A central part of our work at JCRC, in good times and bad, is to ensure that government and civic leaders are listening to, understanding, and addressing the interests and values of our Jewish community. I emphasize the plural “s” on each of those because rarely are we uniform in defining those priorities and concerns.
This week, I want to lift up one specific area where I am hearing wall-to-wall unity on our community’s voices.
But first, a little bit of background on how we’ve been working to advance our community’s agendas with our government in recent weeks.
Since the earliest days of the stay-at-home order, our government affairs team has been working closely with the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office to provide a coordinated voice to our congressional delegation on the needs of the Jewish and non-profit sector. That resulted in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans being extended to include non-profits (and an estimated $20 million or more to our local Jewish organizations). And there have been public, national mobilizations to support efforts by our delegation, including Rep. Moulton’s efforts to include non-profit relief in the next package. We’ve also continued to work with our delegation on our local priorities, for example supporting efforts by Senators Warren and Markey and Rep. Kennedy to investigate events last Friday at Bristol County House of Corrections.
We’ve been working with our institutions, as well as our interfaith partners, to put Jewish leadership into the spaces where decisions are being made around the shutdown and the re-opening. We’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials at the state and local level about a range of issues. We’ve coordinated joint efforts by Jewish and general camping providers to be heard as part of a re-opening plan. Our rabbis have been in leadership roles in public and private engagement with Governor Baker, Attorney General Healey, and Mayor Walsh, amongst others.
I have no doubt that if we went down the litany of concerns that have come up in that work, little of it would fall under the “one thing we all agree on” even as all of this work reflects large portions of our community’s concerns.
Which leads me to one thing I want to lift up today: the wall-to-wall unity of our faith institutions, our congregations and rabbis, on social distancing during a pandemic. As some voices in other faith communities have demanded a quick re-opening of house of worship, the Jewish voice has been different. Yes, of course, our synagogues view congregating in faith as an essential need, especially in times of pain and suffering. But across the nation, they’ve taken a strong public stance to support and encourage continued social distancing where possible.
When a few western states never closed, all the synagogues went dark anyway. When some states re-opened hastily, across the denominational spectrum the synagogues chose to remain closed, as in Georgia.
In recent days, rabbis across the denominational spectrum in Missouri issued a public letter saying that voting by mail is a religious imperative. The Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement made a similar statement (and if Massachusetts doesn’t act to extend vote by mail for this fall’s election, some rabbis here are already talking about following their example).
Yesterday, Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, told Dr. Anthony Fauci that the OU “was advising congregations to wait two weeks past government opening dates to start returning to congregational prayer.”
My point is this: It’s not my place to tell rabbis, synagogues, and denominations what to do. However, it is JCRC’s responsibility to provide them with the information and tools from our government partners, so that they can make informed decisions. It is also our charge to lift up their voices in the civic space.
So when, in other communities, some are representing that faith gatherings are essential and must be opened up immediately, I want to underscore how, within the Jewish congregational leadership, there is near unanimous thinking to move slowly and not reopen our house of worship immediately, even when governments allow it. That’s our message right now to our civic and elected leaders.
I welcome your thoughts and input as we continue to advance the values, interest, and priorities of our community in the public square.