Author: Jeremy Burton

Not shutting up in the face of complexity

Two sets of interactions over the past week have been on my mind.

This past Tuesday night our JCRC network member Israeli-American Council hosted a community meeting regarding ongoing concerns about curriculum standards in Newton Public Schools with regard to Middle East education. In the days leading up to the event I received numerous calls and emails from members of our community urging me to not participate on the panel (which was limited to myself and representatives of three of our member organizations). The argument against my participation, in sum and as these folks put it: That the discussion about this matter over the past six years had been made irreparably toxic through the actions of other, irresponsible people; thus any legitimization of the topic as a matter of interest and concern by us would only serve to advance and amplify the efforts of those extreme actors.

As posted on Twitter from the IAC-hosted community meeting in the “green” room
As posted on Twitter from the IAC-hosted community meeting in the “green” room

On a separate and unrelated matter, I’ve received a volume of communication amplifying a series of editorial columns circulating in recent weeks. The crux of the argument as these folks put it: given that no President of the United States has ever been as completely supportive of the priorities of a sitting Israeli government as the current administration, it behooves Jewish communal leaders - and specifically in their minds, JCRCs - to focus our efforts on thanking the President for his support. We as leaders are being urged to stop criticizing our government on other matters, even those where we have a broad consensus, such as on matters of immigration and refugee policy.

So what is the common thread in these two exchanges, with folks holding wildly different political and world views on totally separate topics? In both, we are being urged to reject complexity and just shut up. In this moment of polarization and oversimplification, we at JCRC are leaning into core principles to guide our work:

Much of our civic debate presents each and every issue as having two opposing and predictable positions, with increasing segmentation of society into two wholly opposed and yet internally fully aligned camps.

We at JCRC choose to examine each issue with the assumption of it having complexity and nuance. We see more than “two sides.” We know that when we allow the public debate to be defined only by those with the most polarized postures yelling the loudest at each other, we do a disservice to ourselves and our community. So, we embrace the complexity. We refuse to walk away from an issue that matters to us just because others behaved badly. And we seek to hold the broad middle, the place where consensuses can exist, and where, in the absence of consensus, at least some bridging of understanding can be built.

We decline to fall prey to the tribal and partisan traps, even as we offer a voice in admittedly politicized debates. We sit on the side of the values and priorities we’ve chosen to advance in the public space.

We call each issue as we see it, and we address  each of them in relationship with those whom with we disagree. If someone - an elected official or anyone else - is taking a position on a policy where we have a consensus in support, we’ll express that support. And when the same actor takes action where we have a consensus in opposition, we won’t be deterred from expressing that opposition. Sometimes that positions us in different places from our friends, and sometimes places us in alignment with those with whom we have deep differences on other issues. But in the end, the voice we bring will be the authentic reflection of our process and our consensus on that specific issue.

More and more we see folks fully align with “our” tribe on all matters and see the “other” tribe as not only wholly wrong but something to be disparaged and demonized. These trends are playing out within our Jewish community as well.

We are called to resist these trends and to side with the tribe of those who are bound by common values, seek to build bridges of understanding, and are willing to embrace complexity. I hope that you will join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Beyond Books: Partnerships in Literacy and Learning

The route between High Street and Beacon Hill is a familiar and well-worn one for us at JCRC, as so much of our advocacy on this community’s priorities is realized through our close and enduring relationships with our legislative partners. But Boston City Hall is a much less frequent destination, since our dealings with the City of Boston are more limited. So, we were particularly proud to have our contribution to the City recognized last Wednesday when the Boston City Council honored our longtime volunteers from our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition (GBJCL) for Literacy program for their dedication to the schoolchildren of Boston.

The event was a proud display of the strong partnership that our program has enjoyed with the City of Boston for 22 years: connecting Jewish volunteers deeply committed to the success of young students, to Boston Public Schools, where their expertise can be leveraged to support both students and teachers.

The six volunteers representing GBJCL (with a total combined 100 years of dedicated service!) spoke of the profound bonds that they had formed with their students and about the impact of these relationships on their own lives. Florence Coslow, a volunteer with GBJCL throughout the program’s 22 years, proudly pulled out a stack of thank you cards she has received from her students over her decades of service.

GBJCL Volunteer Florence Coslow (center), with her sister (R) and Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George (L)

I was struck by one remarkable story, shared by GBJCL volunteer Kim Meyers. A member of Temple Beth Zion (TBZ) in Brookline, Kim volunteers with her congregation’s tutoring team at The Winship School in Brighton. For 19 of their 20 years, she has been TBZ’s team leader, organizing volunteer schedules with the school and acting as the liaison between the team of volunteers and school administration.

When GBJCL first initiated the partnership between Winship and TBZ, a small collection of books in a basement room at Winship served as the school's library. These books disappeared when the school was renovated, and the Winship school was left without any library at all.

When a new principal came to the school a couple of years later, Kim met with her to tell her about GBJCL and the one-to-one tutoring that volunteers were providing. She seized on this meeting as an opportunity to present the principal with a challenge:

"What this school needs is a library. How can you promote literacy without a library? If you get a librarian, we will build a library for you."  

The principal took Kim up on her offer. Within the year, she had secured the funding to hire a new librarian. Volunteers at TBZ started a book drive and collected a thousand gently-used books. When the books were delivered to the school, Kim had the chance to meet with the newly hired librarian, who presented her with a wish list of books that she had strategically selected for the new library. Kim brought this list back to the synagogue with a new challenge. Could TBZ provide the school with even more new books?

A bar mitzvah student asked for donations of new books from this list, collecting hundreds of brand new books as well as bookshelves. Rabbis at TBZ organized a mitzvah day and over 20 people showed up at the Winship School on a Sunday to build the bookshelves and then, proceeded to cover, label, catalog, and shelve the books.

GBJCL volunteers and the TBZ synagogue community built a brand-new library.

Years later, the library is still thriving and the partnership is still going strong. The TBZ team has continued to donate books to this library. Several bar/bat mitzvah students have collected books for the library as their service projects. In relaying this story, Kim said, “We feel it is important to foster literacy in all the students, not just the ones we tutor.” 

As with so many of our GBJCL tutoring teams, the deep bond formed from one-on-one tutoring blossomed into an entire Jewish community pursuing a shared dream with a neighboring community. We see this again and again as our GBJCL volunteers cultivate relationships throughout Boston, which evolve from supporting individual students to identifying a variety of creative ways to build rich learning environments.

You can be part of creating and strengthening these relationships by getting involved in GBJCL tutoring services or library projects. Please email Rebecca Shimshak, Director of GBJCL, to find out more information.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

“How Could it have happened? When will it stop?”

Each year on the Sunday between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world visit the graves of their parents to honor their memories. For many Holocaust survivors and their families, there are no graves to visit. Instead, JCRC and our partners host a Yizkor Service for our community’s local survivors and their families, a program that includes survivor testimony.

When I heard the below testimony from child survivor Frieda Grayzel, I knew that her story of survival needed to be heard by a much broader audience – and that her impassioned pleas for action on behalf of today’s “undesirables” were critical to promote. It is my privilege to share it, with the permission of this remarkable woman.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Greetings, dear fellow survivors, dear families and friends.

Shalom. 

My name is Frieda Grayzel, and I was born in Tomaszow, Poland in 1934.

I stand before you, a child survivor, at this very solemn Yizkor Service for the murdered 6 million of our families, friends, teachers, and unborn generations of fellow Jews whom we continue to mourn.

I come from Central Poland, from a large, close family long settled there. I was the cherished, beloved, cute little girl in a family of mostly boisterous boy cousins. My hair curled like Shirley Temple’s, my dresses lovingly made by my mother, and my elegant coats by my father, a tailor trained in Poland and Paris.

May 1939 - My fifth birthday party. Attended by aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends singing good wishes to me. Among my many gifts was a large red ball with big white dots and a carrying net, popular in Europe then, and a picture book of classical Greek and Roman mythology.

September 1, 1939 - Germany invades Poland. We flee to relatives in Warsaw. My sister Dorka is born on September 7th amidst exploding bombs. We are bombed day and night, trapped without food, running water, or electricity, spending many hours in damp, dark cellars turned into bomb shelters. Warsaw resists the Germans for 27 days.

October 1939 - We return home. New laws in quick succession quickly strip our civil and human rights, enforced by random shootings, humiliations, and brutality. 

Spring 1940 - We are forced to move into a walled ghetto in the worst part of town, many families crammed into each apartment. The ghetto population grows to 15,000 as the surrounding countryside is cleared of Jews. Hunger, cold, no electricity, no heat. Conditions worsen daily. Some lucky people get above starvation rations when they are employed in workshops making goods needed by the German Reich - tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. My father becomes one of them.  

All of our valuables are confiscated, many people shot for trying to hide their jewelry, furs, money, household silver. The lies accumulate: the “Red Cross action”, the “Palestine action”, and on... working on peoples’ hopes that they can escape if only they prove that they have relatives elsewhere.  They are sent to their deaths. 

October 30 and November 2, 1942: The Aussiedlung ‘evacuation’: Aussiedlung: 95% of the ghetto told they will be sent to labor camps. A new lie calculated to minimize resistance. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends are all sent to Treblinka, the extermination camp, and murdered. The rest of us who have a close family member working in a workshop remain in the ghetto and are put to work emptying the apartments of those sent to Treblinka. In a large warehouse, we sort and clean all the possessions to be sent to Germany. My mother and I work sorting through the bed linens and bundling them. 

April 1943 – We are crammed into cattle cars, standing room only. Interminable trip, no air, no water, a cooking pot for a toilet. We arrive at Blizyn labor camp which also allows random killings and beatings for the smallest infraction. Separate camps for men and women, barracks with one board thick walls. 

November 1943 - My little sister Dorka, four years old, is ripped from my mother’s arms. My mother fights to go with her and is savagely beaten. All the children are sent to a nearby forest and shot.

December 1943 - My father and uncle are arrested, stripped of their shoes and kept in a wire enclosure on snowy, frozen ground. My mother scours the camp, manages to get a pair of wooden clogs and throws them over the wire fence to my father. She is beaten savagely with a board from a wooden fence, her ribs broken. That winter, a typhus epidemic sweeps through the camp and almost everyone comes down with raging fevers and hallucinations, no medical care. The “hospital” barrack is so full that I lie on the floor in the hallway. I survive. Soon I come down with malnutrition sores all over. 

July 1944 - We are crammed into cattle cars, an even longer journey. Blinded by light as the doors are slid loudly open, we are pushed, yells of ‘schnell, schnell, faster, faster’- to jump onto the platform many feet below the cattle car floor, surrounded by wildly barking dogs. We have arrived in Auschwitz- Birkenau. Men and women separate, we are told to strip. Many of us have our heads shaved roughly. We get through the showers, alive - water this time. We go through long lines under harsh flood lights to be tattooed with numbers - no more names. In Birkenau, camp B2B, overcrowded triple tier wooden board bunks, starvation rations. I am terrified as my mother risks her life over and over to procure us a bit of extra food. Hangings, shootings, and horrible punishments are all around us. Suicides by electric wire fences. We become used to the stench of the crematorium smoke. 

October 1944 - Our camp is herded to the FKL women’s camp in Auschwitz. We go through a selection by the infamous, white gloved Dr. Mengele. I am sent to the left, my mother refuses to go to the right- to the right go young women capable of work. She is beaten again, but then allowed to join me. As is my cousin Rena and her mother Hinda. Our little group – children and some older women, stand for hours in front of an iron and wood door - the gas chamber. As darkness falls, we are told to dress and walked to a fenced-in brick barrack, holding place for the gas chamber and ovens. We learned later that a small group of women prisoners, over a long period of time, had smuggled in tiny amounts of explosives from a munitions factory and exploded the crematorium– The Sonderkommando Revolt.

An SS woman approaches my mother the next day. She asks if my mother wants to save me and Rena.  Our mothers consult and say yes - they know what our fate will otherwise be. We are taken to the Twins barrack, enclosed by a wire fence. We were close in age. Dr. Mengele performs horrible, heartless experiments on twins. He himself was a twin. Daily some are taken away and returned – or sometimes not – in pain, with bandages, but they never talk. 

The winter of 1944 closed in, days darkened; the twins’ barracks is transferred to the “gypsy camp” after its occupants were gassed and cremated. After a while my mother found me and instructed me on what symptoms to complain of so I would be sent to a hospital barrack. Somehow they managed to get me and Rena transferred. Evacuations, the death marches, towards the West started. Rena and I were too weak to walk, so the four of us hid under the planks of an empty barrack, on the frozen ground.  When the Germans came through to look for any strays, they did not find us.  

January 27, 1945 - The Russian liberating soldiers arrived. January 27th became my second birthday, my re-birth-day.  

July 1945 - My father and uncle Nathan return from six concentration camps after hitchhiking from camp Ebensee in Austria. Rena’s eight-year-old brother Romek was killed in Auschwitz, her father shot a few days before liberation.  We were alive:  we were homeless and stateless. We ended up in Displaced Persons camps in West Germany. After four years of waiting our visas’ turn came and we arrive in the United States in 1949. Our readjustments begin again.

So – how could all this have happened?  Six million of our people and so many others tortured and murdered, one-and-a half million children murdered? 

How could it have happened? It tears my heart to remember, to talk about it – how could it have happened?

Is it when leaders and governments nurture lies and propaganda designed to denigrate and dehumanize some peoples? Is it when it calls people undesirables, as we were, when all borders were closed to us? Is it when people seeking asylum from dire conditions are called murderers and rapists? When it uses children’s separation from their parents heartlessly, as a means to control the borders? Do they not realize or care that the consequences of these actions never go away? For they never go away. 

I will never forget my four-year-old sister Dorka ripped from my mother’s arms, sent to her death in some nearby forest.  The echoes of the 1930‘s in our current situation here are too frightful...

Most of us, survivors, have built good and successful lives and families. We needed both strength and chance to survive. But we live with our experiences always, and so do the families we created. It is inevitable. 

So when will it stop? Will good people with open hearts be strong enough to stop it?  The deceptions, the lies, the heartless policies, the propaganda?  Let us hope so.

On Being Proximate and Not Being Paralyzed

The following is an excerpt from my remarks last Thursday at JCRC Celebrates…

At JCRC we like to speak of big, noble values like “our national purpose rebuilding the homeland of the Jewish people” or “defending the norms of Western democracy,” or “tikkun olam.” And right now, it can be too easy to become paralyzed by big ideas when facing the seemingly overwhelming nature of the challenges in our world and in our country.

But rather than do nothing, we look to Jewish tradition to provide us not only with a mandate for big noble ideas like the urgency of taking care of our own and of others, but also with practical wisdom about how to set about achieving this seemingly impossible task – and maybe more important – a strategy for warding off the paralysis of despair.

The Torah offers a concept (elaborated on by the Rabbis) of a circle of responsibility, where our greatest obligations are to those closest to us. This hierarchy reflects our most human impulses – to prioritize those with whom we are most proximate; our families and those whom we love. But the Torah also tells us that our obligations do not stop there. The circle of responsibility includes our neighbors, our cities and towns, and ultimately expands to encompass all of humanity.

If our circle begins with our own Jewish community, it expands to include all those who share our great Commonwealth. Through our relationships with those to whom we are proximate, those we draw near, we learn of action we can take right here and right now, that has impact on the lives of those we’ve grown close to.

So, rather than be paralyzed by the reality of 12,800 migrant children in federal detention right now, we at JCRC have organized 18 synagogues in 4 Sanctuary networks supporting a variety of families. With our Christian partners, we’ve mobilized 600 volunteers to support 160 people in detention, provided accompaniment at 170 court hearings, and – raised over $100,000 to bond out 32 people being held in federal detention who are awaiting hearings – all right here in Massachusetts.

Rather than be paralyzed by a sense of despair over the prospect of a two-state solution 25 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, we at JCRC have started Boston Partners for Peace. In partnership with CJP, we’re changing the conversation in Boston about coexistence. Through connection to Israeli and Palestinian success stories, we’re offering hope as an alternative to despair and inviting our community to work for the future in a proactive and positive way here in Boston.

Rather than by paralyzed by global hostility to Israel, we at JCRC mobilized a broad network of our member agencies, our allies, and our community in Cambridge this spring to defeat an effort to make the boycott Israel movement into city policy. We made visible the unseen community of support in that city. And then, in the state’s new Economic Development Bill, we worked with our friends on Beacon Hill to guarantee $250,000 for the facilitation and support of the Massachusetts-Israel Economic Connection to pursue economic collaboration between Israel and the Commonwealth.

Rather than be paralyzed by rising anti-Semitism and concerns about Jewish security, we worked with a network of Jewish agencies to advocate successfully for Governor Baker to reconstitute the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force. Then we worked with our partners in the legislature to establish a nonprofit security grant pilot last year, which was doubled to $150,000. Real money for institutions in our community and other communities at risk.

And we do work every day through Service – work that cultivates our proximity with others and nurtures the connections and shared community that reflect our Jewish values: mobilizing more than 1,200 volunteers each year in ongoing and one-day opportunities. Through 68 partners in the Jewish community and 134 service sites across the region, including 25 public schools, we’re doing the work of being proximate with our neighbors.

As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the “Rav” & founder of Brookline’s Maimonides School taught us:

During the Yom Kippur services, our prayerful concerns are almost exclusively with our own people…We are often accused of being parochially clannish. This may be true, for otherwise we would have succumbed long ago, considering our historical vulnerability. But this self-involvement is not hermetically exclusionary. The universal emphasis is prominent in all of our prayers, in Scripture, the Talmud and the Midrash;

It is (therefore) characteristic of the universal embrace of our faith that as the shadows of dusk descend on Yom Kippur day, after almost 24 hours of prayer for Israel, the Jew is alerted through the book of Jonah, prior to the closing of ‘the heavenly gates’ (Ne’ilah) that all humanity is God’s children. We need to restate the universal dimension of our faith.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

In 18 days, your vote has an impact on our criminal justice system

The Massachusetts legislative session just ended, with mixed results on issues dear to our community. We at JCRC were pleased with many aspects of the budget and the economic development bill, but we (and our partners in the immigration advocacy community) were sorely disappointed at the failure to adopt basic protections for immigrants being targeted in our community. And yet, on another issue of deep concern to our community, criminal justice reform, we celebrated the passage of the most significant and far-reaching state legislation in years. With our partners at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and the ACLU, we were greatly encouraged to see many of our own priorities (as determined by the JCRC Council – our representative body on behalf of our 43 member organizations) enshrined into law. And as with all other legislative victories, we knew that monitoring implementation of the new law would be critical in achieving justice that has been long delayed for so many in our community.

The ability of this new law to deliver a just criminal justice system hinges on a person whose influence is not universally understood: the District Attorney. And now, for the first time in recent memory, six of our eleven Massachusetts DA elections are contested and potentially decisive primary elections, scheduled for September 4th: only 18 days away.

So, those of us who have worked so hard for criminal justice reform are encouraging our community to become educated on this critical role, and to choose our candidates wisely.

Despite what we tend to believe about the determinative power of judges in our criminal legal system, a recent Boston Globe op-ed said that in fact:

“Prosecutors wield near absolute power. They determine which and how many criminal charges to file, with a grand jury typically rubber stamping the charges. Prosecutors then decide whether to offer a plea bargain and dictate its conditions. Given that more than 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved through pleas rather than trials, these choices by prosecutors effectively determine the outcome of the vast of majority criminal cases, even if judges nominally oversee the entry of the plea."

That amount of power in any one person’s hand should draw our attention, especially because we live in the shadow of decades of “tough-on-crime” laws that have prioritized mass incarceration over rehabilitation. Now more than ever, we need our DAs to be our partners in ensuring that our criminal justice system is truly just.

Here are some steps you can take to be a fully informed voter on this vital issue:

  • Review the key issues for the candidates running in your county (and perhaps remind yourself what county you vote in – for example: Boston is Suffolk; Cambridge, Lexington, and Newton are Middlesex; Brookline is Norfolk – find your county here). Check out the ACLU voters guides for Suffolk County, Middlesex County, and the rest here. JCRC Councilmember Kathy Weinman has collected all of the candidates’ websites in a great blog post.
  • See the candidates in person. If you belong to a congregation that’s a member of GBIO, come to the Suffolk and Middlesex candidate forum that they’re hosting on August 23rd at the Boston Teachers' Union in Dorchester (reach out to our organizer Ben Poor for more information).
  • Learn more about what a DA does. You can attend the CourtWatch training on August 21st at Temple Israel in Boston, hosted by members of various congregations advocating for Criminal Justice Reform (anyone is welcome). ​​Court watching is a way to hold DAs accountable by attending court hearings and documenting what happens. You don't need any previous experience to come to the training, only a desire to hold judges and prosecutors accountable for fairness and equity.

As I head into the voting booth on September 4th, I’ll be thinking about the public servants who are charged with implementing the laws we work so hard to pass, and about the importance of having the fairest DAs – who will ensure public safety while also advancing a system that is equitable and just.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

My Grandpa Joe was 4 when he crossed the border

As I arrived in Texas this week with a CJP mission, my thoughts went back nearly a century. One hundred years ago next April, my grandfather arrived in El Paso, Texas as a refugee from Mexico.

Jose Casillas Sandoval was four years old when he crossed the Rio Grande with his parents and his older siblings, fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution. I imagine what he would have endured if he had been separated from his parents at the border, if they had been turned back - to violence and bloodshed - by a nation with a hardened heart.

The Texas my Grandpa Joe grew up in wasn’t always an easy place to be a Mexican-American; children like him attended separate, segregated, Mexican-only schools. But he became a citizen and a patriot. With the help of a union apprenticeship, he finished high school and learned the skills he needed to operate and repair heavy machinery in the California steel mills. He served in World War II and he built upon the knowledge of electronics that he acquired in the Navy. With a good job at a good wage, he had a ladder to the middle class. He would become a respected leader in his church and community.

We came to San Antonio this week to learn about and to volunteer with the groups supported by CJP’s Fund to Aid Children and End Separation (FACES). In the wake of the recent family separation crisis at our southern border, Boston’s Jewish community has once again responded by putting our values into action; to reunify families and support migrants during trying times.

We learned about the work of The Young Center, CJP’s largest grantee in this fund, which is trying to change our immigration system so that children are recognized as such and treated in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are working tirelessly around the nation to reunify families, including in some of the hardest cases where parents have already been deported.

We provided service at the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), an all-volunteer partnership that welcomes refugees and asylum seekers, particularly women and children. We packed backpacks with basic supplies to be distributed to migrant children.

We saw with our own eyes how some of these families are dumped at the bus station in San Antonio by ICE after being released from detention - they’ve been given a chance to wait for a review of their asylum petition that can take weeks or years, but are left to fend for themselves with little or no resources. Terrified, traumatized, they need and receive immediate intervention and accompaniment from IWC until they can reach the next step in their journey to safety.

Both these organizations existed and have been working in the trenches long before the crisis of recent months. The brokenness of our immigration system goes back decades. The fears and the horrors that immigrant families face are not confined to the border.

Parents have been ripped away from their children by ICE here in Massachusetts too. People fleeing persecution from their home countries, seeking asylum, arrive at our borders and are shipped to different detention centers around the country, including jails here, in our city.

JCRC is doing what we can to offer support as these families resiliently fight to stay together. We are part of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN, pronounced ‘beyond’), a growing effort amongst faith organizations and communities. We are finding pro bono attorneys to support people facing deportation who would not otherwise have legal representation, along with more than 60% of detained immigrants nationally. We are raising money to bond people out of detention, so they can be with their families while their cases proceed. We are organizing synagogues participating in three sanctuary networks - in Newton, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge - to help families avoid separation during this crisis.

This moment calls on us to do our work differently. It calls on us to be proximate to one another in ways we may have never been before - we live together; we pick each other up after release from detention; we have meals together; we are in close contact with each other’s families. Through it all, we are building a deeper community founded upon dignity and doing more than we have before.

I keep a picture of my Grandpa Joe on my desk, sitting in that segregated classroom. It reminds me of his story. It keeps me proximate to this part of my family’s immigrant experience and to a story of our nation’s past. It is a picture of the opportunity and of some of the hurdles we have offered to those arriving here fleeing violence and persecution. It is a picture of where we’ve come from and who we might become again.

Synagogues and others in Boston’s Jewish community understand this journey and are determined to place the values of welcoming and compassion back at the center of our society. We are choosing to be proximate with our new neighbors. And on Wednesday, August 15th, I hope that you will join us at 7pm at Temple Emanuel in Newton to learn more about this work and how you can support people in our community right here in Massachusetts as they face the horrors of family separation and detention.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Championing our community’s values in the 2019 MA Budget

A state budget is a financial document. But at its essence, it’s statement of values and an affirmation of what a government stands for. At JCRC, we’re keenly aware that for many in our Commonwealth, budget decisions are not abstractions, nor is the process a game of wins and losses. These debates have profound implications for the lives of real people. The determinations of lawmakers can make the difference between a stable job or economic despair, between staying in your home or being institutionalized, between living in safety or hiding in fear.

In partnership with our communal agencies, JCRC champions our community’s values by advocating for funding of three overarching priority areas: creating pathways to economic opportunity, supporting individuals and families in their homes, and ensuring safety for our most vulnerable.

Yesterday, Governor Baker signed the budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Below is a glimpse into our achievements, and the very tangible ways in which the services funded will improve lives.

Creating Pathways to Economic Opportunity
  • More than ever, a college degree is a foundational element to get a foothold in today’s evolving economy and for some, this pathway is simply unattainable. The Bridges to College budget line-item, modeled after the JVS program, helps students surmount obstacles and enter directly into credit bearing classes. This year, for the first time, we delivered additional dollars directly to JVS to meet the increased demand.
  • People in our community face multiple barriers to employment, and we’ve fought consistently for those who’ve been left behind.

We secured $150,000 for the Transitions to Work line-item, modeled after the innovative program developed by the Ruderman Foundation, JVS, and CJP to help adults with disabilities enter the workforce; $1,000,0000 to train immigrants and refugees who have come to Massachusetts to create their own futures;

and $1,000,000 to the Secure Jobs Initiative, (a $350,000 increase), envisioned by the Fireman Family to help individuals facing homelessness find stable jobs and supports to stay in their homes.

"I came to Boston from El Salvador speaking no English. I knew that I needed college to get a good job, but I did not even know where to begin. At JVS, I learned English, how to apply to college and financial aid, and as a result, I am the first person from my family to graduate college.” – Dimas, Jewish Vocational Services client

Supporting Individuals and Families in their Homes

“Having a baby as a single parent is hard enough as it is. Adding a layer of substance use is an added stress, something most other parents don’t have. The team at JF&CS have stood with me and my baby when it seemed like everyone else wanted to give up on us.” – Kelly, Jewish Family and Children's Services Client

  • At JF&CS, Fragile Beginnings and Project NESST were created to offer vital services to support the parents and caregivers of vulnerable infants who have had to stay in the NICU, including premature and substance-exposed babies. We helped secure $400,000 to provide services to these families as they transition home, and throughout their child’s developmental years.
  • We sustained funding of $642,000 for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) line-item, a model which enables many seniors to stay in their homes and communities by bringing valuable programs and services to them. For the last decade, we have worked with JFS Metrowest, JF&CS, and JFS of Western Mass to expand this model of healthy aging in place.

“JFS works so hard to get outside speakers and entertainment to come to us and I am so thankful. They brought an exercise instructor to teach weekly aerobics classes and my doctors are so thrilled that I am getting weekly exercise at my apartment. The lunch group and trivia have been very helpful too. After my fall this winter, I feel that I have lost some of my memory and the trivia really makes me think."
Barbara, JFS Client

Ensuring Safety for our Most Vulnerable

  • In past years, this priority area focused exclusively on populations traditionally seen as vulnerable, including fragile seniors and those living on the economic margins. But with emerging threats to the Jewish community and other minorities, we’ve been called to respond to a new and disturbing vulnerability of our times.

"There's been a heightened sense of vulnerability and a documented increase in threats and hate crimes against Jewish community centers, African-American churches, and mosques, and it is very important that we provide these types of organizations, especially those on a shoestring budget, the means to put meaningful protections in place" – State Senator Eric Lesser

In response to these threats against JCCs and day schools, JCRC led efforts to create a pilot program to provide security support to communities excluded from a similar federal program. This year, the state doubled the grant to $150,000 and ensured that all regions of the Commonwealth have access to these vital grants.

While we took many steps forward as a Commonwealth during the FY19 budget process, we also experienced great disappointment. One of the most hotly discussed policy items considered during the budget debate was a compromise containing elements of the Safe Communities Act, to promote the safety and civil rights of our immigrant neighbors. These provisions, included in the Senate budget but absent in the final product, reflected long-standing constitutional protections, including an end to unlawful racial and ethnic profiling, the acknowledgment of the right to counsel in civil proceedings, and a ban on registries based on religion. The failure to act will result in continued persecution and danger for immigrants (and those perceived to be) and the trampling of constitutional rights which extend to all persons in the United States.

As the legislative session comes to an end on July 31st, we are grateful to our many partners in the House and Senate who worked with us to set these priorities, and we remain committed to work with our partners in advocacy and government to enshrine policies that reflect the best in our shared humanity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

Israeli & Palestinian Women Leading the Charge for Peace

I spent last week in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah as a facilitator for Encounter, following my experience as a participant last year. This time, my role was to support other American Jewish leaders who were there to listen and learn from Palestinians about their lives and experiences. I also had the opportunity to spend a few days touring in Jerusalem, with the ground partners we work with on our civic leader study tours, exploring new (to us) ways to engage.

Three “moments” that I would not have imagined possible only a few years ago have stuck with me as I returned home. They feature extraordinary women representing vastly different communities, but pursuing common goals with relentless determination and unimaginable courage.

With JCRC’s ground partners on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, I learn about current efforts by Palestinian Jerusalemite women (the vast majority of whom are not citizens of Israel) to organize and agitate for basic municipal services. Since they refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty, this community has been engaging in a 50-year-long boycott of municipal elections. One result has been their lack of representation at City Hall, leading to, among other things, chronic problems with services like street-light repair and garbage pickup. For decades, these issues were taken up by the clan leaders, the men in their communities – to little effect. But in recent years, the women have taken matters into their own hands, organizing, and even building coalitions with Orthodox and secular women in Jewish communities of the city. Their efforts are bearing fruit, including increases in budgets for services that are improving the quality of life  in their communities. Women, we are told, are getting the job done.

In Geula, a Haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem – a place I knew well when I was a black-hat yeshiva student living in that city in the 1980’s – a Hasidic woman leads us on a professional walking tour. She tells us about her own journey from 18-year-old married mother to a later-in-life college degree and profession. She engages us in an open and profoundly candid conversation – one I would never have imagined having with a woman from this community even 10 years ago – about social change and social issues in her community; women’s health education including birth control, LGBT issues, debates over higher education, etc. My friend asks her if she will have any issues walking on the streets with obviously outsider men (let alone any man other than her husband). “Things are changing. My neighbors understand the importance of what I am doing. This corner is fine,” she replies.

Then in Bethlehem, now having joined the Encounter group, I meet a Muslim woman who is involved in Women Wage Peace – a group of Israeli and Palestinian women working through non-violent means to build grassroots pressure on the political leadership in support of peace. This woman (names are protected because not all the people I met were on the record) tells us about her own journey and her determined efforts to teach her neighbors and youth in her community to see The Other – the Israeli, the Jew – as fully human, and to appreciate the feelings they have, that are common to us all.

She has brought her teenage son with her to this meeting with American Jewish leaders. He sits quietly next to her. At one point, as she tells her story, she talks about the first intifada in the 1980’s, when she was in college and I was a post-high school yeshiva student just down the road in Jerusalem. She did what all her classmates did: threw stones at the Jews. Jews like me, a mile away, I think to myself. And, as she tells this story, she reaches out and gently places her left hand on her son’s knee; only for a moment, while talking about her own violent past. And she doesn’t touch him again for the hour we are together.

I feel the message in that moment and in this boy’s presence in the room: She’s telling this story as a mistake she prays he does not repeat. She’s brought him here to see that her choice, to pursue non-violence as a practice, is a better one, and one that opens up doors of access to her, that brings her voice and vision before us visitors. It is a choice that needs validation and support. And over our time in Palestinian areas, we hear other activists who practice non-violence tell us that they need “wins.” Victories to show their neighbors that their approach works, that violence is not the path to a better future.

I come away appreciating that change is possible and continuing to happen. But that change never happens on its own. It takes bold vision and profound courage. And it needs our support; to amplify the visibility of activists, to celebrate and give strength to those pursuing non-violent social change. I’m proud that Women Wage Peace is one of the initial participants in the Boston Partners for Peace, our effort to amplify and connect with changemakers on the ground who are bridging the Israeli and Palestinian communities and paving the way to a better future.

We can have an impact in supporting the future of this place that continues to evolve before our eyes – only if we take the time to listen, to learn, to be inspired. But we must also act now, for we know that this possibility can be fleeting, and nothing is guaranteed to last forever. The question I ask myself is: What will these neighborhoods and communities will look like in another ten years, and how can our community be a part of cementing their progress long into the future?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

A Shabbat To Protest

With the increasing frequency of Saturday rallies and gatherings responding to current events I’ve been thinking a bit of late about JCRC’s “Shabbat policy.” Though it’s rarely discussed, our practice is not to sponsor or participate as JCRC in programs – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. While we recognize and affirm that Jews have a wide range of Shabbat observances (including none at all), as a broad umbrella of our community, we believe we have a responsibility not to hold programming that would exclude participation from any part of our community. So while many, if not most of us, might attend a certain rally on Shabbat, some would not, and we as an organization do not.

This same principle guides our practice of “strict” kashrut for all our events – we never want a member of our community to be excluded in our space because of their observance practice.

As a community relations organization, this comes up with some regularity in our interfaith work, with Saturday often being the most convenient day for our partners to do an event. We’re just candid about the fact that an event on our Shabbat would exclude parts of our community. At times, that means that we miss out on certain things. The first anniversary of the Marathon Bombing fell on a holy day of Passover; we had no expectation that the city would commemorate it on any day other than the actual day. We communicated our regret over Jewish communal absence, which was recognized and honored.

In many cases, when there is an urgent need to stand with other communities as one united collective, we find another way. One example was last summer, in the days after Charlottesville. We knew that a massive mobilization was planned for Boston the following Saturday, in response to an anticipated local far-right rally. It wasn’t going to be moved – that was the day these folks had a permit. But many, including Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, and our closest partners in the Christian and Muslim communities, were asking for some way we could all stand together as faith communities. Our response – under the umbrella of The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization – was a Friday evening program at Temple Israel in Boston. It was deliberately held early enough so that those who didn’t drive on Shabbat could reasonably get home to nearby suburbs; and Muslims too could get to Friday evening prayer before sundown. This powerful public gathering was our way of providing an expression for our solidarity, while holding true to principles we all shared about inclusion.

But with all the rallies and protests this past 18 months, this “organize a new event” approach just isn’t feasible every single time that there is a new reason to mobilize. And so we look to another aspect of our Shabbat policy, our desire to honor and lift up the Shabbat practices of the diverse individual parts of our community.

While we never sponsor or endorse Saturday rallies, we want to lift up and honor the efforts of those of our members who do. And we want to make known that there are options for members of the Jewish community who want to participate in this public activity as Jews. Because another guiding principle of ours is that it isn’t all about JCRC. We’re a network – 43 organizations, a dozen community partners, some 130 synagogues. Showing up in public space is not about any single organization – including JCRC. It’s about our entire community, in all of our diversity, participating in our democracy in ways that each of us feels called to do, and in concert with our Jewish values and practice.

So this Saturday - when so many of us are outraged over family separation and travel bans and are horrified by our government’s  dehumanization of asylum seekers and refugees –as rallies are being organized across the country, JCRC is not sponsoring any event, including this one at Boston City Hall that is being co-hosted by our close and valued partner, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

But we want you to know that many of our members are. So, if you feel compelled to be there, if you feel that this is what this Shabbat requires of you, you’ll see some of our members, including the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Workmen’s Circle. You might also consider joining Temple Israel Boston for Shabbat service, Torah study and the rally, or Congregation Dorshei Tzedek for a brief Shabbat service at the Make Way for Ducklings Sculpture, on Boston Common, before walking to City Hall Plaza. And while my personal practice of Shabbat means I won’t be there, you will probably see some of the JCRC team on the Common.

Whatever your practice entails, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.

p.s. I’m headed to Israel next week and will be taking the next two weeks off from this blog. I look forward to sharing some reflections from my trip when I return.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy