Author: JCRC

Standing in the valley

Nahma Nadich

A message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:

Though each season in New England has its unique pleasures (Colorful leaves! Snowshoeing! Flowers in bloom!) I must admit to loving summer most of all. Yes, I’m an unapologetic beach bum, but I also just appreciate the generally slower pace, the opportunity to get away, to read more novels and to socialize.

Summer 2021 was one that began with real promise. The miraculously quick delivery of the COVID vaccine meant that it was finally safe to venture out of our homes, shed our Zoom fatigue and see one another in person, beginning with overdue hugs. When we checked in with friends and family, we even went so far as to use terms like “during the Pandemic” to describe the past. We congratulated ourselves for having gotten through such a tough time.

But as we approach the fall, it’s clear that *this* is far from over. We’re not done worrying about the safety of our loved ones, the word “unprecedented” is still part of our daily vocabulary and we continue to rely on screens to connect with one another. Synagogues are beginning yet another Jewish year, in a scramble to provide meaningful and safe ways for their communities to gather for prayer - indoors outdoors, virtually - and astonishingly, for many, all three. And throughout the broader community, all are navigating uncertainty about returning safely and responsibly to school, and to our places of work.

There is a scene in this week’s Torah portion that keeps replaying in my mind. Once the Children of Israel have crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, Moses charges them to engage in a strange ceremony. Half of the Twelve Tribes are to stand on one mountain (Har Gerizim) to hear a set of blessings that will be bestowed on those who follow the divine commandments, and the other half are to assemble on the neighboring mountain (Har Ebal) to hear the curses befalling all those who do not.

Setting aside the complex theological debates inspired by this passage, I’m struck by the very human drama of standing in the valley between these two mountains, between blessings and curses. This is the valley we now find ourselves in, between the suffering we experienced, witnessed and are still vulnerable to in this continuing pandemic, and the joy we felt, all too briefly, at the promise of returning to our lives and reconnecting with one another.

Though the individual circumstances of our lives may differ, we are all summoning the strength and finding the perspective and patience to wait a bit longer to return to whatever “normal” is ahead. I know that our community’s wise rabbis will have words of inspiration to offer as we gather – in all the ways we will – in the coming weeks. And that our friends who are leaders of other faiths, will do all that they can to spiritually sustain their flocks in navigating this moment.

As someone whose personal and professional life is centered on my relationships with others (my work home for the last 22 years has “Relations” in its name!), I am sustained and buoyed by every conversation that brings me closer to family, friends, colleagues and partners. In the last couple of months, I’ve celebrated each opportunity to connect with people I care about, face to face. But the Delta variant (and the stubborn resistance of far too many to a safe and effective vaccine) have stalled our road to recovery. So, for the time being, I’ll be connecting in any way I can – in person when safe, outdoors as the weather allows, and once again on screen, remembering to be grateful for the human ingenuity which produced the technology that binds us together. And when we finally emerge from this valley, I hope that my appreciation for the blessing of human connection and proximity never wanes.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

Can the Olympics really be universal?

Nahma Nadich

A message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:

I may be revealing my age when I share a vivid childhood memory of visiting my grandmother, of blessed memory. After a hearty meal of her delicious kasha (it was almost always kasha – her culinary repertoire was not vast) we’d settle down to watch her favorite TV program: the Lawrence Welk show.

She loved the kitschy bandleader and his wholesome music, but what she really loved were the credits that followed. She’d scan the scrolling text, reading aloud in her thick Russian accent, each name of someone she assumed to be a Jew, kvelling anew with each discovery. This pride in the accomplishments of our people was not limited to the geniuses behind Welk’s “art”. The same proud proclamations accompanied the announcement of achievements of all kinds – the arts, sciences and every other field of human endeavor.

I felt just like my grandmother this week, when I reacted to a sporting event, in a way that mirrored her brand of TV watching. Lydia Jacoby, the extraordinary teen aged swimmer from Alaska stunned the world by beating Olympic champion Lilly King to win the gold in the 100m breaststroke. Mid cheer, I was seized with a desperate desire to know the most essential fact about the new gold medalist. IS SHE A JEW?

Naturally, I reached out to Twitter (or more precisely “Jwitter”), where I discovered that I was not alone in wondering.  My curiosity was noticed by the JTA, which immediately investigated, and much to the disappointment of Jewish fans everywhere, concluded that we could not count Jacoby as a Member of the Tribe.

What is it with our obsession in claiming notables and taking credit in their accomplishments? As amused as I was by my grandmother’s careful record keeping, it also made me a bit uneasy, since as a young person, I aspired to a more universalist worldview, one in which we were all members of a common family. But as I get older, I understand her better. It’s only natural to get an extra thrill when someone close to you – from your family or from your people – is recognized for their achievements. I’ve been relieved to witness the same phenomenon from other minority groups, particularly ones also accustomed to seeing their members too often denigrated and maligned. I remember hearing my colleagues at an LGBTQ health center excitedly debating whether certain prominent figures were a part of their community, and I’ve seen the joy experienced by Black friends when accomplishments of Black leaders are recognized and celebrated.  

Maybe it’s only natural to watch the Olympics with a special focus on “our people” whoever they are, just as our eyes are never averted from watching our own children perform in a class play. And maybe even shouting “USA!” from our sofas, is to be expected from time to time.

But thankfully, the Olympic experience doesn’t demand that we abandon all universalist impulses, even when as we revel in our particularistic victories. The global athletic community also has the power to transcend national boundaries, as I was reminded during another thrilling moment in women’s swimming. American swimmer Katie Ledecky, the most decorated female swimmer of all time, and the holder of the world record in the 400 freestyle, was beat in that event by Australia’s Ariane Titmus. The women immediately embraced, celebrating each other’s  astonishing performances, and in an act of true sportsmanship, Titmus credited Ledecky for spurring her on, saying “I wouldn’t be here without her”. The women may be on different teams, representing countries across the Globe from each other, but what they share -a love of the sport, superhuman discipline and a relentless desire to be the best – is much greater than all that divides them.

Olympics notwithstanding, I’m not much of a sports fan, and as a Bostonian, I don’t always get what all the fuss is about. But it turns out, there are some profound life lessons to be learned from sports, even ones that are relevant in my line of work. Whether it comes to international athletic competitions or community relations, there is definitely a time and place for a laser focus on our own, a time to recognize, and take pride in our people’s achievements – and a time to embrace the human family, to marvel at the diverse tapestry of humanity and  to celebrate all that binds us together.

But I’m still not entirely convinced that Lydia isn’t Jewish.

Shabbat shalom

Vaccines and a Glimpse of the Divide

Nahma Nadich

A message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:

This week, testifying on behalf of JCRC at a hearing for a bill called the “Community Immunity Act,” I got a glimpse of the deeply troubling rhetoric and toxic divide plaguing our country and threatening our health as a nation.

In 2019, when JCRC was first approached to support this act, the term “herd immunity” was new to us. Frankly, we scratched our heads. We already had an ambitious list of priorities; Civil Rights, Immigration, Combating Antisemitism and Hatred, Defending Democracy and Economic Justice. The issue of vaccines didn’t seem to fit into any of these buckets and we had no reason to think that it was of particular concern for our community members.

As the central advocacy arm of the organized Jewish community, we are regularly asked to sign on to a range of worthy and important issues. But to be effective and true to our mission, we must keep a laser focus on the areas of most concern to our community, and where our voice will matter most.

But then, we started hearing from Jewish community members – worried pre-school teachers and directors, anxious parents – about being in a bind that left them uneasy about their students’ and childrens’ well-being. Though local Jewish schools required vaccines, MA law allowed for religious exemptions that were easy for anyone objecting to vaccines to obtain, and that were processed not by public health officials but by the schools themselves. Equally concerning were the restrictions barring educators from informing parents when their children had classmates whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated.  Because support for vaccines was robust throughout our community and across denominations, JCRC was asked for our help in enacting public policy to protect Jewish institutions.

We learned that the proposed Community Immunity Act sponsored by Senator Becca Rausch and Representative Paul Donato addressed problems we had no idea that Massachusetts was facing, i.e. that over 2,000 schools and preschools failed to report any immunization data, that a significant number of kindergarten programs that did report data were below herd immunity rates for measles and pertussis, and as is so often the case, that the health of impoverished populations and communities of color were disproportionately hit by these diseases. Our Council enthusiastically endorsed a set of principles to standardize immunization requirements, overhaul the system of collecting and reporting data, educate the public and encourage efforts to boost vaccination rates.

When the pandemic hit, we painfully and (too) slowly, came to appreciate how inextricably tied our fates are to those of our neighbors, and we realized that decisions we make about our daily lives – ones we used to think of as affecting only us – literally have life and death consequences to those around us. We could not anticipate that a year later, we’d suffer unimaginable losses and watch out society grind to a halt – only to be delivered from that darkness by the miracle of lifesaving vaccines.

So, I was eager to testify on behalf of JCRC at the hearing scheduled for the Community Immunity bill. For over 15 sometimes raucous hours, the MA Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health heard testimony from hundreds of individuals. As I listened throughout the day, I was appalled to hear person after person refute basic science and spread dangerous disinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I heard them misrepresent and distort the contents of the bill, claiming that it interferes with free speech (it does not) and alleging that it would make our private medical information available to the public (it would not). And I heard appeals to our collective responsibility to public health and safety described as fascist attempts to deprive American citizens of their liberty.

My time to testify finally came at 6PM, and I opened by describing the Jewish principle of Pikuach Nefesh the idea that the preservation of life always takes priority. As I proceeded to characterize vaccines as among the most significant achievements in public health, I was suddenly muted. The Chair waited for me to unmute myself and asked me to continue. But a moment later, I found myself mysteriously ejected from the hearing altogether. When I quickly rejoined, I heard the Chair inform the hundreds of people assembled, that no one on their staff had removed me, prompting someone to shout about their being denied a fair hearing. Though I was aware of the vociferous opposition to the bill, I was shocked by what appeared to be intentional undermining of a democratic process to hear multiple perspectives.

Even more disturbing were the grotesque references to the Holocaust, an odious trope employed by some vaccine opponents who bizarrely compare lifesaving vaccines to the death and destruction of the darkest chapter in modern Jewish history (which I referenced in my testimony). These images continue to be invoked in emails I’ve received since the hearing; including one I received yesterday, cautioning about the results of Dr. Mengele’s sadistic experimentation.

As it turns out, that request for support on an issue seemingly disconnected to our mission, was in fact, central to it. The experience of the pandemic has underscored the urgent need to reaffirm the supreme value of human life, to protect the safety of our community and to embrace our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

We need your help. Click here to contact members of the Public Health Committee in support of the Community Immunity Act. It is critical that we do everything we can to balance the volume of disinformation and anti-vax propaganda from opponents by submitting comments supportive of the legislation to submit to members of the Committee. These vaccine refusal emails continue to flood the inboxes of Committee members. Their numbers and engagement have skewed some press coverage in such a way as to lend legitimacy to the anti-vax movement and its repeated propaganda. Please help us to send a wave of voices of science and reason to the Committee.

And to learn more about the effort to pass this critical bill, join us for an intimate conversation with the bill’s  co-sponsor , Senator Becca Rausch, on Monday, August 2nd at 12pm. .

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma

Incident in Brighton, and Community Gathering tomorrow

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Dear Friends,

We are writing with upsetting news.

As many of you are aware, Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was attacked and stabbed on the street outside the Shaloh House in Brighton this afternoon.

Rabbi Noginski has been taken to the hospital and is undergoing treatment. Police have arrested the suspected attacker. The motive remains unclear, and an investigation is ongoing. We are working closely with Boston Police to get answers and ensure that our community is protected.

CJP’s Director of Communal Security has visited the site of the incident and the hospital, and we are in contact with the local police and law enforcement. We have spoken with Rabbi Noginski’s family, as well as with Rabbi Rodkin, the leader of Shaloh House, who appreciates all the support he is already receiving from the community.

As a community, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. If one of us feels vulnerable, we all are vulnerable. We will not be silent, and we will be there together. In this spirit, we are planning a community gathering for tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. on the Brighton Common, 30 Chestnut Hill Avenue, to come together and show our support for the rabbi, his family, and community. More details soon, and we will update information here as it becomes available. Please join us.

With prayers for Rabbi Noginski’s full and speedy recovery,

Rabbi Marc Baker, Combined Jewish Philanthropies
Jeremy Burton, Jewish Community Relations Council
Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League

When Antisemitism gets a pass

Nahma Nadich

A message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:

There was a joke I sometimes liked to tell when I was a therapist. A man goes to see a psychiatrist and is asked what seems to be the problem. His answer? “Doctor, I’m dead”. The psychiatrist heaves a sigh of relief, thinking, that this will be a simple delusion to correct. “Tell me”, he says to the patient, “do dead people bleed?” “No” says the man. The psychiatrist asks the man to extend his finger, which he proceeds to prick with a needle, producing a trickle of blood. The psychiatrist smiles smugly and asks the man, “Now what do you think?” “I was wrong Doc!” the patient says. “Dead people do bleed!”

I employed that joke to gently poke at to my clients’ confirmation bias, the universal human tendency to absorb new information only when it conforms with previously held views and beliefs. Clients with low self-esteem or catastrophic world views would perceive events around them through those lenses, and their perceptions would then reinforce their beliefs, in an endless loop, preventing them from changing or growing.

Though I left the clinical world over two decades ago, I see confirmation bias playing out in increasingly alarming ways, in our public and political discourse. The sources of information we expose ourselves to are now neatly divided by political leaning. The news outlets we choose, and the social media content we curate, articulate positions we hold dear. We feel affirmed in being correct and are sometimes even righteous about our rightness but are seldom challenged to expand our thinking or consider new ideas. And even more rarely do we recognize what can be problematic rhetoric or action when it comes from the ideological camp with which we identify.

The latest example? Antisemitism arising from the left, and the troubling silence about it from progressives. In recent years, there has been a justified focus on Jew-hatred emanating from the right, with the US government naming white supremacy at the top of the list of current domestic terror threats. But as Jews we are all too aware that this murderous hatred can emerge from opposing and even contradictory political beliefs. Our enemies have portrayed us alternately as evil Socialists and Capitalists, the common thread being that in our “otherness” we represent a collective threat to a cherished world order and way of life.

The peril posed by violent white supremacist extremists is enduring and unmistakable. But if those who identify as progressive insist on only seeing the danger to Jews that originates from that one toxic ideology, they are succumbing to a dangerous confirmation bias, and disregarding blatant warning signs.

In recent weeks, we’ve all seen the horrifying spectacle of Jews being physically assaulted in cities around the country, often scapegoated and targeted by those demonstrating against Israel during the Gaza crisis.

Here in Boston, the signs have been more subtle, but no less insidious. Two cases in point:

When the Cambridge City Council scheduled a last-minute hearing on a troubling BDS resolution, they did so on the first day of Shavuot. We at JCRC along with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Israeli-American Council, alerted the City Council about this date conflict, which prevented some Jewish residents of Cambridge wanting to offer comments from doing so. We explicitly requested an accommodation – through a one week delay – so that all interested Cambridge residents could participate in the discussion. Councilor Quinton Zondervan, the lead sponsor of the resolution, publicly responded, “I appreciate that it is the Shavuot holiday, but last week it was Eid. That didn’t seem to prevent the Israeli government from bombing and evicting and terrorizing Palestinian people.” As shocking as it was to have a city official blatantly defend disenfranchising local citizens as punishment for the actions of a foreign government, even more disheartening was the silence with which it was met, even when the offense was publicized.

The second incident was more subtle but no less concerning. A member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation spoke out about the spate of antisemitic attacks, but in tweeting about them, felt the need to call out in one message both antisemitism and Islamophobia, condemning “all forms of bigotry and hate”. Yes of course, Islamophobia must be condemned and eradicated, but why the need to dilute the condemnation of antisemitic violence erupting at this moment across the country, by also mentioning that particular form of bigotry (which thankfully had not seen a recent spike)? Several months ago, when speaking about the egregious wave of assaults against Asian-Americans, there was no similar need to mention another targeted group in the same breath. And when brutal attacks on mosques were rightfully denounced, there was no need to simultaneously condemn antisemitism along with anti-Muslim hate. Why can’t hateful speech and acts directed at Jews be called out as such, and why doesn’t our community demand that moral clarity from our leaders?

This week, I reached out to some close interfaith partners, to tell them about the crisis we are facing. I expressed my frustration at the resistance of some political leaders to unambiguously denounce antisemitism on its own. The response I received from one cherished friend, underscored not only her caring and concern, but also her profound understanding of our community’s experience. “As a Black person, I did not want to hear All Lives Matter when we were the target. All lives didn’t matter when Black Lives were disregarded and I would imagine the Jewish Community would feel the same way.”

We Jews are proud heirs to a legacy of justice and compassion, one which compels us to cry out at the suffering of our neighbors, to fight their oppression and to join forces with them in building a more equitable society. But as my wise friend understood, compassion, empathy and a call for justice must start with a recognition of our own pain and vulnerability, and an insistence on our own safety. In this moment, it must also include acknowledgement of a pernicious antisemitism that is getting a pass in some political circles that many of us are inclined to view as tolerant and open-minded. We must move beyond our own confirmation bias.

Our current political climate and the plethora of issues we face reflect more complexity than our polarized discourse would have us believe. I for one, think we’re up to the challenge.  As beings capable of having complex thoughts and appreciating multiple realities and perspectives, we can resist one- dimensional views that oversimplify, and which present false binaries. We can reject the notion that being engaged citizens acting on our Jewish values has to mean either overlooking our own victimization or being inured to the suffering of others. We can be for ourselves – and for others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma

Statement from JCRC regarding MA State Senator Jamie Eldridge’s Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

It is utterly shocking that a member of the Massachusetts Senate would elevate Hamas as a legitimate actor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There can be absolutely no moral equivalence between the State of Israel - an American ally, whatever criticisms one may hold about that nation’s government - and Hamas, a designated foreign terror organization, by both the United States and European Union, that is funded and supported by the regime in Iran and whose charter explicitly calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.

The legitimization of a designated terrorist organization by an elected official is irresponsible  and should be a matter of grave concern to all residents of our Commonwealth and to his colleagues. We insist that Senator Eldridge clarify his views.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) actively supports efforts to achieve Palestinian national aspirations through peaceful means. We are wholly committed to realizing the full equality of all Israel’s citizens. Conversations about the relationship of “occupation” between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people are important and we embrace those challenging conversations.

JCRC has reached out to Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to request an opportunity to discuss our concerns regarding his statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite our long relationship with Senator Eldridge he has not, at this time, responded to our request, nor did he make any attempt to be in dialogue with us prior to issuing his statement.  

Update – June 10, 2021, 4pm

We welcome Senator Jamie Eldridge’s statement of clarification today, including, specifically, regarding his understanding of the terrorist organization Hamas. We thank the Senator for the discussion we had today, and we look forward to being in continued dialogue with him about how to advance our shared commitment to achieving a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.

Anti-Israel BDS defeated in Cambridge

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Dear friends,

Last night, the Cambridge City Council overwhelmingly rejected an order that would have singled out Israel by boycotting city purchases of products made by Hewlett Packard, which also sells technology to Israel.

The decision came after more than seven hours of testimony on Monday night. Our community was mobilized and energized to push back against a one-sided narrative presented a week earlier, when the motion was first debated during the Shavuot holiday. After action alerts and social media blasts, more than 150 people argued live (on Zoom) against the measure, while an additional 250 Cambridge residents signed on to provide joint testimony that was read to the City Council. Our Jewish community — including CJP and JCRC volunteers, Israeli Americans, business leaders, interfaith leaders, and many others — ensured that Cambridge would not allow Israel to be delegitimized, marginalized, or maligned by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks Israel’s destruction.

As many speakers and City Council Members noted, the BDS battle pitted neighbor against neighbor and divided the Cambridge community. Instead of building bridges and creating understanding — the groundwork for peace — BDS “drives a wedge even deeper,” said Council Member Marc McGovern.

We thank the partners who have co-led this effort and worked tirelessly to call out anti-Israel hate and bigotry — the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Israeli American Council and StandWithUs — as well as the local organizations and congregations in Cambridge who mobilized their members. This was a collaborative effort and a powerful example of what we can achieve when we work together.

We also commend the members of the Cambridge City Council who tabled the discussion on Shavuot to accommodate the religious needs of some in our community, and who saw through this effort that sought to make Cambridge the first city in the United States to embrace virulently anti-Israel BDS.

The fight against the BDS movement has grown as its proponents have become bolder, more organized, and more sophisticated than ever before. It’s up to us to remain vigilant, to push back against Israel hate, and call out this divisive tactic whenever and wherever we see it.

We have tremendous work ahead — thank you for your support and partnership.

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Rabbi Marc Baker

President and CEO, CJP

Jeremy Burton

Executive Director, JCRC

 

Emergency Action Alert

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Dear Friends –

We need your help and your voice to confront a one-sided effort to delegitimize Israel in Cambridge.

This coming Monday, May 24, at 5:30 p.m., the Cambridge City Council is expected to complete debate and vote on a BDS measure.

On Monday, as Jews commemorated Shavuot, the Cambridge City Council held a hearing that would order the city’s purchasing department to, “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard … over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East…to ensure that the city embody the values it put on paper.”

The proposal is part of a larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement that is, in significant part and, in their own words, dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

That this proposal is even considered in Cambridge brings up disturbing questions of why Israel – and no other nation in the world – is the target of sanctions and why a hearing, which could have been held any Monday night of the year, was debated during a Jewish holiday.

If you are a Cambridge resident, please consider submitting written testimony or being prepared to testify live during the virtual meeting (see details about testifying and suggested talking points here). If you’re not a resident, and have friends or business interests in the city, please forward this alert and urge them to speak out.

We hope you can make your voice heard and take a stand against BDS in Cambridge. Find more info and talking points here.

Instructions for Speaking at Cambridge City Council:

1. Starting tomorrow, May 21, at 9 a.m., you may register to speak by clicking this link. Instructions including the agenda numbers will be updated on this website as soon as the information is available.
2. Registration to speak closes on Monday, May 24 at 6 p.m. Please register in advance.
3. For more information on signing on to speak or to view the City Council meeting on May 24 at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom, click here.

Helpful Tips

  • You will be allowed only two minutes to speak. Time is strictly limited. You will be cut off by if you go over two minutes. Prepare your comments in advance to ensure that you adhere to the time limit.
  • Participation is by voice only; you will not be on video.
  • Make your comments personal and from the heart.
  • Do not spend too much time focusing on the situation in Israel. Focus on the issue in Cambridge and how it affects you, your business, your family, etc.

Action Items and Talking Points on Cambridge City Council (CCC) Resolution

Background

On May 17th the Cambridge City Council (CCC) held a hearing to advance a BDS initiative. Policy Order 2021 #109 directs the city manager to “review corporate contracts and identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hewlett Packard Incorporated over their role in abetting apartheid in the Middle East.”  The target of this resolution is Israel. Here are things to know.

Take Action

  1. Cambridge Residents: In lieu of testifying, you can sign on to this letter detailing your opposition. The letter will be presented to the City Council during the meeting to demonstrate the strong opposition by Cambridge residents to this resolution.
  2. Encourage your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others in your network who are Cambridge residents to sign this letter by sharing this email with them.
  3. An individual may signup to speak before the Cambridge City Council via telephone to the City Council office on Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., or on-line via the City’s website, starting at 9:00 a.m. today.
  4. You can also submit written testimony to the entire City Council by way of email
  5. Please make sure to indicate when signing up or emailing that you are addressing POR 2021 #109 on the May 24th

Talking Points

1. The CCC Proceeded with the Hearing with Full Knowledge That Many Jews Would Be Excluded

The Cambridge City Council proceeded with a hearing on the resolution after having been notified, days in advance, that many interested parties would not be able to attend due to observance of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.   Councilor Zondervan communicated that he supported disenfranchising Jews in stating, “I appreciate that it is the Shavuot holiday, but last week it was Eid. That didn’t seem to prevent the Israeli government from bombing and evicting and terrorizing Palestinian people.”  We are grateful to Councilor Patricia Nolan, who stepped in to ensure that the actual vote would be deferred until Monday May 24th. We hope that others will speak to the apparent readiness to disenfranchise Jews.

2. The CCC Resolution is a Sham

According to the City of Cambridge’s assistant city manager for finance, it has been nearly seven (7) years since Cambridge has had a direct purchase order with Hewlett Packard. In other words, the resolution is addressing “a problem” that does not exist. It is a sham, whose only purpose is to demonize Israel.

3. Singling Out Israel and Holding It to a Unique Ethical Standard Raises Troubling Questions

There are hundreds of American companies that are working overseas and engaged in transactions that could be tied to questionable human rights practices. Examples include energy companies like Aramco in Saudi Arabia (persecution of religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community) and technology and consumer companies like Apple and Foxconn in China (child and slave labor).  Why is the CCC focused only on a company that does business with Israel? This focus on Israel betrays a deeper and concerning animus to the world’s only Jewish state.

4. CCC Proposes to Hold HP and Israel to a Standard It Does Not Apply to Cambridge Based Companies

If the CCC is intent on disassociating itself from companies that violate human rights then it need not trouble itself with events halfway around the world. A March 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, for example, cited 82 major corporations that have items in their supply chain created by Uyghur slave labor. Some of these are prominent tech and retail companies with large offices and stores in Cambridge (we are glad to provide additional information). Other companies with stores in Cambridge are selling merchandise from companies that reportedly have product made with Uyghur slave labor in their supply chain. Is the City of Cambridge concerned that it may be doing business with these companies?  Might the City of Cambridge be extending benefits to some of these companies? Have members of the CCC paused to ask these questions?

5. The Accusation that Israel Practices Apartheid is False and Malicious

Like with other BDS initiatives, the primary purpose for proceeding with Policy Order 2021 #109 is to advance false and malicious ideas that will serve to delegitimize Israel. BDS has been rejected by everyone from Joe Biden and Barak Obama to Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Kennedy, Jamal Bowman and governors from all 50 states.  Yet, proponents continue to try to advance their claims by cherry picking data to support extreme and unsubstantiated claims.  Here is what they will not tell you.

Israeli policies in the West Bank are primarily motivated by security concerns arising from the sustained violence that has resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands of Israelis.  These policies can be the subject of honest debate, but it is a false and malign distortion to suggest they are racially motivated, much less akin to apartheid.  Resolutions that advance such ideas distort the reality on the ground and provide cover to groups like Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group that rejects peace and co-existence with Israel on any terms. This is a dubious role for an American city.

6.  One Sided BDS Narratives Undermine Prospects for Peace

BDS initiatives, such as the one now under consideration, are deceptive and misleading. They spread false malign information about Israel, fuel polarization, and strengthen the hands of those who reject peaceful co-existence. In this time of heightened tensions, we might hope that elected leaders would seek ways to promote engagement and reconciliation.  The CCC, however, is contemplating a different path, one that will further inflame tensions and foster division. The vehicle for this is a resolution that ignores one side’s commitment to violence and its contempt for peace, while conveying a false view of the actions and views of the other. The losers of such hubris are always the Palestinians and Israelis, who hope for a new day where peace is possible. The City of Cambridge can be part of the solution or pour fuel on the fire. Which will it be?

Despair and Hope in Israel

Today, at a time when we’re desperately seeking glimmers of hope, and the possibility of a peaceful future, we’re bringing you on a virtual visit with a few special Israeli and Palestinian friends, part of the Boston Partners for Peace community in this blogpost by Eli Cohn-Postell, JCRC Director of Israel Engagement:

This was an excruciating week. We at JCRC have been heartbroken watching events in Israel, and we mourn the loss of innocent life. We stand by the people of Israel as they are terrorized by rockets launched by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many of us have not been able to travel to Israel during the pandemic, and we long to be closer to our friends and family during frightening times. While we cannot be there in person, it is all the more critical to take our cues from those most affected during times of crisis. We spent this week listening to our Israeli and Palestinian partners, re-engaging with their stories and our memories of being together.

Whenever rockets are fired from Gaza I immediately think of Netiv Ha’asarah. Netiv Ha’asarah is a Moshav just to the north of Gaza, even closer to the Strip than Ashkelon or Sderot. They were in the news this week, as Hamas rockets target the area and, tragically, because an IDF soldier was killed there on Wednesday. We visit Netiv Ha’asarah with our JCRC Study Tour groups, and we often meet with residents in a bomb shelter located underneath a playground. There, we usually speak with Raz or his mother, Smadar, who show us what is left of a Qassam rocket and a piece of an Iron Dome missile that landed in the village. They proudly share the history of the community, along with the sense of vulnerability they feel on a regular basis.

But the residents of Netiv Ha’asarah also recognize the vulnerability of the Palestinians living nearby. Many of the Jews living there had relationships with the Palestinians in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and Hamas’ subsequent violent takeover. Some have even started a collective art project, using walls meant to defend against sniper fire as a canvas for a tile mosaic that sends a message of peace to the people in Gaza.

This week I am also thinking of our tour guides and their families. One of our guides, Yishay, posts a photograph every day on social media. Earlier this week he posted about preparing the bomb shelter in his Jerusalem home so that he and his family would be safe from the rockets. I am thinking of our guide Mike, who always brings complexity and helps me to see the gray areas. When I reached out to him, he told me a story about going to get an X-ray recently with a Muslim religious X-ray technician. He wished her a Ramadan Kareem, and he learned that she commutes to Modi’in from her home in Umm-al-Fahm, where she is also studying (via Zoom) at the American University in Ramallah. The reality is so much more complex than we can see from here.

And, of course, we are looking to the peacebuilding community and our Boston Partners for Peace partners. Unsurprisingly, they have been quick to call for an end to the violence and are mobilizing where possible. I was particularly inspired by Roots, a group of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. They held a joint fast and moment of prayer, and these communities and organizations continue to do the critical work of bringing people together, even during this fraught moment, despite their differences. Just yesterday, thousands of Jewish and Arabs citizens came together in cities all over the country to call for a cease fire and an end to violence.

There is no doubt that the current violence is a stress on the grassroots peacebuilding community. Violence perpetrated in the streets of mixed Arab-Jewish cities has been deplorable, and has been rightly condemned by both Arab and Jewish politicians. Some have wondered whether the fighting could have long-term impacts on co-existence efforts. But I know that the peacebuilders will remain steadfast. There has never been a question about whether this movement will be extinguished, the challenge has always been for these organizations to grow and spread their message of hope to more people. I am confident that they will continue to work for peace, and we will continue to support their efforts.

During such a challenging time, it is crucial for us to also share our hopes. I am hoping for a swift end to the violence in Israel. I am hoping that we can return soon to see our friends. I am hoping that people can feel safe in their homes. I am hoping that this can be a transformative moment, and a moment of growth for movements working toward mutual recognition and dignity for all people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

Eli Cohn-Postell
Director of Israel Engagement