Author: Jeremy Burton

What’s in my Beach Bag

With a few more weeks left to enjoy summer, and me heading out today for two weeks of vacation, now seems like a good moment to share some of what I’ve been reading this summer.

I love a good travelogue and there are two this year that I have particularly appreciated:

unnamed
unnamed

South to America by Imani Perry

A Black woman from Alabama returns home to encounter the South in all its diversity. It is a brilliant examination of 400 years of history and culture below the Mason-Dixon line that provides deep insight into the American nature. Bonus: There’s some story telling about the Jews of the South, and in particular of New Orleans, that is fascinating and nuanced.

Twelve Tribes by Ethan Michaeli

In this portrait of Israel, somewhat inspired by President Rivlin’s now famous “four tribes” speech, an Israeli-American spends four years traveling around the country, immersing himself in the people, the cultures, and the food. I found myself recognizing fondly many of the places and voices as Michaeli paints a vivid portrait of a diverse country. Reading it almost felt like I was on one of our study tours.

Two writers I enjoy have new works out this season:

unnamed

Koshersoul by Michael Twitty

The James Beard Award winning chef follows up his first cookbook come memoir, The Cooking Gene, with this new volume exploring the intersection of his Jewish and African heritages, and the food he creates based on these identities and cultures. It’s a beautiful, touching, and revealing work.

unnamed

The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón

Named as America’s poet laureate earlier this year, her most recent volume is a stunning collection. I’m reading it very slowly because I’m just cherishing the sounds and images of every line, exploring the humanity, loss, interconnectedness and relationships.

I love history, and the reexamination thereof, and there are two new works that I can’t stop talking about:

unnamed

The Arc of a Covenant by Walter Russell Mead

This fantastic volume flips the table on decades of conventional wisdom about the U.S.-Israel relationship. It centers the story of American Christians, going back to the 19th century, within the context of Jewish homecoming; and demonstrates how the success of the modern state of Israel has impacted Christianity in America.

unnamed

The Pope at War, by David I. Kertzer

In 2020, the Vatican unsealed many of Pius XII’s papers, including voluminous documents covering the Pope’s interactions with Nazi Germany. This is the first of what will no doubt be many works examining these archives detailing the Pope’s thoughts and actions as Europe was engulfed in war and genocide.

Finally, a dive into two collections of new classics:

unnamed

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Novels, Stories & Poems, Library of America

As a collector (and a patron) of the Library, I enjoy discovering an author I haven’t been previously introduced to. This volume brings a collection of late 19th century Gothic tales, speculative fiction, and other writings for a contemporary audience.

unnamed

Captain America, Penguin Classics/Marvel Collection

Because I’m me, I was thrilled when these two publishers teamed up to canonize early comics that are now cultural classics. There are three volumes out this year, covering foundational stories from Spider-Man and the Black Panther, but I’m starting with the OG anti-Nazi, Captain America (who punches Hitler on his very first cover, back in 1941, included below).

For more on my interest in the early Jewish comic book artists who poured their identity into their characters, check out this conversation I had this last Spring with Mark Sokoll at the JCC of Greater Boston. Timestamp 2:00-4:25.

That’s some of what I’m reading this summer. I’d love to know what you are reading, and maybe I’ll add it to my fall pile.

Till I return from vacation I wish you a Happy Labor Day, and a Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

unnamed

Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

As soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, we knew that, as a Jewish community here in Boston, we needed to act in support of the Ukrainian people. Some aspects of that response were obvious and immediate – such as the huge philanthropic mobilization by CJP in support of the community in Dnipro that we have so much history with. And, for our member organization Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, it was a massive mobilization of urgently needed supplies. For JCRC, it was providing immediate leadership to successfully advocate for Massachusetts to divest state funds from Russian assets.

But despite our many years of experience mobilizing our community in support of immigrants and refugees arriving here, due to the lack of a uniform resettlement structure for Ukrainians, our mobilization for them was not as immediate. No family’s situation or requests for support have been the same. And while, now, hundreds have arrived here, the vast majority of the refugees remain in Europe. But for those who are here, many are requesting help with finding housing, accessing funds, getting connected to local resources and in some cases, a more comprehensive communal sponsorship. And our phenomenal community is stepping up to the moment, as we have done time and time again, steeped in relationships and connection.

Several weeks back, our Director of Synagogue Organizing, Rachie Lewis, received a call from an Afghan woman who had been serving as a translator for one of the community teams supporting a recently resettled Afghan family. She was working at a hotel in the area and had just checked in a recently arrived Ukrainian mom and her two kids who had nowhere else to go.

A few weeks after that, we heard from our partner, JFS of MetroWest, about a local Jewish Ukrainian woman who was trying to bring her great grandchildren - currently in limbo in Europe - to Massachusetts.  Last week we were approached about a Ukrainian family that has been in the area for several months hosted by relatives, and who now needed a longer-term place to call home in this continuing uncertain time.

These moments are just snapshots of the needed aid that we and our partners are being called to provide to the growing number of Ukrainians who have arrived in Massachusetts and are in need of local resources. Still others are trying to figure out how to get here and will need comprehensive support to make that hope a reality.

In this evolving moment, JCRC continues to work with our partners, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Catholic Charities and The Shapiro Foundation to leverage the resources we have organized throughout our community and beyond to answer these different and varying calls. Together, we are taking steps to make the best use of our communal infrastructure, as we also try to balance the needs of other immigrant and refugee populations. We are, first and foremost, building support systems on top of the already-formed foundation of 35 congregational support teams well-versed in resettlement through the work of supporting Afghan families and individuals. Those are the leaders we sought out when we got the aforementioned calls.

We know that the interest in this work runs deep; both within the existing teams and beyond them as well. If you are not already, now is the time to get engaged in this work. If you or your synagogue, community, or network, is interested in offering support of some kind, please fill out this survey. We will be calling upon you as this work develops. You can also reach out directly to Rachie Lewis at with specific questions.  

We are a community that knows how to show up and knows how to say yes. We are compelled to action by our long and deep relationship with the Ukrainian people, and also by the ideals we hold for America as a place that must be a refuge for those fleeing harm from around the world. Our ideals connect us to one another and guide us in building networks, enabling us to respond to others in need. This collective community infrastructure is the heart of who we are at JCRC and are proud that you are a part of it. 

We will continue to support Ukrainians and other immigrants and refugees seeking safety here. We invite all of you to be a part of this important work. We are grateful for this incredible community and the opportunity to live our values through this important work. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“The Good Jews”

With the fast of Tisha B’Av (9th day of Av) – a day for mourning the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem - this Sunday, I find myself contemplating troubling trends within our Jewish community. Specifically, the growing toxicity of our communal discourse and our inclination to blame each other for the actions of those outside the Jewish community who mean to do us harm.  

It would be fair to say that this behavior of blame has been going on for centuries. Something we often describe when preparing civic leaders to visit Yad Vashem is how, after the Holocaust, there were those at opposite ideological polls of the Jewish discourse who blamed other Jews for causing the Shoah.  

And though this is not new, it is on my mind of late because I see this behavior increasingly showing up in my inbox. After a white supremacist attacks a Jewish institution, I get notes from some who say that “if only” certain other Jews (not them, of course) did certain things differently, these attacks would not happen. And again, after the Mapping Project and its public clarification of a particular form of left antisemitism, the notes and calls arrived - telling me that if only we Jews did certain things differently, maybe these antisemites wouldn’t come at us.  

I couldn’t help noticing that these “it’s the Jews who are to blame” notes in recent weeks didn’t, themselves, map onto a neat left/right narrative. It wasn’t only members of our community with one ideological stance that were blaming other Jews for these troubles. It was diverse members of our community, who each see themselves as “the good Jews” (and maybe even the ‘only’ good Jews), and who see the rest of us as part of the cause of our own troubles. 

Again, this is not new. It comes very naturally to a people that has been oppressed for, quite literally, thousands of years. We ask ourselves why anti-Jewishness is so persistent. And at times it is too easy to offer the incorrect answer that comes with internalizing our oppression: We blame ourselves. We blame other Jews. We blame our institutions and our leaders. We tell ourselves that our troubles are caused by what we do and believe, rather than because of who they (our oppressors) are and what they believe.  

Now please, don’t mistake me as suggesting that we should table our internal disputes, or that we should not engage in critique of each other and our institutions. But it is one thing to debate and argue, lovingly, for different ideas of what it means to live as Jews, and for different aspirational visions for our future as one people. It is quite another thing to openly tear down other members of our community and to question their very legitimacy as Jews. It is one thing to express constructive critique of leaders and to debate and weigh strategies for confronting antisemitism. It is quite another thing when Jews, in claiming the mantle of serving the Jewish people, evoke the same language used by the antisemites, saying that (other) Jews are a ‘threat’ to our community, one that must be dismantled or removed. 

I say all this with the caution that I do not wish to be seen as pointing a finger of j’accuse at one faction or ideology in our community. I offer this perspective rather to explain that from the seat I am privileged to sit in, I see this toxic self-blame showing up in all sorts of ways in our community.  

As we head into Tisha B’Av I am reminded that the rabbis of the Talmud taught that a cause of the destruction of the Temple was the baseless hatred sown between Jews. While this teaching may be familiar to many in our community, maybe now is a good time to tell ourselves that our tendency to blame ourselves, and other Jews, for rising antisemitism is, in fact, misplaced. And still, also, let’s use this fast to forgive ourselves and those among us who – in sowing fear in troubling times like these – also seek to turn us against each other and against our own community. Their tendency to live in fear, and to blame other members of our community, is a natural outcome of the centuries of trauma that they and we carry with us.  

With hope for a future in which we overcome our trauma and heal each other, 

Shabbat Shalom (and wishing an easy fast to those who will be doing so on Sunday),  

Jeremy

The Weavers of Peace

By CEO Jeremy Burton

I arrived home yesterday after spending eleven days traveling with JCRC’s first study tour to Israel in over two years. Our delegation, a dozen local Christian ministers, was chaired by the Reverend Dr. Greg Groover, pastor of the Charles Street A.M.E. Church, and Rabbi Joel Sisenwine of Temple Beth Elohim. The group included Congregationalists, Lutherans, Unitarians, Methodists, Baptists, U.C.C., and non-denominational Christians. 

Before we began our journey, I encouraged participants to listen in our various meetings for what point in time people began their stories. 1917 or 1948 or 1967? The arrival of Saladin or of Abraham? And so on. Because in this place that I care so much about, where you start your story says something about your identity and your analysis.  

Along our journey, in addition to providing experiences uniquely meaningful to Christians, such as baptisms in the Jordan river, we met with people expressing diverse perspectives and narratives. Some of them challenged me deeply. For example, Hannah, who brought us to the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to tell us about the work that she and others at Ir Amim are doing there. But even in her critique of her government, I hear values that resonate – such as her commitment to a two-state solution. She’s fighting, she tells us, as an Israeli, to protect and advance her understanding of Zionism; a term and a hope and a necessary Jewish homeland that resonates for her, despite the flaws she’s seeking to change. 

Across the barriers that exist here, we hear a common thread. Whether it was a Palestinian guide in Bethlehem or a Jewish member of a farming community very near the Gaza border, we hear a critique of ‘solutions’ that, though they may solve the immediate symptom, do not address the underlying problem. Rather, they create more barriers, more obstacles. “It's Tylenol”, this Jewish villager near Gaza tells us. 

Demonization and simplistic answers may make people in the U.S. feel good, but they won’t actually help people on the ground. “We” need to build more mutual interests, not mutual animosity.  “We have to learn”, said this villager who has to explain the red-alert of the rocket alarms to his three-year-old, “how to be good neighbors so that eventually these walls can come down, as all walls do.”  

On our final day we toured the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation - an organization that we are committed to working with through our Boston Partners for Peace (BP4P) initiative. We met with Nadav Tamir, the former Consul General to New England and a dear friend of Boston’s Jewish community. When asked how Shimon Peres still managed to feel young when he was well past ninety, Nadav cites a famous quote from the former President: 

Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death, but they live very different lives... You are as young as your dreams, not as old as your calendar. 

As we concluded our time together in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, I invited our participants to join me in staying connected with this place and its people when we return home – not by looking back to where the story begins, but by looking forward with optimism. 

I invited us to remain inspired by groups and leaders that we met with along the way this week and whom we are committed to amplifying through BP4P. Visionaries like Mohammad Darwashe of Givat Haviva who is working every day to move Israel toward achieving the promise of its declaration of statehood, to ensure the full civic equality of all its citizens. People like Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, two leaders of the Parents’ Circle who are holding each other’s grief and trauma over the loss of daughters to the violence and working together to build a shared future in a shared homeland.   

Women like Hamutal Gouri, a leader in so many feminist spaces including Women Wage Peace, building a grassroots movement with their Palestinian partners at Women of the Sun to support and advance negotiations. And activists living on the West Bank, like Hanan and Noor from Roots/Shorashim/Judur, who are doing the challenging work of bringing Jews and Palestinians in their communities together for a movement of understanding and transformation.  

We end our time together by looking to the future, holding on to and lifting up those who dream for this still-young country and its neighbors.   

We all have a choice. There are those – here and in the U.S. – who want simple solutions to simplistic questions about who to blame and why this conflict endures. Their answers demonize; creating walls both physical and metaphorical without addressing the possibilities on the ground for a better future.  

Or, we can choose to stand with those who want to build relationships and who see the possibilities for these two people. I choose the builders of these bridges, the weavers of peace, the ones who understand that holding each other's humanity is itself a profound act of transformation. I choose hope. 

I hope that you will join with me, JCRC, and Boston Partners for Peace, in making that same choice.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

By the Rivers of Babylon

Tonight, as we start Shabbat, we also arrive at the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar. This fast day (observed on Sunday) commemorates when, after a prolonged siege, Roman legions breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This date begins the “three weeks,” a period of collective Jewish mourning leading to the 9th day of Av. Tisha B’Av commemorates five calamities - among them the destruction of our first Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the destruction of the second Temple following a pitched battle through the streets of the city for three weeks after the breach of the walls in 70 CE, and the crushing of the “Bar Kokhba revolt” against the Romans in 135 CE.  

There are many access points from which to reflect on this history; Jews in every time and place have lifted up the particulars of this period that are meaningful to their own moment. For many, it is meaningful to focus on the Talmudic teaching that the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between the Jews (or by some interpretations, between Jewish leaders) of that time. We may take inspiration from the psalmist, mourning the first Temple “by the rivers of Babylon” and find meaning in those earliest efforts to adapt Jewish identity to a diasporic experience that refused to forget Jerusalem and that yearned for a homeland.  

Over time, this period in our calendar has been connected to the memory of numerous calamities – those that happened precisely on 9 Av, or those that happened more generally in high summer, which has been a historically bad time of year.

The first Crusade began with the slaughter of 10,000 Jews in France in that Av, August 1096.  The Jews were expelled from Spain in the first week of Av, at the end of July 1492. The first World War, and the horror and disruption that built toward the Shoah, began on 9 Av, in August 1914. 

Today we live in what is, by any measure, a trying time. There is so much hatred and division. There is a genuine and persistent threat to our societal institutions. The very stability of our society that we have long accepted, maybe naively, is no longer a given. More particularly, there are genuine challenges to the unity of the Jewish people and to our shared sense of collective purpose. Our safety is threatened around the world. Our ability to engage with civility in our disagreements with each other is sorely tested. 

After reviewing the long list of calamities that we mark at this time of year, I am sitting with the remarkable continued vitality of our people through the millennia. Any community that has endured what the Jewish people have, time and again, for over 2,000 years, should – logically – no longer exist. And yet we do.  

We exist and we thrive because of people like Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, a “hero” of Tisha B’Av. He perceived the coming crisis and he chose to negotiate with the Romans. He could not save the Jewish commonwealth, but he secured the town of Yavne and established a community of study there where, surrounded by students and with the generations that would follow him, he re-imagined and re-invigorated Judaism for a post-Temple world. His vision, willingness to negotiate with the enemy, and ability to adapt, set the groundwork for what we now know as “rabbinic Judaism.” 

There’ve been other heroes throughout the ages, those who challenged our oppressors, those who negotiated with our enemies, and those who guided our people to rise from the ashes. What they have had in common is their belief in the resiliency of our people; a resiliency that comes from understanding history, from not being afraid to hold an analytical eye to current affairs, and from opening their imaginations to the knowledge that the “worst” outcome is always a possibility. But also, a resiliency that comes from knowing that we’ve survived and thrived, and that through our ability to prepare, resist, and adapt, we continue to see a future of hope, including – as for the weeping psalmist by the rivers of Babylon - our hope and faith in our return to Jerusalem.  

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

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