Author: JCRC

CJP/JCRC Statement on New England Holocaust Memorial Vandalism

We are deeply saddened to learn this morning of an act of vandalism that damaged the New England Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston overnight.

Early today one of the Memorial’s 132 glass panels was shattered in an act of vandalism. Each panel is etched with thousands of numbers representing the infamous tattoos inflected on the arms of many of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Even as we are angered by this act of desecration against a Memorial remembering the darkest chapter in human history, we are grateful for the rapid response of the Boston Police Department.  Based on what we currently know, they have a suspect in custody and that he will be charged with willful malicious destruction of property as well as a civil rights violation. CJP maintains 24-hour video surveillance of the Memorial and is providing the video of this event to Boston Police Department.

We are heartened by the outpouring of concern we have already seen by members of all communities as a result of this sickening crime.

The Memorial consists of six towers representing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust; the six years from 1939-1945 during which the “final solution” took place, and; the six main death camps where the majority of Europe’s Jews – men, women, and children – were murdered. The Memorial, which was created by Holocaust survivors who made a new life in the Boston area, is open 24-7.

The New England Holocaust Memorial, located on Congress Street across from City Hall, is managed by CJP in partnership with JCRC.

If you'd like to support NEHM, visit nehm.org or click here to donate now. 

JCPA Condemns Shooting of Congressman Scalise

The following statement was issued on June 15, 2017 by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the national network of Jewish Community Relations Councils.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs strongly condemns the senseless shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and several capitol police during baseball practice yesterday.

We pray for the full recovery of all victims.

The shootings are yet another reminder of the importance of reinforcing our democratic  pluralist ethos and a political culture of respect.

We call on our public officials, civic and religious leaders to do all we can can to embrace our differences.  America is made up of diversity: diverse opinions, cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions.

"Political violence has no place in a democracy," stated David Bernstein, president and CEO of JCPA. "Our only response is to advance the kind of society in which such acts become unthinkable. We've got a ways to go."

JCRC & State Senate Push for Security Funding

JCRC applauds the Massachusetts State Senate for approving a $75,000 pilot program for physical security enhancements and target hardening at nonprofit and religious institutions throughout the Commonwealth determined to be at high risk for terrorist attack.

This initiative is modeled after the federal Non Profit Security Grant program, which is currently limited to nine municipalities in the Boston area, and fills the gap by providing opportunities for vulnerable institutions throughout the Commonwealth which are geographically excluded from that federal program.

“Over the last year, we have all witnessed an increase in hate crimes and threats directed towards the Jewish community and other populations throughout the entirety of the Commonwealth” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We are grateful to Representative Lori Ehrlich for championing this in the House and to Senator Chandler and her colleagues in the Senate for recognizing that terror knows no borders and for taking this first step to ensure that people in Newton, Worcester, Springfield and beyond have the opportunity resources to keep their vulnerable populations feeling secure.”

This new program, sponsored by Senator Harriette Chandler and supported by Senator Michael Moore, Senator Eric Lesser and Senator Cynthia Creem would mirror the federal program, but is open to the communities excluded based upon their geography.  Following the federal program, institutions would be responsible for the cost of their risk assessments. After completing the risk assessment, they would apply to the grant program and be ranked based on their likelihood of risk and current vulnerability. The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security would then be tasked with determining which institutions are most in need of the funds and would award the grants.

“Sadly, we are seeing a wave of intolerance and threats in Massachusetts against ethnic and religious minority groups,” said MA Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler.  “We’ve seen threats against our mosques and against immigrants, even community organizations that serve vulnerable populations.  I believe this funding is critical to ensure that our communities remain a welcoming and safe place for all of our residents.”

“No child should have to fear going to school or going to pray at a place of worship. While it is my sincere hope — and my belief — that our American values and the human values of tolerance and respect and dignity for every human being will win out in the end, we must take steps to protect our vulnerable and targeted populations,” said Senator Eric Lesser.

“We must not let terror and hate interfere with our liberties and free exercise of religion,” said Senator Creem. “I am pleased the State Senate is funding prudent action to protect our institutions from those who intend to do harm.”

The initiative, included in the State Senate’s budget proposal will become part of the debate as leaders from the House of Representatives and State Senate negotiate the final budget for the Governor’s approval.

Protect Girls H2333 and S788

In March of 2017, JCRC’s Public Policy Committee endorsed legislation banning female genital mutilation (FGM) as consistent with our values and policies to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of girls and women in the Commonwealth. House Bill 2333 and Senate Bill 788,  cosponsored by 50% of the legislature, would create a program for education, prevention and outreach for communities that practice FGM, requires mandated reporters to inform the Department of Children and Families (DCF) if a child has suffered from physical or emotional injury resulting from FGM, and criminalizes the acts of committing FGM on a child or taking a child in or out of the Commonwealth to commit FGM or to permit another to commute FGM. JCRC has offered testimony to the chairs of the Judiciary Committee in support of the legislation.

Senator William Brownsberger, Chair
Joint Committee on the Judiciary
24 Beacon Street, Room 504
Boston, MA 02133

 

cc: Representative Claire Cronin, Chair
Joint Committee on the Judiciary
24 Beacon Street, Room 136
Boston, MA 02133

 

Dear Representative Cronin and Senator Brownsberger,

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) strongly supports An Act to Protect Girls From Genital Mutilation (H2333 and S788) and respectfully urges you to support the bills to ban Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Massachusetts.

FGM involves removing part or all of a girl’s healthy sex organs and surrounding tissue for non-medical reasons, often resulting in serious health consequences, the risk of death in childbirth, and lifelong trauma. There are no health benefits to this practice. Girls who are subjected to FGM are commonly between the ages of four and ten years old.  The procedure is typically performed without anesthesia, using a knife or razor.

According to a recent CDC study, half a million women and girls living in the United States have been mutilated or are at risk of FGM. Fourteen thousand such women and girls reside in Massachusetts. Some of these girls are in danger of being mutilated either in this country or back in the country they or their parents emigrated from. In some communities, even if parents do not want to continue the practice of FGM, the social pressures from others in their community can force parents to subject their girls to FGM.

This bill will act as a preventative tool for families who want to end this practice but remain afraid of social pressures to do so. Also, the bill will provide for community-wide education on the harmfulness of FGM. Twenty-four states have laws banning FGM.  Massachusetts is not one of them.  We need this law now to protect our girls and to send a strong message that the practice of FGM is not tolerated in Massachusetts.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,

Adam Suttin
President, JCRC

 

JCRC Statement regarding proposed MA Democratic Party Resolution

In response to press inquiries regarding the proposed resolution on peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton has offered the following statement on behalf of JCRC:

"We share the sentiment of the resolution's sponsors that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security achieved through a two-state solution. However, this resolution presents a simplistic response to a complex conflict. By offering a one-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem, the resolution is a failed opportunity to offer constructive guidance on how to achieve peace. We urge people of good will to support those Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who are working together to create the conditions of co-existence and mutual respect that are necessary for achieving the peace we all yearn for.

This is a time of great uncertainty in the world. Serious questions are being raised about our own governments' ability to lead. Given the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria, the challenge of North Korea, and the threats to liberal democratic institutions in Europe, among other issues, we are interested to see if the proponents will put forth a comprehensive foreign policy platform articulating American interests in the world and addressing the numerous international challenges we must face.

We share the drafters' sense of urgency that together we must address rising anti-Muslim hate in the wake of the election. We are curious why the resolution does not address the actual policies that are being advanced in Washington, such as limiting visitors to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries and closing our doors to immigrants and refugees from the Muslim and Arab world. We would hope that any serious response to rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Washington would address these issues as well as the increase in hate targeting our Muslim neighbors here in Massachusetts and around the country."

Building Bridges with Muslim Leaders

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a weekend retreat of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) of the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI). MLI was launched in 2013 under the co-leadership of Imam Abdullah Antepli, director of Muslim affairs at Duke University, and SHI senior fellow Yossi Klein Halevi. Over four years, four cohorts and some seventy participants, MLI has nourished a community of American Muslim leaders committed to understanding the complex religious and political issues we grapple with within the Jewish community.

Over the course of the weekend, I had opportunities to spend time with many of these leaders, engaging in honest conversations laden with both curiosity and tension. As we spoke, in quiet corners and over meals, I experienced their deep desire to understand my community, and an equal willingness to open themselves up to any questions I had about theirs. We talked politics, faith, culture; about hopes, dreams, and fears.

But most important, I found myself responding - to their deep and authentic desire to understand and connect - with my own authenticity, allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest.

At a retreat focused on coalition building, one theme from a teaching session by SHI’s Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer prompted my own reflections: a need to be clear, with ourselves and with our partners, about the imperatives that drive our work and our institutions. At JCRC, some of these would include our commitment to the national project of Jewish peoplehood including a Jewish state, and our will to speak and act with one voice as one community.

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a particular imperative that has long guided much of our work: the belief that the American Jewish community is best served – as we’ve been over many decades – when our nation is dedicated to equality of opportunity for all people. We all benefit, and as Jews we have thrived individually and as a community, in a free society dedicated to constitutional liberal democracy where freedoms – of press, of speech, of privacy – are cherished, and where the dignity of all people is protected. We are guided by the belief that only in a society with no tolerance for discrimination of any kind, and no obstacles standing in the way of opportunity for every one of us is one, can we all truly thrive. We know too well that a culture that demonizes and marginalizes others threatens us as well.

It is this belief that has compelled JCRC to work on civil rights issues, on criminal justice reform, and – long before I came to Boston – on women’s and LGBTQ equality.

At this moment, when such a vision of our nation seems challenged in so many ways, this strategic imperative to defend the American idea of a democracy has risen, for us, to a place of necessity and urgency. And engaging in these honest conversations with Muslim leaders, I could not help but think of the urgent necessity for the mainstreams of our two communities – the two largest faith minorities in this country - to stand together to meet this challenge.

I’ve experienced firsthand those in each of our communities who want to keep us apart, who focus on the extremes and the challenges that divide us. But this week, not for the first time, I am reminded that there are many who seek to build bridges between us.

In this moment of challenge for our nation, surely the bridge builders - those who seek to hold the centers of our two communities and to bind them to each other where we can in a shared interest – can, if they choose, be stronger than those who work to keep us apart. This is not simple or straightforward work, and I don’t say this naively. But when I see the work being done by this group at MLI, the relationships, the commitment, the honesty, I know that more is possible and that we have a role to play in supporting this work. And if we have a role to play, surely we have a responsibility to do what we can to meet this urgent moment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

P.S., for another feature on the solidarity between Boston's Jewish and Muslim communities, read the piece in Friday's Boston Globe.

A Two-State Solution is Still the Answer

Much has and will be said about the meeting this week between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu. There are elements of this important engagement that should receive broad welcome in the organized Jewish community, such as the strong affirmation by the President that the United States will work to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. There are also elements that should provoke broad dismay, such as the President’s decision to once again sidestep the opportunity to clearly and unequivocally denounce the rising tide of anti-Semitism that has generated so much fear within the American Jewish community.

For now I’ll focus on one specific element of the meeting –the President’s assertion that he can “live with” a one-state peace agreement “if Israel and the Palestinians are (both) happy.”

The organized American Jewish community – and the U.S. government - has long been committed to achieving, through direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, a durable peace via a two-state solution. This framework is rooted in two guiding principles:

  1. That we – as a community and a country - share the Zionist and national aspirations of the Jewish people for a state of our own – Jewish, secure and democratic – in the land of Israel.
  2. That only the Israeli people – not the global Jewish community or world bodies - through their own democratic process, can decide what risks they will accept for this peace, what borders they can live with, what security guarantees they need.

The hard truth is that Israelis are justified when they worry about security guarantees in a two-state agreement. Just this week we were reminded that 24 Hamas members have died in the last year alone while building tunnels under Gaza. This serves as a stark reminder that securing the far longer border and preventing attacks from a West Bank state will be a serious challenge.  Advocates for a two-state solution need to address this challenge if we expect the Israeli majority to embrace an agreement. But those who resist a two-state agreement also have to answer a question: Is there any other realistic option, over the long term, that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state?

This is not to say that a two-state agreement can be reached tomorrow or even in the near future, but it is urgent that the potential for achieving it not be lost to the dustbin of history. We certainly believe that the solution cannot be imposed on the people who will have to live with it. But to anyone who will not say, definitively, that the goal of a durable peace can only be achieved with two states, we must ask:

So then what?

If you aren’t working for two-states, then you’ve opened the door to one-state. If that is a state that the Palestinians would be “happy” with, per our President’s framing, i.e. presumably a democratic state – then you’ve opened the door to an option that would hasten the end of the Jewish state. If that one-state solution would be an undemocratic state, then presumably it would not make the Palestinians happy, nor would it bring the peace that President Trump says he wants to achieve (not to mention the opprobrium it would receive from much of the world and much of the global Jewish community).

Make no mistake: The President opened the door to a U.S. policy where he would be “happy” with an outcome that is nothing less than a departure from the national aspirations of the Jewish people – a state of our own, Jewish, secure and democratic.

Thankfully, major voices within the organized American Jewish community are not accepting this departure. The ADL responded to the meeting by saying that a “mutually negotiated two state solution is critical to ensure Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state. (The) One state approach undermines this.”  AJC said that “the alternative of a one-state reality is simply untenable and, therefore, a non-starter – an abrogation of the Zionist ideal of a Jewish and democratic state.”

We will not and cannot let the door to a two-state solution slam shut. We will continue to act, as a pro-Israel community, in support of the two-state solution. And we will support Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who are working to maintain the viability of this option.

Last November, I said that the recent election has not changed the shared values of our Jewish community and JCRC.  Those values include our commitment to the national aspirations of the Jewish people. We will keep working for two-states because the alternative is not an option for us, even if it is an option for the President.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Moving Beyond the Chaos: Guidelines for Action | A Message from our Senior Synagogue Organizer

While Jeremy is in Israel for professional development opportunities, we offer some post-election reflections from our Senior Synagogue Organizer, Rachie Lewis.

Since the election, we at JCRC have been immersed in conversations across our community as we struggle to understand the meaning of this political moment. We have reached out to JCRC board members, rabbis, synagogue leaders long involved in the work of social justice, and young adults who have generally shied away from traditional, Jewish institutions, but now realize the power of doing so. We’ve listened to the concerns of our organizational partners as they address emerging threats on the ground. Together, we are writing a new chapter in the story of who we are as a community, and how we act in the world.

In this new chapter, we can sense that the stakes are higher and that, as Elliot Cohen - a former member of the George W. Bush administration - wrote, “it’s not getting better.” That means this work isn’t going to be comfortable, and it’s certainly not going to be easy. But these days, our community appears ready to do more than we have before. We are showing up in unprecedented numbers to participate. We are resisting the familiar need to know every answer and every outcome before we act. Our social media feeds simply announce a public gathering, and we spring into action.

But amidst the chaos, we know we need to focus. We cannot fight every battle. But how do we decide where to focus our energies? How, in this moment, can we as a Jewish Community Relations Council best represent our community’s values and interests, and meet our responsibilities to our partners in the broader community?

Here are some suggested values to guide our actions.

Many of us feel a deep kinship with today’s marginalized communities. Our instincts tell us that no matter where our ancestors came from, our histories are tied up with those of the Central American immigrants taking tremendous risks in search of a better life for themselves and their families; they are tied up with the histories of refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the hope of the protection and promise of the United States; they are tied up with the stories of those directly threatened by the erosion of civil rights. And, we must also acknowledge that, along with other minorities, we now share the experience of heightened vulnerability, as expressions and acts of hate spike, and as bomb threats to Jewish institutions have become a fact of daily life. So, any action we take must reflect the immediate and pressing needs of our own Jewish community and those of our partners.

We know, deep in our bones, that Jewish life depends on laws, it always has. Our history has shown that Jewish life thrives in a functioning democracy that extends freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of due process to all its residents. When these freedoms fail, we are at risk of going down with them.

The outrage that so many of us feel is not limited to isolated acts of injustice and discrimination; it is a reaction to the flurry of nails thrown into the machinery of our republic, threatening the whole system.  Our acts of kindness matter, we know we must be our most generous selves these days. But we also feel an urgent need for bolder and more ambitious action, with more far reaching results, when we sense our democracy being threatened.

Finally, we are drawn to action that will realize the potential to grow into a broader, and more diverse, Jewish communal base, that can act powerfully as one body, in pursuit of our common goals, especially when it matters most. This is a time to unite – a time to close generational gaps; for younger Jews to benefit from the resources, relationships and experience of our elders, and for more established leaders to learn new tools from the younger generation for the challenges we face.

We are writing a new story because, if we can unite across different interests and backgrounds, a bold and strategic Greater Boston Jewish Community will play a critical role in standing up to the threats of the moment. This work will not be easy, it will require some risk, but if we don’t do it, we know there are consequences to standing still.

Sign up for alerts about post-election engagement opportunities and join us in taking action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie

JCRC Statement of Concern about Knesset Outpost Bill

Late Monday evening, Israel's Knesset adopted legislation to legitimize previously unrecognized Jewish outposts in areas beyond the Green Line. JCRC of Greater Boston joins the AJC and ADL in expressing significant concerns about this action by the Knesset.

This controversial decision moves Israel further away from the only feasible path to peace; a two-state solution. JCRC has long supported a negotiated two-state solution, a position which is consistently shown by polls to be supported by most Israelis. We are deeply disappointed by this legislation, which has been met with criticism from many in Israel, including the attorney general who has described it as unconstitutional and in contravention of international law. We hope that Israel takes meaningful steps to enable the realization of two states for two people living side-by-side in peace.

End Discrimination in the Commonwealth

While Jeremy is in Israel for professional development opportunities, we offer some reflections on an important legislative priority from our Director of Government Affairs, Aaron Agulnek.

At the beginning of every two-year legislative session in the Commonwealth, upwards of 7,000 bills are filed by Senators and Representatives, covering almost every issue imaginable (and likely, many that you may not have known were even issues). Each year we consult with our partners, networks of allies and legislative champions to identify where to focus our attention amongst the competing priorities. Our process is guided by the interests of the organized Jewish community, the opportunities to deepen ties with our allies, and our mandate to move an agenda that promotes a more inclusive and just Commonwealth. This is often an imperfect science, and requires focus on what is moving and where our voice is needed.

This year, one piece of legislation we are supporting is HD779/SD922 An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts (PDF). Filed by Senators Cindy Creem, Representative Paul McMurtry and Representative Steven Howitt, it is currently supported by a bipartisan coalition of over 50 co-sponsors. While we have a longstanding commitment to oppose discrimination in any form, this current political climate compels us to ensure that discrimination is not subsidized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the basis of who somebody is.

So, what exactly does this bill do? At it's core, this legislation is another step forward in Massachusetts' leading commitment to the principle of anti discrimination. First, that anyone seeking to do business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must affirm that they are in compliance with the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Laws, which prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, based on someone’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation; second, that they will not refuse to do business with someone based solely on these same immutable traits. To put it simply, if you want to enjoy business with the state, don’t discriminate.

Joined by 38 other local Jewish organizations, We recently issued a statement expressing our grave concern about recent Executive Orders on immigration and refugees, one of which banned refugees from seven targeted countries from coming to the United States. We all witnessed the incredible harm that discrimination based on national origin can wreak on individuals and society as a whole. The Anti-Discrimination legislation, if enacted into law, seeks to prevent the very damage such divisive acts inflict and would make it clear that people who seek to contract with the state cannot refuse to do business with another simply because of their nation of origin.

This bill also protects LGBTQ business owners who face threats of boycotts of their businesses, solely because of who they are. It protects women-owned businesses, Muslim-owned businesses, Asian-owned businesses, African-American owned businesses, and yes, Israeli owned businesses, from being discriminated against based on who they are.

In the face of bigotry, delegitimization, and forces that seek to define and judge people based on who they are, rather than what they do, we stand up and say that this invidious discrimination has no place in the Commonwealth.

Please visit JCRC’s Action Alert and let your Senators and Representatives know that our Commonwealth should not subsidize those who seek to tear our communities apart and thank those who have already signed on. We are stronger when we stand together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron