Category Archives: Blogs

An Act relative to anti-racism and justice in education

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.

Read JCRC's Testimony

Back to School with GBJCL | A Message from Our Literacy Program Director

In the spirit of back-to-school, this week's message is from Rebecca Shimshak, the Director of our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy program.

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.

Students at the Arnone School celebrating 20 years of GBJCL (click to enlarge)

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.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rebecca Shimshak,
Director, Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy

Asking and Acting | A Millennial Message from Our Senior Synagogue Organizer

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.

Nahma Nadich
Deputy Director

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.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie Lewis
Senior Synagogue Organizer

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some suggested values to guide our actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,


Snapshot of Service | A Message from our Young Adult Social Justice Programs Coordinator

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.

Shabbat Shalom,

Julie Hollander
Young Adult Social Justice Programs Coordinator

The Road Trip to Recovery | A Message from our TELEM Director

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.”

We will continue to build – homes, hope, and hearts. We will expand our reach, and our teens will lead the way. If you’re inspired to participate, or to help fund these trips, please contact me at .

Shabbat Shalom,

Barry Glass,
Director, TELEM

A Step Forward for Inclusion

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.