Author: Nahma Nadich

Guarding Our Tongues

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

As I sat in shul on Yom Kippur this year, joining with my community in the traditional vidui (confession) of the Al Chet repeated ten times throughout the day, I was struck by how many sins on that long list have to do with speech. For the sin we have committed before you with the utterance of our lips, through harsh speech, with impurity of speech, through foolish talk, with evil talk, with the idle chatter of our lips, through tale-bearing, through swearing in vain. And there are still more (i.e. verbal confession, false denial and lying, scoffing impudence, passing judgment) where speaking is implied.

I’ve always been fascinated by the dominance of speech on this list, and the lengthy enumeration of the many categories of sins related to it. The author seems to be warning us that we as human beings we can inflict such grievous harm on one another through speaking that each variation on this theme must be spelled out.

I take great comfort in reciting all of these sins in the plural, and in knowing that I am not the only one in my community cringing at the recitation of these particular transgressions (perhaps more than some others, like bribe taking and embezzlement!). Who among us hasn’t been judgmental or condescending, or lashed out impulsively in anger? Who hasn’t inadvertently caused pain, inflicting unintentional wounds with our words? Who hasn’t repeated (or reposted) something without scrupulously confirming its veracity, and who hasn’t shared something that even if true, could cause great damage? The Al Chet is my yearly reminder that speech can serve as a weapon in myriad ways, and that diligence is required in guarding my tongue against evil.

This year, while I temporarily serve as Executive Director of JCRC, I find myself reflecting not only on my personal actions, but on the actions of this organization, which in the words of our mission statement is the “representative voice of the organized Jewish community”. Given that weighty charge, what should be our guideposts in speaking on behalf of our community? What sins must we take great care to avoid committing? Permit me to suggest a few.

1. For the sin of ill-timed speech

Since so much of our work is by its nature reactive to unfolding events in our community and beyond, we frequently make rapid judgments about when to speak out. And sometimes we miss the mark. Speaking too quickly can mean that we haven’t sufficiently thought through the consequences of our words on all parts of the community. Waiting too long to speak can mean that we missed a moment when our community desperately needed to hear from us on an issue of grave concern.

2. For the sin of speaking when we should have remained silent

With the pressure of a never-ending news cycle to which we are all glued, we can succumb to the pressure to comment on a story that is still unfolding. We can make assumptions that are not borne out by facts once they are fully known.

3. For the sin of speech that is not representative

As the representative voice of the organized Jewish community, we go to great lengths to ensure that we are capturing the opinions, values, and sensibilities of that body. To be clear, we do not claim to represent the Boston Jewish community in general (how could anyone possibly do so?) but we are obligated to get it right in representing our organizations on policy issues. So we consult with our organizational Council members and check in frequently between scheduled meetings. But we can still get it wrong, and speak out in ways that are at best insensitive and at worst, hurtful, to parts of our community.

As we enter 5780, a year I fear will be no less fraught or complicated for our People, locally and around the world, we commit ourselves anew to listening carefully to our constituents and to speaking on their behalf when the time demands it of us, thoughtfully and respectfully. And to be transparent about our failures should we miss the mark. We hope to count on you to inform our decisions and to keep sharing your reflections with us.

Wishing us all a 5780 that inspires us to be our best individual and organizational selves.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,

Nahma

CJP, JCRC Condemn Synagogue Attack in Germany

CJP, JCRC, and Greater Boston’s Jewish community are filled with grief for the victims of a brazen attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany. Timed to occur during Yom Kippur, one of the holiest and most solemn days on the Jewish calendar, the attack came as dozens of worshippers were inside the synagogue. More lives would have been lost if not for the secured doors of the building.

We join with the global Jewish community and the people of Germany in condemning the attack and in offering prayers for the victims and their families.

The aim of the attacker was made clear by statements leading up to and during the shooting and echoed the words used by terrorists and extremists who attacked synagogues and houses of worship from Poway to Pittsburgh to Christchurch.  Antisemitism and the ideology of hatred in its many forms are antithetical to our faith and an affront to humanity. We share with Jews and other minority groups around the world deep concerns over rising antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism in Germany, throughout Europe, and around the world.

For the victims, we will mourn. For the living, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world.

We pray for the recovery of the injured and hope that the families of those we lost find comfort in their sadness.

4,700 Books, 100 Classrooms

This week, a message from Director of Service Initiatives Emily Reichman:

As Jews, we are “the people of the book.” During these High Holy Days, we pray to be written in the Book of Life. Books—education—are central to our identity, and as immigrants to this country, we experienced the power of reading in unlocking opportunities for generations in our new homeland.

New research confirms what we as Jews have always known instinctively, that “the best predictor of future education achievement and life success is reading ability.”* But here in Massachusetts, 43% of third-graders cannot read at grade level.** One big obstacle is access to books.

In families where making ends meet is a challenge, buying books can be an unattainable luxury. In addition, many Boston Public School libraries have closed due to a lack of resources to staff and maintain them.

This summer, we at JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) approached Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with an idea to address this problem. We were grateful that they had donated 850 books to us in the past, but we wondered if they might consider a more substantive donation, one that would enable our young friends to start their own home libraries. They responded enthusiastically, increasing their donation this year to 4,700 books, at a value of over $85,000. These books will be delivered into the hands of thousands of excited students, teachers, and volunteers all over Greater Boston.

As two FedEx delivery drivers unloaded boxes upon boxes holding these 4,700 books into GBJCL volunteer Alison Wintman's home, they asked her where the seven pallets of books were headed. On hearing her answer, the drivers responded: “That makes it all worth it; this is awesome, just awesome.”

We are distributing these books to 25 of our partner schools and nearly 100 different classrooms in an intergenerational community undertaking. Alison, who is a dedicated volunteer at the Bates Elementary School in Roslindale, served as the distribution center for the books. Aviva Bernstein, a bat mitzvah student from Temple Beth Shalom in Needham worked with her family to label the books. GBJCL interns oversaw the distribution, recruiting their college friends to sort the books and schlep them to the schools.

As excited as our volunteers were to help their students build their home libraries, the main focus of their work is the tutoring they lovingly provide, every week through the course of the school year. And for some volunteers, one school year has turned into twenty! One such volunteer is Nancy Krieger, from the Temple Beth Shalom team.

“Over these 20 years, the one constant is: We are all energized and inspired by our ‘relationships,’“ she said. “The love and caring the children express when they see us never ceases to endear me. To the students, I am known as ‘Dancy Nancy,‘ and it is incredibly gratifying to have the students greet me with a smile, a hug, and a deep breath as they set off on their next task. Their levels of academic achievement increase every month. Having the opportunity to work with these children is a privilege and a delight.”

Florence Scott-Hiser, a teacher at the Ohrenberger school where the Temple Emanuel team volunteers, notes: “I have seen the impact [GBJCL volunteers] have made, not only in my classroom but throughout the building. There is nothing more joyful than a child connecting with an adult and enjoying learning. Parents here are often working two jobs, so reading with their children is just an impossibility. As a parent and an educator, I know reading with your child is one of the most important ways a child grows."

We are continuing the work we began in response to President Clinton’s call in 1997 for a million volunteers to address literacy on a national level. We created GBJCL as the pilot program for a new National Jewish Coalition for Literacy, founded by the legendary social justice hero Leonard Fein, z”l. By connecting Jewish volunteers to high-needs public schools, their expertise is leveraged to support both students and teachers. Now, over 20 years later, GBJCL volunteers have tutored over 10,000 students.

Our volunteers are currently gearing up to return to their partner schools throughout Greater Boston, to share their love of reading with another generation of new friends. Join this effort by getting involved in GBJCL tutoring services or library projects by emailing Rebecca Shimshak, Director of GBJCL, or visiting the GBJCL webpage to learn more.

Shabbat Shalom,

Emily

*Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jerry-diakiw/reading-and-life-success_b_16404148.html

**Source: https://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/2017/03/28/statistics-show-third-grade-reading-levels-often-not-where-they-should-be/

Our “Founding Fathers”

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Though Rosh Hashanah falls relatively late in the secular calendar this year, I am probably not alone in still rushing frenetically to greet the holiday. And as in all previous years, I try to focus not only on my holiday menus and plans, but on the main purpose of this Jewish season; reflecting on this past year and resolving to honor new commitments in the new one.  At JCRC, our process of reflection began not in the beginning of Elul, but back in June, when we marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of this organization. Over the last three months, we’ve immersed ourselves in learning about our fascinating and glorious history, poring over archival materials, learning about earlier chapters of our history from spending time with many of our visionary leaders over the years. We did so not only to pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements of the last seven decades, but as a way to inform and inspire the future as we enter 5780.

Our story began on June 14, 1944, just a week after D-Day. Shaken to the core by the devastation of European Jewry and sobered by the realization that America’s Jews lacked the power to prevent this unprecedented tragedy, 16 Jewish organizations came together to create the “Jewish Community Council”. They knew that surmounting the multiple challenges their community faced would take a strong and united body. Desperately worried about the fate of Jewish refugees fleeing their Nazi murderers in Europe, they were also passionately committed to the establishment of a Jewish state in (then) Palestine as a safe haven for the Jewish people. Here in Boston, Jews were confronted by antisemitic rhetoric on the airwaves and violent assaults by gangs who targeted them with impunity. These wise men of the Council (and yes, they were all men) understood that only through building strong connections with people in positions of power and, equally if not more important, investing in relationships across racial and ethnic lines for the betterment of the entire community, could they ensure a vibrant future for Boston’s Jews.

With the end of the war, the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston (our original name) sent a “Council Message of Friendship” to some 2,500 clergy, state and city officials, labor leaders, heads of service clubs, and others on September 5, 1945:

If only we had been able to sit with these leaders – to hear what it was like to emerge from the darkest chapter in modern history, with one’s belief in a “brilliant chapter of progress” miraculously still intact. If only they could tell us how they were so certain that “mutual understanding and mutual respect” had the power to forever banish “hatred, suspicion and distrust”.

But, all these years later, as we face challenges both familiar and new, their message still resonates for us. As the inheritors of their legacy, we’re heirs to their beliefs, and their commitments. The language may be antiquated; we no longer speak just of “men” or pursue relationship just with Christians, but the underlying values of peace and human dignity endure, as does the certainty that they can be achieved only through developing and sustaining deep community relations.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

PS - To pay tribute to our history and past leaders, we’ve compiled a commemorative book outlining our history and achievements over the years. This special book will be included in our gift bags to be delivered next week as a token of appreciation to all our JCRC75 participants. If you’d like to receive your own copy, it's not too late! Click here to participate in JCRC75.

PPS - Be sure to take a moment and peruse our online auction continuing through next week!

An Insider’s Guide to Israel’s Second Round of Elections

From JCRC Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell:

With local and national campaigns ramping up at home, one could be forgiven for losing sight of Israel’s second election in 2019. Next Tuesday, the 17th, millions of Israelis will cast their ballots and select a new parliament. You may recall that Israelis also went to the polls in April, and this second election is taking place because that Knesset voted to dissolve itself when Prime Minister Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition.

We celebrate the resilience of Israeli democracy—the sacred expression of the will of the citizenry, and all the messiness that the democratic process entails. With that in mind, here are some of the storylines we will be following as we look at next week’s election and its aftermath. We are also happy to continue to provide insight and analysis at our post-election briefing with the Israel Policy Forum on September 23rd. As a reminder, JCRC will not be making a statement about the election results until a coalition is formed.

First, a too-brief introduction to the mechanics of Israeli elections. On Tuesday, all Israeli citizens will vote for a party, not an individual. Every party that receives at least 3.25% of the vote will be represented in the Knesset. Each of these parties will then recommend one person, who the President will task with forming a government—likely the leader of the largest party. They will have four to six weeks to form a majority coalition of 61 or more Members of Knesset. Election Day is a national holiday in Israel, and there is no absentee voting. Only members of the diplomatic corps and other governmental agencies may vote from outside the country.

The main story we are following has to do with voter turnout. No one knows how Israelis will respond to this unprecedented second election. Are they excited? Engaged? Apathetic? Turnout in Israel’s past six national elections has averaged 67%. Those living outside of Israel who can vote did so last Friday, with 69% of eligible voters casting ballots. This is a relatively low number for this population—a 7% drop from April—which could presage low turnout next week as well.

A second layer of this story centers on Israel’s Arab citizens. Israel has four primarily Arab parties, running together on a Joint List. These parties also ran on a Joint List in 2015, which resulted in 64% turnout among Israel’s Arab citizens and 13 seats in the Knesset. In this April’s election, the parties ran on two separate lists and combined for only 10 seats, as Arab turnout dropped to under 50%. We will be watching to see if turnout rebounds under the Joint List, which may even propel party leader Ayman Odeh to an unprecedented role as the leader of the Knesset’s opposition.

We will also be tracking various parties to see if any of them soften their demands in order to form a coalition. Following April’s election, many party leaders dug in their heels and refused to budge on either their policy or ministerial demands. This was one factor preventing Prime Minister Netanyahu from forming a coalition following the April election. Something similar may recur this time around, and we will be watching to see if party leaders maintain a hard line in negotiations even if it means potentially forcing a third election. 

Finally, we cannot ignore the specter of the legal battles that were significant factors in April. Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing indictment in multiple cases. His last chance to convince the Attorney General not to indict him is on October 2-3, smack in the middle of the coalition process. While this was an issue in the April election, the hearing date means that legal concerns are a more significant complicating factor this time around. We also do not know if negotiations will be held up due to the ongoing tensions between the Knesset and Israel’s Supreme Court, which was a primary factor in April’s coalition negotiation.

While we do not know what will happen next week, we are encouraged by the resilience of the Israeli people in navigating this unique moment in their history, and we respect the will of the Israeli public in determining their own path for the future. Regardless of the results, we at JCRC remain committed to Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, and we stand firm in our conviction that this must be achieved through the two-state solution. And for those of you who already have election fatigue, remember that November 3, 2020 is only 416 days away.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

JCRC Applauds Governor for proposing $1 million in additional funds for Non Profit Security Grant Program in Supplemental Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 9, 2019

(Boston, MA) - The Jewish Community Relations Council applauds Governor Charlie Baker for proposing $1,000,000 in additional funds for state Non-Profit Security Grant program in his latest supplemental budget filing. This proposal, along with the $500,000 included in the recently signed state budget, would fund close to 30 grants for vital security enhancements and protocols at houses of worship, community centers, and other institutions at heightened risk of violence.

Earlier this Spring, JCRC released a letter, signed by close to 150 Jewish institutional leaders from across the Commonwealth, to Governor Baker and state leaders asking for increased funding for this vital initiative.

"We thank Governor Baker and his Administration for unequivocally endorsing the right for all people to gather in safety," said Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. "Fear and violence have no place in our communal spaces and these additional funds will help restore a feeling of peace. However, while this is a strong step towards that goal, we urge our allies to combat the motivation for these acts of hatred. Education and mutual respect, not fortification, remains our ultimate hope."

The supplemental budget will be taken up by the House and Senate in the coming weeks. JCRC urges the legislature to act swiftly on this appropriation.

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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Reaching Out in a New City

This week, a message from Israel Engagement Program Manager Rachel Goldberg, who is an active volunteer with JCRC’s ReachOut! Program:

When I settled in Boston after college, I was suddenly hit with a dilemma: The convenience of my campus Hillel and my regular Friday college volunteer group was no longer available. I found myself in a new city, searching for opportunities to volunteer, and hoping to find friends who shared this passion.

Service is foundational to my Jewish identity and practice. The constant news of injustice and suffering in our world often overwhelms me, and I feel an obligation to do my small part to help alleviate hardships for those in the community around me.

So I was thrilled to discover ReachOut!, a program that connected me with a community-based non-profit organization where I could volunteer after work with other Jewish young adults. Over the past three years, ReachOut! has provided me with fulfilling ways to give back to the Greater Boston community while enabling me to form deep bonds with a diverse group of incredible volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.

I volunteer at the Tuesday Meals program at the First Church in Cambridge, where ReachOut! volunteers have been helping out for over ten years. The church is only a short walk from my house, and I serve my neighbors a warm meal each Tuesday, some of whom are homeless and others who are experiencing food insecurity. After serving each guest their three-course meal, the volunteers often grab a plate and join them for dinner. I often sit with the Israel enthusiast from Kenya who talks politics with me every week. I complain about the MBTA with Patrick, and sometimes I get singled out by Peter if I look like I’m having a bad day. The best part about serving my community is seeing the guests outside of the meal. I feel more connected with my neighbors, and they are always happy to see a friendly face, whether outside the Cambridge library, near South Station, or on my own street.

Getting to know the guests has also exposed me to the challenges they, and so many in Greater Boston, face, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to shelters, or drug dependency. Some people are seeking a hearty balanced dinner, and some are looking for a warm place to spend time with friendly people on a cold Boston night. Tuesday Meals provides a welcoming environment for them all, and the team of dedicated volunteers and professionals strives to make our meal a known resource in the community.

The volunteers at each meal are another piece of my community. Whenever I describe them, I refer to them as my “Tuesday Meals family.” ReachOut! introduced me to an amazing group of young adult peers and volunteers outside the Jewish community, many of whom have also been volunteering with the program for years, and who I might not have gotten to know otherwise. Patience, a member of the church who is over 70 years old, has been volunteering at Tuesday Meals for 25 years, and always gives me a hug when I walk in the door. Mike is the warmest meal coordinator you will ever meet and works at Tuesday Meals part time as he finishes Divinity School. Pam was the cook for the first two years of my time volunteering and I considered her a mentor. Originally from Dorchester, she always took interest in our group of Jewish volunteers and asked us about holidays and traditions. I used to work in the kitchen sometimes just to spend time with her and we would add funny videos to her Instagram stories. I was unsure and insecure as a newly-graduated young adult and Pam always told me that I should believe in myself— that I was amazing, and I could accomplish anything. I still miss Pam, her wise words have stayed with me.

By volunteering together each week, I’ve also formed lasting relationships with my ReachOut! cohort and have successfully built a community of Jewish peers who share my values. Not only have our friendships grown while serving food together, but our group often goes out to drinks or dinner after each meal, which always gives us time to swap stories and struggles of the past week. We get together for Shabbat meals as part of the program, which gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate our Judaism and bond outside of a volunteer setting.

Meeting people in the community from all backgrounds, fields, and walks of life has forever changed my perspective on what it means to live a meaningful life. ReachOut! site options range from tutoring in the South End, to volunteering with the elderly in Brookline, to helping people feel more food secure in Dorchester, and many more. Time commitments vary: you can volunteer for a whole volunteer cycle or sign up as a drop-in volunteer and create your own volunteer schedule. Registration is now open and I can’t recommend it enough. ReachOut! has anchored my home in Boston. It has given me the ability to interact with amazing people who I would have never been able to meet otherwise. I hope you’ll consider joining me to volunteer in the fall!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachel

Why the Accusation of “Dual Loyalty” Cuts so Deeply

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Early in my twenty-year tenure at JCRC, I had a neatly packaged description of our organization and its evolution from our original mission of 75 years ago. I’d explain that at our founding, antisemitism was an ever-present fact of life in Boston and in America, evidenced by hateful rhetoric on the airwaves, assaults on Jews in the streets of our city, and the exclusion of Jews from academia, business, and political and civic leadership.  And then I’d say that since, fortunately, antisemitism is no longer a major factor in America, we expanded our mission to focus more broadly on social justice and civic engagement for Jews in Greater Boston.

With the sobering realization that a virulent form of antisemitism has resurfaced in this country, my shtick – and our work – has fundamentally shifted.

The latest lesson that has been thrust on us as a community is about the allegation of “dual loyalty” among American Jews. This classic antisemitic trope was employed months ago by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, which was met by condemnation by many, including members of her own party.  Yet this week, when she and Representative Tlaib posted a cartoon by the runner-up of Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest (yes, you read that right) with equally troubling antisemitic imagery about the exertion of Jewish power, with the notable exception of Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrats and progressives remained silent.

Most shockingly, this week, the allegation of Jewish dual loyalty was uttered from the very highest halls of power, by the President of the United States. Once again, while we heard rigorous condemnation from some, there was an eerie silence coming from those who are sympathetic and politically aligned with the speaker.

What is it about the accusation of dual loyalty that is such anathema to us as Jews? Why are we so triggered when it is hurled at us?

Being loyal to the society in which we live, understanding that our destiny is inextricably linked with the well-being of our larger community, is fundamental to our Jewish tradition. The prophet Jeremiah heeded us to,” …seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah, 2:9).  The rabbis of the Mishnah understood how vital that message was to our survival as a People and included a more ominous formulation of this message in the Ethics of the Fathers, “… Pray for the integrity of the government, for were it not for the fear of the authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive”. (Pirkei Avot 3:2)

We as Jews have always known that a well-functioning government, and a strong and vibrant society are the best ways to ensure our own peace and prosperity as members of that community. So, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and contributed in every way we know how: serving in the armed forces, voting in consistently high numbers, lending our gifts and talents to a wide variety of industries and fields, and playing leadership roles way beyond our numbers in civic institutions.

Up until now, our participation in American civic life has served us well – which is why it was profoundly disturbing to be accused of “disloyalty” by a member of Congress and by the President himself. In the darkest chapters of our history, we’ve witnessed what happens to our people when we’re perceived as treasonous. It does not end well when we are made out to be “other,” shady foreigners suspected of being loyal to another master or sovereignty, or a secret cabal manipulating the levers of power in nefarious ways.

The contemporary take on today’s myths may be subtler, but they are no less damaging; that we are a monolithic group with a uniform set of beliefs and ideas, and with interests that are separate and apart from our fellow Americans. Jews are often conflated with Israel, and we are identified with every decision and action of each government. The lively and robust debates among us are erased, the multiplicity and complexity of ways in which we connect with Israel are not seen or acknowledged. And allegations such as the one made in the White House this week assert that America’s interests will never be ours, and that when push comes to shove, our loyalty is – or should be – with Israel.

But we know better. We are a gloriously diverse community, with fiercely debated opinions on Israel and every other topic we care about. Our political and ideological differences mean that we engage as Americans in myriad ways. Our interests cannot be reduced to a single issue and can certainly never be defined by an outsider to our community.

The fact that we occupy so many disparate political arenas also presents us with a valuable opportunity; to name and challenge antisemitic tropes in our own ranks, and from sources with whom we may find ourselves otherwise aligned.  We can interrupt the resounding silence.  We can marshal the resources of our friends and partners, so they understand the danger inherent in insidious dog whistles, and join us in speaking out against them, whoever they target. And we can resist cynical attempts to use antisemitic rhetoric as a wedge to divide us along religious and racial lines. We can stand united as Americans, in pursuit of the cherished values we share.

When I describe our work these days, I sadly must include working to combat antisemitism as a central part of our charge. But the essence of our work remains what it’s always been; building a strong and vibrant community of engaged citizens, protecting and defending its interests as Jews and as Americans, a community which will never stop seeking the peace and prosperity of our city.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

The SS Zeeland and the State Budget

This Friday, a message from Director of Government Affairs Aaron Agulnek. 

I recently received an old government document with notations written in cursive that I could not quite decipher, along with a yellowed photograph depicting a ship, reminiscent of the Titanic, but nowhere near as grand. Entitled, “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States,” the document included the names of passengers sailing from Antwerp and arriving in New York City on December 6th, 1911. On line 21 was an entry I made out to be “Zunke Goldberg,” age three, who apparently traveled with a four-year-old sibling and her mother. Zunke, or Celia as I knew her, was my late grandmother, and the photo was the ship that brought her and her family to America: the SS Zeeland.

I remember asking her as a little kid to share the experience with me. She seemed like a superhero to me, but I could not really comprehend the details: she fled her homeland; traveled in steerage; met a “stranger” who took her away on the crowded hectic docks (her father who she hadn’t seen in a year and could not remember); and began life in a new land. She talked about the struggles of poverty, antisemitism, and nationalism; some of the very same challenges facing today’s freedom-seekers from different lands.

But it was not just the challenges that she shared. She also spoke about the role of community, about the social service networks who supported her and her family: the community activists from all walks of life, the politicians and public servants who cared deeply for her family and their neighbors while they struggled to get a toehold. It was those stories that brought me to JCRC, where I could play a role to develop a robust social service network that buoys the immigrant, the unemployed, the senior, and the impoverished.  

A few weeks ago, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Massachusetts State Budget, with JCRC’s imprint and values firmly affixed. This was a historic budget for our community, one that increased the public investment in our priorities to $8 million, while recognizing the value of partnership, community, and shared humanity.

Here are some of the quick highlights:

Job Training & Education

  • $1,250,000 for the Employment Service Program for Immigrants and Refugees, which provides English-based job training and placement services for recent immigrants and refugees.
  • $250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities.
  • $500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college prep to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to expand its innovative programming.
  • Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement Initiative, which will increase employment opportunities for limited English speakers and help them progress up the economic ladder by providing workforce development services.

Seniors

  • $856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.

Combatting Hatred

  • $500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat.

Anti-Poverty

  • $2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, for homeless families to increase their level of economic self-sufficiency.

These programs and initiatives are, in part, the manifestations of our traditions and values operating in a pluralistic society. We never forget that we were once strangers in a strange land, and we know that we all thrive when today’s strangers are provided the same opportunities that helped us integrate and succeed in this country. It is vitally important for us to remember our past, while pushing for a better future for all.

Seeing the photo of the very ship which carried my grandmother to safety in America provided me with a newfound perspective about why people sacrifice everything they know for freedom. My family crossed a vast ocean, with their most precious cargo, their 3-year-old daughter, packed into the overcrowded, dark, and damp steerage, to escape to a foreign land. They took this unfathomable risk, believing in their family’s future in their adopted land—a dream now realized through me and my own children. We will honor their sacrifice, and those who are like them today, by fighting for justice and opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron