Category Archives: Community Relations

ED Jeremy Burton Remarks at ISBCC Khutbah Service on March 15th, 2019

Brothers and sisters, salaam alaikum.

In the Jewish tradition, when we comfort, we come first in silence. “מצטרף בצערך, I join in your sorrow.” And so, I will speak, but really all of us are here just to be alongside you. Because you’ve been alongside us, because we’ve stood together as communities time and again, because, candidly, we’ve become too good at this. We’ve become too good at being with each other in this city, in Boston. When we have mourned and suffered we’ve known that we have not mourned and suffered alone. I want you to know that you do not suffer alone.

My teacher, Shaykh Yasir, has spoken so eloquently today of the teachings of the Abrahamic faiths, of the understanding of prophets that go all the way back to Adam. And as my teacher Shaykh Yasir has reminded me, there is so much that is shared within our traditions. The Koran teaches us in Surah 5:32, that if anyone killed a person, that it would be “as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” That same spirit, that same tradition, is part of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish understanding of the way in which we walk in the world together. Our Mishnah, our holy text, tells us that God cried out to Cain when Cain killed his brother, and said: “The bloods of your brother scream out!” And our Rabbis explore that and say anyone who destroys a life, and I’m quoting from our text, is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.

We share a tradition. We share a text. And our scriptures and our texts teach us, in understanding those verses, that it goes back to the very idea that when God created the world, and began with Adam, it was to begin with one individual, so that no one could say to their friend, “My ancestors are greater than yours.”

My brothers and sisters in Boston’s Muslim community, we stand with you because we understand. This terrorist and white supremacy are a sin against our traditions. They are a rejection of the teaching of God—that none of our ancestors are greater than any others. We stand with you to reject terrorism. There is no good on that side. There is no good to be found in those who march in praise of white supremacy and white nationalism. They are a threat to all of us. They are not the other side. There is only one side: It is the way of walking with God and understanding God as we each come to God in our own traditions.

And there is so much to share at a time like this. Know that you do not walk alone, that we will be with you. Shaykh Yasir spoke so powerfully, and in our tradition I want to share the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England, who taught us that:

“We need to recover the absolute values that make Abrahamic monotheism the humanizing force it has been at its best: the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, the twin imperatives of justice and compassion, the moral responsibility of the rich for the poor, the commands to love the neighbor and stranger, and the insistence on peaceful modes of conflict resolution. These are the ways that we build a future in which the children of the world, of all colors, faith and races, can live together in peace.”

In the Jewish tradition, when we hear of a death, we say, “May their memory be for a blessing,” and when we visit a house of mourning, before we leave, we say, “May you be comforted amongst the mourners.” Today I leave you with this: Today on this day, there are far too many blessings in this world, and there are more mourners than you can imagine. Salaam alaikum.

What Makes A Jewish Issue Our Issue?

Last week the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) ranked the top 25 Jewish influencers on Twitter. Noting that the list included only three women, I wrote a column expressing concern about inclusion and gender in the Jewish community. On Tuesday, JTA’s editor-in-chief, Andrew Silow-Carroll, wrote an extended and thoughtful response. His conclusion:

“We agree with Burton’s overarching message. The Jewish community still has a lot to do in order to address a gender gap in positions of influence. It’s an issue that goes way beyond the confines of Twitter.”

I thank JTA for inviting an honest critique – and for joining an active public discussion about this important issue. I also thank five men on that list – Peter Beinart, William Daroff, Jeffrey Goldberg, Avi Mayer, and Arsen Ostrovsky – who used their prominence on the list to elevate the gender issue by sharing my column on social media.

Silow-Carroll’s column motivates me to explore an additional issue that is of particular importance to us at JCRC. In response to a critique that I and others noted about the list focusing exclusively on those who tweet about Israel, he writes:

“The question of what constitutes a ‘Jewish issue’ is an old and unresolved one. Jews contribute to uncountable fields and debates, but that doesn’t necessarily make those contributions ‘Jewish.’ Certainly there are issues that fall beyond the purview of even a community relations council because they exceed its ‘Jewish’ bandwidth.”

He’s right. This is an old question. But it is not one with which I struggle.

The Judaism I love and embrace – with its prophetic values and thousands of years of rabbinic wisdom – has something to say, often even competing things to say, about virtually every issue. This wisdom doesn’t always lead us to one defined conclusion or specific answer to a public policy debate, but there is a contribution that can be made to almost every issue from a distinct Jewish perspective.

Virtually all issues are Jewish issues. If you have any doubts about this, you need look no further than your own inbox, with its myriad of Haggadah supplements coming your way from just about every organization in our community.

The more precise question for us at JCRC is: What are our Jewish communal priorities? While our values and tradition can spur us to action on all issues, when should we feel compelled to mobilize our collective voice and take action, and to what end? We know we can’t do everything, so we have to be clear about how those values intersect with our most pressing priorities and interests for this community at any time.

Let me offer three guideposts we take into account when making judgments about our priorities for action on “Jewish issues.” The first is one of urgency. The hateful and divisive rhetoric of this political moment and its consequences is one in which we have felt pressed to act. In fact, there has been wall to wall Jewish communal condemnation of the demonization of Muslim-Americans and of immigrants. Some of us have come to this from the place of Tzelem Elohim (the dignity that comes from all of us being created in the divine image). Others apply our historic awareness that Jewish self-interest is served best when our larger society is committed to the protection and support minority communities. But regardless of what informs our position, we know that our absence as a community in this moment would speak volumes, so we have lifted our voices in response to an urgent public matter.

The second guidepost is consensus. As the voice of the organized Jewish community, we go to great lengths to ensure that our actions are in fact representing that community’s sensibilities. Last summer’s debate on the Iran deal, like all issues related to Israel’s security, was clearly a Jewish priority. However, despite the widespread sense of urgency, we found consensus to be lacking in our community; we were divided on the exact position we ought to take on a vote by Congress. So, with a consensus about the priority but not for a specific position, rather than advocate for or against the deal, JCRC publicly examined the elements within it – the particular and specifics. We sought to shine a light on the issues, understand and debate them, and ultimately, to urge members of Congress to address them.

Finally, we are guided by political opportunity - the opening of a window for effective action. The galvanizing of our community to take swift and decisive action following the horrific murders in Newtown provides a compelling example. The political will to prevent further gun violence offered an opportunity to advocate for stricter gun laws in the Commonwealth. We quickly joined and led within a Coalition to pass sweeping legislation, and we remain committed to this work. In this case, the issue was one on which we already had consensus and were thus able to leverage an opportune political moment.

So no, we haven’t yet found “the issues that fall beyond the purview of even a community relations council because they exceed its ‘Jewish’ bandwidth.” But yes, we constantly evaluate which issues we will act on as priorities within that bandwidth, making sure that we act on those urgent ones on which we have consensus and a path for effective political change. We also embrace the diversity within our community that helps us determine what those priorities should be.

That’s how a community relations council makes a unique contribution to the public discussion on issues of concern to our Jewish community – on Twitter and wherever the debate takes us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

GBIO Conversation Series

GBIO logo

Conversation Series

Undivided: Rejecting the Rhetoric of Otherness

In the charged rhetoric of our times, the demonization of the other – from Mexican immigrants to Muslims to other marginalized minorities– has become commonplace. GBIO  invites congregants from all of our faith traditions to four diverse  houses of worship, to develop relationships, learn about each other’s traditions and affirm our shared values and common humanity. 

 1st Conversation at ISBCC – 1/20 from 5:45–8 pm

2nd Conversation at St. Katharine Drexel – 2/4 from 7–9 pm

3rd Conversation at Temple Israel – 2/11 from 7-9 pm

In case of any cancellations due to snow or otherwise, please hold alternative dates of 2/25 & 3/3 for conversations at a place to be determined,  from 7-9 pm

Video: The Ethics of Public Leadership – Who Speaks for the Jews?

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA presented an evening of discussion on The Ethics of Public Leadership: Who Speaks for the Jews? on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The evening featured a discussion between Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, with an introduction by Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz.

 The video of the evening’s presentation is available here.

Jewish Community at Forefront of Inclusion Advocacy

With February being Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), we are reminded that the Jewish community continues to be at the forefront of promoting the righteous obligation for inclusion, whether through the high quality of services and programs run by our agencies, the families and people with disabilities who are thriving or the countless volunteers who pitch in their time and resources to create a more open and accessible community.

Yet, for many families and people with disabilities, societal attitudes and limited public resources have created additional obstacles and saddled too many people with financial and emotional barriers where instead opportunity should abound.

JDAM presents us an opportunity to highlight the talents, personalities and sometimes untapped potential of people with disabilities and provides a platform to shine a light on laws and regulations that need to be updated, services that need to be expanded and expectations that need to be readjusted.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) works to bring our community’s values, perspectives and expertise to the public square to effect change and promote dialogue. Over the past several years, our Government Affairs team, including our newly formed Disability Advocacy Committee, has played a key role with our state leaders and federal delegation, testifying on behalf of bills, advocating for familial supports and innovative program and working in collaboration with other leading voices.

This year also marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and for the young adults of the ADA generation, it has never been a question about their own abilities, but rather the overcoming the expectations and obstacles that others have set.

We urge you to use the opportunity of Jewish Disability Awareness Month to call your elected officials, neighbors, friends, and colleagues and urge them to support efforts to make a more inclusive community and workplace. If you have a disability, speak up and let the world know that you are an important part of the workforce and that you will not be defined nor limited by anyone else’s expectations.

On Thursday, February 26th, JCRC and Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations will honor the visionary leadership of Paul Bernon and the Ruderman Family Foundation for supporting JCRC's disability policy agenda and to Senator Dan Wolf, Representative Joe Wagner and Rita Noonan from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's office our 18th Annual Legislative Reception at The Massachusetts State House.

If you are interested in attending or supporting this event, go to http://bit.ly/1L93MOb.

JCRC Supports AJRC on events in Argentina

We wish to voice in the clearest terms our disquiet and alarm at the events and public discourse that have dominated Argentina in the wake of the tragic death of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

We join our voices to those of individuals, institutions, countries and leaders who call for a full, transparent, and independent investigation of the death of Alberto Nisman. We believe that without the utmost transparency, no vital trust in Argentina’s public institutions may be restored.

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman dedicated the last ten years of his life to the investigation of the unspeakable blast of the AMIA (Argentinean Jewish Assistance Association) building. We consider him to be one more victim of the terror attack that killed 85 innocent people 20 years ago and continues to be unsolved. We support any initiative that might assist or act to enable the judicial system of Argentina to finally bring justice to the AMIA tragedy and to clarify prosecutor Nisman’s passing. The citizens of Argentina demand and deserve to know all the truth, to see all those responsible being put to justice, and to finally resolve and close these dark chapters of their shared lives.

We deplore the state of insecurity and uncertainty that has dominated the lives of Argentineans around Prosecutor Nisman’s announced presentation to Congress and all the more as a result of his, as yet unexplained, tragic death.

Finally, we condemn the increasing number of anti-Semitic pronouncements and acts in Argentina, which lead to an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for its many thousands of Jewish citizens.  Anti-Semitic acts of any kind should be condemned and punished by the authorities to prevent further occurrences and educate about their devastating effects.

Alberto Limonic
AJRC Founding Chair

Miguel Lessing
AJRC Chair  

Supporting organizations:

argentinean-co-signators

JCRC Congratulates Israel Arbeiter

Local Holocaust survivor and activist to join Presidential Delegation to Poland to commemorate liberation of Auschwitz.

izzy-crop

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston wishes to congratulate Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter for being chosen by President Obama to be part of a Presidential Delegation to Oświęcim, Poland to attend the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 2015.

For over 60 years, Izzy Arbeiter, an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, has dedicated his life to commemorating and educating others about the Holocaust. He has stood up and spoken for the rights of survivors demanding that the world must remember what has happened, to understand why it has happened, and to identify the seeds from which hate grows.

Izzy is one of the founders of the New England Holocaust Memorial and a driving force behind Holocaust education in New England.

We congratulate Izzy on this high honor and look forward to joining him for the re-dedication of the Israel Arbiter Gallery of Understanding at The Gann Academy in Waltham, MA on February 1.