Category Archives: Blog Nahma Nadich

Guarding Our Tongues

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

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

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

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

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

1. For the sin of ill-timed speech

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

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

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

3. For the sin of speech that is not representative

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

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

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

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,

Nahma

Our “Founding Fathers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

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

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

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 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

Being for Ourselves – and Others | A Message from Our Deputy Director

As this week has unfolded, our professionals have been having many conversations with partners about anti-Semitism in this moment. Today’s post comes from our Deputy Director Nahma Nadich. I would also remind and urge you to join me, our partners in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh, this evening, August 18th, at 5pm at Temple Israel in Boston for a Gathering of Unity, Love and Strength.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

Growing up in the turbulent sixties and early seventies, I was magnetically drawn to civic and political involvement in the social issues of the day. But the message I heard in the modern Orthodox day school I attended was a foreboding one: focus only on our own Jewish community and don’t concern yourself with anyone beyond it. As a teenager, I rejected and rebelled against what I saw as a parochial view; I found multiple public outlets for my political passions.

But looking back all these decades later, I now understand more about the fear and anxiety behind that caution. Having witnessed, and in many cases, survived the Holocaust themselves, and after experiencing unimaginable evil at the hand of non-Jewish perpetrators, my teachers had little interest in advocating for, or frankly even interacting with, anyone outside of their own circle. “Look what they did to us!” they’d say. They’d argue that we owed “them” nothing, and that we should just take care of our own. And they’d cite Rabbi Hillel’s famous teaching from Pirkei Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

But of course, my teachers were quoting just the first part of this wise dictum that has endured throughout the ages. I always drew my inspiration not from that first line, but rather from the continuation of Hillel’s teaching–the call to universalism and to urgent action. “But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14) Growing up as a Jew in New York, feeling safe and secure in my surroundings, I never felt vulnerable or afraid. In fact, I felt grateful that those experiences belonged to a bygone era for American Jews; that our community was not only secure in this country but with the resources to support and advocate for those who were now marginalized and oppressed.

At no point in my life have I questioned those assumptions more than I have this week. Like so many in our community, I have been shaken to the core by the images of Charlottesville–by the racist bile spewed by the angry mob, and by images of Nazi-identified white supremacists marching in the streets of this American city, chanting “Jews will not replace us” and echoing Nazi slogans like “Blood and Soil.”

And yet, as I read descriptions and analyses from some progressive sources – even Jewish ones – I’m struck by how many of them focus exclusively on the heinous manifestations of racism, and how curiously silent they are on the explosive expressions of anti-Semitism. I’ve read eloquent calls to action, urging the Jewish community to stand in solidarity with communities of color and to fight racism in all its forms. But I’ve read far fewer acknowledgements that we too are hurting, that the Holocaust survivors in our community have been retraumatized, that younger Jews are feeling unmoored by new and unfamiliar feelings of vulnerability, and that recent events have surfaced an enduring and deep-seated hatred we thought had disappeared from this country. Suddenly, the idea of our having to be “for ourselves” no longer feels like an antiquated concept.

Clearly, being for ourselves does not have to mean what my teachers told me so many years ago. We do not have to turn our back on our neighbors, or cast a blind eye to their suffering. But unless we take care of ourselves, we cannot effectively be there for others. We must acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism in America in 2017, and understand the pernicious ways in which it fuels racism, as argued so persuasively in this article by Eric Ward. We have to resist the naïve notion that we must–or even can–choose between which evil to combat. White Supremacy, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are all part of the same toxic ideological brew. All must be exposed and eradicated.

The wisdom of Hillel’s teaching lies in its totality, knowing that all three parts are intertwined and interdependent. Only when we honor and address our own needs, can we hope to engage in honest and authentic relationships with our brothers and sisters. Only when we acknowledge our own hurts, can we truly see the pain of others and offer healing. And only when we face the brokenness of the world which we share, can we act with the urgency that this moment demands of us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma Nadich
Deputy Director

Encountering Complexity

Three weeks ago, JCRC’s latest Christian Clergy Study Tour set out on our journey to Israel. The group comprised thirteen Protestant clergy members from across racial, socioeconomic, denominational and theological lines. Co-chaired by Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel of Boston and JCRC trip alum Reverend Kent French of United Parish of Brookline, our group members were African American, West Indian, Latino, and White; Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and from the United Church of Christ. Our ages spanned from 20’s to 60's. Most had never been to Israel, and the few who had were there many years earlier, generally with little exposure to the Jewish-Israeli narrative. The group was united by a passion for an encounter with the land of their Scriptures, a thirst for engaging with complex realities and conflicting narratives, and, perhaps most of all, a deep desire to emerge with a sense of hope for the region’s future.

On our first morning, we set aside our jet lag to hear a presentation by veteran journalist Nathan Jeffay, who shared his experience covering Israel for multiple media outlets, including New York’s Jewish Week and London’s Jewish Chronicle. Jeffay told us that over his years of reporting, his editors’ directives had been consistent: stories of conflict and violence were always of most interest to readers, and each piece should include no more than two or three ideas at most. He cautioned the group to keep that in mind when consuming media pieces about Israel. Reading stories from afar would never result in the kind of multi-textured and nuanced understanding that is possible through direct encounters. Jeffay’s message rang with wisdom and truth throughout our trip, as we were exposed daily to a multiplicity of ideas and perspectives and learned of exciting initiatives on the ground to build a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.

A few scenes from our journey:


Sarit Zehavi and Reverend Paul Ford

A moment early on in our trip continued to resonate powerfully throughout. We visited the Lebanon border with IDF Major (Ret.) Sarit Zehavi, a former senior intelligence officer responsible for preventing collateral damage to Lebanese civilians. We peered into nearby Lebanon and noticed a large Hezbollah flag in full view. Our veteran Israeli tour guide who visits this site regularly shared his unease at this new addition. Major Zehavi offered her no-nonsense Israeli perspective; that the only way to achieve peace is through demonstrating military strength and readiness for aggression when necessary. One of our pastors engaged her in a robust debate, respectfully challenging her assertion. But before we left, he asked whether she would permit him to offer a prayer on her behalf, so we joined hands as he led us in a fervent prayer, asking for peace and security for her, her family living just miles from this place, for the people in Galilee and those on the other side of the border.

We visited the dusty tent of a fledgling NGO called “Roots” in Gush Etzion (above). There we met with Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (third from right), who co-leads this organization, promoting Israeli-Palestinian understanding and mutual recognition, along with his Palestinian partner, Ali Abu Awad (far left). Rabbi Schlesinger identifies as a Zionist and settler, and believes that the Jewish people is fulfilling God’s promise by renewing its age-old tie to the Biblical land of Israel. But he shamefully acknowledged that the truth and righteousness of his story had blinded him most of his life to another story and another truth. With great passion, he described the transformation he experienced once he got to know his Palestinian neighbors, and he began to understand their experience of living in the same land, but under occupation. Ali described the multiple traumas that he and his family suffered, including the death of his brother, who was fatally shot in an argument with an Israeli soldier. When Jewish members of the Parents Circle reached out to his bereaved family and came to pay their respects, for the first time Ali saw Israelis not as his enemy, but as people whose tears of grief were no different than his own. He committed to a life of non-violence and to working with those whose partnership would be most essential for peace; not liberals drinking lattes in Tel Aviv, but the settlers who were his neighbors. The courageous leadership and stubborn optimism of Hanan and Ali left lasting impressions on our group.

Finally, we traveled south to Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah (above), right along the Gaza Border. We heard from Susan, a veteran community member who moved there decades ago, motivated by her idealistic vision of working the land in a close knit Jewish community. Since the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the subsequent Hamas takeover, her community has found themselves subject to frequent attacks. Now, along with trying to sustain a thriving farming community, they have had to prioritize security concerns, constructing ever more sophisticated shelters and rerouting their school bus to avoid being targeted by rocket and mortar fire. And yet, the change that they lament perhaps the most is the disconnect from their neighbors in Gaza with whom they once had frequent contact. When one of our ministers asked whether they were still in touch, Susan said that they were, through periodic phone conversations. Though they are careful about the information they transmit, they still care about each other and know that the connection they share is much more powerful than all that divides them; the universal human desire to provide good lives for their families and live in peace.

The mantra repeated throughout all of our study tours is that participants can expect to go home with even more questions than they came with. Once again, that was the experience of this cohort, as they acknowledged the complexity they encountered, one that defied black-and-white thinking and oversimplification. As Jeffay predicted, our engaging directly with the land and its people offered far more than the ideas available in the press, or a picture limited to conflict and violence. And yet, despite the diversity of our encounters and the vast differences in background and ideology among those we met, binding them together was their shared humanity and collective aspiration to live in peace. These Israeli and Palestinian change-makers now have thirteen American faith leaders who will be praying passionately for that to be so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma Nadich
Deputy Director

The Challenge of Abundance | A Message from Our Associate Director

I was privileged to grow up in a joyfully Jewish home. My father, of blessed memory, was a prominent rabbi and my mother, of blessed memory, was an old fashioned rebbitzen (rabbi’s wife) who embraced her role with extraordinary grace and style. She used her fine aesthetic sense not only in her legendary displays of food served to countless guests, but also to beautify our home in a uniquely Jewish way. Naturally, we had the expected displays of ceremonial objects, but they were not enough. When I was six, we moved into the large New York apartment in which I grew up, and my mother found a skilled painter to help her transform our kitchen into a sacred Jewish space. I watched in amazement as the Italian artisan, equipped with a piece of calligraphy my mother had provided, climbed up his tall ladder, and in the space between the wallpaper and our absurdly high ceiling, carefully scribed the words, v’achalta, v’savahta, uvairachta et adonai elohecha,“You should eat, have your fill and give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10). That verse, seared into my memory, appears in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, part of Moses’ farewell address to a fledgling people, the Children of Israel.

To paraphrase: if we are so fortunate as to have all that we need to be satisfied, then we should embrace that blessing unstintingly and enjoy it fully. But what follows is a startling departure from Biblical norms. We are then to bless God; we ourselves are to be a source of blessings. While this verse may be about eating (what more Jewish topic could there be?), its underlying message extends way beyond the simple acts of eating and praying. The passage is no less than a call to respond ethically, and to appreciate the responsibilities inherent in being blessed with abundance. This call resonates deeply for us, a community which is largely (though by no means entirely) economically secure, if not thriving. How can we ensure that we’re not only the recipient of blessings but also their conduit? How can this inspire the work that we do every day here at JCRC?

In our text we read that a blessed life is fraught with certain inherent dangers. Along with consumption, often comes amnesia. Embedded in the description of blessings the Children of Israel will receive are repeated admonitions against forgetting their past vulnerability, and the journey that transformed them from a collection of slaves to a holy people. Keeping the memory of their own enslavement fresh is a call to empathy, repeated throughout the Torah, a challenge to do right by the enslaved, the powerless and marginalized among us. So today, as we are guided by the not too distant memory of our own vulnerability as refugees to this country, we speak out for a compassionate and welcoming stance to today’s refugees fleeing danger and trauma.

Perhaps the greatest danger of abundance is in succumbing to the all too human impulse to believe that we are simply reaping what we have sown; that we are uniquely entitled to all the blessings we enjoy (“it is my power and the might of my hand that has won this wealth for me” Deuteronomy 8:17).  In today’s parlance, we risk being unaware of our unearned privilege and complacent about our brothers and sisters who though equally deserving, are blocked by class, race, sexual orientation or national origin, from accessing the same resources and opportunities, and who struggle daily for survival, dignity and justice. So first we provide service to alleviate immediate need, by helping children in underserved schools discover the joy of reading, and encouraging young members of our community to share their blessings by volunteering to serve food, combat isolation and rebuild homes. And then we engage in longer term change through legislative advocacy and community organizing to ensure that such blessings of education, affordable housing, economic stability and safe communities, are accessible to all.

We remember our own history in this country, when strong public institutions and supports enabled our grandparents and great grandparents to access all the bounty that America had to offer. So we work to ensure that those on today’s margins can rely on the same robust resources, to access opportunity and build lives of hope and promise for their children and grandchildren.

We invite you to join us in embracing the myriad blessings we enjoy in our community, giving thanks for them and working with us to safeguard those same blessings throughout our community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma Nadich,
Associate Director