JCRC provided written testimony to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Education for their September 13, 2021 hearing of An Act relative to anti-racism and justice in education (S365, Senator Lewis; H584, Representative Elugardo and Representative Uyterhoeven). JCRC welcomes the opportunity to serve on a commission with the goal of creating a more inclusive curriculum for students in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. However, we have some concerns about the proposed language in its current iteration, including lack of transparency, oversight, and clear definitions.
This week: a message from Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell.
A few years ago, I heard an address John Fish delivered to the Boston Chamber of Commerce on the radio. You may remember Mr. Fish as the chairperson of the Boston 2024 Olympic bid. While I was always skeptical of the project, I have to admit that evening he almost had me convinced. He did not talk much about 2024 in his speech. Instead, he asked the audience to envision Boston in the decades to come. He prompted the Chamber to consider what they wanted the city to look like in 2030, 2040, and 2050, and he asked how hosting the Olympics would aid in bringing about that vision.
I was reminded of that talk this week, when I was doing my own visioning with the Israel Policy Forum as a member of the inaugural IPF Atid Charles Bronfman Conveners Summit. Over four days, I joined a group of 24 other young leaders committed to advancing the two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Our schedule was packed, as we heard from Jewish professional and lay leaders, policy experts, thought leaders, and current and former diplomats. Naturally, our meetings got me thinking about the peace process and its role in our hopes for Israel’s future.
Of our myriad speakers, only one is currently optimistic about the prospects for peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. For most experts, the idea of peace is out there, but it exists on quite a long timeline. Nonetheless, we at JCRC persist in our pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace and the two-state solution. Along with Israel Policy Forum and many others, we know that the two-state solution is the only way to fulfill the Zionist mission of establishing and maintaining a secure, Jewish, and democratic state of Israel.
Much of our communal energy is focused on the two-state solution, and rightfully so. Israel has been in a state of conflict with its neighbors since its creation more than 70 years ago. Yet we don’t typically think as much about what happens after peace is achieved. Perhaps this is because an agreement seems so unrealistic in the current moment. I think this attitude does a disservice to global Jewry and how we conceive of our future. We are locked into tired ways of thinking that reinforce the status quo instead of helping us make real progress. Perhaps we would be better served by a new worldview, one that sees the two-state solution not as the top of the mountain but as an important landmark along the way to an even higher peak.
We can use John Fish’s model to imagine what Israel might look like in 2030, 2040, and 2050. We have political dreams: Israel engaged in diplomacy with its neighbors in the region; economic dreams: Israel with an economy that continues to flourish and lead in fields such as hi-tech; social dreams: an integrated Israel with citizens from different backgrounds living together in harmony.
We know that Israel’s security is paramount to achieving these dreams, and that for Israel to be secure, peace with the Palestinians is a necessary step. For regional integration—political, economic, and social—Israelis and their neighbors must be relieved of the burden of conflict. We also know that, given the political impasse, one of our best strategies to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution is to invest in Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilding efforts. If in 2030 we want to see Israelis and Palestinians living under better circumstances, then it is incumbent on us to invest in peacebuilding organizations today. You can start with the 16 outstanding groups we are currently featuring on our Boston Partners for Peace platform.
The prospect of peace seems like a distant hope right now, which makes the realization of these aspirations seem even farther away. And yet the Zionist movement has never had small dreams, and the progress Israel has made in its first 70 years should encourage us to believe that great things are possible. The important thing is to focus on where we want to go, to know with certainty that the two-state solution is a step on the way, and to continue to do everything in our power to make our vision a reality.
This week's Friday message is from Eli Cohn-Postell,
JCRC Director of Israel Engagement
There is a rabbinic idea that there are 70 faces of the Torah, each containing its own bit of truth about the world. This Talmudic theory was explained to me at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem earlier this week, one of the stops on JCRC’s recent Christian clergy study tour to Israel. Our group was composed of 13 local clergy members and two trip co-chairs: Revered Kathleen Reed of University Lutheran Church and Rabbi David Lerner from Temple Emunah. Throughout our week we experienced what felt like 70 different faces of Israel, each with its own piece of truth that we were left to puzzle together into a coherent whole.
I am returning from the trip with a renewed sense of conviction regarding JCRC’s Israel engagement work. Our conversations in Israel were marked by two prevailing themes—ideas that mirror our priorities for how we engage with Israel here in Boston. First, we experienced the complexity of Israel, always moving ourselves from black and white answers into the muddled, gray, middle area. We also heard repeatedly from both Israelis and Palestinians about the power of investing in bottom-up, grassroots peacemaking efforts.
Israel remains a confounding place for many of us. How can so much good be mixed with so much that raises uncomfortable questions? Our group was inspired by programs that lift up the voices of those most in need. We learned about the way Sindyanna of the Galilee, a female-led non-profit that sells fair trade olive oil, is changing cultural norms by providing new economic opportunities for Arab women. We were equally moved by the work done at Yemin Orde Youth Village, a home to 440 at-risk and immigrant youth from around the world, and their philosophy of education and life that spurs growth in every individual they work with. When we arrived in Jerusalem in time for the LGBTQ Pride march, many of us joined in the celebration. We were able to visit a community on the border with Gaza and what seemed like calm on Monday had turned into rocket attacks by the time we returned home Tuesday.
We also had the opportunity to dive into programs working on reconciliation, co-existence, and recognition of the other. Our participants were excited to learn about JCRC and CJP’s Boston Partners for Peace initiative, and we had the opportunity to learn about partner organizations including Givat Haviva, Hand in Hand schools, Women Wage Peace, and the Parents Circle Families Forum. The work of the Parents Circle, which is a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones to the violence, resonated with our group. This was thanks in part to the connection between their work and that done by one of our participants, Chaplain Clementina Chèry. She is the founding Director of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a center of healing and learning for grieving families and communities. We look forward to co-hosting a delegation of bereaved families from the Parents Circle in Boston next month.
On the other hand, we could not avoid the problem areas embedded in Israel’s social fabric. The Palestinian speakers we met with expressed grave concerns about Israel’s new nation-state law, stating clearly their view that they are now de jure second-class citizens. We also heard from an asylum seeker from Darfur about the struggles he faces trying to balance opportunity in Israel with his fear of returning home and the challenges of navigating the Israeli bureaucracy. The topic of race came up frequently on our trip, and unfortunately two of our African American participants experienced troubling racial incidents during our tour of Jerusalem’s Old City. These incidents were all the more perplexing since it seems they were instigated by Palestinians, a group that many of our African American participants felt a strong kinship with throughout the rest of the trip.
All of this was summed up by a phrase one of our participants coined to describe Israel: profound normal. Israel is a normal country, grappling with issues of democracy, discrimination, and immigration while also making powerful contributions to global issues and being a regional leader in the areas of inclusion and human rights. At the same time, this normalcy is profound—the issues we care about in Israel are the same as those we want to see progress on in America and the rest of the world. Where we might expect there to be difference we instead find similarity.
I know that we in Boston are on the right path. We are creating a model for Diaspora engagement with Israel that isn’t afraid of the complexity, and that takes the time to listen to our partners so that we can help create a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians. We create initiatives like Boston Partners for Peace not because we want to dictate the best path for Israelis and Palestinians, but because our ears are open to their needs. And every few months our study tour programs for clergy and civic leaders introduce new changemakers to these partners and help to spread their message: the hope that peace can happen.
As summer ends and a new year of learning begins, school staff throughout Greater Boston are working feverishly to prepare for their students’ arrival. Here at JCRC, our nearly 300 Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) volunteers are also gearing up to return to their partner schools. To mark this “back-to-school” moment, I’d like to share a glimpse inside one of our 25 GBJCL schools, The Arnone Community School of Brockton, a part of our program for nearly a decade, through their partnership with an incredible team of volunteers from Temples Beth Emunah and Chayai Shalom of Easton.
The Arnone’s Principal Colleen Proudler (left) was recently featured at our annual JCRC Celebrates fundraiser, where we celebrated GBJCL’s 20th anniversary and honored the work of our partners. In Principal Proudler’s remarks, she revealed compelling insights about her school, the realities of her students’ lives, and the impact of our program on her community. A large urban school, the Arnone’s students face daunting challenges: 65% are economically disadvantaged, 92% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 75% are high-needs, and more than 3% of these students are dealing with homelessness.
Principals like Proudler understand that a quality education requires depth of relationships in addition to skill building. As she told us,
… Literacy skills are a key component to a successful future and, all too frequently, these high-risk students lag well behind their peers. I could speak to you for hours about the research that demonstrates the need for explicit vocabulary instruction or the number of minutes a child should spend reading each day to become fluent. But nothing sparks a love of reading in a child better than sharing a book with a caring adult. The [GBJCL] tutors working at Arnone nurture that love of reading each and every day.
Remarkably, Principal Proudler takes the time to get to know each of the GBJCL tutors personally. She observed a particularly telling interaction between one tutor and his student.
Seymour Newberger was a ninety-one-year-old retired engineer who tutored at the Arnone for several years. Typically tutors work one or two hours a week, but Mr. Newberger worked all day, every day… I would frequently find him building bridges with the third graders in a classroom or working with small groups of fifth graders in the science lab.
One day, I observed a fifth-grade girl arguing with him... She walked away from him in a huff and as I was walking over to intervene, he called over his shoulder, “…Fine, leave. But your answer is still wrong!” The girl stopped dead in her tracks. She turned around, marched back over to the table, and sat right down. He calmly picked up a pencil and began to reteach the problem. After she left, I asked him how he knew she would come back. He told me she was a very good mathematician, but made careless errors and got angry when they were pointed out to her. He also knew that her ego would never let her walk away from a problem without the correct answer.
That student has since graduated from the Arnone, but I am certain that she will never forget how Mr. Newberger pushed her to never settle for anything less than her best effort. Mr. Newberger passed away last year and he is sorely missed at the Arnone. His spirit of service, dedication, and commitment embody the essence of GBJCL and what makes it so special to the Arnone.
Today, volunteer support is even more critical to schools like the Arnone. Facing a $10 million school budget deficit and the prospect of classes as large as 30 students, essential services for students in Brockton are in serious jeopardy. As she struggles to respond to this crisis, Principal Proudler expressed her relief that through GBJCL, she can count on her students to continue benefiting from small group instruction and personalized attention.
We are privileged to support schools like the Arnone, where committed volunteers like Mr. Newberger have real impact as they help students carve out their path in life. If you are interested in joining our cadre of GBJCL volunteers, registration is now open for the 2017-2018 school year for either tutoring weekly or time-limited special projects. No educational background is needed, just a desire to help and time to serve.
I look forward to celebrating another successful year together with GBJCL and all of our partners.
Director, Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy
We have spent this summer at JCRC - between crises – mapping out our goals for the coming year. Among our priorities, is a commitment to engaging young adults in our work, not only as participants in our programs, but as stakeholders in our mission, and ultimately as future leaders of our organization. To inform our efforts, we’ve turned to our own young staff members to share their perspectives. This week’s post comes from one member of this cohort; Rachie Lewis, Senior Synagogue Organizer. She reflects on the experience and aspirations of her peer group, through the lens of this past week’s turbulent events.
As a young, white Jew who grew up in a time, place, and economic class that allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin, the violence in Charlottesville and the resurgence of blatant white-Supremacy and anti-Semitism – including two desecrations of the New England Holocaust Memorial in six weeks – are jarring. While we as a Jewish people have seen this before, I have not, and neither have the majority of my peers.
Last weekend, we were all faced with hard decisions about how to respond to a rally here in Boston that many worried would mirror the hate and vitriol in Charlottesville. Some of us chose to attend the “Free Speech” rally in counter-protest – some marched with other faith and social justice communities, and some made our way there on our own. Some of us chose to attend a powerful interfaith service at Temple Israel on Friday evening, which JCRC helped organize, and some of us prayed for peace in our own synagogues on Saturday morning. And, some of us chose to stay home, concerned about wading into these troubled waters.
I chose to go to the counter-protest. Amidst the tens of thousands of protesters, I was struck by how many young Jews I knew – Jews, otherwise separated by institutional, religious, and cultural divides–who decided to show up on Saturday amidst all the confusion and uncertainty.
As we – Jewish, young adults – make these decisions, many of us are grappling with complex questions.
- How do we understand the resurgence of anti-Semitism, which we know is a deep part of our ancestral narrative, yet has not been a lived experience for so many of us? How do we understand anti-Semitism as it relates to other prevalent forms of oppression, such as racism and xenophobia, which position communities of color differently?
- What does it mean to be a Jew doing justice work in deep and respectful partnership with marginalized communities? How do we hold onto these relationships and this work in the face of discord?
- How do we simultaneously recognize and affirm the diversity of the Jewish community, which is not all white, not all economically privileged, and not all descended from Eastern-Europe?
- What can we learn from older generations? And, what new tools and approaches are needed in this era?
Amidst all these questions, as we recognize both our vulnerability and privilege, young Jews are making decisions about how and when to show up, and we’re developing tools and networks to gather on our own. We are programmed to act in the face of injustice. Engaging in social justice work is something we do out of a sense of urgency and chiyuv – obligation. If we, or people we love, are in danger of getting kicked off healthcare plans, Medicaid or disability benefits; if we, or our family and friends of color, feel more threatened because of the deepening racial rifts and racially motivated violence in our country, and; yes, if Nazi flags are once again being flown in public, we will act. Fighting for justice is a part of life for our generation, and thanks to the hard choices made by our parents and grandparents, many of us now feel safe to take the risks that this struggle asks of us.
This week, we welcomed the new month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, which encourages us to reflect on the passing year and prepare for the new one. Elul asks us to take a deep accounting of our actions: What have we done well? How have we grown? Where have we fallen short? What have we learned? How will we set ourselves up to be stronger and better versions of ourselves in the year ahead?
These questions feel especially crucial as we all make our way through the chaos. And, I hope that, in the coming year, younger Jews, older Jews, community leaders, and those on the periphery, can engage with one another in addressing the questions at the heart of these struggles, both in our country and in our Jewish community.
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.
Just a few weeks ago, Jeremy wrote that even in the aftermath of a tense election, the values of our organization and our Jewish community have not changed. For young adults who are particularly unsettled in this uncharted territory, volunteering could provide the keys to resiliency. While we take the time to practice self-care, let’s also challenge ourselves to take action in caring for one another.
For nearly seven years, ReachOut! has given Jewish young adults in Greater Boston the opportunity to give back to their own communities, volunteering in places they might not otherwise with people they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to encounter. These volunteers are idealistic, committed and deeply connected to their peers and the people they serve. Thanks to ReachOut!, volunteering once a week has become a part of their way of life and their weekly schedule, enabling them to act on their most cherished Jewish values. Here are just two examples:
United South End Settlements (USES), serving residents of the South End and Lower Roxbury, was Boston’s first settlement site in 1891. Formerly known as Harriet Tubman House, USES offers a wide variety of services for low-income families, including adult basic education classes which prepare students of all levels to earn the HiSET, (formerly the Graduate Equivalency Degree). ReachOut! volunteers, including site captain Joseph Lichterman, tutor adults studying for the HiSET every Thursday evening.
Joseph and his peers work individually with those enrolled in the classes to give them the much-needed individualized attention they need to pass the test. Typically, Joseph coaches students on their reading, both by reading aloud and guiding them through comprehension exercises. “I’ve been able to see the students’ reading abilities improve,” he says. “Their pronunciation and comprehension tend to get better, but also it’s really fun to see them get into the books we are reading and to be able to talk to them about the plot and themes of the novels.” Joseph has profound admiration for his student’s hard work and commitment, and draws inspiration from them. USES’s English teacher finds the work of the volunteers invaluable to his students’ achievement. He relies on the support of regular volunteers, like the team from ReachOut!, and sees marked improvement from the students after they work individually with a volunteer.
Leah Robbins, Co-Chair of the ReachOut! Steering Committee and USES volunteer, finds that her participation in the program gives her the opportunity to learn about the lives of peers from different backgrounds than her own. “I got matched with a student who had moved to the US from Cuba four months ago and we had a conversation that touched on his life as an actor; his experience of being perceived first as a member of an outsider group rather than an individual; his impressions of the US so far; and even who Harriet Tubman was in US history,” Leah says. “What a conversation! Getting to speak with someone who's had such different experiences wouldn't have happened for me any other way.”
Joseph and Leah’s stories are just two snapshots of committed ReachOut! volunteers who not only give their time and energy each week, but are so enriched by the experience. In this time when we are helpless, it is even more important to dedicate ourselves in service to others and to celebrate those who act on their commitment to make the world a better place for all.
Yet another volunteer opportunity is coming in January, this one also open to families and teens. January 16th is JCRC’s 2nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and we hope to see many members of our community there. We will send more information as it becomes available.
Young Adult Social Justice Programs Coordinator
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be flooded out of your home, disrupting every aspect of your life. Now imagine waiting three and a half years before you can complete your home repair.
For the Harrilalls of Arverne, NY, this is not an exercise, but the reality for a family whose home suffered significant damage from eight feet of floodwaters when Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast nearly four years ago and flooded most of the Rockaway Peninsula. While many households had adequate resources to pay for post-disaster home rebuilding, many families like the Harrilalls did not, and so, years later, they are still displaced or living in their water-damaged homes.
JCRC’s TELEM program is proud to be a part of the solution for those households in need. Last week, in partnership with Friends of Rockaway (FoR), a community-based nonprofit organization founded in response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Rockaway Peninsula, we brought a crew of eager teens from the JCRC’s TELEM program to Rockaway for the fourth time. And, this time, we were assigned to the Harrilall home to help them move closer to recovery.
While the damaged roof has been repaired, the mold removed from the walls, the rotted stairs replaced, and the rafters cleared of vermin, the Harillal home is still very much in need of further repair. Sweaty and covered in plaster dust and paint, we worked hard to help the Harrillals move closer to finish as we spackled, sanded, primed, and painted walls.
Over the course of our three days, we could see the rooms transform from a construction site to the beginnings of a finished home. And, over the course of the trip – as is true for so many on our previous trips – TELEM teens become transformed as well. In the spirit of ‘livnot u’lehibanot” – through the experience of building (transforming) they become transformed in the process, with many of them rolling up their sleeves for multiple trips.
Tamar Gaffin-Cahn, a trip chaperone and former JCRC service trip participant, reflected on our work in this way:
“Our recent trip to New York was especially meaningful for me, and…the kids too because of the home owner's story. She had been put on a waiting list for three and a half years with half of her house rotting away. She was skeptical and wouldn't believe her luck until her house was finally finished. By the end of September, she'll finally have her home back, better than ever.”
And, it is important to note the crucial role that non-profits like FoR and faith-based volunteer groups like JCRC’s TELEM can play in disaster recovery. Where flood insurance is inadequate or non-existent, where government agencies are slow to provide resources, and where unscrupulous contractors take advantage of vulnerable people, faith groups and non-profits are often the saving grace for those in desperate need.
In these post-Sandy years, - through our ten service-immersion trips to NY and another to New Orleans - JCRC has forged strong working relationships with non-profit organizations in New York and Louisiana whose mission it is to assist families without the resources to rebuild their homes on their own. We’ve been gratified by the response of young members of our community, who have enabled us to provide reliable volunteer assistance to help these families return to their homes. As we continue our trips to NY, we have also set our sights on sending crews to Louisiana, Texas and other communities who have suffered from other natural disasters. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of communities in need of volunteers now, and for years to come.
Reflecting on this benchmark tenth service trip to NY, it never ceases to impress me how moved our teens are by the stories and realities of people losing their homes , and how compelled they are to help. Returning for multiple trips with TELEM has become a priority for many teens as they recognize the work is not finished and as they become more experienced with this work, their contributions are increasingly valuable. As Ben Fein said in reflecting on his five experiences on TELEM trips, “I would travel anywhere to do a TELEM service trip!” And, as Mrs. Harrilall said to Ben and the other trip participants, “Your being here gives us hope.”
By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate
As you may recall, last July marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
Allow me to borrow the words of Elana Margolis, Associate Director at JCRC, from a blog post she authored to commemorate that anniversary:
“I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.”
By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.
At JCRC, we advocate for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities. We join with so many wonderful organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston,– working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.
Since I am in a borrowing mood, I’ll share the words of Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director, from one of his recent weekly blog posts:
“For JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.”
This commitment was clearly visible earlier this month when JCRC worked with our partners and the Massachusetts State Senate to pass two bills aimed at removing barriers for people with disabilities. Senate Bills 1323 and 2142, passed on March 3rd, expand the range of housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 1323, which we are working to ensure is approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, brings Massachusetts and federal regulations into alignment — creating more accessible housing units and improving access to employee-only areas in the workplace. Thank you to our partners on this initiative - the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers, the MS Society, Disability Policy Consortium and Easter Seals.
Senate Bill 2142 would require the state's Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit, with the intent to hire, qualified applicants with disabilities for employment in its office. In addition, the bill requires that all state employees involved in hiring decisions be trained and educated to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We are thrilled that the Senate also passed these additional bills that positively impact people living with disabilities:
- Senate Bill 2140, an Act Eliminating Archaic Language Pertaining to Individuals with Disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- Senate Bill 2413, an Act Eliminating Health Disparities in the Commonwealth.
- Senate Bill 2141, An Act Updating Terminology and Investigative Practices Related to the Protection of Persons with a Disability.
We are grateful for the leadership of Senator James Timilty, Senator Barbara L’Italien and Chair of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka. Our efforts now turn to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure swift action to pass these bills.
The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition and JCRC will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.
By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate
Last month, hundreds of activists from around the country came together in Washington D.C. for the Jewish Community Town Hall, sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), to shape the policy agenda for the organized Jewish community. I had the pleasure of attending, along with JCRC’s Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Public Policy Committee Chair Chuck Koplik.
Issues on the agenda included anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world; the Syrian refugee crisis; race relations; criminal justice; early childhood education; family and medical leave; and American recognition of the Armenian genocide.
At the end of the three day conference, five resolutions were passed and have all been added to the JCPA Compendium which provides guidance to JCRCs across the country. Of the five non-emergency resolutions, JCRC of Greater Boston was proud to sponsor two of them. The first was a Resolution on Paid Sick Leave, calling for support for legislation that guarantees employees reasonable paid sick leave to attend to their own health and the health of their families. The other, a Resolution on the Armenian Genocide, called for Jewish community groups to consult and work with national Armenian organizations to further the goal of U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Both of these amendments reflect longstanding values held in Boston and are now reflected in the national umbrella organization’s governing documents.
JCPA Board Chair Susan W. Turnbull commented, “We delved into contemporary issues and reached consensus positions that will lead our community towards action. We were informed, we discussed, and we debated, over three days. We then took concrete steps to create policy in our shared pursuit of justice.”
The additional three resolutions were: a call for criminal justice and drug reform; expanding access to early education for the poor; and further actions to combat anti-Semitism. These resolutions were enacted to allow all members of the JCPA the latitude to work on important issues of the day and to be a leader in our respective communities.
With regard to anti-Semitism, the JCPA adopted a policy calling for guidelines “regarding the line between criticism of Israel’s policies and anti-Semitism, and when that line is crossed.”
“We live in a dangerous world, not just for ourselves, but many who are at risk because of who they are, where they live, or how others perceive them,” said Ethan Felson, JCPA Senior Vice President. “We are all created in the divine image, so an injustice to anyone is an injustice to all of us – and so we take action.”
After a late night session, an emergency resolution framing concrete steps to address the crisis of Syrian refugees was passed. This resolution was penned in large part by our own Executive Director Jeremy Burton.