’ll be closed the next two Fridays) as well as the last blog post of my 52nd lap around the sun (Monday will be my birthday), allow me to focus for a few minutes on gratitude. 

In a week that’s brought some hard news – our nation reaching 800,000 deaths from COVID – in an overall challenging year, with so much loss and pain, so much anger and hate, I find it valuable to lift up gratitude in my life. 

I’m grateful to be alive and to be in reasonably good health (and have health care). And I’m grateful to have a job that I find genuinely fulfilling and that I’m eager to get up and do (most days). I’m grateful to have friends and loved ones who care about me and who inspire me to be a better person.  

My gratitude is elevated by the recognition that these are not small things. Not everyone has their health or employment right now, or work that they find meaningful. And so many of us, including myself, have lost friends and family this past year. So, I’m grateful for what I have. 

I’m grateful for the things we’ve been able to celebrate this year, and the communities I have to celebrate them with: all of you who joined us in celebrating my ten years at JCRC. And all of you who were part of coalitions that celebrated wins this year – like passing the genocide education law here in Massachusetts.  

I’m grateful for the communities and coalitions that gave me – and I hope some of you – strength this year; empowering us to take action in response to horror, rather than throwing up our arms in despair when the world can be so overwhelming. I’m appreciative of the amazing network of faith communities, human service agencies and congregations that we organized to welcome hundreds of Afghan refugees to Massachusetts. I’m thankful for the times we’ve come together, with the solidarity and support of civic leaders and partners, to stand against hatred, antisemitism, and violence, like in Brighton in July, or at the New England Holocaust Memorial during Chanukah.  

I’m grateful for the opportunities to continue to learn and think this year; reading amazing books, having interesting conversations, following interesting people on social media – people who step outside of the echo chamber to ask thoughtful questions with a genuine spirit of openness to growth and change, in response to new information or better arguments.  

I’m grateful to have had any opportunity to travel this year (though less than usual) and for having been able to visit friends and partners in Israel this summer, including many in the travel and education industry who’ve suffered during this time far more, professionally, than we have.  

I’m grateful to have had the opportunities to share my thoughts and passions and hobbies with you; to write and tweet, and to be in public conversations. Thank you those of you who’ve engaged with me and us this year; about Bruce Springsteen’s Superbowl ad, Black-Jewish shared interests, Jews and comic books, progressives and Israel, how to talk about antisemitism, and so much more.

I’m grateful to the entire JCRC team – our professionals, our volunteers, our community, and our supporters like you – without whom none of the things I am grateful for would be possible. 

These are just a few of the things I am grateful for at the end of 2021. 

I hope that as you read this, you are inspired to think about what you are grateful for.  

And since you’ve read this far, I hope that one of things that you are grateful for is JCRC; for the work we do and the voice we bring into Boston’s civic square as we represent our community. 

And if you could help us out, as a birthday present to me, with a gift to our year-end campaign – I would be so ever grateful to you. 

Thanks. And, with gratitude, Shabbat Shalom.

Jeremy 

The Story of our Community of Communities

When JCRC is in the news, more often than not, it is about a public policy issue, our engagement with elected officials, or some other political process that is complex and at times even controversial. And, more often than not, when we’re in the national Jewish news, it is because of fraught processes we are engaged in about communal boundaries; who gets to sit at the table, and what politics are out of bounds. These are both accurate representations of aspects of JCRC. We are, after all, a coalition of organizations and individuals from across the ideological spectrum, coming together to identify and advance collective Jewish communal concerns in Greater Boston.  

These days it can often feel like too much of the public discourse is offered solely through the prism of politics. You know the headlines, that tend to sound something like: “Breaking News: The President stubbed his toe. What will this mean for the midterm elections?”  

Or, to put it another way, most people do not wake up in the morning thinking about how a traffic jam on the Pike will impact the next election (though some people I know do). They’re worrying instead about how it will impact their ability to be home with family for dinner.   

So, while politics is what we “do” on behalf of our community at JCRC much of the time, it isn’t who we are. Who we are is a community – an organized community – the Jewish community of Greater Boston. And we are a community of communities; the many – over 40 – organizations that are the members of our Council. And even these organizations are communities of communities; the many congregations that make up a denomination, the many clubs and groups that make up a JCC. And so on.  

I’m privileged to be exposed to all these communities during the course of my work. I get to experience their programs, honor their differences, and be inspired by their energy. I get to appreciate all the ways that each of them is doing interesting, important things that – together – make up the story of our community. 

I aspire to a Jewish community where all of us get to appreciate what I see every day in our members. And I’m excited that we at JCRC are rolling out a new Speakers Series to lift up these communities that make up the JCRC Council.  

Over the last year, I’ve been sitting down with many of our civic partners and public officials to discuss their work and JCRC’s partnership with them. Many of you have joined us for these – now almost weekly – conversations. And we’ll keep having them.  

Now, starting on December 21st, I invite you to join me for a new series: conversations with my colleagues, the professionals who lead – as CEOs, executive directors, and regional directors – our member organizations. We’ll be talking about what brought them to this work, how they practice building a vibrant Jewish community, how they think about their communities in a broader ecosystem, and how they understand the notion of “community.” 

We’ll be kicking off this series with Dalit Ballen Horn, who began as the new executive director of The Vilna Shul this past year. In the coming weeks I’ll sit down with Lital Carmel of the Israeli-American Council of Boston, and with Ari Fertig of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. We’ll be announcing more conversations in the months ahead (with over 40 members, some half of whom have regional executives, it will take time to get to everyone).  

The focus of these conversations won’t be “politics” – though some may include the topic. What they will be are conversations about who we are in all of our parts. We hope that they will be illuminating to our appreciation of these leaders and their communities. And we hope they will deepen our understanding, as well as that of our civic partners, about who and what we mean when we talk about the organized Jewish community in Greater Boston.   

I hope you’ll join us on this journey. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy