Our spring ritual at JCRC is to elect our new Board and Community Representatives – as we did at our annual meeting this past Wednesday – and to reflect on the past program year; the challenges we faced and the accomplishments we achieved. What a year this one has been. Though I hesitate to use words that are now included in every sentence of our public discourse, this past year has been one of unprecedented challenges. We’ve seen a continued rise in antisemitic violence in this country, a global pandemic, economic catastrophe, the exposure of the country’s enduring racism, and a national uproar about police violence. Israel went through three elections. Challenges to our own democratic processes and norms here in the US continue to erode the America we cherish.
At JCRC, we draw strength to persevere in the face of these challenges, from our bonds that tie us to each other within our community and to our friends, allies, and partners in Boston’s civic public space.
We rose to face the challenge of antisemitism and to address concerns about Jewish communal security. This year, in partnership with the Governor and the legislative leadership, we secured an allocation of $1.5 million for non-profit security grants available to house of worship, community centers, and other vulnerable nonprofit institutions. The state also allocated $400,000 for a pilot program providing anti-bias training and resources to communities.
After the attacks in Jersey City and Monsey, prominent Christian leaders in Boston – our longstanding, trusted friends and partners – organized over 1,000 Christian leaders from across Massachusetts to sign a letter decrying antisemitism. And this April, over 300 people joined our Virtual Community Yom HaShoah Remembrance & Reflection program, honoring our local survivors and paying tribute to the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, with a message of solidarity from Governor Baker.
As the threats against our immigrant neighbors increase and the paths toward relief narrow, our Jewish community continues to step up. During the pandemic, JCRC and our partners in the Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN) are managing to keep our bond fund open while many others around the country have already closed. And as conditions in jails continue to worsen, our network continues to be attentive to the urgent needs of undocumented immigrants during this crisis.
As divisions over how best to connect with and support Israel became even more pronounced, JCRC’s Boston Partners for Peace initiative launched our initial list of Community Endorsers. This group of over 60 community leaders – elected officials, Christian clergy, rabbis and others – is on record with their public support of our approach.
As a Jewish community dedicated to living our values in the broader civic space, community service affirms our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors. For our fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service in January, we had a total of 1,108 volunteers across 13 community organizations throughout Greater Boston, tripling our numbers from the previous year.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve brought Jewish leadership to the table where critical decisions are being made about the shutdown and the re-opening. We’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials at the state and local level about myriad issues ranging from expediting the permitting process for a kosher food pantry, to the interests of Houses of Worship in the re-opening process, and advocating for the safety and protection of people who are incarcerated and at greater risk during the pandemic.
Finally, as the persistent racism that afflicts our nation erupts in the form of daily violence, our organized Jewish community is drawing on our deep partnership and relationship with leaders in the Black community. With the guidance of these friends - clergy members, elected officials, and other civic leaders - we are pursuing an action agenda to realize our commitment to criminal justice reform and the urgent work of advancing justice in our country.
Some of the challenges we now confront were not part of our collective imagination one year ago. Others are enduring and will persist long beyond this season. Still, whatever comes, we will face it with resilience and strength forged by the relationships we’ve been creating and weaving for decades. Our success in advancing our values and interests as an organized Jewish community is only possible because of the partnerships we’ve built, the alliances we’ve forged, and the relationships that we honor.
Particular challenges come and go, as do individual leaders, but our deepest values and most trusted relationships continue to inspire and sustain us. They will stand the test of time.