Category Archives: Jeremy Burton

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

In 18 days, your vote has an impact on our criminal justice system

The Massachusetts legislative session just ended, with mixed results on issues dear to our community. We at JCRC were pleased with many aspects of the budget and the economic development bill, but we (and our partners in the immigration advocacy community) were sorely disappointed at the failure to adopt basic protections for immigrants being targeted in our community. And yet, on another issue of deep concern to our community, criminal justice reform, we celebrated the passage of the most significant and far-reaching state legislation in years. With our partners at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and the ACLU, we were greatly encouraged to see many of our own priorities (as determined by the JCRC Council – our representative body on behalf of our 43 member organizations) enshrined into law. And as with all other legislative victories, we knew that monitoring implementation of the new law would be critical in achieving justice that has been long delayed for so many in our community.

The ability of this new law to deliver a just criminal justice system hinges on a person whose influence is not universally understood: the District Attorney. And now, for the first time in recent memory, six of our eleven Massachusetts DA elections are contested and potentially decisive primary elections, scheduled for September 4th: only 18 days away.

So, those of us who have worked so hard for criminal justice reform are encouraging our community to become educated on this critical role, and to choose our candidates wisely.

Despite what we tend to believe about the determinative power of judges in our criminal legal system, a recent Boston Globe op-ed said that in fact:

“Prosecutors wield near absolute power. They determine which and how many criminal charges to file, with a grand jury typically rubber stamping the charges. Prosecutors then decide whether to offer a plea bargain and dictate its conditions. Given that more than 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved through pleas rather than trials, these choices by prosecutors effectively determine the outcome of the vast of majority criminal cases, even if judges nominally oversee the entry of the plea."

That amount of power in any one person’s hand should draw our attention, especially because we live in the shadow of decades of “tough-on-crime” laws that have prioritized mass incarceration over rehabilitation. Now more than ever, we need our DAs to be our partners in ensuring that our criminal justice system is truly just.

Here are some steps you can take to be a fully informed voter on this vital issue:

  • Review the key issues for the candidates running in your county (and perhaps remind yourself what county you vote in – for example: Boston is Suffolk; Cambridge, Lexington, and Newton are Middlesex; Brookline is Norfolk – find your county here). Check out the ACLU voters guides for Suffolk County, Middlesex County, and the rest here. JCRC Councilmember Kathy Weinman has collected all of the candidates’ websites in a great blog post.
  • See the candidates in person. If you belong to a congregation that’s a member of GBIO, come to the Suffolk and Middlesex candidate forum that they’re hosting on August 23rd at the Boston Teachers' Union in Dorchester (reach out to our organizer Ben Poor for more information).
  • Learn more about what a DA does. You can attend the CourtWatch training on August 21st at Temple Israel in Boston, hosted by members of various congregations advocating for Criminal Justice Reform (anyone is welcome). ​​Court watching is a way to hold DAs accountable by attending court hearings and documenting what happens. You don't need any previous experience to come to the training, only a desire to hold judges and prosecutors accountable for fairness and equity.

As I head into the voting booth on September 4th, I’ll be thinking about the public servants who are charged with implementing the laws we work so hard to pass, and about the importance of having the fairest DAs – who will ensure public safety while also advancing a system that is equitable and just.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

My Grandpa Joe was 4 when he crossed the border

As I arrived in Texas this week with a CJP mission, my thoughts went back nearly a century. One hundred years ago next April, my grandfather arrived in El Paso, Texas as a refugee from Mexico.

Jose Casillas Sandoval was four years old when he crossed the Rio Grande with his parents and his older siblings, fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution. I imagine what he would have endured if he had been separated from his parents at the border, if they had been turned back - to violence and bloodshed - by a nation with a hardened heart.

The Texas my Grandpa Joe grew up in wasn’t always an easy place to be a Mexican-American; children like him attended separate, segregated, Mexican-only schools. But he became a citizen and a patriot. With the help of a union apprenticeship, he finished high school and learned the skills he needed to operate and repair heavy machinery in the California steel mills. He served in World War II and he built upon the knowledge of electronics that he acquired in the Navy. With a good job at a good wage, he had a ladder to the middle class. He would become a respected leader in his church and community.

We came to San Antonio this week to learn about and to volunteer with the groups supported by CJP’s Fund to Aid Children and End Separation (FACES). In the wake of the recent family separation crisis at our southern border, Boston’s Jewish community has once again responded by putting our values into action; to reunify families and support migrants during trying times.

We learned about the work of The Young Center, CJP’s largest grantee in this fund, which is trying to change our immigration system so that children are recognized as such and treated in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are working tirelessly around the nation to reunify families, including in some of the hardest cases where parents have already been deported.

We provided service at the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), an all-volunteer partnership that welcomes refugees and asylum seekers, particularly women and children. We packed backpacks with basic supplies to be distributed to migrant children.

We saw with our own eyes how some of these families are dumped at the bus station in San Antonio by ICE after being released from detention - they’ve been given a chance to wait for a review of their asylum petition that can take weeks or years, but are left to fend for themselves with little or no resources. Terrified, traumatized, they need and receive immediate intervention and accompaniment from IWC until they can reach the next step in their journey to safety.

Both these organizations existed and have been working in the trenches long before the crisis of recent months. The brokenness of our immigration system goes back decades. The fears and the horrors that immigrant families face are not confined to the border.

Parents have been ripped away from their children by ICE here in Massachusetts too. People fleeing persecution from their home countries, seeking asylum, arrive at our borders and are shipped to different detention centers around the country, including jails here, in our city.

JCRC is doing what we can to offer support as these families resiliently fight to stay together. We are part of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN, pronounced ‘beyond’), a growing effort amongst faith organizations and communities. We are finding pro bono attorneys to support people facing deportation who would not otherwise have legal representation, along with more than 60% of detained immigrants nationally. We are raising money to bond people out of detention, so they can be with their families while their cases proceed. We are organizing synagogues participating in three sanctuary networks - in Newton, Jamaica Plain, and Cambridge - to help families avoid separation during this crisis.

This moment calls on us to do our work differently. It calls on us to be proximate to one another in ways we may have never been before - we live together; we pick each other up after release from detention; we have meals together; we are in close contact with each other’s families. Through it all, we are building a deeper community founded upon dignity and doing more than we have before.

I keep a picture of my Grandpa Joe on my desk, sitting in that segregated classroom. It reminds me of his story. It keeps me proximate to this part of my family’s immigrant experience and to a story of our nation’s past. It is a picture of the opportunity and of some of the hurdles we have offered to those arriving here fleeing violence and persecution. It is a picture of where we’ve come from and who we might become again.

Synagogues and others in Boston’s Jewish community understand this journey and are determined to place the values of welcoming and compassion back at the center of our society. We are choosing to be proximate with our new neighbors. And on Wednesday, August 15th, I hope that you will join us at 7pm at Temple Emanuel in Newton to learn more about this work and how you can support people in our community right here in Massachusetts as they face the horrors of family separation and detention.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Championing our community’s values in the 2019 MA Budget

A state budget is a financial document. But at its essence, it’s statement of values and an affirmation of what a government stands for. At JCRC, we’re keenly aware that for many in our Commonwealth, budget decisions are not abstractions, nor is the process a game of wins and losses. These debates have profound implications for the lives of real people. The determinations of lawmakers can make the difference between a stable job or economic despair, between staying in your home or being institutionalized, between living in safety or hiding in fear.

In partnership with our communal agencies, JCRC champions our community’s values by advocating for funding of three overarching priority areas: creating pathways to economic opportunity, supporting individuals and families in their homes, and ensuring safety for our most vulnerable.

Yesterday, Governor Baker signed the budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Below is a glimpse into our achievements, and the very tangible ways in which the services funded will improve lives.

Creating Pathways to Economic Opportunity
  • More than ever, a college degree is a foundational element to get a foothold in today’s evolving economy and for some, this pathway is simply unattainable. The Bridges to College budget line-item, modeled after the JVS program, helps students surmount obstacles and enter directly into credit bearing classes. This year, for the first time, we delivered additional dollars directly to JVS to meet the increased demand.
  • People in our community face multiple barriers to employment, and we’ve fought consistently for those who’ve been left behind.

We secured $150,000 for the Transitions to Work line-item, modeled after the innovative program developed by the Ruderman Foundation, JVS, and CJP to help adults with disabilities enter the workforce; $1,000,0000 to train immigrants and refugees who have come to Massachusetts to create their own futures;

and $1,000,000 to the Secure Jobs Initiative, (a $350,000 increase), envisioned by the Fireman Family to help individuals facing homelessness find stable jobs and supports to stay in their homes.

"I came to Boston from El Salvador speaking no English. I knew that I needed college to get a good job, but I did not even know where to begin. At JVS, I learned English, how to apply to college and financial aid, and as a result, I am the first person from my family to graduate college.” – Dimas, Jewish Vocational Services client

Supporting Individuals and Families in their Homes

“Having a baby as a single parent is hard enough as it is. Adding a layer of substance use is an added stress, something most other parents don’t have. The team at JF&CS have stood with me and my baby when it seemed like everyone else wanted to give up on us.” – Kelly, Jewish Family and Children's Services Client

  • At JF&CS, Fragile Beginnings and Project NESST were created to offer vital services to support the parents and caregivers of vulnerable infants who have had to stay in the NICU, including premature and substance-exposed babies. We helped secure $400,000 to provide services to these families as they transition home, and throughout their child’s developmental years.
  • We sustained funding of $642,000 for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) line-item, a model which enables many seniors to stay in their homes and communities by bringing valuable programs and services to them. For the last decade, we have worked with JFS Metrowest, JF&CS, and JFS of Western Mass to expand this model of healthy aging in place.

“JFS works so hard to get outside speakers and entertainment to come to us and I am so thankful. They brought an exercise instructor to teach weekly aerobics classes and my doctors are so thrilled that I am getting weekly exercise at my apartment. The lunch group and trivia have been very helpful too. After my fall this winter, I feel that I have lost some of my memory and the trivia really makes me think."
Barbara, JFS Client

Ensuring Safety for our Most Vulnerable

  • In past years, this priority area focused exclusively on populations traditionally seen as vulnerable, including fragile seniors and those living on the economic margins. But with emerging threats to the Jewish community and other minorities, we’ve been called to respond to a new and disturbing vulnerability of our times.

"There's been a heightened sense of vulnerability and a documented increase in threats and hate crimes against Jewish community centers, African-American churches, and mosques, and it is very important that we provide these types of organizations, especially those on a shoestring budget, the means to put meaningful protections in place" – State Senator Eric Lesser

In response to these threats against JCCs and day schools, JCRC led efforts to create a pilot program to provide security support to communities excluded from a similar federal program. This year, the state doubled the grant to $150,000 and ensured that all regions of the Commonwealth have access to these vital grants.

While we took many steps forward as a Commonwealth during the FY19 budget process, we also experienced great disappointment. One of the most hotly discussed policy items considered during the budget debate was a compromise containing elements of the Safe Communities Act, to promote the safety and civil rights of our immigrant neighbors. These provisions, included in the Senate budget but absent in the final product, reflected long-standing constitutional protections, including an end to unlawful racial and ethnic profiling, the acknowledgment of the right to counsel in civil proceedings, and a ban on registries based on religion. The failure to act will result in continued persecution and danger for immigrants (and those perceived to be) and the trampling of constitutional rights which extend to all persons in the United States.

As the legislative session comes to an end on July 31st, we are grateful to our many partners in the House and Senate who worked with us to set these priorities, and we remain committed to work with our partners in advocacy and government to enshrine policies that reflect the best in our shared humanity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

Israeli & Palestinian Women Leading the Charge for Peace

I spent last week in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah as a facilitator for Encounter, following my experience as a participant last year. This time, my role was to support other American Jewish leaders who were there to listen and learn from Palestinians about their lives and experiences. I also had the opportunity to spend a few days touring in Jerusalem, with the ground partners we work with on our civic leader study tours, exploring new (to us) ways to engage.

Three “moments” that I would not have imagined possible only a few years ago have stuck with me as I returned home. They feature extraordinary women representing vastly different communities, but pursuing common goals with relentless determination and unimaginable courage.

With JCRC’s ground partners on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, I learn about current efforts by Palestinian Jerusalemite women (the vast majority of whom are not citizens of Israel) to organize and agitate for basic municipal services. Since they refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty, this community has been engaging in a 50-year-long boycott of municipal elections. One result has been their lack of representation at City Hall, leading to, among other things, chronic problems with services like street-light repair and garbage pickup. For decades, these issues were taken up by the clan leaders, the men in their communities – to little effect. But in recent years, the women have taken matters into their own hands, organizing, and even building coalitions with Orthodox and secular women in Jewish communities of the city. Their efforts are bearing fruit, including increases in budgets for services that are improving the quality of life  in their communities. Women, we are told, are getting the job done.

In Geula, a Haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem – a place I knew well when I was a black-hat yeshiva student living in that city in the 1980’s – a Hasidic woman leads us on a professional walking tour. She tells us about her own journey from 18-year-old married mother to a later-in-life college degree and profession. She engages us in an open and profoundly candid conversation – one I would never have imagined having with a woman from this community even 10 years ago – about social change and social issues in her community; women’s health education including birth control, LGBT issues, debates over higher education, etc. My friend asks her if she will have any issues walking on the streets with obviously outsider men (let alone any man other than her husband). “Things are changing. My neighbors understand the importance of what I am doing. This corner is fine,” she replies.

Then in Bethlehem, now having joined the Encounter group, I meet a Muslim woman who is involved in Women Wage Peace – a group of Israeli and Palestinian women working through non-violent means to build grassroots pressure on the political leadership in support of peace. This woman (names are protected because not all the people I met were on the record) tells us about her own journey and her determined efforts to teach her neighbors and youth in her community to see The Other – the Israeli, the Jew – as fully human, and to appreciate the feelings they have, that are common to us all.

She has brought her teenage son with her to this meeting with American Jewish leaders. He sits quietly next to her. At one point, as she tells her story, she talks about the first intifada in the 1980’s, when she was in college and I was a post-high school yeshiva student just down the road in Jerusalem. She did what all her classmates did: threw stones at the Jews. Jews like me, a mile away, I think to myself. And, as she tells this story, she reaches out and gently places her left hand on her son’s knee; only for a moment, while talking about her own violent past. And she doesn’t touch him again for the hour we are together.

I feel the message in that moment and in this boy’s presence in the room: She’s telling this story as a mistake she prays he does not repeat. She’s brought him here to see that her choice, to pursue non-violence as a practice, is a better one, and one that opens up doors of access to her, that brings her voice and vision before us visitors. It is a choice that needs validation and support. And over our time in Palestinian areas, we hear other activists who practice non-violence tell us that they need “wins.” Victories to show their neighbors that their approach works, that violence is not the path to a better future.

I come away appreciating that change is possible and continuing to happen. But that change never happens on its own. It takes bold vision and profound courage. And it needs our support; to amplify the visibility of activists, to celebrate and give strength to those pursuing non-violent social change. I’m proud that Women Wage Peace is one of the initial participants in the Boston Partners for Peace, our effort to amplify and connect with changemakers on the ground who are bridging the Israeli and Palestinian communities and paving the way to a better future.

We can have an impact in supporting the future of this place that continues to evolve before our eyes – only if we take the time to listen, to learn, to be inspired. But we must also act now, for we know that this possibility can be fleeting, and nothing is guaranteed to last forever. The question I ask myself is: What will these neighborhoods and communities will look like in another ten years, and how can our community be a part of cementing their progress long into the future?

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

A Shabbat To Protest

With the increasing frequency of Saturday rallies and gatherings responding to current events I’ve been thinking a bit of late about JCRC’s “Shabbat policy.” Though it’s rarely discussed, our practice is not to sponsor or participate as JCRC in programs – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. While we recognize and affirm that Jews have a wide range of Shabbat observances (including none at all), as a broad umbrella of our community, we believe we have a responsibility not to hold programming that would exclude participation from any part of our community. So while many, if not most of us, might attend a certain rally on Shabbat, some would not, and we as an organization do not.

This same principle guides our practice of “strict” kashrut for all our events – we never want a member of our community to be excluded in our space because of their observance practice.

As a community relations organization, this comes up with some regularity in our interfaith work, with Saturday often being the most convenient day for our partners to do an event. We’re just candid about the fact that an event on our Shabbat would exclude parts of our community. At times, that means that we miss out on certain things. The first anniversary of the Marathon Bombing fell on a holy day of Passover; we had no expectation that the city would commemorate it on any day other than the actual day. We communicated our regret over Jewish communal absence, which was recognized and honored.

In many cases, when there is an urgent need to stand with other communities as one united collective, we find another way. One example was last summer, in the days after Charlottesville. We knew that a massive mobilization was planned for Boston the following Saturday, in response to an anticipated local far-right rally. It wasn’t going to be moved – that was the day these folks had a permit. But many, including Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, and our closest partners in the Christian and Muslim communities, were asking for some way we could all stand together as faith communities. Our response – under the umbrella of The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization – was a Friday evening program at Temple Israel in Boston. It was deliberately held early enough so that those who didn’t drive on Shabbat could reasonably get home to nearby suburbs; and Muslims too could get to Friday evening prayer before sundown. This powerful public gathering was our way of providing an expression for our solidarity, while holding true to principles we all shared about inclusion.

But with all the rallies and protests this past 18 months, this “organize a new event” approach just isn’t feasible every single time that there is a new reason to mobilize. And so we look to another aspect of our Shabbat policy, our desire to honor and lift up the Shabbat practices of the diverse individual parts of our community.

While we never sponsor or endorse Saturday rallies, we want to lift up and honor the efforts of those of our members who do. And we want to make known that there are options for members of the Jewish community who want to participate in this public activity as Jews. Because another guiding principle of ours is that it isn’t all about JCRC. We’re a network – 43 organizations, a dozen community partners, some 130 synagogues. Showing up in public space is not about any single organization – including JCRC. It’s about our entire community, in all of our diversity, participating in our democracy in ways that each of us feels called to do, and in concert with our Jewish values and practice.

So this Saturday - when so many of us are outraged over family separation and travel bans and are horrified by our government’s  dehumanization of asylum seekers and refugees –as rallies are being organized across the country, JCRC is not sponsoring any event, including this one at Boston City Hall that is being co-hosted by our close and valued partner, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

But we want you to know that many of our members are. So, if you feel compelled to be there, if you feel that this is what this Shabbat requires of you, you’ll see some of our members, including the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, and the Workmen’s Circle. You might also consider joining Temple Israel Boston for Shabbat service, Torah study and the rally, or Congregation Dorshei Tzedek for a brief Shabbat service at the Make Way for Ducklings Sculpture, on Boston Common, before walking to City Hall Plaza. And while my personal practice of Shabbat means I won’t be there, you will probably see some of the JCRC team on the Common.

Whatever your practice entails, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom.

p.s. I’m headed to Israel next week and will be taking the next two weeks off from this blog. I look forward to sharing some reflections from my trip when I return.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy