Author: Jeremy Burton

Voting, Sacred Duty, and, Prayer

Chances are pretty good that most of you reading this have already cast your votes for next week’s election. For those who haven’t, it’s probably fair to say that you have all the information you need to decide how you are voting. And, for those very few who are still undecided, if it’s Ranked Choice Voting (Question 2 in Massachusetts) that you are undecided about, give me a call this weekend if you are interested in hearing a case for #YesOn2.

With the debate over “who to vote for” largely behind us, I’ve been thinking about how we relate to our vote as a sacred civic duty, and contemplating the prayers we say for our governments.

I was recently reminded at a Hartman@Home Symposium of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a singular Orthodox authority and a giant of Torah scholarship; an immigrant who came to New York seeking refuge from the antisemitic oppression of the Soviet Union. Rabbi Feinstein was asked by the New York JCRC in 1984 about the obligation to vote. I still recall the impression that his letter made on me when it was read at my high school. He wrote:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.

I love this articulation of our sacred duty, the sense of obligation to community and to society, the responsibility to protect the freedoms and benefits that our society provides us, and to regard voting as an act of guardianship and appreciation.

In this spirit of the sacred mindfulness we bring to our voting, I appreciated the recent JewishBoston compilation of Prayers for Voting. Different ones will resonate with different folks, so I encourage you to check it out, but allow me to excerpt from a prayer composed by David Seidenberg for My Jewish Learning:

With my vote today I am prepared and intending to seek peace for this country, as it is written: “Seek out the peace of the city where I cause you to roam and pray for her sake to God, for in her peace you all will have peace.”

May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully, and may You account my vote as if I had fulfilled this verse with all my power.

Finally, a word about prayers for the government. Whole volumes have been written on this subject, and suffice it to say that Jews have been saying such prayers for some 2,500 years. The prophet Jeremiah began this practice after the loss of  our self-government, to implore God to guide our foreign rulers. Over the last 600 years or so, these prayers evolved and developed in different countries, for the monarch, for the state and in keeping with the spirit of the times and places. Most synagogues in our American diaspora continue to say some form of such a prayer each Sabbath till this day.

And so, in what will be my last blog post before we begin counting the votes this year, let me conclude by offering an excerpt from the “Prayer for the United States of America” that we say in my congregation every week. It was composed in the 1990’s by Dr. Ester Fuchs of Columbia University for the Modern Orthodox think tank, Edah:

God, who commanded all humanity to create just governments, may you preserve and protect our democracy. Bless the elected and appointed officials of the governments of the United States to carry out their duties consistent with the Constitution…

Place in their hearts devotion to justice, truth and equality for all who live in our great nation.

Let their actions reflect compassion for the poor, the defenseless, and the needy among us. Inspire them with the courage to use the might of the United States for good throughout the world…

May this be your will, and let us say, Amen.

These are the prayers that I will be saying this week. I invite you to share yours with me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How do we get back to “we”?

We who work in community relations tend to spend an unhealthy amount of time imagining how things could go badly, and planning for the worst-case scenarios. If you look at the nomenclature of Jewish communal systems, JCRCs are literally called “defense” agencies. We think about how our communities should respond to attacks, to wars, to stuff going sideways.

This isn’t a particularly new line of thinking for me. If I’m being candid, our deputy director, Nahma Nadich, likes to tease me that my propensity for reading post-apocalyptic novels makes me well-suited for this life.

But in the past few weeks, it feels like I’ve attended a bit too many of these kinds of meetings. With our election season (not a day anymore) reaching the pivot point between casting ballots and counting votes, there have been endless meetings – Jewish and interfaith, local and national, with our partners and with government officials – all planning for the many ways that this season could play out. Will there be disruptions to the democratic process? Will there be violence and if so, from what corner and in what form?

While these conversations are critical, as is all the obsessive planning, they can be more than a little dark at times.

Which is why, right now, I want to be practicing hopefulness regarding this season of elections.

Before you jump on me, let me be clear that this is not an expression of hope regarding a particular outcome. As I was sitting at our Council meeting the other night, I was mindful that any and every outcome will disappoint at least some people in our community; and most of us have fears about the results that we are not hoping for. Do not mistake my hopefulness for naivete. I’m under no illusion that any outcome will result in rainbows and unicorns and kumbaya at noon on January 20th. The fractures that plague our society have been building for decades and won’t heal overnight.

There’s been much discussion in recent months about what is broken in our society. I thought this recent Atlantic piece by Yehuda Kurtzer of the Shalom Hartman Institute was helpful in making sense of the “brokenness of the American condition.” Writing about recent protests in New York City he says:

“the idea of obligation as a key element of citizenship—a burden that citizens take on themselves, and that is also expected of them by their leaders—is embattled… Americans are being told that rules requiring personal sacrifice to advance the public good are a violation of their civil liberties, rather than the foundation on which those liberties stand, and that government is at odds with religion. There is enormous irony in the conjunction of these two beliefs, of course; religious communities are deeply committed to the very idea of mutual obligation these protesters are attacking.”

I was struck by his focus on the tearing of the fabric of civic obligation, by partisans of various flavors, in recent decades. What was once John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you…” call to mutual obligation has now become “what’s in it for me?” Kurtzer writes:

“The coronavirus is ours to defeat, if we are prepared to ask what we can do for our fellow Americans. To be American is to be obligated. People of faith should be the first to understand that, lining up—six feet apart—to restore public health, and rebuild American democracy.”

As Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garret observe in their new book “The Upswing”:

“The story of the American experiment in the twentieth century is one of a long upswing toward increasing solidarity, followed by a steep downturn into increasing individualism. From ‘I’ to ‘we’ and back again to ‘I’.”

So how do we do reclaim our sense of obligation to one another? How do we rebuild our social contract? How do we get back to “we”?

Tackling that question is what makes me hopeful, even amidst all the current rancor and divisiveness. The very act of voting represents the potential to restore the “we” back into our democracy. My vote is my act of stewardship, my inserting myself in the tide of history that connects our past and our future; and with all the drops joining that river, I get to impact the downstream flow of what we will bequeath to the next generation.

In this moment, we are all called upon to weave, to bring together people with differing views and aspirations for the outcome of this election, and to engage united in the building of civic space. Community relations need not and should never be just about imagining the worst outcomes. Our goal is to connect across differences of communities to identify and build on our shared hopes.

Though that connection has been harder during COVID, I remain hopeful. We have still managed it despite the challenges.

One last image: Lately I’ve had the 1989 AIDS film Longtime Companion stuck in my head, specifically the final scene, in which survivors imagine a day, after the cure, when they will gather again in celebration – on a beach – without fear.

I too have been imagining the day, soon I hope, when once again we will gather in community and across communities, as we have so many times, to face our shared challenges together. I’m dreaming of and hoping for the day when thousands of us gather once again to sing, and hug, and to build our collective strength and solidarity in service to a shared dream of what America can be.

I look forward to seeing you there when that day comes.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

The collective and deliberative will of our community

 As happens every year when summer turns to fall, we recently had our orientation for new Council members. I was excited to welcome the newest members of our 117-person Council; half of whom are charged with representing organizations from our member network, and the rest serving as representatives of the community at large.

As we prepared them for their service to the community – walking through the processes of our Council for addressing whatever issues come their way this year – I was reminded of how grateful I am for their service, knowing how their work will strengthen our community. Because while process may be boring (to some) I believe it leads to better outcomes.  Knowing that JCRC’s public agenda is determined by our network of organizations, rather than by any one individual, underscores the legitimacy of our decisions and the integrity of our actions

Some stories I often tell:

A few years ago, the student arm of one of our members was publicly and privately lobbying me to speak out and criticize Israel’s government on a specific matter. Instead of me telling them yes or no, we invited them to present to the Israel and Global Jewry committee of our Council. The students made their case and then our leaders discussed it. These leaders, representing the fullest diversity of our Council (including representatives from the New Israel Fund, CAMERA, J Street, the Israeli-American Council, AIPAC and AJC) decided not to speak publicly on this issue. They did instruct me to convey their shared concerns to Israel’s Consul General, to let the students know what we were communicating, and to commit to elevating the public discussion on this issue without JCRC taking a public stance.

On another occasion, a leader on the JCRC board was pressing me to speak publicly on a specific controversy in Israel. They would ask me to do this every few weeks, and they were clearly frustrated by JCRC not taking a public stance. My repeated response – reminding them that they were in the room when our Council debated a set of issues related to this matter and explicitly tabled a specific principle on this, for lack of a consensus – wasn’t satisfying them. After several conversations, as it became clear that they thought I was personally opposed to the position they advocated, I asked them what they thought my opinion was on this issue. To hilarious effect, I pointed out my long pre-JCRC track-record on this particular issue, which clearly ran counter to the view that they assumed I had. As Executive Director, my public silence was then – and will always be – reflective of our Council’s will, despite my own views, no matter how deeply felt.

This comes up all the time in domestic matters as well.

A few years ago, at the request of some legislators, our Council took up a discussion on principles related to a bill being considered on Beacon Hill. Now, I will admit it was not an issue I’d given much thought to, nor did I think that weighing in on that particular bill was essential to JCRC’s identity. Also, the Chair of the legislative committee reviewing the bill is a friend and told me that they thought it was a poorly considered piece of legislation. But many of our allies wanted the bill to pass, and many members of our Public Policy Committee cared passionately about it, so the committee endorsed it. After the vote, our Director of Government Affairs jokingly told me that I’d need to find a clever way to inform the Chair about our new position and just accept that I may have to brace myself for this legislator’s displeasure. Well, JCRC submitted testimony, the bill has been adopted into law, and our relationship with the Chair is as strong as ever.

Of course, I and the staff bring many issues to the Council and its committees for consideration. But we do not initiate our own agenda. Rather, we come to them when we’re hearing from members, allies, and local partners who are asking us to weigh in and when we have no clear guidance from the Council on how to respond (we have a complex chart that outlines this process and every Council member gets a copy – as I said, we’re fans of good process).

The result is that sometimes, we, JCRC, are silent on certain debates and issues until the Council takes action. During that time, I and our staff guide the Council and its committees in their study of those issues. I help our leaders – from across our 40-agency network – to weigh the costs and implications of various outcomes. That sometimes comes at a cost – as we let the debate play out, others misinterpret our silence as inaction.

But once the Council has made its decision, I am also proud to represent the “we,” all of us, this network that makes up the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston, in actively advancing our values, interests and priorities. Our stances: in support of our immigrant neighbors; to preserve and strengthen our democracy; to address and confront the racial disparities in our criminal justice system; to fight antisemitism and to combat the BDS movement’s demonization of Israel, all come from the power of the collective and deliberative will of our community.

It is the power of our network and the strength of a consensus that drives JCRC. I’m proud to be a part of that, and grateful to those of you who are committed to doing this work with us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Jeremy

Overcoming fear and leaning into discomfort

The very best webinars – a medium which is claiming more of our attention these days – illuminate and inform their audiences on the issues of the day. That’s certainly what we at JCRC aspired to achieve this past  Wednesday afternoon. So we were delighted that along with our audience being educated on a hot topic, they were also exposed to content that was genuinely inspiring and with broader significance than our planned program.

What am I talking about? As part of our ongoing effort in support of Yes on 2, the campaign to adopt Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Massachusetts come November, we convened an explanatory discussion with two of the leaders of the campaign, Evan Falchuk, campaign chair, and Tanisha M. Sullivan, honorary co-chair and President of the NAACP Boston (full disclosure, I am a member of the Yes on 2 campaign advisory board).

For forty-five minutes, they talked about their passion for strengthening our democratic processes (a passion that JCRC shares deeply), described how Ranked Choice Voting works, and addressed audience questions – including those about the critiques of RCV. They, and we, sought to illuminate and educate.

Then, there was a moment. Questions emerged about whether RCV was too complicated for voters. Tanisha took this on directly, saying:

…“The data is clear on Ranked Choice Voting and how simple it is, how it increases inclusion, how it can help to increase representation. The data is clear. But what you describe Jeremy is about emotion, how people feel, right? And you’re right. I think that when it comes to change, it can be incredibly hard. Especially in this instance when we are talking about changing a system, a way of doing things we have been doing for literally hundreds of years. I get that and I don’t want to give short shrift to that fear.

But what I do want to do is encourage folks to lean into the discomfort and not allow the fear to hold us back from progress, okay? When it comes to issues of social justice and civils rights (and I absolutely see this aligned with civil rights issues), civil rights advancement in this country, our history shows us that we have often had that fear of change. What’s that going to mean?

But our history has also shown us that when we don’t allow the fear to hold us back and we lean into the discomfort and we trust and we believe that in creating greater opportunity that our community will be stronger, that we actually are. So the fear is okay. What I am hopeful of is that the people don’t again allow the fear to hold us back and I encourage people to learn into the discomfort and make a decision to help move us forward.”

It’s that message, about overcoming fear and leaning into discomfort, that has a broader, inspiring significance in this current moment; across so many issues and challenges that we’re facing as a society.

I invite you to watch the full video of our program to learn more about Ranked Choice Voting, and to check out the full remarks from Tanisha (at minute 46). I also invite you to sign up for our continuing series of educational programs, including our next session on October 13th with Integrity First for America, the group that is fighting white supremacy and antisemitism by suing the Proud Boys and others responsible for the 2017 Charlottesville violence.

I’m coming away from this week with a renewed commitment to lean into the discomfort, and I’m embracing Tanisha’s hopefulness about our ability to move forward. Hope is a blessing and I invite you to join us in building more of it.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach,

Jeremy

Sharing our Virtual Yizkor Service

Each year, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world honor the memory of their family members by visiting their graves. But for many Holocaust survivors and their families, there are no graves to visit, and no yahrtzeits to observe, since the specific dates of their deaths are unknown.

So, it is a long-practiced tradition of Boston’s community of survivors and their descendants, to mark the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a day of collective remembrance. Since 1967, we at JCRC have had the privilege, along with our partners, to organize a gathering every year for a service of memory, in a place that has become hallowed ground to our survivor community; the iconic statue of the biblical figure Job, outside of Brandeis University’s Berlin Chapel. Inscribed with a verse from Lamentations; “My eyes shed streams of water over the ruin of my poor people”, the sculpture by Nathan Rapaport honors the memory of the Six Million Jews who were taken from us in the Holocaust.

This has become a sacred space for survivors and their families; a place where they come together as one community, to mourn their unthinkable losses.

Each year, we hear survivor testimony, light memorial candles to remember those in the survivor community who we’ve lost in the past year, and we recite Kaddish.

This year, although COVID prevents us from gathering in person, we still join virtually in that sacred space. We invite you to watch a brief Yizkor service with remarks from Brandeis Hillel Rabbi Seth Winberg and the President of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, Janet Stein Calm.

You can also read survivor testimony from a past Yizkor service here.

May all their memories be for a blessing, and may you be sealed in the Book of Life this Yom Kippur.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Popping our bubbles in these “interesting times”

By Executive Director Jeremy Burton

Heading into Rosh Hashana, and whatever the year ahead may bring, there are three recent moments that I haven’t been able to let go of.

First moment: The New York Times had a piece this past weekend about how Jewish communities will be observing the High Holidays during COVID. As others quickly noted, amidst their explorations of Zoom services and such, they did not talk to a single Orthodox rabbi or congregation, or to any of the nearly 1/3 of American Jews who are, through our understanding of Jewish practice, not using technology to pray together on sabbath.

As large parts of the Jewish community are preparing to have in-person services next week, with great struggle in figuring out how to pull that off, this was, as Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt tweeted, “a glaring erasure.” In a year when American Jewry will be experiencing a more profound internal chasm than ever before in how we will observe the practices of our High Holidays, this omission was a consequential one.

Second moment: Not for the first time, a particular debate of interest to JCRC members exploded onto Twitter last week for a few days. In this case it was regarding a process we’ll be navigating this Fall between different camps in our own community; stakeholders in JCRC who will be debating a specific decision but are really arguing about larger ideas concerning the values and direction of the Jewish community.

What was striking though, was a conversation I had with a member of our staff, whose perception was that only one camp was particularly engaged in this social media noise. What struck me as we unpacked that observation was that while Camp A had tagged JCRC in their comments and was therefore prevalent in our feed, Camp B – for whatever reason – had tagged my Twitter feed but not JCRC’s official one. Thus, we were experiencing completely different and highly imbalanced discussions of the same issue of interest to JCRC and our members.

Third moment: Last month I watched almost all of both the Democratic and Republican conventions. I could talk for hours about my impressions of each. But a moment I haven’t been able to stop thinking about came in the very first minutes of the first night of the Democrats’ broadcast: A video of images from our nation’s recent turmoils, covered by Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”

Now, there’s a whole other post in me about that incredibly powerful song also being one of his most Christian in its imagery and lyrics, and what it feels like for me as a Jew to recognize that our “unifying” national culture is fundamentally one with which I don’t identify. But what struck me that night were the images. Swap out the music for another artist, and a large chunk of that video would have easily resonated if shown to the Republican convention audience as well. Images such as that of President Trump waving a bible in front of a church earlier this summer resonate with our two political camps in very different ways, and each views that image as an argument for its own case. It is not exactly a profound insight to observe that in this election cycle, we have two tribes having completely separate conversations about the very idea of American greatness.

My point is this, as I share my final blog post of this Jewish year: At every level –  organizational, communal, national – we are at a point of deep fracture. Our bubbles and pods and tribes lead us to interpret the world and events around us in profoundly different ways – and to understand all that we see and hear in ways that reinforce our preconceived notions. (Note: This is not suggest that all arguments and factions are equally rooted in “facts”). Our attachments to our self-isolating camps keep us from exercising our ability to have conversations about our disagreements, or to even have a shared understanding about the nature of those disagreements.

In these times of turmoil and fracture I’m reminded of a speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1965 at the University of Capetown. He said:

“There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort."

My prayer, and my determined commitment this Rosh Hashana, is that this coming year be one in which we face the uncertainty of our times with expanded imagination and creativity. I pray that we embrace an open-heartedness that enables us to listen to voices that challenge us and to the perspectives of those with whom we disagree profoundly. I want to be judged not by whether we achieve agreement and uniformity in all things, but by whether we enhance understanding and, at the very least, create a shared language that will pave the way for spirited conversations and a better society for the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom, and an early Shanah Tovah,

Jeremy

 

One Clear Winner in Tuesday’s Primary

Over the past months, I’ve used this space to focus quite a bit on the primary to succeed Rep. Joe Kennedy in the House. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, ballots are still being counted. And while it may take a little longer to have a declared Democratic nominee in this race, there’s one clear winner that emerged even before they started counting the ballots Tuesday night: Ranked Choice Voting.

Whatever the outcome in the 4th (and this isn’t a comment about the qualities of either of the frontrunners – both of whom I respect), the nominee will be the choice of less than one quarter of the voters, and the top two candidates will have, combined, received less than half the votes in a nine way race. That’s not representative democracy.

In Massachusetts, where we have no runoff mechanism, this isn’t even that unusual. In the past decade, in all three races for open U.S. House seats, candidates won their 1st nomination in a crowded field with only a plurality of the vote; Rep. Katherine Clark with 32%, Rep. Lori Trahan with 22%, and now here. These numbers don’t reflect the choice of the majority of voters. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) provides a mechanism to fix that and ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

RCV also allows us to avoid something we certainly saw in the 4th – “strategic voting.” In the final weeks we had perfectly good and talented candidates dropping out to consolidate around leading candidates – based on polling. I read multiple pieces where folks were trying to figure out who the “likely winner” could be to make sure their votes “mattered.” With RCV, we could all vote our preferred candidate AND then rank our preferences so as to not “waste” a vote on a 5th place finisher.

Further, RCV is shown to disincentivize both targeted and negative campaigning – something we certainly saw in this race. Without RCV, in a crowded field a candidate is incentivized to target their message and strategy to a small subset of the voters, knowing that while their message does not represent the majority of the district, they might still win with a fraction of the vote. With RCV in place, a candidate must find a way to speak to the majority of the voters, not only in their agenda, but also through positive appeals to the supporters of the other candidates. If candidate A wants to be the second or third choice for candidate B & E’s supporters, then they want to speak to those voters during the race and not just target a niche that gets them to 22%.

There are several other reasons to support Ranked Choice Voting but at the end of the day, we at JCRC believe that RCV improves the quality of our democracy. That’s why our Council, which has made “defending democracy” a central component of our agenda in recent years, has endorsed the “Yes on 2” referendum here in Massachusetts this November 3rd.

Over the coming two months we’ll be working with the RCV coalition to educate our community about how this voting system works, and about all the benefits of adopting ranked choice voting. We at JCRC hope that you will take the time to learn about RCV, work with us to educate your neighbors, and be a part of improving our democracy this year.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

Back to School: This Fall’s Quandary

It’s hard to imagine a time when the phrase “Back-to-School” elicited as much angst and debate as it has this summer. Schools are still in the process of finalizing their plans for the start of the school year, with major uncertainty ahead. Families, daycares, and schools throughout Massachusetts are balancing the physical safety of students, teachers, and staff with the social, emotional, and learning needs of our community’s children, all in the context of dire budget constraints.

Given JCRC’s role connecting the organized Jewish community with public leadership and resources, we’ve found ourselves on the receiving end of urgent questions from many members of our community: “Is there government funding for PPE and other COVID safety measures?” “What resources are available to camps, daycares, preschools and schools to deal with the safety costs associated with COVID?”

From the early days of  the pandemic, we have brought Jewish leadership to the table where critical decisions are being made, and we’ve been in constant communication with our elected officials about myriad COVID-related issues. This is a moment in which we’ve doubled-down on our organizational purpose; to discern our community’s values, interests and priorities, and to work together – along with our civic and interfaith partners – to address our collective needs.

So, we reached out to our legislative partners to ensure that students across the Greater Boston community have access to a safe learning environment, and that schools have the support they need during this unprecedented moment. We advocated to Governor Baker and his administration to allocate the necessary funds to all public and private schools and daycares, enabling them to access resources they will need to comply with the required safety measures. And we are meeting our responsibility to provide updated information to individual schools and communities, overwhelmed by the urgent need to locate and access these resources. Click here for our page of information on COVID safety and funding from the state.

We are also supporting the public schools of Greater Boston to meet the unique requirements of remote learning. Our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) is mobilizing and growing our cohort of volunteers to offer individualized attention to students,  an especially rare commodity this year. Many of our volunteers have already been tutoring students remotely throughout the spring and summer, taking advantage of the flexibility that tutoring via Zoom provides. Our volunteers have risen to this moment, providing crucial support to students and partnering with teachers to be a resource in the classroom.  And to their delight, they are finding that not only have they adapted to the strange new reality of connecting through screens, but that the connections with their students have actually flourished. In the words of Andy Koppel, a GBJCL tutor at the Winship School in Brighton:

 “The collaborative reading experience is remarkably effective. The students attend the sessions faithfully, and love the dedicated reading time...This has been an eye-opening and exciting experience, especially enhanced by the students’ positive attitudes and flexibility in dealing with this unprecedented and unanticipated immersion in remote learning.   

We are staying in close communication with all of the school districts in which we work, to learn about their evolving needs - and look forward to deploying our tutors who are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reconnect with their young friends.

JCRC is committed to ensuring that all students in the Commonwealth have the resources to learn safely and effectively during this incredibly difficult time, and that the schools in our community have the funding they need to do so. We will continue to be a resource for the community to access information about COVID from our legislative partners. We invite you to join our tutoring community this fall.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Why the UAE Agreement Matters

Last week brought the welcome news of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  

I’m taken aback and frankly disappointed that this development has not been fully celebrated in all quarters here in the U.S. That may be, in some part, due to how we overwhelmed we are by domestic concerns right now, or maybe because of our fractured political times and the key role that our current administration played in facilitating this agreement.  It would be regrettable if we chose to ignore this historic moment only because President Trump was the one who announced the agreement from the White House.  

As Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said this week: “Not everything needs to be partisan, and especially Israel.”  

So I’d like to take this moment to expand on our statement this week welcoming the announcement and to explain why we did so. 

First, anything that serves to normalize Israel's presence in the region is a good thing. Israel continues to be the only country that is not only challenged in the international arena for its actions, but also regularly questioned  for its legitimacy altogether. This step by the U.A.E. – and others that may soon follow – advances the just and still necessary cause of normalizing the very existence of the world’s only Jewish state.

Second, this new, important step strengthens the cause of peace. When the international community treats Israel like any other country, one which fully belongs among the nations, good things happen – such as the Egyptian peace, the Oslo Accords. Israel being treated like a pariah only amplifies the Israeli people’s legitimate sense of isolation and vulnerability as a country in a largely hostile region. Their understandable and reasonable reaction is to focus on self-defense as the primary driver of national discourse. This week’s events demonstrate to Israelis first and foremost that the benefits, for them, of peacemaking, are in fact possible and tangible; namely recognition and normalcy in the region. 

Third, “suspending” talk of plans for annexation gives everyone – including us in this county – an opportunity to step back from the heated rhetoric and emotional fractures of earlier this summer. From our synagogue Zoom rooms to the halls of Congress, we were tearing each other apart by debating and publicly criticizing something that never came to pass. At this point de jure annexation is farther from a realistic possibility than it has been for some time, a reality that, still this week, some in this country refuse to acknowledge. This past week’s events reinforce an Israeli political center that wants normalcy and engagement with its neighbors. The stakes of what could be lost for Israel’s center should talks of annexation rise again, have been heightened by bringing more Arab nations to the table of recognition, with all the commensurate benefits.  

To put it another way, as Ambassador David Friedman (someone who we at JCRC have been deeply critical of in the past) said: "We prioritized peace in the region over West Bank annexation...you can't have peace and annexation at the same time." That’s a shift. It’s a good thing. Let’s embrace and build upon it. 

Lastly, for us and for the Israelis we’ve come to know and believe in, peace with the Palestinians remains the ultimate goal. We know this can only be accomplished through building societies that recognize the dignity and humanity of the other. We believe that building and deepening public exchanges with a range of Arab countries advances a regional culture of such recognition. This development can help that process, and that is another reason that it should be viewed as a step toward progress.  

Of course, it’s only one step in a long line of many that must still be taken to build more ties between Israelis and Palestinians, so that they recognize each other’s dignity. We can hope that this past week’s developments will serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. And we urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, to achieve progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future. 

On July 24th, the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA) was passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would provide $250 million over five years to radically scale up peace and reconciliation programming. And now the legislation moves to the Senate. 

To learn more about the work of investing in peacebuilding and the role the U.S. Congress has to serve, JCRC of Greater Boston is partnering with the JCRC of Greater Washington and others to invite you to a program on August 27 at 2pm EDT to learn about our advocacy together with the Alliance for Middle East Peace in support of this legislation, "The Partnership Fund For Peace."It is an opportunity to learn about the legislation and the impact the fund would have on grassroots peace-building and economic development efforts in the region - directly from those doing the work, and also to learn what you can do to help champion this vital piece of legislation.  

We invite you to be a partner to the people of Israel, to the Palestinians, and to the kinds of forward-thinking responsible actors in the region who made these recent developments possible. 

Shabbat Shalom,  

Jeremy

Make a Plan of Who to Vote For

With the Massachusetts primary just over two weeks away and with voting already started, I am asked every day by friends and colleagues: “Who are you voting for, and why?”

It’s a fair question. Given my work, I have the privilege of meeting and engaging with almost every leading candidate in each cycle, in our region’s congressional and state races. But this is not a question I will answer. As the leader of a 501c3, my public comments are almost always viewed as an official pronouncement on behalf of our network of member organizations (except, maybe, when it comes to my praise of various comic books). Therefore, I should not and do not endorse candidates.

But what I can share is my process for answering that internal and personal “why.” It’s how I make a plan, before I fill out my ballot, to know who I am voting for. It’s really simple:

  • First, I ask myself: What do I care about in the leaders serving in this particular role? Of course, we at JCRC hold certain values and principles that we work for – on foreign and domestic concerns. I have some personal clarity as a voter that “I would never vote for someone who…” or “the most important thing I’m looking for in a dog-catcher is…”
  • Then, where there is an incumbent running for re-election, I can examine that person’s record: How did they vote, or if an executive office, how did they navigate the big challenges they faced in office? Where did they show up? When were they present or absent?
  • Mostly though, I want to research two things:

    1. What are the positions the candidate espouses? What have they said in their statements and position papers that tell me how they will govern and how they think about the issues that are of concern to me – in their own words. Fortunately, this is so much easier than it was twenty or thirty years ago, thanks to search engines and to candidates’ websites. Their websites also tell me something about their priorities, i.e. the issues they choose to address and feature, vs. other concerns – some of which are very important to me – that they may deliberately make no mention of. In those cases, I ask myself what that absence says about them and my evaluation of them.

    2. Who has endorsed them? Again, in this era, almost every candidate features an endorsements page on their website. This tells me a lot about a candidate. It gives me a sense of what caucuses they might sit in if elected. Who will likely have initial access to them? Who are they likely to be most responsive to on the issues I care about? I can see which advocates of a specific cause or position are putting their own reputations out there to say, “this candidate is the best choice in this race to advance my cause.” That says a lot about a candidate, for me.

It’s not that hard to make a plan for how I will cast my vote. In some races it takes a little more time. For example, in the current congressional race in the MA 4th, researching eight (as of yesterday) democratic and two republican candidates takes a little time – and while I don’t live in this district, since so many members of our community do, I’ll help you all out by including links to all eleven of their websites below.

It is time well spent. As I wrote last week, we know that our vote is our most sacred task to hold government accountable in a democracy. I for one would never vote for someone without doing my due diligence. A couple of hours of effort to inform our role in the myriad tasks and challenges ahead over two, four, or even six years terms is certainly time well spent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

As an example, the MA 4th primary candidates. These links are to their issue pages, but almost all have endorsement pages on their website banners as well, so check those out while you do your research:

Democrats:

Jake Auchincloss: https://www.jakeforma.com/priorities 

Becky Grossman: https://beckygrossman.com/issues

Alan Khazei:  https://alankhazei.com/vision/

Ilssane Leckey: https://ihssane.org/issues

Natalia Linos: https://www.nataliaforcongress.com/priorities

Jesse Mermell: https://jessemermell.com/issues/

Ben Sigel: https://bensigelforcongress.com/whyimrunning/ 

Chris Zannetos: https://www.chriszforma.com/priorities

Republicans:

Julie Hall: http://hallforcongress.com/

David Rosa: https://www.davidrosaforcongress.com/