Category Archives: Jeremy Burton

On being a force for good

"Stars of Hope" painted by teens on JCRC's MLK Day of Service

On Monday I had the honor of joining Governor Baker as he signed legislation releasing an additional $1 million in funding for non-profit security grants; a budget item that we at JCRC have prioritized. Afterward, a member of the press asked me if I was “happy” to be at the State House for this solemn occasion. “No,” I replied, “I’d much rather be here for other reasons, to advocate for the values and issues that we work on every day.”

I never imagined that confronting antisemitism would become a significant part of my daily reality in 2020. I came to this work over 20 years ago informed by a sense of my own purpose; to build Jewish communities that inspired engagement and activism for future generations, rooted in the same values, culture and traditions that enriched my own Jewish identity.

As violent Jew-hatred comes roaring back into our domestic American reality, I worry that as we fight against antisemitism, we’re going to lose our focus on the meaning and purpose of Jewish community. “Because, antisemitism” is not enough of a reason to evoke a commitment to living proudly and Jewishly in the world. “Because, they hate us” is not the foundation on which thousands of years of enriching Jewish culture is built.

Rather, I find meaning in the notion that our mission ought to be - as individuals, as Jewish organizations and as communities - in the words of Avraham Infeld: “to advance the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

So yes, I’m proud of the work that we at JCRC do every day, building relationships beyond the Jewish community, resulting in the support of allies who are with us as we confront this new reality. I’m proud and grateful that our Christian friends and partners, many of whom have played significant leadership roles in the work of JCRC, took it upon themselves to write a powerful statement on antisemitism last week, which has now garnered upward of 1,000 signatures. And I’m proud of the partnership we’ve forged with legislative leaders to fund non-profit security grants and anti-bias training in schools.

I’m also proud that we are a Jewish community in Boston that is committed to living our values in the broader civic space, affirming our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors; a commitment we’ll be honoring in just over one week when we come together for JCRC’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

This year, JCRC is offering a record 13 partner sites with the capacity for 900 volunteers. Members of our community will be painting and making interior upgrades to the Catholic Charities/Haitian Multiservice Center in Dorchester. This facility serves a crucial role in the Dorchester community and is in desperate need of repairs that Catholic Charities cannot do on their own. This Center provides a multitude of services to local residents, including food and housing assistance, English language classes, teen enrichment, and afterschool programming.

We will also be at St. Stephen's Youth Programs at the Blackstone Elementary School, a longtime partner of our ReachOut! program. Volunteers of all ages will be working on beautification and revitalization projects throughout the elementary school. After volunteering, there will be a lunch and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and why this day has become a day of volunteering.

I’m looking forward to being back at the State House on January 24th for the Safe Communities Act legislative hearing. We, along with many of our member agencies, are deeply committed members of the coalition working to pass this bill to protect the rights of our immigrant neighbors and create standards for law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And our team will be back at the State House to lobby on January 28th for Election Day Registration, a basic reform that would expand the franchise to more eligible voters, thus strengthening our democracy at a time when it is under assault.

I hope that you’ll join me for any or all of these activities. I also hope that the Governor’s actions this week will, as I said to him on Monday, help “give us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”

Because, as I concluded to that reporter at Monday’s bill signing, “these times are what they are.”

So yes, we’re grateful to our partners, including to the Governor for prioritizing our safety and including us in this week’s ceremony. And, I hope that because of our efforts to confront antisemitism and work for our community’s security, we will thereby strengthen our continued ability to be a force for good in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

From Israel: Finding Inspiration in Dysfunctional Times.

A short while ago, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport. Together with JCRC’s Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell, we’re starting out on our biannual civic leaders study tour, this time together with members of the Massachusetts Senate.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an Israeli friend with both British and American citizenship. This person, only half-jokingly, commented that, at the moment, it was hard to tell which of these nations had more dysfunctional politics.

It is, to my mind, a tough question; especially when I focus on the negative aspects currently manifesting in each system. When I was last in Israel – in July – the Israeli people were in the midst of their second national election campaign this year. I never imagined the possibility that during this week’s trip they could embark on their third election cycle in less than a year. Since summer, Britain has blown through its latest Brexit deadline, with national elections pending next week (and a deeply worried Jewish community to wit). And, in the US, well, where shall we start?

But there’s another way of looking at this, which is to see the half-full glass, the moments, people, and institutions that inspire hope.

Observing developments in Israel, of course there’s much to be said about a nation whose prime minister is facing a trial over corruption charges. But there’s also something to be said about a country where the attorney general who brought those charges was himself appointed by that very same prime minister. And, whether one agrees or not with specific policies of the government, it’s notable that the institutions of justice are taking a stand, and how that action – to many of us – compares favorably with the role of our own attorney general in our current political process addressing our own President’s behavior.

And while three national elections within one year appears chaotic, it is also worth noting that a large chunk of Israel’s electorate is “holding the center.” Politicians and parties are, through their “constitutional” process (though Israel doesn’t have an actual constitution) reaching out from center-left to center-right and trying to form a consensus politics about the direction of the state and its character. Does this compare favorably to our own fractured politics in the US where a House divided has become the default, and the idea of common ground or shared understanding seems a distant memory? I think so.

And at a time when Americans, obsessing in our like-minded bubbles on social media, increasingly living and working in red and blue silos, and telling pollsters that the greatest tragedy would be for our children to marry across party lines, I’m inspired by my friends here. Because the divides between Israelis and Palestinians are surely even deeper than much of what divides us as Americans. And yet, as on every trip, we’ll be meeting with folks who are reaching out across these divides to build empathy and compassion. 

Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians are working together on grassroots projects for mutual recognition, dignity, and peace. We, through Boston Partners for Peace, believe in their ability to change the narrative and shape the future. They inspire us and I look forward to reporting on their efforts again after our visits this week.

So, I’m not ready to say which of our countries is most dysfunctional right now, nor do I think this is a particularly useful exercise. But what I can say – without in any way being naïve about the extraordinary challenges that Israelis, Palestinians, and the people of this region face, and the importance of supporting their efforts to resolve these challenges – is that I also think we can learn from and be inspired by what we witness here; people who don’t give up in the face of adversity; people who keep reaching out to each other and remain committed to building a hopeful future; and people who are representing the institutions and systems of a functioning democracy.

And maybe, just maybe, instead of judging them too harshly for their very human flaws, we Americans – who live in a glass house of our own – can be a little quieter and do a little more listening as we seek to understand the people who live here. And, hopefully, as I do on every trip here, I can come away a little more inspired, a little more committed to not giving up on the people here, and even learning from what they can teach us about our own dysfunctional politics right now.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

ED Jeremy Burton Remarks at ISBCC Jumma 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.

A Special Post Announcing A Decision Made by Our Council Last Night

Seventy-five years ago, in 1944, a group of Jewish organizations in Boston formed a coalition to confront threats to the Jewish community, including and specifically anti-Semitism. That coalition, JCRC, came to act as a representative voice of the organized Jewish community, and over time, its constituent organizations developed abiding principles and values that live on in our mission statement.

JCRC’s priorities and agenda have evolved over time but our principles have endured.

In our early years, support for a safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel meant working for the survival of a nascent state and supporting the early upbuilding as it absorbed Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews expelled from Arab countries. Today it calls us to defend the State of Israel from those seeking to delegitimize its very existence, while working with our Israeli and Palestinian partners in support of their efforts to achieve the full promise and inspiring vision embedded in the Israel declaration of statehood.

Our commitment to promote an American society that is democratic, pluralistic, and just was a call to action for a generation of post-War American Jews working to find their place in a country where neighborhoods and associations could still say “No Blacks, No Jews.” Today, we face other and real threats to the norms of our democracy, challenges to the credibility of the institutions that bind us together as a society, and the fraying of our national sense of shared purpose around an American creed.

Six months ago, a member organization of JCRC signed on to a statement organized by a self-identified Jewish organization aligned with the global BDS movement, a movement that denies the legitimate national aspiration of the Jewish people. That action triggered questions and concerns within our coalition, given our long-established view that support for BDS is contrary to our mission. Our Membership Committee began a process of discussion and dialogue with our member organization.

In the course of those conversations, that member organization questioned whether JCRC’s long abiding principles were not only operative, but also whether they were in fact the view of the Council as a collective (comprised of 43 member organizations, 29 community representatives, along with our Officers, Board of Directors, and past presidents), affirmed through its decision-making process. To ensure a transparent democratic process, last month the JCRC Membership Committee asked the Council to reaffirm and codify our view.

As JCRC does when we are at our best, we entered into a deliberative process across our network. We circulated draft resolutions and rationales to all of our member organizations, who then went through their various internal processes to determine their views, articulate changes they would seek, and guide their votes on a final, codified view. Member organizations lobbied each other and community representatives on the Council. Caucuses came together around various specific issues and wording. Alternative motions were circulated and re-drafts were shared.

Last night, the Council came together at its regular meeting to hear the report of the Membership Committee and to make a decision.

The debate was tinged with sadness and humility.

Sadness that, in their frustration and anger with the government of Israel, some Jews would choose to hold the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; to act from an ahistorical ideology; to be part of organizations that lend credence to noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community.

Sadness that at the end of this JCRC process we may ultimately separate from a venerable organization, the Boston Workmen’s Circle (BWC), a founder of our coalition and a home for many Jews in Boston who have no other Jewish space that resonates for them.

Humility that our actions have consequences. We are clear that we are mandated only to define the compacts that bind this coalition together, and not to define who is a Jew or who should be excluded from the broader Jewish community. Even so, our hearts are heavy in the knowledge that the steps we take may be read by others as rejection of them as individuals and Jews; not just of an ideology that is counter to our mission.

Humility that we must do more to create spaces and pathways to action for those in our community who are disappointed and dismayed by the actions of Israel’s government. Pathways that connect them to Israelis and Palestinians who share their hopes and sense of urgency, without denying the legitimacy of our people’s national aspirations.

Our debate was held in the spirit of argument for the sake of heaven, with the understanding that good people who share a commitment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state can and often do have different ideas about that future and how to achieve it. It was a debate in the spirit of the houses of Hillel and Shammai as recorded in the Talmud, two vigorously dissonant views on issues fundamental to the codification of rabbinic Judaism but who, at the end of each debate, went home inextricably linked to each other as one community.

And then, finally, by a vote of 62 ayes and 13 nays, with 8 abstentions, our Council resolved:

That no member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by – a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist;

such action is not compatible with, and is in conflict with, JCRC’s mission, and could be grounds for removal from the JCRC upon the determination of and through the procedures of this Council and its bylaws.

While our dialogue with BWC will continue in the coming weeks, we took an important step in clarifying who we are as a coalition, and what boundaries define this coalition in advancing JCRC’s mission. We did so through our process of deliberative and representative democracy on behalf of our organized Jewish community; a process that we rely on to form our principles and our policies; a process that is the foundation of the legitimacy to do public advocacy and community relations on behalf of this coalition. And we move forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, My Latinx And Jewish Histories Intersect

This blog post was originally published as an op-ed in The Forward.

At a Hanukkah party on Sunday night, Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared that “generations and generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews.”

In doing so, she publicly joined a vast community of people, including my family, in embracing the space where Jewish and Latinx identities intersect.

It is a story that, sadly, has long sat at the margins of both the experiences.

My family story begins with a journey of exploration. In the early 1960s my mother, Diane Marie Sandoval, born and raised Mexican and Catholic in California, informed her parents that her path was leading her to conversion to Judaism.

My grandma was not enthused by her daughter’s decision, finding it difficult to reconcile it with her own faith and identity.

But my grandpa’s reaction was quite different. He told her, “I’ve always felt myself to be of Jewish soul and heritage.”

In the years that followed, my mother and others in our extended family embarked on a journey of discovery into our roots. This journey was made possible in large part by the meticulous record keeping of the Catholic Church in New Spain (Mexico, including the current U.S. southwest) and later by advances in DNA testing.

The record of my grandfather’s family takes us back to the earliest identifiable Sandoval of our line in Mexico, in the mid-18th century. While we have known ancestors named Pacheco, a historically Sephardic name, appearing in the records some 200 years ago, we eventually hit an adobe wall and were unable to trace them back farther.

In the end it is unprovable what Jewish ancestry nurtured Grandpa Joe’s Jewish “feels.”

The story takes a more remarkable and yet profoundly normal turn on my grandmother’s side.

Our Martinez family of New Mexico, again through church records, traces us directly back to Francisco Gomez Vicente. Born in 1576 in Portugal, he crossed the Atlantic and joined the Oñante’s Expedition. His was among the first families to settle Santa Fe, arriving in 1598.

His wife, Maria Ana Robledo Romero, came from a family known to be related to many Jews.

We know that the Gomez de Robledo family lived under suspicion of being hidden Jews. After his death, Francisco’s son, my great-uncle many times over, came under the eye of the Inquisition in New Spain. He was “examined” to determine whether he was a Jew and was found to be so, as my ancestor had circumcised his son.

After serving time in jail, my great-uncle appealed his case, and was examined once again — resulting, of course, in the same finding (one wonders how he hoped for another outcome).

This is just one story amongst thousands in the Spanish Jewish, or Sephardic, Diaspora. It is a story of how families made a difficult decision in the centuries after the expulsion of 1492 to conceal their identities and move to the edges of this new empire, just as Spain was expanding its reach.

These Sephardim were determined to put distance between themselves and the inquisitors. But they escaped as individuals, without rabbis and teachers.

There was only so much that could be passed on.

For my grandmother’s family, by the time that they fled in a harrowing 300 mile march from Santa Fe to El Paso de Norte after the Pueblo Uprising of 1680, they had lost any Jewish identity.

Three centuries years later, it was hard to reconcile a daughters’ choice with a mother’s strongly-held Catholic faith.

Other families held on with converso practices such as lighting candles in the basement every Friday night. But, as with my grandfather, an identity passed down only as lore can be very hard to prove.

Ocasio-Cortez, in the course of her own personal journey through her history, made a profoundly normal discovery. As she tweeted:

“To be Puerto Rican is to be the descendant of: African Moors + slaves, Taino Indians, Spanish colonizers, Jewish refugees, and likely others.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For myself, to be Mexican-American is to be the descendant of Spanish and French colonizers, of the Basque, of the Tarahumara native peoples and yes, of Jews.

There were Jews all over the place in New Spain.

What matters now, to paraphrase Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi of Columbia University in his seminal work Zakhor (Memory), is not whether one can prove one’s ancestry through baptismal and Inquisition records or through DNA tests.

What matters is not whether one embraces an identity of being Jewish or practicing Judaism as faith.

What matters is whether this heritage of Jewish persecution, hiding, diaspora and identity is meaningful to you.

That this discovery is meaningful enough to Ocasio-Cortez that she chose to share it publicly should be celebrated by all of us.

Her story, and all of ours, are part of the Latinx story and equally part of the Jewish story.

By honoring her story, we honor our own heritage.

Holding complexity in a 280-characters-or-less world

As JCRC’s latest civic leaders study tour arrives in Israel today, this one led by Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, I am both proud and envious to not be joining them.

I’m proud because this is the first time in seven years that I’m not traveling with JCRC’s winter study tour and my absence is a reflection of our success in implementing our strategic vision. We’ve developed a cadre of professionals – led by our Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell – that allows us to reach more civic leaders and connect them with Israel. The fact that this work is no longer dependent on the presence of the executive director is an indication of our enhanced capacity to deliver these vital programs.

And I’m envious, because this past week, I’ve been reminded of how enriching I find these trips, with their ongoing discussion of complex and complicated issues: conversations which are all too absent from our daily political discourse.

Two events in particular have drawn my attention. The first is the controversy over Airbnb’s decision to delist properties in Jewish communities in the West Bank beyond the 1948 armistice line between Israel and Jordan – aka the “Green Line,” though not in East Jerusalem. The second involves aspects of the commemoration of the life of President George H.W. Bush.

In the reaction to Airbnb’s decision, there has been a fair amount of hyperbole for partisan purposes: Anti-Israel activists have wrongly claimed that a boycott narrowly targeting homes in “settlements” is a victory for their movement, equating this with boycotts of Israel “proper.” In fact, many people, including us at JCRC, differentiate between these actions. We oppose boycotts of Israel, and, while we don’t support boycotts of West Bank products, we do not believe that they inherently constitute a form of anti-Semitism.

This level of hyperbole indicates a lack of complexity: Supporters of Israel were right to be angry that Airbnb adopted, for now, a policy about one conflict zone that they chose not to adopt equally for all conflict zones. At the same time, it’s important to note that in effect, Airbnb merely made the same differentiation that Israel’s own government makes; distinguishing in practice between Israel “proper” (i.e. areas under Israeli sovereignty since 1948 and those areas in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that have been formally annexed by Israel and live under Israeli civil authority) and Jewish communities in Area C of the Oslo Accords that have a temporary status until a final peace agreement is reached.

And then, regarding our public mourning for President Bush, I experienced several moments when people expressed flattering thoughts about Bush and his legacy – “decent,” “dignified,” “a statesman,” – and were then hammered for these expressions. Once again, there was a failure to acknowledge complexity, or to hold multiple and potentially competing truths at once. President Bush was both an ally and sometimes an opponent of various Jewish concerns, a transformational advocate for the disabled and yet also seemingly indifferent to the impact of the AIDS epidemic, a decent man whose campaign in 1988 was one of the nastiest in memory (at least at that time).

Complexity and nuance. Too often lost in our hurried and overblown rhetoric, our outrage-of-the-day, our tribalist “with me or against me” politics in a 280-characters-or-less world. Lost is the nuance and complexity, like the kind we offer on our study tours when we slow down and spend time over the course of a week hearing multiple and conflicting narratives from as many corners of Israeli, and Palestinian, society as we can expose ourselves to. We seldom make the space for the kind of interesting discourse that happens when we actually sit with someone and get to see them as a person with a life and experiences different from our own.

It’s in that space that generative ideas can emerge and real learning can take place, all of which I am envious to miss this week.

Or, as Frank Bruni rightly observed while reflecting on the discourse about Bush (I encourage you to read his whole piece):

“We do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders, and at understanding that it’s not a sign of softness to summon some respect for someone with a contrary viewpoint and a history of mistakes. It’s a sign of maturity. And it just might be a path back to a better place.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Protecting our community while protecting our values

This week we marked the shloshim for those murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by white supremacist gunman Robert Bowers; the 30 days following burial in which mourners refrain from some everyday practices and communities engage in performance of mitzvot to honor the dead.

This past Friday night the Jewish community experienced another attack on a congregation, this time in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mohamed Abdi attempted to run down two visibly Orthodox men leaving Friday night services while yelling anti-Semitic epithets. Thankfully no one was injured.

These and many other incidents of rising acts of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes have our communities wrestling with new challenges. Wherever I traveled this past month, leaders in institutions – synagogues, JCCs, and others – are grappling with the unenviable task of navigating the balance among competing core values and priorities of Jewish communal spaces: between being safe and being inclusive and welcoming. How much security is necessary? What are the best practices? What measures are “too much,” either because cost outweighs the benefit, or because they exacerbate the problematic experiences for Jews of Color, or otherwise limit the ways in which we aspire to welcome people into Abraham’s four-fold open space?

This is, to say the least, an evolving conversation. And it is one we’ve been having with our own leaders and member agencies here at JCRC. I don’t presume to have “the” answer for every congregation or community, beyond encouraging each of them to have these conversations, to explore their own values, and to ask how they will hold multiple values in a dynamic tension that feels appropriate for them.

Our responsibility at JCRC is to do everything we can to ensure that our governments, at all levels, are doing everything in their capacity to ensure the security of our community and its institutions.

Last year we worked with the New England ADL and the Mass. Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF, which is run by JCRC) to seek Governor Baker’s commitment to reconstitute the state’s Hate Crime Task Force, which he readily did. We’ve been appreciative of the Governor’s support after Pittsburgh and have been pleased in recent days to see him leading on working with the Task Force to encourage all law enforcement agencies to fully report hate crimes and to take other measures to ensure that there is a “zero tolerance” for hate in Massachusetts. Our joint commitment to the vitality of this task force remains strong.

MAJF and JCRC also worked last year with our partners in the state legislature to establish a $75,000 pilot for non-profit security grant funding, complementing the federal grants which we advocate for in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America. This year, the state doubled the funding to $150,000 and we will be working with the governor and the legislature to increase the pool and streamline the application process to expand eligibility.

And the Jewish Emergency Management System (JEMS), a partnership of CJP, JCRC, ADL, and the Synagogue Council, is helping our network of agencies access a series of trainings and briefings on the issues they are grappling with in this time.

We’re also continuing to work on the range of public policy matters that were important to our community before Pittsburgh, which have taken on increased urgency in its aftermath. We are more committed than ever to ensuring that the United States remains a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees from around the world, including supporting our noble legacy institutions like HIAS, supporting our network of synagogues here in Massachusetts working in concert with interfaith partners to pass gun-violence prevention laws, and challenging those at the very highest levels of public life who are validating and amplifying the kinds of bigotry and hatred that lead to these attacks.

A month after Pittsburgh, the Jewish community has been changed. We don’t know yet fully how. But we do know that we all have a role to play in facing that change responsibly, while also remaining constant in our purpose and our values about who we are in the world.

We have a choice: To react passively to unfolding events, or act with agency, to protect both our community and its most deeply held values. I, for one, choose the latter option.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Our Concerns for 2020

With election 2018 (not quite) behind us, and election 2020 squarely in the headlights, we’re sitting in the brief moment between cycles of hyperbolic conversations about how non-profits engage on the great challenges facing our nation.

In the most simple sense, there is long standing legal guidance that allows 501(c)(3)s (the IRS designation for federal tax exempt nonprofit organizations) to address public issues – as we do in our advocacy for legislation and public policies – provided that we do so without expressing a preference for a party or candidate in an election, endorsing a candidate, or releasing a voter guide that is implicitly single issue or preferences one party.

More can be said on this (don’t consider the above paragraph as legal counsel to your organization!) but candidly, that’s a technical answer about what the law allows and what magic words one can or cannot say.

Of more interest to us is – what do we care about? What matters to us in the arena of government and policy? And how do we galvanize our attention on these matters?

It bears repeating that we at JCRC – a network of Jewish organizations coming together in shared purpose around the collective agenda of the Jewish community in the public arena – see ourselves as fundamentally invested in two core principles (as stated in our mission): advocacy for a safe, secure, democratic state of Israel; and promoting an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.

To those ends, we intend to educate 2020 candidates about our views on the policy issues that stem from those principles, such as our support for the U.S. as an engaged leader on the international stage, including support for our ally Israel and efforts to achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. It means informing candidates about the Jewish community’s commitment to civil rights for all Americans, the importance of addressing anti-Semitism and bigotry, fair and just immigration policies, and a strong social safety net. And we’ll also be listening to candidates, hearing their views, and sharing with our community about how they think about these policy concerns.

But frankly, there are concerns in 2020 that are both broader and potentially more urgent than these longstanding communal priorities.

It would have been naïve to think that this week’s election would resolve a much larger existential challenge facing our nation – our fractured and tribal culture, the fraying of our democratic norms and the institutions of our civic space, and the breakdown of our ability to work with each other across specific policy disagreements in service to a common notion of the American idea. Naïve because these challenges didn’t start in the past few years, though they’ve been greatly exacerbated; these challenges have been growing, albeit ignored by many, long before 2016.

A challenge that’s been festering over the past two decades isn’t going away tomorrow or in 2020. It’s going to take leadership over the next decades – and not just from those seeking high national office, but from all of us in positions of influence over the civic space and our public discourse.

So yes, heading into 2020, and 2022, and 2024, we’ll need to be educating candidates and ourselves about the policy issues we hold dear. We’ll also need to be asking them what their vision and strategy is for healing the divides that are fracturing our nation, challenging them to show leadership to that end – regardless of what others in public life might do – and challenging ourselves as leaders to model a better future for what ails our nation.

I invite your thoughts and insights on the specific things we can do to influence this conversation and model it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Standing Together During a Really Bad Week

It’s a bit of a “bad joke” amongst certain political and interfaith partners of ours that if we are gathered more than twice in one week it has been a bad week. This past week has been a really bad week.

Like all of you, I was shattered last Shabbat by the news out of Pittsburgh.

And, on Saturday night, I was struck by the immediate outpouring of love and support from partners and allies outside the Jewish community. The director of a mosque already reaching out to several rabbis before noon on Shabbat offering support “in any way.” The African Methodist Episcopal minister who, before we had even made Havdalah, emailed to tell us how our community’s solidarity with his following the church massacre in Charleston three years ago was seared in his memory; that what helped was to know that they “were not alone” and that “we will come at any time and in any way to support you.”

And there were texts and calls from public officials – some to me, many more to others who described them to me – the governor, the mayors, police commissioners, legislators, their aides; all offering help, all wanting to make sure we knew that they were ready with whatever our community needed in this moment.

Hearing these messages brought clarity; we needed to make sure that the experience of being held in love and support by the broader community would not be limited to a small circle of Jewish communal leaders. We needed to make sure that all of our community could be held by these folks; because our grief is not the private reality of rabbis and CEOs but of all of us, every single member of a community reeling in the aftermath of this unthinkable slaughter.

So we tapped into our network of member agencies, each with key relationships and unique competencies. Within hours, we had announced a vigil for Sunday afternoon on the Boston Common, and quickly had commitments from a broad array of the state’s leading public and faith figures. They stood wall to wall with us on Sunday. Their messages were heartfelt; understanding our pain, denouncing the hate motivating the attack and offering strength as we struggled to cope with the weight of events.

They invoked profound relationships: Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the partnership between our communities in supporting immigrants and refugees. They understood us and our fears: Shaykh Yasir Fahmy urged us to keep wearing our Judaism proudly and publicly, to “hold our yarmulkes tighter” just as he would tell his own youthful congregants to “hold their hijab closer” after an experience of Islamophobia. And with gentle and loving insistence, they challenged us to be with them as well, as Rev. Liz Walker did when she invited us to be in partnership with her community in Roxbury as it deals with ongoing and almost daily acts of violence.

Sunday was a beginning toward healing and also a reminder – we haven’t and won’t be facing violent anti-Semitism alone. And it was an invitation, made all the more resonant as we were reminded often this week – by the murder of a black couple in Kentucky last week, and then on Wednesday with the racist graffiti as Tynan School in South Boston – to be present in the struggles of our neighbors as well, as this country grapples with the toxin of hatreds targeting all of our communities.

The power of Sunday on the Common didn’t “just happen,” and it certainly didn’t happen in just a few hours on Saturday night. It was made possible through years of investment in relationships by the network of JCRC members. We have built deep and enduring ties with our interfaith partners on matters of common concern, while engaging in honest and challenging conversations about areas of tension and disagreement. We rolled up our sleeves to work with our friends in the state house over decades to advance our values and work together for the better good of the commonwealth. We heard “yes, of course I’ll be with you” from every partner we reached out to on Saturday night, because, for years, our community has invested in the urgent necessity of community relations.

And this morning I joined leaders from ADL New England and JALSA, along with many of those same faith and community leaders, at the Tynan School to show our support for our neighbors and to stand with them against hatred here in Boston. We stood together because we all need to be held and we all need to hold each other in these times if we are going to find a way forward as a nation.

L-R: Robert Trestan of ADL New England, Cindy Rowe of JALSA, and Jeremy Burton of JCRC

And as we enter this first Shabbat after Pittsburgh, we will again see many of those partners in shul this weekend. I am heading off to services tonight joined by so many of our friends who are joining Jews around the world to #ShowUpForShabbat.

The problem and the threat of violent anti-Semitism isn’t going to be solved overnight. And it is deeply intertwined with a larger challenge of violent and hateful extremism that threatens not only the Jewish community but all Americans – as members of threatened communities and as stakeholders in a nation being threatened by the normalization of hatreds.

So yes, seeing our partners so often means it has been a very bad week. But it has also been a week filled with hope – because they’ve shown up for us and we’ve shown up for them. Together we are finding the resiliency to move forward, stronger together and ready to do the work we do every day of holding community and communities in partnership.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

On Being Proximate and Not Being Paralyzed

The following is an excerpt from my remarks last Thursday at JCRC Celebrates…

At JCRC we like to speak of big, noble values like “our national purpose rebuilding the homeland of the Jewish people” or “defending the norms of Western democracy,” or “tikkun olam.” And right now, it can be too easy to become paralyzed by big ideas when facing the seemingly overwhelming nature of the challenges in our world and in our country.

But rather than do nothing, we look to Jewish tradition to provide us not only with a mandate for big noble ideas like the urgency of taking care of our own and of others, but also with practical wisdom about how to set about achieving this seemingly impossible task – and maybe more important – a strategy for warding off the paralysis of despair.

The Torah offers a concept (elaborated on by the Rabbis) of a circle of responsibility, where our greatest obligations are to those closest to us. This hierarchy reflects our most human impulses – to prioritize those with whom we are most proximate; our families and those whom we love. But the Torah also tells us that our obligations do not stop there. The circle of responsibility includes our neighbors, our cities and towns, and ultimately expands to encompass all of humanity.

If our circle begins with our own Jewish community, it expands to include all those who share our great Commonwealth. Through our relationships with those to whom we are proximate, those we draw near, we learn of action we can take right here and right now, that has impact on the lives of those we’ve grown close to.

So, rather than be paralyzed by the reality of 12,800 migrant children in federal detention right now, we at JCRC have organized 18 synagogues in 4 Sanctuary networks supporting a variety of families. With our Christian partners, we’ve mobilized 600 volunteers to support 160 people in detention, provided accompaniment at 170 court hearings, and – raised over $100,000 to bond out 32 people being held in federal detention who are awaiting hearings – all right here in Massachusetts.

Rather than be paralyzed by a sense of despair over the prospect of a two-state solution 25 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, we at JCRC have started Boston Partners for Peace. In partnership with CJP, we’re changing the conversation in Boston about coexistence. Through connection to Israeli and Palestinian success stories, we’re offering hope as an alternative to despair and inviting our community to work for the future in a proactive and positive way here in Boston.

Rather than by paralyzed by global hostility to Israel, we at JCRC mobilized a broad network of our member agencies, our allies, and our community in Cambridge this spring to defeat an effort to make the boycott Israel movement into city policy. We made visible the unseen community of support in that city. And then, in the state’s new Economic Development Bill, we worked with our friends on Beacon Hill to guarantee $250,000 for the facilitation and support of the Massachusetts-Israel Economic Connection to pursue economic collaboration between Israel and the Commonwealth.

Rather than be paralyzed by rising anti-Semitism and concerns about Jewish security, we worked with a network of Jewish agencies to advocate successfully for Governor Baker to reconstitute the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force. Then we worked with our partners in the legislature to establish a nonprofit security grant pilot last year, which was doubled to $150,000. Real money for institutions in our community and other communities at risk.

And we do work every day through Service – work that cultivates our proximity with others and nurtures the connections and shared community that reflect our Jewish values: mobilizing more than 1,200 volunteers each year in ongoing and one-day opportunities. Through 68 partners in the Jewish community and 134 service sites across the region, including 25 public schools, we’re doing the work of being proximate with our neighbors.

As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the “Rav” & founder of Brookline’s Maimonides School taught us:

During the Yom Kippur services, our prayerful concerns are almost exclusively with our own people…We are often accused of being parochially clannish. This may be true, for otherwise we would have succumbed long ago, considering our historical vulnerability. But this self-involvement is not hermetically exclusionary. The universal emphasis is prominent in all of our prayers, in Scripture, the Talmud and the Midrash;

It is (therefore) characteristic of the universal embrace of our faith that as the shadows of dusk descend on Yom Kippur day, after almost 24 hours of prayer for Israel, the Jew is alerted through the book of Jonah, prior to the closing of ‘the heavenly gates’ (Ne’ilah) that all humanity is God’s children. We need to restate the universal dimension of our faith.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy