Author: Jeremy Burton

Taking Action, Staying Connected

My, how rapidly the world has changed this week. Yet I am hopeful. We’ll get through this. And I believe we’ll be stronger for it. As Garrett Graff wrote this week, what we are doing now to #FlattenTheCurve is a “collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit, a fundamental statement of how we stand together as a species.”

I was watching a comedy on Netflix last night in which two fellows meeting up at a café embraced each other in a big “long time no see” kind of hug as they arrived at the table. It felt surreal, and reminded me of what it was like, 18 years ago, to watch 1990’s movies where families saw their loved ones off at the gate for departing flights – a world in the very recent past that is now so very different.

So yes, we’re resilient, and yet we’ll be changed by all this. We’ll return to work, to our congregations and schools, maybe even to sporting venues, but the world will be changed; even if we don’t know exactly how yet.

But one thing that need not change are our core values, our commitment to community, our belief that we are bound together with each and that our resiliency in challenging times comes from our commitment to the collective good.

So, for JCRC, even as we are profoundly changed in what we can do this week – with our volunteers not serving as reading buddies in public schools, our Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers unable to do face-to-face people-to-people work, our inability to show up on Beacon Hill to testify and rally in support of our immigrant neighbors – what hasn’t changed is the purpose of our work, why we do community relations.

That, “why,” our belief in the building of bridges and strengthening of bonds that tie us to each other and to the civic public space, remains more urgent than ever. These are the ties that give us the fortitude to flatten the curve, to help those who are most struggling right now, to be good neighbors in hard times.

That’s why I’m proud of the work our team has been doing this week, to keep us all focused on the “why,” even as the “how” has changed – for now.

We’ve launched a campaign to take action and stay connected, building bridges during this period.

Some opportunities to take action:

  • Join us for our Pathways to Peace Learning Series: a six-part webinar series featuring Israelis and Palestinians telling their stories of identity, friendship, and cohesion even during a time of social distancing. On Tuesday, March 24th we will have a virtual, facilitated conversation between Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'Wad at 12pm. As members of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian societies living side-by-side in the West Bank, they will share their powerful story of coming together to learn each other's stories. Then on Thursday, we will hear from certified tour guide Mike Hollander for a talk titled "Jerusalem - Borders, Barriers, and Beliefs."
  • Help distribute valuable information on COVID-19 this Saturday, during a citywide distribution of important information to every home and in multiple languages. (For those whose Shabbat practice would permit participation.)
  • Create a “Soup In A Jar” kit for our partner shelters and food pantries. These soup mixes can be used immediately or at a later date. For more information, contact Grace Farnan, TELEM Coordinator

I hope that you’ll join us in this effort to help our partners, support our neighbors, and continue to be good citizens this week and in the weeks ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building connections while we’re separated

With the World Health Organization declaring a coronavirus “pandemic” this week, we are all entering a new and difficult phase of this challenge to normal life. Earlier this week, in response to Governor Baker declaring a public health emergency here in Massachusetts, JCRC began taking significant steps to limit in-person social interactions through our staff and programs. Today, Friday, we have moved to a remote workplace for an extended period in the near future.

Of course, we’re not alone in these steps. Institutions, congregations, and businesses across our community are also taking these steps. And because we’re listening to the experts, experienced professionals in public health, we understand that we all have a role and a responsibility to “flatten the curve” on the spread of this virus.

Without diminishing the urgency and importance of every step we can take to minimize transmission, it’s not easy. Not touching our faces is hard, even unnatural, for human beings. So is profound social distancing. Ours is a community and society of gatherers; baked into the DNA of Jewish community is the notion that we need to be together as ten adults to perform some of our most sacred rituals. Our nation’s foundational document protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as part of our first constitutional freedoms.

As one pastor put it on a recent Zoom call with our Christian partners, separating ourselves from our neighbors goes against everything we believe in. At the same time, our tradition tells us that whoever saves one life (even at the expense of other good deeds), it is as if we had saved the world. And every health expert is telling us that physical distancing will save lives.

So here we are. I worry, not just for my own family and for our staff and friends, but for our society. In the midst of one of the most vicious electoral cycles in our modern history, the last thing we needed was large-scale isolation and dependence on social media for news and engagement. When I see pushes online of “things to do in quarantine,” like a booklist that pushes a specific worldview or narrative, I worry about us amplifying our self-confirming biases. And most of all, as someone with good health and a salaried income, with paid sick leave and health care, I worry about the more vulnerable who enter this challenge without the same resources and resiliency.

If you share these concerns, I invite you to join me in committing to building bridges and connections even as we separate ourselves physically. I’m committing myself in the coming weeks:

  • For each event that is postponed, I will reach out and FaceTime with someone with whom I don’t connect regularly.
  • I will read books that challenge my worldviews and expose me to new ideas, whether those be volumes making the case for perspectives I’m disinclined to share, or novels that take me into cultures other than my own.
  • Every day that I am working from home I will use my social media platform to lift up examples of people who are doing good deeds and practicing bridge-building in ways that are responsible for this moment.

Over the coming days, our team will  be rolling out a number of ways to stay connected to and supportive of our partners – from the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence groups who are canceling spring visits to the US to the kids in local under-resourced public schools who work with our literacy tutors. We’ll be mobilizing in support of vulnerable immigrants, many of whom don’t have healthcare and depend on hourly wages, and for policies providing relief to the hardest hit, including some of our vendors in the hospitality industries.

And, I want us to stay connected with you. Tell us how you are taking steps to maintain and build connections in the weeks ahead. What books are you reading? How are you helping our neighbors? How are you touching the lives of others even as we cut down on physical engagement?

Inspire me. And help us inspire others to be the good neighbors we all need to be right now.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

AIPAC and How Bipartisanship Matters

This essay was originally published in The Times of Israel.

“Our challenge is less to calm the forces that are pelting our society than to reinforce the structures that hold it together. That calls for a spirit of building and rebuilding, more than of tearing down. It calls for approaching… institutions with a disposition to repair so as to make them better versions of themselves.” – Yuval Levin, A Time to Build

I thought of these words while attending AIPAC’s policy conference this week.

I came because I believe that for the United States to be an effective leader on the world stage, we need a comprehensive foreign policy – one that is built on a strong, bipartisan consensus. I’ve written before about the fraying global credibility of the United States as a consistent partner, which is due to the failure of incoming administrations to uphold the international commitments of previous opposing party administrations, and, in some cases, the outright reversal of those agreements. Our commitments are most reliable when they are built on a broad foundation of support across Congressional aisles. When bipartisan commitment is lacking for an agreement – whether on climate change or on how to contain Iranian ambitions – critical support does not endure beyond one administration. But the security relationship with Israel is the best example of the ongoing commitment that results from bipartisan support through Congress after Congress, under both parties’ control, upholding and sustaining ten-year agreements made under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Because we desperately need more of that credibility in the world, I believe in the importance and value of institutions like AIPAC; the rare spaces these days where Americans come together despite partisan differences in support of a bipartisan shared agenda on key foreign policy concerns.

This week, as in the past, there was so much that I appreciated at AIPAC, like the diversity of voices and the honest conversations, including explicit main stage calls to support Palestinian rights and statehood (which we support). There was some candid criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank by supporters of the US-Israel relationship. There were some speakers that didn’t resonate as much for me, making the strong case for policies that I don’t agree with. But hearing those voices is a part of committing to bipartisanship.

I welcomed the message of “yes, and” from some on the main stage; the articulation of “and this is how I work for two-states” as part of a statement that “yes, I’m committed to Israel’s security.” Notably, it was exciting and validating to hear Senator Schumer announce his support for the Partnership Fund for Peace on the main stage this year. It’s an area we’ve focused on at JCRC for several years, under the leadership of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, as an essential component of how we engage with the conflict.

Still, when I see that bipartisanship which AIPAC strives to represent being strained – from without and within – by the fractured politics of our time, I worry. When I see those in or seeking power working to replace the pursuit of shared values across political ideologies with doctrinaire, partisan approaches to the world, I worry. And when our allies and enemies watch us with increasing doubts about our will, knowing that our commitments, which are no longer bolstered by broad consensus, are not likely to last more than 4-8 years, I worry.

For decades, AIPAC has framed American support for Israel as one in which we have “friends, and potential friends.” Notably, this week we heard a distinct shift to the effect that “some people will never be our friends.” It was hard to hear this, but – in the hyper-fractured politics of our time and with some who are waging an active war on the US-Israel relationship – I have to agree, sad as that makes me regarding the state of our nation.

But if the core of this work is about building and maintaining bipartisanship on foreign policy and support for the US-Israel relationship, then it is also true that some of our friends, regardless of their love of and devotion to Israel, are doing us no favors either. Not for the first time, a very small number of speakers at AIPAC used that platform to make hyper-partisan attacks across the aisle, to applause from some part of the audience; I believe that they do as much damage to our purpose as the ones who attack the movement from outside. I hope that AIPAC will find a way to convey more clearly that these voices hurt our movement, and will educate participants to not respond to such overly partisan attacks when they come.

I care about the continuing success of AIPAC and about the success of American bipartisan leadership in the world.

Yuval Levin challenges us: “This is not a time for tearing down. It is a time to build.”

Let us continue to build together a broad consensus where we can.

Building a more just Commonwealth

When we celebrated JCRC’s 75th anniversary last year, we marveled anew at the forethought of the founding fathers (yes, they were all men at the time) in recognizing the need to form what we now call the “organized Jewish community, by founding an umbrella institution  “for the purpose of acting in unity in matters relating to civic protection” for the community. And every year at our Legislative Reception, we recognize our organized Jewish community’s partners in government who have allied with us to build a more just Commonwealth; one that embodies the most cherished values of our Jewish community. This event, which will be held this year on March 26th, celebrates not only our honorees, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, and the investment in coalitions that ensure access to economic opportunity, quality of life, and independence for all in the Commonwealth. Our work is animated by our communal commitment to defending civil rights for all Americans and safeguarding long-fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry of all forms.

On behalf of JCRC, the Mass Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF), our member organizations, and our partner agencies, we are delighted to be presenting awards to five public servants who help further our shared agenda: standing with immigrants and refugees, advocating for criminal justice reform, fighting for economic justice and education, supporting our Jewish social service agencies, and allocating resources to protect vulnerable communities through the Non Profit Security Grant Program. We work with these and many other public officials to enshrine and execute policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our own community.

On March 26th, we will honor these remarkable public servants:

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Senator Sal DiDomenico (Everett) – From his first term, Senator DiDomenico has been a trusted partner on many of our key priorities, most specifically the charge to provide a ladder to economic opportunity for all people. He was the Senate lead sponsor on the recently enacted “Lift the Cap on Kids” legislation to ensure that families in poverty have access to needed supports and has led efforts to provide job training opportunities for immigrants and refugees.

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Representative Claire Cronin (Easton) – Representative Cronin was the House lead on the ground-breaking Criminal Justice Reform legislation from 2018, pursuing a vision of justice and dignity. Rep Cronin is quickly rising in the ranks of the House and is widely respected as a fierce advocate for her constituents and the advocate community.

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Representative Jeff Roy (Franklin) – Representative Roy is a strong partner in the fight against rising antisemitism and hatred. As a former School Committee member, Rep Roy views education as a crucial tool in fighting bigotry, and has joined the fight with JCRC, ADL, and our partners by filing a Genocide and Holocaust bill for the past three sessions, with the explicit goal of teaching children across the Commonwealth how unchecked prejudice can escalate to atrocity.

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Boston City Council President Kim Janey – Council President Kim Janey is a leader on the City Council on issues of equity, civil rights, and criminal justice. She has helped JCRC bring Boston Partners for Peace organizations, comprised of Israelis and Palestinian peacebuilders, to meet with leadership at City Hall. Councilor Janey is a dedicated advocate for education, housing, and small business development, and works to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources in her district.

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Brian McKeon (Assistant Chief of Staff for Cabinet Affairs – Office of Governor Baker) – McKeon has played a key role in the funding and implementation of the Non-Profit Security Grant program, coordinating conversations with the policy team, the budget writing team, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. He is a dedicated public servant who works tirelessly behind the scenes as a key point person in the Governor’s office to shape the implementation of critical policies.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these five individuals, along with the hundreds of elected and appointed officials, staff, and civil servants who honor their duty to the Commonwealth. Our legislative agenda is bound by this common theme of our shared humanity, whether it be standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees seeking safety and security, ensuring that people with disabilities and seniors live independent lives of dignity, or providing crucial security measures for members of our community.

We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these five leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners.

I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Building a Coalition for Peace

Photo from one of Boston Partners for Peace's partner organizations, Roots-Shorashim-Judur

This week, a joint message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell:

In the two weeks since President Trump released his administration’s framework for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, reactions have exposed the pre-existing divides in our discourse about the region and about the way forward. This may be unintended, but it is certainly unsurprising, as a consequence of this latest round of attention to the conflict.

Here at JCRC, we did not wake up the morning after the plan was released wondering about our role in this complicated historical moment. For years, we have been helping to lift up grassroots peacebuilders through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative. Today we are going public with endorsements from a broad coalition of religious, political, and civic leaders throughout Massachusetts. This is the beginning of a new phase of our work to validate and support the inspirational work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders; building upon the multi-year investment by JCRC in engagement through travel by civic leaders to the region and programming here at home.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a complex and divisive issue. The information we receive through traditional media channels is limited, and often distorted. Many times, we find ourselves in difficult conversations with our non-Jewish partners about how we understand and sit with these multi-layered issues. These conversations also take place in challenging intracommunal discussions such as with our Council, representing a broad diversity of views within our community. We at JCRC sit at the center of this complexity, as people who are inspired by the Israel we know and love, and also not looking away from its imperfections and its challenges, including in its relationship with the Palestinians.

This public statement of support for grassroots peacebuilding gives credence to our approach to engaging with hope for the future of this region. With over 60 leaders (and counting!) lending their names in support of Boston Partners for Peace, we are hearing from elected officials from across the Commonwealth, rabbis of every denomination, a diverse group of Christian clergy members, and other civic leaders. The vast majority are alumni of our Study Tour program, which introduces Boston’s civic leadership to the intricacies of Israel and to Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who are working to build trust and mutual recognition across real and metaphorical boundaries. As Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn put it when meeting with representatives from the Hand in Hand schools last fall, these interactions “make us a better city and a more effective city council.”

But, more than anything, this action speaks volumes about the work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. They are following in the footsteps of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, armed with the knowledge that building peace between individuals is a necessary condition for building peace between societies. Their jobs seem to get more difficult all the time. Yet they continue to serve as a common source of inspiration. In a time when many of us cannot agree on the future direction of Israel or our own role in this process, we can agree on this: Israelis and Palestinians coming together at the grassroots level provide us with hope, inspiration, and optimism about the future.

Through Boston Partners for Peace, we are now running regular programs and reaching hundreds of people here in Massachusetts. People from many communities are coming together to hear from peacebuilders and apply best practices from their efforts to our own challenges here in the United States. As our Boston Partners for Peace community continues to grow we look forward to placing down new markers like this one, indications that we are building a coalition of people coming together to say, “Yes—we support you, yes—we support peace, and yes—we want to take our next steps together.”

We invite you to join them in supporting Boston Partners for Peace and the work of peacebuilding.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy and Eli

Our Urgent Need to Sustain Faith in Democracy

With all the attention given to this week’s fiasco of reporting results in Iowa, I find that I can’t let go of a recent report from the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Democracy that — for the first time — “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with [our] system of government.”

In an article, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa (co-author of above report) note:

“Citizens have become steadily disenchanted with their democratic systems. As a result, they are more and more willing to vote for extremist politicians who promise to break with the status quo. It is perfectly possible that democracies will recover from their current crisis in the years to come. But every new data point makes it that much harder to deny that such a crisis exists.”

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve grappled with an existential challenge of this nature. Jill Lepore reminds us in an essay this week that in the 1930s when “democracy nearly died all over the world and almost all at once, Americans argued about it, and then they tried to fix it.”

Today, this conversation about what has gone wrong with our system, and how we can fix it, has become most urgent. People will differ about some of the causes of this crisis, and certainly about what is to be done, but there is a conversation beginning to take shape.

I’m in the middle of two books right now that try to grapple with this:

  1. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. As Levin writes in an essay last month, “What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.”
  2. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, a liberal aligned media platform. Klein writes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization” including, for example, establishing automatic voter registration – for which there is legislation under consideration here in Massachusetts that we at JCRC support.

In reading these works, and others (such as Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States), I’m struck that these aren’t only challenges for the nation as a whole, but for all levels of community and civil society. The challenges to institutions also come in our Jewish communities, where some who are unsatisfied with the values and priorities of the collective seek to tear down and delegitimize the very fabric of centuries-old communal institutions rather than engage in substantive debate. And the challenges of public leadership are not limited to elected officials, but to anyone who has a leadership role in building trust in institutions.

No doubt each of us can find ways to agree or disagree with some of the options and strategies these authors and others are offering right now. But with every passing event – such as Iowa – I’m imbued with a sense of urgency about this conversation and about our role as leaders and institutions to both model a better way forward and act as advocates for the repair of civil society.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What are you reading? How do you think about this moment in our society? And, most importantly, what is our communal call to action?

In that same essay, Lepore gives examples of many things that were attempted back in the 30s to address these challenges. She notes, “These efforts don’t always work. Still, trying them is better than talking about the weather, and waiting for someone to hand you an umbrella.”

That wisdom rings true to for me in our current moment. I hope that it does for you as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How the Memory of the Holocaust Lives On

Photo taken last summer during my visit to Auschwitz

Last summer, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp in Poland that was liberated this week 75 years ago, on January 27, 1945. All my reading and studies could not prepare me for the sheer scope of this place, where around 100,000 prisoners were held at any time (that’s nearly the population of Cambridge, MA, where I live). Nor could I have anticipated the emotion of standing in the field beyond the crematorium where lie the ashes of over 1 million Jews murdered here – so many of whom we will never know by name.

Two weeks later, as a bookend to my personal journey across Jewish experience in central Europe, I stood in the graveyard of the Terezinstadt Ghetto in Czechia – liberated on May 9, 1945. Here there are some marked graves; Jews who died because of what the Nazis did to them, even after the liberation. Graves of people like Fritz Wohl and Martin Honig (May 18, 1945), and Franziska Kraus (June 14, 1945).

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I thought of all these men and women, the named and unnamed, those buried alive and those whose ashes were cast into rivers, as, this past Monday, leaders from Boston’s Jewish community gathered in the office of MA House Speaker Robert DeLeo to mark International Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The Speaker, along with Rep. Ruth Balser, presented a resolution to the New England Holocaust Memorial Committee and to the Consul General of Israel, marking this solemn day and recommitting the House to combatting the global rise of antisemitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Speaker DeLeo spoke personally and passionately about rising hate in our own time and right here in Massachusetts, including recent antisemitic events at a local college. Rep. Balser talked of her own family legacy, the lessons we Jews take from our experience in Europe, and the urgency of putting meaning and action behind the phrase “never again.”  On Thursday, a related resolution, also marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, was presented in the Massachusetts Senate by Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem. President Karen Spilka spoke powerfully about her own family, including the aunts and uncles she never met because they were killed in the concentration camps, and her father who was an American liberator at Buchenwald.

Gathering in the Speaker's office for a resolution marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day
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Presentations of the resolutions in the Senate and House

I thought of those graves because they remind us that though we mark January 27th as a day of remembrance, the Holocaust (or Shoah in Hebrew) did not end with the liberation of Auschwitz this week 75 years ago. Nor did it end with the conclusion of World War II; as survivors continued to die in the months after, and then carried their trauma and physical wounds with them out of the camps.

No, the Shoah lives on in the lives and experiences of the survivors and their children, and in our collective responsibility to memory on their behalf.

And sadly, we must grapple with the knowledge that, as Walter Reich, former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote this week: “Antisemitism has returned, in part, because the general public’s knowledge about the Holocaust has diminished.”

And so, in the coming weeks and months, as we continue to mark the events of this 75th year after the liberation, here in Boston we will gather for our community wide Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah on Sunday, April 19th at 2pm. This year, as we must grapple with rising hate, bigotry and antisemitism in our own time, we are reaching out more broadly to the community of Greater Boston than ever before.

We plan to galvanize our entire community through the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM), to raise awareness and stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and hatred. To ensure broad participation, we’ve formed a host committee of civic, political, academic, and religious leaders, representing all segments of our community, co-chaired by Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, Josh Kraft, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, and Reverend Nancy Taylor of Old South Church.

We have an obligation to ensure the enduring memory of the Holocaust. Not just as a terrible period in our history but as a legacy and a warning for all time.

As I was reminded in Auschwitz, where the walls of one of the barracks display the enduring words of the Italian Jewish survivor and literary giant Primo Levi:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

My Testimony for Today’s Safe Communities Act Hearing

JCRC will be testifying at the State House today in support of the Safe Communities Act, which would protect basic rights for immigrants by ensuring that police do not ask about immigration status and creating standards for law enforcement interactions with ICE. Recently, JCRC organized a letter from MA rabbis to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, urging passage of the act.

Please read my testimony below (as prepared for the hearing) and urge your legislators to support this legislation:

"Good afternoon Chairman Moore, Chairman Naughton, and esteemed Committee members. My name is Jeremy Burton, and I am the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a network of 41 organizations representing greater Boston’s organized Jewish community.

This coming week the world will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the beginning of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust during World War II. That era included a dark episode in our own nation’s history, when our failure to live up to our values ended in tragedy. 

In June 1939, the St. Louis sailed up and down our east coast, carrying 937 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Canada and the United States refused to allow them entry and they were turned back to Europe. While some found other avenues of escape, 254 of those men and women were eventually murdered by the Nazis.

We have not forgotten the tragedy that resulted from our people being turned back from US shores.

Like earlier immigrants, Jews came to this country seeking refuge and opportunity – as do immigrants arriving today to our great Commonwealth. Then and now, forces rise up to degrade the stranger as a threat, rather than as a neighbor. The story of the St. Louis is just one of the many instances where our nation has abandoned our principles: from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the days of “Irish Need Not Apply”, to many other instances of stereotyping and vilification of the other.  But that is not the end of the story, because in our country, people of good conscience can ultimately prevail. The road is long, but we do not despair.

This is why, in January of 2017, in response to the executive orders on immigrants and refugees, some 40 Boston Jewish religious, philanthropic, civic and human service organizations united to publicly denounce these actions as unjust.  We stand together on the side of empathy and religious tolerance, and we urge compassion to those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.

We urge our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign-born neighbors throughout the Commonwealth.

We need to stop approaching these issues with the rhetoric of fear and demonization and with policies that treat human beings around the world as an enforcement problem. We believe that these issues must be approached as a humanitarian matter, with a commitment to the dignity and welfare of all peoples.

Together with our members and partners we have organized members of Jewish communities to build up an arsenal of accessible resources for families desperate to stay together who are targeted by our devolving immigration policies and laws. With our partners in the Unitarian and Episcopalian churches we have, through the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, mobilized hundreds across many faith communities, to support our neighbors in detention right here in Massachusetts. We assist them in securing legal representation, raising money for bonds and offering home hospitality to individuals and families coming out of detention with nowhere else to go. Together, BIJAN members have, to date, bonded out 170 of our neighbors from ICE custody and accompanied people in detention to 850 court hearings.

That is why we at JCRC are here today to support the Safe Communities Act and it is why, over the course of the day, you will hear and receive testimony and messages of support from many of our members who support this legislation including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Jewish Vocational Service and the Boston Workers’ Circle. Together, we urge you to report the Safe Communities Act out with a favorable recommendation.

Thank you for your time and your consideration."

For American Jews: A Time To Vote

With 2020 primary voting finally upon us in just a few weeks, and Israel’s unprecedented third round of elections coming up in six weeks, I want to draw your attention to another election that begins next week: the American Jewish vote for the 38th World Zionist Congress. Though this election, which begins on Tuesday, has generated noticeably less buzz, it represents an important opportunity for us to make our voices heard in shaping the future of Israel.

Every five years, as the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, we get to choose 152 of the 500 members of the World Zionist Congress, a body that sets priorities for important institutions in Israel, including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund. All told, the World Zionist Congress oversees the allocation of nearly $1 billion in funding in support of Israel and global Jewry.

Much ado is made in our community about what our appropriate voice is in addressing the challenges that Israel faces: is it our obligation only to support the policies of Israel’s elected government? Should we encourage our own government to pursue policies that are or are not aligned with Israel? How should we express our disagreements over visions for Israel’s future?

Whatever your view of these and other debates, the Zionist Congress is one place where there is over 100 years of consensus that we — and other Jewish communities around the world — should have a voice in at least some of those debates over vision and priorities. And this year, with fourteen American slates running, the diversity of American Jewish thought is on full display. Whether you are inclined to support a Jabotinsky-esque vision or a Progressive one, an Israeli-American, Sephardic, or youth movement voice, or if your preference is to be represented by leaders from Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox movements, there are slates for you.

Voting is open to any Jewish resident in the United States, 18 years and up, who ascribes to the “Jerusalem Program,” a platform of unity for the Jewish people, with a bond to our homeland in the land of Israel and the centrality of the State of Israel as our national project. Despite the loud voices proclaiming otherwise, the fact is that all polling and studies of American Jewry suggest that well above 90% of us are aligned with this platform, in all our diversity.

All you need to do is go to azm.org/elections starting this Tuesday, January 21st, register, pay an administrative fee of $7.50, and you have a vote. The voting remains open until Wednesday, March 11th.

Personally, I haven’t decided yet who I’ll be voting for. I have friends and colleagues whom I respect who are running on at least half of the slates, including many friends from Boston.

What I do know is the outcome of these elections will give us a snapshot of how diverse our American Jewish community is and what we think, broadly, about how we want our voices to be heard in a global Jewish conversation. The more of us who participate, the clearer and more representative our voice will be.

And, as someone once said: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. And who would we be as a community if we don’t have the right to complain?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

On being a force for good

"Stars of Hope" painted by teens on JCRC's MLK Day of Service

On Monday I had the honor of joining Governor Baker as he signed legislation releasing an additional $1 million in funding for non-profit security grants; a budget item that we at JCRC have prioritized. Afterward, a member of the press asked me if I was “happy” to be at the State House for this solemn occasion. “No,” I replied, “I’d much rather be here for other reasons, to advocate for the values and issues that we work on every day.”

I never imagined that confronting antisemitism would become a significant part of my daily reality in 2020. I came to this work over 20 years ago informed by a sense of my own purpose; to build Jewish communities that inspired engagement and activism for future generations, rooted in the same values, culture and traditions that enriched my own Jewish identity.

As violent Jew-hatred comes roaring back into our domestic American reality, I worry that as we fight against antisemitism, we’re going to lose our focus on the meaning and purpose of Jewish community. “Because, antisemitism” is not enough of a reason to evoke a commitment to living proudly and Jewishly in the world. “Because, they hate us” is not the foundation on which thousands of years of enriching Jewish culture is built.

Rather, I find meaning in the notion that our mission ought to be - as individuals, as Jewish organizations and as communities - in the words of Avraham Infeld: “to advance the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

So yes, I’m proud of the work that we at JCRC do every day, building relationships beyond the Jewish community, resulting in the support of allies who are with us as we confront this new reality. I’m proud and grateful that our Christian friends and partners, many of whom have played significant leadership roles in the work of JCRC, took it upon themselves to write a powerful statement on antisemitism last week, which has now garnered upward of 1,000 signatures. And I’m proud of the partnership we’ve forged with legislative leaders to fund non-profit security grants and anti-bias training in schools.

I’m also proud that we are a Jewish community in Boston that is committed to living our values in the broader civic space, affirming our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors; a commitment we’ll be honoring in just over one week when we come together for JCRC’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

This year, JCRC is offering a record 13 partner sites with the capacity for 900 volunteers. Members of our community will be painting and making interior upgrades to the Catholic Charities/Haitian Multiservice Center in Dorchester. This facility serves a crucial role in the Dorchester community and is in desperate need of repairs that Catholic Charities cannot do on their own. This Center provides a multitude of services to local residents, including food and housing assistance, English language classes, teen enrichment, and afterschool programming.

We will also be at St. Stephen's Youth Programs at the Blackstone Elementary School, a longtime partner of our ReachOut! program. Volunteers of all ages will be working on beautification and revitalization projects throughout the elementary school. After volunteering, there will be a lunch and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and why this day has become a day of volunteering.

I’m looking forward to being back at the State House on January 24th for the Safe Communities Act legislative hearing. We, along with many of our member agencies, are deeply committed members of the coalition working to pass this bill to protect the rights of our immigrant neighbors and create standards for law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And our team will be back at the State House to lobby on January 28th for Election Day Registration, a basic reform that would expand the franchise to more eligible voters, thus strengthening our democracy at a time when it is under assault.

I hope that you’ll join me for any or all of these activities. I also hope that the Governor’s actions this week will, as I said to him on Monday, help “give us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”

Because, as I concluded to that reporter at Monday’s bill signing, “these times are what they are.”

So yes, we’re grateful to our partners, including to the Governor for prioritizing our safety and including us in this week’s ceremony. And, I hope that because of our efforts to confront antisemitism and work for our community’s security, we will thereby strengthen our continued ability to be a force for good in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy