Author: Eli Cohn-Postell

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

(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.

# # #

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

 

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.”

August 9, 2019

NAHMA NADICH

A message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich:

“The people you meet will be among the strongest you will ever meet in your life.” I heard these prescient words from Lucia Panichella of Jewish Family Service Metrowest in an orientation session for a CJP Women’s Philanthropy Mission to San Diego. The mission’s purpose was to learn about and volunteer in local Jewish community efforts to support newly arrived immigrants. During the orientation, my fellow travelers and I were advised on what to expect and how best to serve these traumatized and presumably compromised people. After spending this past weekend with them, we now appreciate the truth of Lucia’s words.

Standing with immigrants at risk is not new for us. In January 2017, in response to what we regarded at the time as draconian Executive Orders targeting immigrants and refugees, we issued a communal joint statement signed by many Boston-area synagogues and Jewish organizations. We urged the administration to “open the gates of compassion to those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.” And we publicly committed ourselves to the “work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering...” JCRC and CJP have taken our 2017 commitments seriously, devoting time, resources, and energy to develop a range of responses to the emerging crisis (see box on right).

But you know how this story unfolded. The gates of compassion have remained shut tight, and suffering has been inflicted on our foreign-born neighbors in ways we never could have anticipated. Family separations. Children in cages. Detention centers with reprehensible conditions. Hate speech that strips people of their basic humanity, and this week, the largest massacre aimed at the Latino community, reportedly motivated by that rhetoric. And just yesterday — the largest immigration raid in over a decade, with 680 low-wage workers taken from food processing plants, leaving their crying children waiting to be picked up from school.

So, we headed to the border town of San Diego to learn and to act. This mighty group of 25 women — volunteers and staff from CJP, JCRC, and Jewish Family Service Metrowest — first met with legal and social service experts in the field. What we learned from the experts confirmed recent news reports; the ever-growing numbers of children separated from their families now younger and more frequently female, the devastating impact of the so called “Migrant Protection Program,” requiring immigrants fleeing the danger of their home countries to remain in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings. The lawyer who spoke with our group characterized this as a violation of international treaties that the US has signed, since there is no longer any viable way to apply for asylum from certain countries. The vise is tightening on immigrants seeking a pathway to safety and freedom.

Yet with all the invaluable information we learned from professionals in the field, our most profound learning came from encounters with the immigrants themselves at the Jewish Family Service Shelter of San Diego.

Since 2017…

JCRC harnessed the passion of our community to create an interfaith coalition, engaging people to provide support to undocumented immigrants seeking Sanctuary in churches, accompany immigrants to court hearings, provide legal services, raise funds to bond people out of detention and most recently, to house individuals and families post-detention.

CJP established a Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, enabling the agency to double the size of their legal team for refugees and immigrants who have a legal path to citizenship. And in response to the crisis of family separation, CJP collaborated with the The Young Center and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to launch a Fund for Detained Children, with the mission of providing advocacy and legal support for children in detention.

This Jewish community responded to the border crisis with breathtaking generosity, joining with others to open a shelter for immigrants newly released from detention and on their way to reunions with family throughout the country. Now in its sixth location (an old court house slated for demolition), the shelter has served 15,000 individuals since 2018. Staffed by a highly competent and deeply compassionate staff, this is a facility that operates in an astonishingly nimble way, never knowing how many people they will house (anywhere from 50-200), what languages they’ll speak, or what unique challenges they’ll present. All who enter are greeted with love, fed hot food, given medical attention, supported in contacting their relatives, and prepared for travel. The institutional setting is camouflaged by an array of colorful artwork and decorations.

We did our part — sorting donated clothes, painting walls, sanitizing toys, and serving food. And in three short days, we gained a deeper understanding about who these travelers were, the challenges they face, and the unimaginable resilience they exhibit throughout.

During our orientation at the shelter we asked the staff, “What happens when someone departing here misses a connection and doesn’t make it to their destination?” The staff member paused to think before responding, “It hasn’t happened yet.” We realized that these people, with their seemingly infinite wells of courage and resourcefulness, had already endured grueling hardship and navigated their way to this shelter to provide safety for their families. Traveling hours and sometimes days, on multiple buses, in a country where they don’t speak the language, would not stop them now.

Observing these guests (how they are known at the shelter) inspired endless admiration. The ubiquitous ankle monitors on the adults were cruel reminders that our country has criminalized these people for doing what any parent would do: preserve their children’s lives. In acts of fierce and quiet resistance, they retained their dignity in the face of attempts to dehumanize them and their families.

One mother cradled her 15-day-old infant in her arms as she tended lovingly to her four older children, each expertly coiffed and groomed. Her children —as so many others we met — were sweet, friendly, joyful, and exuberant. At their parents’ gentle prodding, they came up to us after every meal and smilingly thanked us (in English!) for the food.

Despite their insurmountable hardships, these determined parents were acting with agency whenever and wherever they could, not just ensuring their children’s safety, but raising them with values passed down through generations. As a result, their children, against all odds, were playful and trusting—by the end, sitting on our laps, playing games and reading books, and transcending any language barrier among us.

IMG_5704
IMG_5295
Ankle monitor
zR6uTAJQ

Lucia was so right. We left in amazement at the strength of the people we met. We were reminded that kindness and compassion do in fact exist, and that they are powerful antidotes to cruelty and abuse. We were filled with pride seeing a Jewish community do the impossible; taking a leap of faith to address a crisis of epic proportions, with no road map and no real plan. We saw this community change people’s lives and were privileged to be part of the story—as we are now inspired to take further action here in Boston.

There are immigrants right here in Boston fighting to stay with their families who have reached out for support. Volunteer to accompany them to court. Be part of a housing network to welcome them when they are released from detention. Advocate for passage of the Work and Family Mobility Act, allowing access to drivers licenses regardless of immigration status and the Safe Communities Act, supporting the civil liberties of all people in the Commonwealth.

Click here to receive action alerts on these opportunities.

Heed the words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the walls of the shelter:

Si ayudo a una sola persona a tener esperanza, no habré vido en vano.

If I help only one person to have hope, I won’t have lived in vain.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

Governor Baker Signs MA State Budget- Over $8 Million to Support Jewish Social Service Network

(BOSTON) – This week, Governor Charlie Baker signed the state Fiscal Year 2020 budget, fueling $5 million of new funds to support programs and priorities of the Jewish social service network, benefiting the entire Commonwealth.

This year, JCRC led on seven budget priorities, all of which included increases and direct appropriations to the Jewish social service network.

“This is a historic budget for the Jewish community across the Commonwealth,” said Aaron Agulnek, JCRC’s Director of Government Affairs. “We applaud our partners in government who continue to invest and expand in the cutting-edge programming and services, to better serve the dreams of individuals and families seeking opportunity, dignity, and security.”

The budget included:
$500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat. Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Ruth Balser, along with Senator Cynthia Creem pushed this vital $350,000 increase in funding.

$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. This $250,000 increase was led by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Michael Moran.

$500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college preparatory programming to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement and defined career ladders. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), supported by Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Senator Cindy Friedman, and Senator Joe Boncore, to expand its innovative programming.

$856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which is operated by Jewish Family & Children's Service, JFS Metrowest, and Jewish Family Service of Western Mass. NORCs are designed to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities. This $214,000 increase was led by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Tommy Vitolo.

$250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities, modeled after the JVS/CJP partnership of the same name. This $100,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Paul Brodeur.

$2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, a silo-busting delivery model conceived by the Fireman Family Foundation, which promotes new partnerships between housing and workforce development agencies, as well as state agencies. There are seven partnerships across the Commonwealth, including JVS and Metro Boston Housing Partnership. This $1,000,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Joe Wagner.

Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement initiative, the nation’s first workforce development Pay for Success program. The model is working; nearly 2,000 participants have enrolled, increasing their job skills and take-home earnings, which is increasing revenue for the Commonwealth. The initial funding period for Pathways is ending and these funds, close to $3 million, will sustain innovation by continuing to support this model while measuring results.

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.

# # #

The Interconnectedness of Our Communities

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

Late one night last summer, on a Jerusalem hotel rooftop, I had a jarring conversation with a Black Baptist minister, a participant in our JCRC Israel Study Tour for Christian Clergy. He was sharing his reaction to to Yad Vashem, which we had visited earlier that day. The iconic Holocaust museum always inspires deep emotion among our participants; grief, horror, and for some, anguish at the role of the church in these unthinkable crimes against the Jewish people. But this minister confessed feeling something I had not heard before – envy. He hesitated in sharing his reflection with me, knowing how insensitive it might sound. But he acknowledged feeling envious of Jews for knowing, and being able to document our history (albeit largely due to the fanatic documentation of our Nazi killers). He told me that as a black man, he didn’t know – and would probably never be able to discover – the history of his family and people. When your ancestors are kidnapped and stolen, when their identities are forever erased, you can’t know who or where you come from. You can’t share your story, and you can’t experience the compassionate support of others bearing witness to your trauma, as I do each time Christian friends accompany me to Yad Vashem. I was pained by this realization.

As Jews, we know that facing and sharing our history is a sacred obligation, no more so than in these times, when so many seek to deny our historical experience as a people. But my friend’s painful admission reminded me of my woefully inadequate knowledge of HIS people’s history, and of our failure as Americans to embed the ugly and uncomfortable truths of this nation’s history into our education system. So I resolved to organize my own “study tour”, to honor his story, as he had honored mine. And I learned several critical lessons along the way, beginning with the one my friend taught me that night; about the redemptive and healing power of facing one’s past.

So my husband and I headed south, first to Louisiana, then to Alabama. For the past few years, I had been following the work of Bryan Stevenson, the Harvard trained lawyer who has dedicated his life to compelling justice for black, brown, and impoverished people condemned by a racist criminal justice system. Stevenson’s achievements are legendary; winning the exoneration of wrongly convicted defendants, and even Supreme Court arguments, including one that has ended the practice of mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. Stevenson’s latest project is perhaps his most audacious, in founding the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial, where the untold truths of our nation’s past of racial oppression, violence and terror are meticulously documented and exposed. Stevenson and his team conducted massive research into the hidden history of terror lynching, documenting as many instances as they could, and bringing earth from the sites of these public murders, for display in jars at the Memorial.

Jars of soil from lynching sites

The words of poet Maya Angelou, adorning the outer walls of the Museum, serve as its raison d’etre: “History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, But if faced with courage, need not be lived again”. Located in a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned, visitors first descend into a dark area with barred cells, where hologram-like projections describe their experience - quoting from diaries of people once locked up in this space – crying out for the children who have been ripped from their arms.

But lest you think that you are learning about a chapter of history neatly tucked into our past, the museum tells a compelling narrative; that slavery never ended, it just evolved, through the chapters of terror lynchings and Jim Crow, to the current phenomenon of mass incarceration. In the words of Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man, who with Stevenson’s help, was exonerated after serving 28 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, “The executions moved indoors, they took off white robes and put on black ones”. Lesson two: the past is not really past; it extends fully into our present.

With the assistance of expert local guides, we made our way through the streets of New Orleans and Montgomery, shocked to see the still standing tributes to the Confederacy, among them statues of Jefferson Davis and Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology” whose scientific advances were the results of his tortuous treatment of enslaved women, on whom he operated without anesthesia. But we were equally shocked by the more implicit reminders of the South’s refusal to face its past; in more recently erected “historical” markers, referring to the trading of “commodities” leaving unsaid that it was human beings who were being bought and sold.

But just as our sense of Northern righteousness peaked, we visited the Southern Poverty Law Center, with its display of the iconic picture of Ted Landsmark being assaulted in Boston by a bussing opponent wielding an American flag as a giant spear. And we were reminded of Boston’s own shameful history of racial violence, and its enduring racial divisions and persistent racial disparities. Lesson three: Racial oppression and violence has never been limited to the South. It is everywhere in this country.

The last lesson we learned was an affirmation of a truth that has become an urgent one in these times; that my friend’s history is inextricably linked with mine, as are our fates. Our NOLA tour began with our reading from the Louisiana Code Noir, or slave code, introduced in 1724 and remaining in force until 1803. The first item in the code? “Decrees the expulsion of Jews from the colony”. And in the Montgomery Museum hangs a chilling sign from the Jim Crow South, “No (n-words) No Jews, No Dogs”.  At a time when so many are working so hard to sow divisions among us, these historical markers served as stark reminders that just as the Jewish and Black community are targeted by the same toxic ideology (with Jews of Color at the apex of this onslaught), our liberation can only be achieved by our collective effort.

Birmingham Jail

In the words of Dr. King, posted outside his jail cell on display in Birmingham,

 “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

My minister friend taught me to cherish the gift of knowing one’s history, and thanks to the trip his words inspired, I learned essential lessons about his people’s story, and the history we share as Americans. Shedding light on our most shameful chapters, understanding their enduring legacy in all parts of this country, and working together for peace and justice is the only way to truly ensure that we do not live this history again.

As I approach my twentieth anniversary at JCRC, the work ahead has never felt so urgent. Addressing the crisis of mass incarceration by advocating for criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth, joining with our interfaith partners to confront Boston’s enduring racial divide and nurturing relationships across the community that enable us to pursue our collective vision - that is the work of community relations. I can think of no more powerful vehicle than the field of community relations in acknowledging and honoring Dr. King’s “inescapable network of mutuality”, nor any greater privilege than engaging our community in this effort.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

Over $8 Million Appropriated from MA State Budget to Support Jewish Social Service Network; Awaits Final Approval from the Governor

(BOSTON) – Earlier today, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted its 2020 budget nearly three weeks into the fiscal year, fueling $5 million of new funds to support programs and priorities of the Jewish social service network, benefiting the entire Commonwealth. The conference committee led by Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz reached agreement Sunday evening lifting the total appropriation for Jewish communal priorities to upwards of $8 million, in response to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)’s efforts on seven key priorities.

“We applaud Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, Chair Rodrigues, Chair Michlewitz and their colleagues for ensuring robust funding to lift up the Jewish communities’ priorities in this year’s budget,” said Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director. “The legislature has demonstrated its commitment to proven programs which help people in the Jewish community and beyond to work, stay in their homes, and feel safe in their communities.  We look forward to building on this success together.”

This year, JCRC led on seven budget priorities, all of which included increases and direct appropriations to the Jewish social service network.

“This is a historic budget for the Jewish community across the Commonwealth,” said Aaron Agulnek, JCRC’s Director of Government Affairs. “The cutting-edge programming, dynamic professionals, and committed lay leadership of Jewish institutions provides the framework necessary to develop meaningful ties with elected officials to better serve the dreams of individuals and families seeking opportunity, dignity, and security.”

The budget included:

$500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat. Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Ruth Balser, along with Senator Cynthia Creem pushed this vital $350,000 increase in funding.

$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. This $250,000 increase was led by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Michael Moran.

$500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college preparatory programming to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement and defined career ladders. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), supported by Chair Michlewitz, Senator Cindy Friedman, and Senator Joe Boncore, to expand its innovative programming.

$856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which is operated by Jewish Family & Children's Service, JFS Metrowest, and Jewish Family Service of Western Mass. NORCs are designed to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities. This $214,000 increase was led by Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Tommy Vitolo.

$250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities, modeled after the JVS/CJP partnership of the same name. This $100,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Paul Brodeur.

$2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, a silo-busting delivery model conceived by the Fireman Family Foundation, which promotes new partnerships between housing and workforce development agencies, as well as state agencies. There are seven partnerships across the Commonwealth, including JVS and Metro Boston Housing Partnership. This $1,000,000 increase was led by Senator Michael Barrett and Representative Joe Wagner.

Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement initiative, the nation’s first workforce development Pay for Success program. The model is working; nearly 2,000 participants have enrolled, increasing their job skills and take-home earnings, which is increasing revenue for the Commonwealth. The initial funding period for Pathways is ending and these funds, close to $3 million, will sustain innovation by continuing to support this model while measuring results.

The JCRC urges Governor Baker to sign the budget and support these crucial initiatives.

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.

# # #

Israel in the Middle

JCRC Study Tour for Labor Leaders with Roots/Shorashim/Judur

This week's message is from Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell.

Last Friday, I watched in admiration as Shaul Judelman and Noor Awad unwrapped a new sign as though it were a birthday present. The sign was for Roots/Shorashim/Judur, the grassroots group of Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank who come together to foster understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among their societies. Shaul and Noor looked like they could have been two kids in a candy store, and the scene was only strange because these two were never supposed to meet in the first place. Both live in the West Bank. Shaul is an American-Israeli living in Tekoa and Noor is a third-generation Palestinian refugee living in nearby Bethlehem.

We get to see friendships like Noor and Shaul’s develop because we visit with them consistently on our JCRC Study Tours. During this week’s Study Tour to Israel for Labor leaders, we got an up-close look at some of the changes taking place in Israel. I heard many times this week that Israel is experiencing a transition moment, and this week we met speakers who shared their perspectives on the current trends shaping Israeli society and its future. As with any country, Israel is too complex and multi-faceted to know exactly in what direction the country is headed. Nonetheless, I was encouraged this week by the example set by Shaul, Noor, and others, which make me believe that some things are changing for the better.

In many ways, Israel is at a crossroads. Most obviously, Israel is in the middle of its second election campaign this year, which no one expected. This raises the obvious question of who Israelis will choose to lead them, with potential implications for the religious status quo, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and many other issues.

Israel’s Labor movement is also in a transition moment. As in many places around the world, union membership dropped significantly in Israel beginning in the 1980s. However, Israel has seen that number rebound slightly in recent years, and many of the people we spoke with expressed guarded optimism about the future of Labor in Israel.

On a sadder note, many people feel that they are in a quiet moment in between wars. We visited Rambam hospital in Haifa, where we toured an underground parking lot that can be turned into a functioning, bomb-proof hospital in 72 hours. Over and over, the nurse who led our tour told us how the underground hospital would be used when, not if, the next war came. We heard similar language in the south near the Gaza Strip, where people talked about preparing for the next, seemingly inevitable round of violence back and forth between Israel and Hamas.

Finally, Israeli and Palestinians speakers told us about the generational shift that their societies are undergoing. Many speakers referenced the iconic image of Bill Clinton looking on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House Lawn in 1993. The number of people who do not remember that moment is growing, they are reaching adulthood, and their entire attitude toward peacebuilding and the “other” is different from previous generations. We do not know exactly how this new attitude will crystalize, but we should be hopeful about the rise of a generation that can re-imagine the possibilities of peace and human-to-human connection.

I was encouraged that so many of our speakers were working to make sure that this moment of transition is being leveraged to create positive change for Israelis and Palestinians. For example, many people are working to improve the conditions of the Labor force in Israel. This includes growing unions and a rejuvenated Histadrut (Israeli Labor federation). We learned about governmental programs and NGOs providing services and protections for all of Israel’s workers, including non-Israeli citizens.

We met with Hamutal Gouri, who is working to close the opportunity and pay gaps between men and women in Israel, and to advance the role of women in peacemaking. Hamutal is one of the founders of Women Wage Peace, a remarkable successful social movement that has grown to over 40,000 members in a few short years.

And, of course, we spent time with Noor and Shaul at Roots. I have met with activists at Roots many times now, and you can see how the trust and friendship between the participants has grown over time. This is enabling others in their communities to get involved, and to share in the belief that developing relationships with each other will create a better experience for everyone.

On these trips, we hear from people all over the political and ideological spectrum. I assure you that not everything in Israel is rosy. But this week, the message we heard with the most clarity was this one: there is hope to be found in the voices and experiences of those seeking justice and a better future for Israel and Palestinians. I am optimistic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli