Author: JCRC

The Debate over Reproductive Rights – A Jewish Perspective

Of all the issues that have come up in interfaith dialogue during my career, none has been more fraught, more unbridgeable, than when we have discussed differences across faiths about reproductive freedom, i.e. abortion. There are ministers and priests with whom I am in deep partnership on other issues or have found some shared recognition of our different narratives; but still, we are unable to find common ground regarding our understandings of this issue. 

I appreciate that difference that some of us hold. There are many facets of our society’s discussion of this matter. But the two points of entry that are most commonly blurred and confused in the spaces I am in are:  the proper and safe regulation of a medical procedure, versus what our traditions tell us about when life begins.   

The latter is fine, when in a faith setting. 

We are all aware of the report last week about a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Though the ruling may, in the end, be different in tone or substance than what we find ourselves with – this decision is not terribly surprising for those paying attention to the court in recent years. We are now preparing for a profound change from the status quo of the last half century. 

What we seem unwilling to acknowledge as a society is that our public policy debate on this – as on so many matters – is informed by views rooted in one faith tradition, the Christian i.e. Western, tradition, to the exclusion of views rooted in the traditions of other civilizations.  

This is not to say that all Christians have the same view of abortion, or that Christian tradition is uniform on this matter. That’s not my place to say. But it is certainly true that significant numbers of Christians, including justices of the court, invoke faith teachings to reach the conclusion – rooted in their belief - that human life begins at conception. This is not a belief shared by all of humanity.  

When we bring civic leaders to Israel, there is often a moment when a participant expresses an assumption about Israel having restrictive abortion laws; knowing that religious matters are much more present in public affairs and that Haredi Jewish parties and Islamist Arab parties both participate in that state’s governing coalitions. They are then surprised to learn that in Israel, abortion is a nearly universally available medical procedure, paid for by government funded insurance.  

This gap – between assumption and fact - is in no small part, because, even in a society where matters of faith are very present in public policy, when that society begins the conversation about reproductive policy by rooting itself in a non-Western and non-Christian tradition, it can reach very different conclusions from those that our Supreme Court may soon determine. 

It is impossible to fully articulate the nuances and complexities of thousands of years of Jewish tradition and law in one paragraph. Suffice to say that we approach the fetus as a “potential life” and one that must be considered and weighed in relation to the “existing and actual life” of the person carrying it.  

It is from this starting point that we arrive at the place where overwhelming majorities of American Jews support reproductive freedom and the rights protected by Roe. It is why we at JCRC were proud to support and advocate for the ROE Act in Massachusetts, ensuring that – in anticipation of what may be coming from the court – at the very least we were on the side of protecting the rights of people in our Commonwealth.  It is why - while nuances and differences exist within our community on this subject - the Orthodox Union (which often finds itself aligned on policy with Christian conservatives) said last week that “Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus” and that legislation or court rulings “that absolutely ban abortion without regard for the health of the mother would LITERALLY limit our ability to live our lives in accordance with our responsibility to preserve life.”  

This is not to suggest that the United States ought to be governed by Jewish or Islamic law and tradition (Halakha and Sharia) on this or any other matter. But we must be honest and explicit in acknowledging that all Americans are about to be governed by a decision that is rooted, in some significant part, in Christian tradition.  

Our nation should be striving toward a society governed by humanistic and universal principles, rather than be limited by those of the dominant tradition. Our failure to do so will result in the denial of rights for all Americans, genuine harm for many, and, in this case, a severe limitation on the ability of minority communities to live fully in America in accordance with our own traditions.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC’s Adopted Mental Health Advocacy Principles

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston is deeply committed to ensuring people can live self-determined lives with safety, meaning and connection, free from barriers and stigma. In partnership with council members and community allies, we are committed to identifying and advancing policy interventions that address urgent needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stresses, isolation, financial insecurity, and increasing experience of discrimination and antisemitism.

Access to mental health care is at the intersection of these concerns, and we have seen dramatically increased need across the Jewish community and residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Interactions in our day-to-day lives and in data collected before and during the pandemic  compel us to address this crisis as a collective, rooted in our commitment to advancing social, economic, and racial justice.

Principles as Adopted by JCRC Council on April 26, 2022:

JCRC supports legislation and public policies that ensure access to residents within and beyond the Jewish community that:

  • Provide adequate funding for expanding mental health care access, without diverting resources from primary care, and invest money in innovative and non-traditional approaches to mental health care
  • Codify the coverage of annual mental health wellness exams similarly to annual physicals
  • Expand access to and incentivize the delivery of outpatient mental health care
  • Enforce and implement mental health care parity to achieve more equitable coverage
  • End the emergency department boarding crisis through better coordination, expanded services, and statewide monitoring
  • Address existing mental health disparities among people of color, LGBTQIA+ communities, and historically marginalized and underserved communities
  • Create equitable reimbursement to providers and eliminate requirements that overburden providers and delay consumer access to care
  • Enhance and expand the available mental health workforce through interim licensure and efforts focused on pipeline development, recruitment and retention
  • Build a workforce that is diverse and representative of communities that have been traditionally underserved through innovative programs that increase access to professional opportunities

The Last Living Link

This is a week of remembrance. It started on Sunday with the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. As I write this on Thursday morning, we mark Yom Ha’Shoah v’laGevurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day). Established by Israel’s Knesset in 1951, it is a time for us to gather and remember the six million Jews who were killed in the Shoah (and is differentiated from International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January which honors, as well, all of the victims of the Nazis). 

Also this week, the ADL released its annual audit of antisemitic incidents. We sadly confirmed what we’ve been experiencing recently – a 48% increase in antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts in 2021, a rate even higher than the 34% rise nationally.   

However, we did receive some good news this week as well.  JCRC successfully advocated for an addition of $500,000 toward the Genocide Education Trust Fund, included in the MA House budget that was finalized on Wednesday. The Trust, a public-private partnership, supports the implementation of the Genocide Education mandate that we worked hard to enact in close partnership with ADL New England, the Armenian community, and others. While the budget continues through the legislative process, we are grateful to Speaker Mariano, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and to Representative Jeff Roy for their continued leadership in championing this cause. We look forward to the Senate taking this up in their budget in May, where we have two great champions for genocide education, Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues.  

This coming Sunday at 2:00pm we will gather for the virtual community-wide commemoration of Yom HaShoah, hosted by JCRC.  We’ll be hearing from survivor Frieda Grayzel, Dachau liberator Colonel Cranston “Chan” Rogers and others, including Mayor Michelle Wu, who will be delivering her first Yom HaShoah remarks as mayor.  

Earlier on Sunday, at 10:00am, I’ll be joining Boston 3G and the Israeli-American Council for #6MillionSteps, a walk from the State House to the New England Holocaust Memorial to form a “last living link” around the memorial, to recognize that we are coming to the end of the era in which the survivors of the Holocaust continue to live amongst us.  

I was reminded, again, of the personal connection of JCRC to this work – confronting Nazis and fighting antisemitism – on Tuesday. We invited Father Charles Gallagher S.J., associate professor of history at Boston College, to sit down with me for a public conversation about his book, Nazis of Copley Square. Professor Gallagher’s research documents the Nazi spy ring in Boston in late 30’s and early 40’s and analyzes the role of the Catholic church and local leaders in this ‘Christian Front.’  

I was aware from the book’s footnotes that Professor Gallagher had relied, among other sources, on JCRC’s historical archives. Even so, I caught my breath when Professor Gallagher shared onscreen a memo written by my predecessor, Robert E. Segal, the founding director of JCRC, discussing the beating of Jewish boys in the streets of Boston and the antisemitism that led to JCRC’s foundation in 1944 (on the right below). 

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Eighty years later, as we again experience rising antisemitism in our region, and as the generation of those who experienced the Holocaust is diminishing in numbers, our origin and our purpose remain a central part of who we are and what we do. We at JCRC embrace the need to both challenge and encourage our neighbors to be upstanders in this work, as we also strive to be partners with them in the work of combating all hatred and bigotry. 

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday, in-person and online, and in the year ahead as we continue to do this work with both our members and our partners. 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

p.s. This month is National Poetry Month, and today is also ‘Poem in Your Pocket Day.’ Our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy volunteers are celebrating this week by inviting local poets to share their writing with students at our partner schools.  

Most of you already know my passion for poetry and my daily reading practice (and if you don’t, follow me on Instagram). This week I’m reading the new translation of ‘Flights and Metamorphosis’ by Nobel Literature Prize winner Nelly Sachs. Her work after the Shoah was deeply informed by her experience fleeing the Nazis.  I encourage you to check it out.  

 

 

Holding Hope for Peace

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On Thursday afternoon we had the honor to host - together with CJP & the Israeli Consulate - His Excellency, Michael Herzog, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, on his first visit to a U.S. city outside of Washington since assuming office this past November. Barely an hour before some fifty diverse community leaders gathered at our office for a candid discussion about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, the news broke out of Tel Aviv about the latest in a string of horrific terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians; The fourth such attack in two weeks (you can read our message to the community last night here). 

In addition, present in our discussion was the awareness that, this week, Israel found itself with a government crisis when one of its senior lawmakers decided to leave the coalition. The fragile change and the tentative optimism of last Spring are being challenged. What happens next? Here’s a great piece from Michael Koplow about what to watch for in the weeks ahead. 

This is a time of profound anxiety and concern about the weeks ahead. Is the violence in Israel different this time? There’s an excellent discussion of that question on this week’s Shalom Hartman Institute podcast as Yossi Klein Halevi, Donniel Hartman, and Elana Stein Hain consider the dilemmas of living with terrorism, fear, and suspicion (recorded prior to Thursday’s attack). 

As we head into Shabbat I’m striving to hold hope, and I’m leaning into a conversation we had earlier this week with two incredible and courageous women that I’ve come to respect and admire.  

 On Tuesday I sat down with Vivian Silver, a Jewish Israeli, and Layla Alsheikh, a Muslim Palestinian. Vivian is active with Women Wage Peace, a movement that has been focused on advocating to change the paradigm in Israel and move from the current status quo to active negotiation toward a political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Layla, who we’ve come to know through her involvement in the Parents Circle (like Women Wage Peace, an  organization we connect with through our Boston Partners for Peace network) is part of a group of West Bank Palestinian women who recently formed a parallel organization to WWP called Women of the Sun, focused on changing the paradigm in Palestinian society.  

These two organizations came together last week in a massive women’s gathering at the Dead Sea to issue a ‘Mothers’ Call’ upon the leaderships of both sides to return to the negotiating table and to make peace. You can learn more about this event and their work together by watching the conversation here). 

What struck me most of all was the sense of hope and optimism they carry. Vivian noted Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s famous speech to the Knesset upon the visit of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977. Begin said that: 

“War is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.” 

Inevitable peace is a nice thought, but how do these women carry so much hope even amidst personal loss (Layla lost a child to the conflict), political turmoil, and continued threats and violence? 

A while back the former first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, sat down with Women Wage Peace. He told them that “if anyone had asked him, the week that the Good Friday agreement was signed (in 1998), that it was possible that in the near future there would be a signed agreement” that “he would have scoffed and laughed people out of his room.” Within five days, that agreement was signed. 

Conflicts end. People, notably women, play a central role in ending conflicts and are very active in reconciliation movements. “I am” Vivian tells us, “hopeful that we will be just as surprised.”  

It’s a good thought to end on, along with Layla’s call to us to do our part here in Boston: To support people like them, on the ground, doing the work of peacebuilding through collaboration, to talk about them. To not give up on them.  

I’m proud that we get to do the work of building hope and supporting the peacebuilders here at JCRC. I thank you for being part of this work with us. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
JCRC Executive Director

JCRC Statement on Terror Attacks in Israel

Today, sadly, we witnessed yet another terror attack in Israel – the fourth in a series of escalating attacks over the past two weeks targeting the civilian population of Israel. We share the immense pain of the families and are heartbroken by the tragic loss of life. 

We stand with Israel in the face of this ongoing wave of terror, pray for the speedy recovery of the injured, and extend our deepest condolences to the victims’ loved ones.

We echo the comments of Issawi Frej, Minister of Regional Cooperation and an Arab citizen of Israel: “When these people attack, they don’t only attack Jews, they attack all human beings, they attack you and me and everyone who is looking for hope and for peace. We must not let these extreme people take us to a dark place.”

Extremists who oppose reconciliation and normalization can never silence those who work hard every day toward a vision of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security. This indiscriminate and senseless violence has taken the lives of Arabs, Druze, Christians, and Jews alike – including Ukrainian foreign workers. We call upon all those who wish for a better future for all of Israel’s citizens to join us in condemning these cowardly acts of terror.

JCRC and MAJF Call for Russian Divestment from State Pension Funds

For Immediate Release
March 8, 2022     

Contact: Shira Burns

JCRC and MAJF Call for Russian Divestment from State Pension Funds

(Boston, MA) The Jewish Community Relations Council and the Mass. Association of Jewish Federations sent a letter today calling on the MA House and Senate to take up and pass proposed legislation requiring the Massachusetts Pension Reserve Management Fund (PRIM) to identify and divest from companies doing business with Russia.

“Since 1990, the Boston Jewish community has had a deep and lasting partnership with the Jewish community of Dnipro, Ukraine, home to over 40,000 members of the Jewish community,” the letter states. “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.”

About JCRC
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

About MAJF
MAJF: The Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations is a statewide government affairs office that strengthens the relationship between the Jewish community and elected officials and personnel in key government departments, advocates for issues of concern to the community, and helps its members access public funding to provide services to its clients.

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Sharing my Favorite Graphic Novels

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By Jeremy Burton

Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust literary classic, Maus, has been very much in the news and in our conversations. So it is somewhat serendipitous that our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy is having a long-planned tutor training session this coming week about the treasures of graphic novels and how to best utilize them with students.  And when library teacher Liza Halley sits down with our volunteers, I’m sure that they are going to have a great discussion about the form, how to read these hybrid visual and word volumes, and how they can be used effectively in developing learning skills. 

Me being me, I’ve read a few graphic novels in my time and have a few hundred of them on my shelves at home; though I’m still unclear why the genre is collectively called graphic “novels” – all are graphic (visual panels of art on the page, like comic books), but some are history, science, memoir, and yes, novels too.  And while I promise I had nothing to do with selecting this topic for our program, I thought I’d take this opportunity to recommend a few of my personal favorites, in addition to Maus (of course). 

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The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt, by Ken Krimstein. A biography of the great Jewish philosopher, her education, the discourses she had with other intellectuals, her flight from Nazi Europe, and how her experiences shaped her insights into the human condition. It is beautifully drawn in a style that complements the material and was a National Jewish Book Award finalist. 

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Dancing at the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder. This 2020 first work is the memoir of a young woman losing her mother to cancer while in college, sitting shiva, and processing loss. It is an honest, gut-wrenching, and very funny exploration of grief by a rising new artist.

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March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Yes, THE John Lewis. He was a national treasure, and in these three volumes he gives a gift of memory and history to our future, taking us behind the scenes in the civil rights movement. It’s the powerful, stunning story of an extraordinary man who lived in, and shaped, extraordinary times. 

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The Arab of the Future, by Riad Sattouf. A hilarious and illuminating memoir of life as a child in Libya, Syria, and France in the 1980s. At three volumes so far, it is dark, vivid, and engaging on every level. He has an eye for detail, and the skill to present it.  

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Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. She is probably best known for her introduction, back in the 1980s, of the now famous “Bechdel Test” regarding the representation of women in movies (are two women having a conversation with each other that is not about the male protagonist? You’d be surprised how few movies meet this baseline). This is a memoir of her youth in Pennsylvania and her complex relationship with her father. It made the New York Times bestsellers list in 2006 and was adapted into a successful musical.

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Tunnels, by Rutu Modan. Actually, I’d recommend anything by Modan, as she is easily Israel’s most accomplished artist of this form. But this is her most recent novel (yes, an actual novel – there had to be one on this list) and she’s finally getting the recognition in the U.S. that long-time fans know she merits. This is a story about one family, but also about the politics of biblical archeology, among other things. Her stories are emotional, honest, and revealing.

These are just a few of the volumes and artists that I have come back to time and again, for their art, for their storytelling, and for the truths they present. I encourage you to check them out and let me know what you think of them and to share your favorites with me.

Happy reading!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
JCRC Executive Director

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Names FayeRuth Fisher as Director of Government Affairs; David Cohen as Director of Community Affairs

For Immediate Release
February 10, 2022                                                                              

Contact: Shira Burns

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston Names FayeRuth Fisher as Director of Government Affairs; David Cohen as Director of Community Affairs

(Boston, MA) – The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) today announced two new members of its senior leadership team: FayeRuth Fisher, Director of Government Affairs and David Cohen, Director of Community Affairs. As directors, Fisher and Cohen will work collaboratively with the JCRC staff and board, its member organizations, and outside partners to further advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community in Greater Boston.

“In FayeRuth and David we have two professionals who have dedicated their careers to elevating conversations on some very complex, emotional, and important issues,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC. “I look forward to them joining the JCRC team and helping further our mission of building a vibrant Jewish community that lives our values and advances them in the world.”

Fisher has over 20 years of experience in federal, state, and municipal government affairs. She joins JCRC from 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East where she serves as Massachusetts Political Director, overseeing the political department on behalf of over 70,000 healthcare workers from across the Commonwealth. Fisher holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College and a master’s degree in social work from Simmons University. She is involved with several community organizations.

“To me, this work is deeply personal and urgent,” said Fisher. “The JCRC of Greater Boston is an effective and well-respected voice on Beacon Hill and I am looking forward to joining the team to further amplify JCRC’s voice as we all strive for a more just and equitable Commonwealth.”

Cohen has spent over 25 years as a Jewish community relations specialist and Jewish educator. He joins JCRC after serving as the JCRC Director for the Richmond Jewish Federation. He previously served as Associate Director for ADL’s office in Boston and as Director of Israel Advocacy for the Jewish Federation in Greater Philadelphia. Cohen holds a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University, a master’s degree in American political history from Boston University, and a master’s degree in Jewish education and organizational leadership from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

“There is no more important work in the Jewish community right now than the work JCRC does to build relationships, provide educational opportunities, and advocate on behalf of the core interests of the entire Jewish community,” said Cohen. “I am excited to start working with my colleagues at JCRC as it continues to play a vital role in the local and national Jewish communal landscape."

Fisher and Cohen will join the JCRC team in March 2022.

About JCRC

JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Jewish Community Asks Governor to Double Security Funding in Wake of Texas Synagogue Hostage Taking

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shira Burns
1.31.22

Jewish Community Asks Governor to Double Security Funding in Wake of Texas Synagogue Hostage Taking

(Boston, MA): As the Jewish community grapples with the emotional aftermath of the recent Texas synagogue hostage-taking situation, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) this week sent a letter to Governor Baker asking that Massachusetts double state funding for the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant program. Thanks to the Governor’s past leadership in prioritizing the safety of the Jewish community and with funding from the NSG Program, Jewish institutions have been able to put some measures in place to protect their members. Unfortunately, the current funding level is insufficient to address all the requests and many institutions continue to have unmet security needs.

The letter, which was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Great Boston and signed by all six of the Jewish Federations in Massachusetts states, “Unfortunately, the situation in Texas was no isolated incident. Antisemitism threatens the safety of Jewish communities who wish to gather and find community. The communities in Massachusetts have seen arson attacks at centers in Arlington and Needham, an attempt to bomb an assisted-living center in Longmeadow, and this past June, the stabbing of a rabbi outside a childcare facility in Brighton. This is not a new phenomenon, but there has been a concerning rise in intensity in recent years that has led the JCRC to try and increase security provision funding.”

They continue, “Though we were shocked by the act of terror, we were not surprised. Every Jew attending synagogue, sending children to Jewish schools, or participating in Jewish institutions, does so with a sense of unease.”

The JCRC is requesting that the Governor increase the grant program from $1.5M to $3M to reflect the increased security needs of institutions around the Commonwealth.

About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.

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Texas synagogue incident and community briefing this Tuesday

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Dear Friends,

Yesterday Jews around the world watched in horror the unfolding situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas where Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other congregants were held hostage while taking part in Shabbat services. Thankfully, due to the diligent work of law enforcement, the hostages were able to return to their homes safely last night. We join the leaders and institutions of all faiths across our community and the world who have sent prayers, love, and strength to the freed hostages and to the Congregation Beth Israel community and we thank all the law enforcement in Texas who ensured the safe outcome.

Yet, again, the Jewish community finds itself facing the reality that hateful, violent antisemitism is real, and that we cannot worship peacefully in our synagogues without fear for our safety. This is a story that hits all too close to home for all of us. It has been just six months since Rabbi Noginski was stabbed in Brighton. It is critical that we do not become desensitized or that we allow fear to become a part of being Jewish in America. This is a painful reminder that the American Jewish community continues to be the target of antisemitic attacks fueled by extremism.

CJP, JCRC, and ADL work closely with our local, state law enforcement and national partners, including the Secure Community Network (SCN) to ensure the safety and security of our community. In the past 24 hours we have reached out to the 250 partner organizations that we routinely assist with security guidance and will continue to do so in the days ahead.

For information and resources relating to communal safety and security visit the Communal Security Initiative web page. At this time, we are not aware of any specific, credible threats to our Greater Boston Jewish community.

Finally, we invite you to join us for a virtual community briefing: Convening on Texas Incident: What you Need to Know on Tuesday, January 18, at 5:00 p.m. ET. You’ll hear directly from law enforcement and our security professionals about the incident, what we are doing, and what we can all do to keep our community safe.

Thank you for your ongoing partnership and support. Together, we will keep our community vibrant, safe, and strong.

Rabbi Marc Baker, Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Jeremy Burton, Jewish Community Relations Council

Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League