Category Archives: Jeremy Burton

Four Questions, Four Actions

Click here to download our Seder Supplement for 2017/5777, featuring action items and Boston-specific stories about immigrants and refugees.

 

With Passover just over a week away, and many of us already deep into preparations, I ask you to pause with me for just a moment, as we acknowledge some remarkable community-wide efforts addressing issues deeply resonant of themes of the Festival of Freedom.

As you may have read in today’s Boston Globe, CJP - Combined Jewish Philanthropies is teaming up with Catholic Charities of Boston to fund legal services for immigrants in a powerful display of interfaith cooperation in this challenging time. I’m particularly proud that JCRC Board President Adam Suttin is taking the lead amongst donors to the fund. As Adam says in this Boston Globe piece today: "He sees aiding today’s newcomers as a matter of “basic human rights, civil rights, and Jewish values.”

“We were once strangers in this land,” he said. “We have to remember that and provide opportunities for others to enjoy the benefits of this country.”

This new fund is the latest action step in a multi-pronged collective agenda in which our local Jewish community is standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees. I’m delighted to share more about our actions – those we’ve taken so far, and those we invite you to join us on in the future – which are featured in JCRC’s Seder Supplement for 2017/5777: Standing with Immigrants and Refugees (PDF).

We are very proud to be distributing this in partnership with ADL New England, JALSA, Jewish Family Service and JVS.

But how is this Seder Supplement different from all others, you may ask?

This one is specifically about – and for – Boston’s Jewish community.

  • You will read stories that should be roundly and proudly shared, of the actions that Jewish organizations and synagogues members are taking to support and act in solidarity with our foreign born neighbors.
  • You will also read about the profound way in which these issues resonate with our own experience and history as Jews, including the seldom told story of how many of our people found safety in this country, even without legal access or documentation.
  • Finally, and most important, you will learn how you can take critical action now, to breathe new life into our age old commitment to freedom for all people.

Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Passover!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Boston’s Jewish Community Deserves Better than the Jewish Advocate’s Lies

KORFF RESPONSE3

Dear Rabbi Korff -

I have been dismayed by the direction of the Advocate in recent years. In the current issue of the Advocate your employees manipulate facts and narrative to tear down a respected community institution seemingly in service of your own pernicious agenda.  The continued attack on an honorable community leader is the latest outrage in the Advocate’s pursuit of shoddy journalistic standards and even shoddier and more questionable integrity.

I have chosen by and large to hold my tongue, even when those lies and manipulations are about myself personally or the organization I lead. However, I will not remain silent when you malign my staff. On the Advocates’ March 31 letters page, in response to a letter from Jen Kiok of the Workmen's Circle, the Advocate falsely attributed a quote to a JCRC spokeswoman in an “editor’s note.” We have reviewed our communication with your employees regarding the anti-BDS legislation. At no time did our spokeswoman ever say that "all JCRC members also support the bill" nor did she ever say that the Workmen's Circle specifically had taken a position in support.

Astute readers of the Advocate know that your editor has an unhealthy affection for falsehoods. That the editor would boldly lie and blame his journalistic failures on falsely attributed quotes is a new low, even for your paper.

Jeremy Burton, Executive Director

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

 

A Two-State Solution is Still the Answer

Much has and will be said about the meeting this week between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu. There are elements of this important engagement that should receive broad welcome in the organized Jewish community, such as the strong affirmation by the President that the United States will work to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon. There are also elements that should provoke broad dismay, such as the President’s decision to once again sidestep the opportunity to clearly and unequivocally denounce the rising tide of anti-Semitism that has generated so much fear within the American Jewish community.

For now I’ll focus on one specific element of the meeting –the President’s assertion that he can “live with” a one-state peace agreement “if Israel and the Palestinians are (both) happy.”

The organized American Jewish community – and the U.S. government - has long been committed to achieving, through direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, a durable peace via a two-state solution. This framework is rooted in two guiding principles:

  1. That we – as a community and a country - share the Zionist and national aspirations of the Jewish people for a state of our own – Jewish, secure and democratic – in the land of Israel.
  2. That only the Israeli people – not the global Jewish community or world bodies - through their own democratic process, can decide what risks they will accept for this peace, what borders they can live with, what security guarantees they need.

The hard truth is that Israelis are justified when they worry about security guarantees in a two-state agreement. Just this week we were reminded that 24 Hamas members have died in the last year alone while building tunnels under Gaza. This serves as a stark reminder that securing the far longer border and preventing attacks from a West Bank state will be a serious challenge.  Advocates for a two-state solution need to address this challenge if we expect the Israeli majority to embrace an agreement. But those who resist a two-state agreement also have to answer a question: Is there any other realistic option, over the long term, that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state?

This is not to say that a two-state agreement can be reached tomorrow or even in the near future, but it is urgent that the potential for achieving it not be lost to the dustbin of history. We certainly believe that the solution cannot be imposed on the people who will have to live with it. But to anyone who will not say, definitively, that the goal of a durable peace can only be achieved with two states, we must ask:

So then what?

If you aren’t working for two-states, then you’ve opened the door to one-state. If that is a state that the Palestinians would be “happy” with, per our President’s framing, i.e. presumably a democratic state – then you’ve opened the door to an option that would hasten the end of the Jewish state. If that one-state solution would be an undemocratic state, then presumably it would not make the Palestinians happy, nor would it bring the peace that President Trump says he wants to achieve (not to mention the opprobrium it would receive from much of the world and much of the global Jewish community).

Make no mistake: The President opened the door to a U.S. policy where he would be “happy” with an outcome that is nothing less than a departure from the national aspirations of the Jewish people – a state of our own, Jewish, secure and democratic.

Thankfully, major voices within the organized American Jewish community are not accepting this departure. The ADL responded to the meeting by saying that a “mutually negotiated two state solution is critical to ensure Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state. (The) One state approach undermines this.”  AJC said that “the alternative of a one-state reality is simply untenable and, therefore, a non-starter – an abrogation of the Zionist ideal of a Jewish and democratic state.”

We will not and cannot let the door to a two-state solution slam shut. We will continue to act, as a pro-Israel community, in support of the two-state solution. And we will support Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who are working to maintain the viability of this option.

Last November, I said that the recent election has not changed the shared values of our Jewish community and JCRC.  Those values include our commitment to the national aspirations of the Jewish people. We will keep working for two-states because the alternative is not an option for us, even if it is an option for the President.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Resisting Silence

Politics has been an exhausting and ugly endeavor this year, and we’ve still got six full weeks to go until Election Day. I’m sure most of us have seen stories about or heard people say that, dissatisfied by the choices before them, they intend to sit this year out. And you don’t need me to make the case for why staying home is not an option: That it is our civic duty and in our civic interest to vote, and, to own and embrace the rights of a democracy that so many have fought and died for, and that so many still seek.

What I would like to address, not for the first time, is the importance of not shying away from the online discourse about politics.

You are, no doubt, aware of the vile state of online ‘discourse.’ Maybe you’ve even experienced being a target of the anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying, racist and sexist images, memes and comments being posted on news media sights and in twitter storms. Frankly, this stuff isn’t new, much of it has deep roots in hate movements going back generations. But it has been amplified and brought out of the dark corners and into our online town square during this very political year.

I get why, right now, giving up on social media seems to be all the rage. But we can’t afford to withdraw and disengage – especially not now. Our silence in the virtual public square is not the answer.

Our response – to distortions of fact, to vilification of others and to vile discourse needs to be a wider engagement in responsible conversations about the great challenges of our time with our friends, coworkers and others; in person and on social media.

The Jewish approach to addressing difficult questions throughout our history has been to engage in more discourse. The Talmud offers the idea that when making hard decisions, Sh’tikah Ke’Hoda’a, or, “Silence = Consent.”  We cannot afford to be silent about our nation’s future.  Leaving the public square at this critical moment would not end the hateful online discourse; it would only cede the space to others, who do not share our interests, our values, and our commitment to the common good.

What Can You Do?

Do not shy away from addressing critical questions you see on social media. Comment on sites and articles about issues of concern, offering your own informed insights. Send letters to editors of local papers. Share articles on social media that reflect the complexity of the challenges we face and which offer thoughtful analysis and well-reasoned recommendations. Invite the feedback, expose the haters.

And then, come November 8th, as Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted the other day:

 

And if you haven't yet, register to vote.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Thank You for Five Years

Five years ago this week I moved to Boston with confidence in my belief in three things: 1) That an unapologetic Mets fan could make common cause with Red Sox fans in our disdain for the Yankees. 2) That a New Yorker who roots against football teams from New Jersey would fit right in to Patriots Nation, and 3) That any Jewish communal professional would be lucky to have the opportunity to work with the amazing, dedicated, passionate and skillful volunteers that I had met at JCRC while interviewing.

Five years later I find my confidence well placed, and am proud of what we, the professionals and the volunteers of JCRC and this community have been able to achieve, when we’ve worked together.

We’ve been challenged and we’ve stood together in difficult times including two conflicts in Gaza. We’ve brought the community together in sadness and in celebration. We’ve navigated complex issues and found our unique voice, in the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and in our vocal support of our vision for our nation continuing to welcome immigrants and refugees. We’ve come together with our interfaith partners, Boston Strong after the marathon. We’ve worked with Christian and Muslim partners to reject hatred, intolerance, and divisive political rhetoric in this crazy election year.

We’ve focused our work and are growing in all three of JCRC’s priority areas:

We come together in service to ourselves and others - with our first MLK day of service for families this year and another day come this Veteran’s Day. We’ve added six new partners for teen service this Fall and  our 10th disaster response trip this summer.

We’ve taken dozens of Christian clergy, community leaders, and one-quarter of the Massachusetts legislature – including both the Senate President and House Speaker – to engage with Israel through their own eyes. This week we announced the launch of a new initiative to engage the Boston Jewish community in support for efforts on the ground in Israel that maintain and expand the potential for a two-state solution.

Our Jewish community can be proud that we’ve played a critical advocacy role in passing groundbreaking gun violence prevention legislation, a transgender public accommodations bill, and equal pay for women. We’ve organized with GBIO for criminal justice reform and to help the formerly incarcerated get back to work. We’ve secured government funding to help people with disabilities train for workplace readiness and to have the dignity that comes with a job. And our legislature unanimously supported the MA-Israel relationship and rejected BDS last Fall.

None of this – our ability to define and advance a strong Jewish vision in Boston’s civic public square - would have been possible without great professionals, amazing volunteers, a strong network of agencies, and committed supporters.

Sure, there have been some bumps along the way and some things we’d do differently given a second chance. And there are some causes we haven’t won – yet.

But last night we came together, again, to celebrate our community; to honor what is possible when we work together and stand together. We celebrate – every day – our resiliency and common values and our commitment to each other even amidst heated political discourse and the sometimes-painful moments and amidst those whose efforts would splinter a weaker community than ours.

We’re going to need to draw on that resiliency and our common values even more in the coming years; because the negativity and divisiveness isn’t going to magically disappear on November 8th.

But for now, as we celebrated our achievements and I look back at my first five years in Boston, all I have is gratitude for all of you who help us achieve great things every day.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Frustration and Possibility in the Promised Land

I’ve just returned from leading a study tour in Israel for Boston civic leaders. Fifteen of us spent nine days in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Our expectations were challenged. We sought a deeper understanding of the reality beyond the headlines of this place. What we heard and saw frustrated us, but we also found inspiration and possibility.

A settler spokesperson made a compelling argument for the Jewish connection to where she lives. She told us that the time has come for Israel to annex the entirety of the West Bank but she gave no plausible response when asked how such a state can remain both Jewish and democratic. Another Israeli, a human rights activist, offered a compelling case for shining a light on the darker side of Israeli control over Palestinian lives. She, however, declined to answer a question about how to achieve peace. An “irresponsible” response, one participant called it, frustrated.

Frustration carried over to our visit to Ramallah, a place of complexity. People are angry with Israel and this state of occupation, but also with the Palestinian Authority.  We are repeatedly reminded that President Abbas is in his eleventh year of a five year term. Looming over the city is an obscenity, an estimated $13 million presidential palace built this year. One need only look up at this extravagant monument on a hill for a reminder that the Palestinian leadership has abandoned the needs of their people in service to self-aggrandizement. No wonder that Fatah doesn’t want to face the people in municipal elections this October.

Many Israelis also express frustration with their leadership, saying that the national government lacks vision, or plans for the future. From the left and the right they complain about the lack of accountability at the highest levels.

But on a more local level, we also found inspiration. Over and over, people talked about solving problems through local initiatives. “Simple solutions to big challenges” is almost a mantra.

In Lod, a school principal found innovative ways to integrate children of African migrants. In Tira, an Israeli-Palestinian educator started her own supplementary educational systems to prepare Arab girls for successful careers and fully integrated identities as Palestinian citizens in Israel. In the Gush Etzion bloc, Jewish and Palestinian activists are establishing a dialogue through Shorashim (Roots), learning to see each other as people beyond the stereotypes to which they are accustomed. In Jerusalem – to our amazement - a Palestinian, a secular Russian Jew, and a Hasidic Orthodox woman came together over dinner to tell us about the work that they and others are doing – through the ‘Jerusalemite Movement’ - to build a vision of their city as vibrant, pluralistic and inclusive.

I came away with the recognition that we can - and should - do more to support efforts on the ground that address national challenges through simple solutions and that build connectivity amongst Israel’s ‘tribes’ and between Israelis and Palestinians. We cannot impose a two-state solution tomorrow – frankly if someone did, it would not bring a lasting ‘peace.’ But we can – and should - keep the potential for this vision of two states – the only vision that ensures Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state while also ensuring a Palestinian right to self-determination in their own state in a shared homeland - alive by fostering interactions. We can – and should - support those who are working to build trust, who are, despite their qualms with their national leaders, working to keep the door open and build the potential for something better in the future.

May it come soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Four Questions I’ll Be Asking Myself

Like most of you I have been to more than a few seders in my time, and each year I find myself asking:  How will this seder renew my connection to Jewish values and thereby inspire my actions in the coming year?

On Passover, we are collectively reminded of our connection to history and our shared experience as a people. And, every year we have an opportunity to tell our story and use it to inform our understanding of modern day afflictions. This is where renewed connections are made for me.

I am fortunate to have this platform to share my thoughts with you each week about how Jewish values and our shared experiences as a people inform communal actions in the public square. As we sit at our Passover seder tables, we all have a platform to share key lessons. I invite you to join me in using Passover as an opportunity to share your thoughts: What value or theme do I most identify with, right now, from the Haggadah?

For you it may be that freedom from oppression comes with responsibility to community, and thus we teach our children that volunteering is part of a Jewish practice. Or, you may choose to underscore our dreams and aspirations - carried through thousands of years of waiting - for a place again in the Jewish homeland, and how awesome and fragile our Jewish state is today. And, you may wish to share that because we as a people remember what it is like to be the excluded stranger we work for policies of inclusion and equity.

As you immerse yourself in the story, I hope you will embrace – and even lead – conversations about the parallels between the Exodus experience and today’s challenges; to note, after reciting the ten plagues, those modern day afflictions that plague our world - people who are not free, those who are wandering as refugees and who need our compassion. Or, to discuss how a deeply divided people would have been less likely to survive 40 years of wandering in the Sinai. Take time to wonder aloud about what have we learned after all these years and in all these generations, and ask:  How can I use these lessons to make a difference?

After all, the seder certainly teaches us that it is crucial to ask challenging questions – ones without easy or obvious answers.

Passover reminds us of the importance of not only sharing our stories and asking questions, but of taking action to bring about redemption and liberation in our own time.  As we break our matzah we are reminded that our ancestors did not wait for conditions to be ideal before taking action, and neither should we.

As you prepare for your seder, I hope you ask yourself: What do I need to do to make a difference today?  Please take a moment to make a commitment to our collective work – to supporting volunteerism in our Greater Boston community; to advancing inclusion, equality, and safety net services; and, to advocating for a secure and democratic Jewish state.

Your tax-deductible donation can be made to JCRC here, or by sending a check to JCRC at 126 High St, Boston MA 02110.

Jeremy Burton’s Comments at Keshet’s OUTstanding! Gala

The following are comments as delivered by JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton at Keshet's Annual Awards Dinner.

THANK YOU DANA FOR THAT PRESENTATION.
AND THANK YOU KESHET, FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT.
PERSONALLY, KESHET IS MY COMMUNITY. MY LIFE HAS BEEN ENRICHED IN THE EIGHT YEARS I’VE BEEN PRIVILGED TO BE ON THIS BOARD WITH INCREDIBLE FRIENDS, INCLUDING DANA.

AND IT’S DEEPLY MEANINGFUL TO ME TO BE UP HERE TONIGHT FOLLOWING IDIT KLEIN, BARRY SHRAGE, AND NANCY KAUFMAN. BECAUSE OF KESHET ‘S WORK, AND CJP’S COMMITMENT TO A FULLY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY, AND JCRC’S RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF A PUBLIC AGENDA OF EQUALITY – THESE THREE LEADERS HAVE ALL PAVED THE PATH THAT LED TO ME BEING ON THIS STAGE ON BEHALF OF JCRC.

TONIGHT HAS BEEN AN INCREDIBLE CELEBRATION–OF JCRC, AND OF THE KESHET COMMUNITY. BUT AS WE CELEBRATE, THERE’S A DARK CLOUD HANGING OVER OUR FESTIVITIES AND OVER OUR NATION:

A CLOUD OF HATE AND DISCRIMINATION.
PEOPLE ARE TELLING AMERICANS THAT TO DEAL WITH OUR CHALLENGES WE SHOULD TURN AGAINST EACH OTHER; THAT WE SHOULD BLAME MUSLIMS AND IMMIGRANTS. THAT WE SHOULD AVERT OUR EYES FROM THE CRISIS FACING –YOUNG MEN OF COLOR WHO ARE BEING CRIMINALIZED IN MASSIVE NUMBERS.

THAT WE SHOULD CIRCLE THE WAGONS AND FOCUS ONLY ON NARROWLY DEFINED SELF INTERESTS.

AND SOME IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ARE SAYING THAT ADDRESSING ANY OF THIS SUFFERING WILL DIMINISH OUR ABILITY TO ADDRESS ANTI-SEMITISM. WE ARE BEING TOLD TO BUILD WALLS BETWEEN COMMUNITIES, RATHER THAN STAND TOGETHER.

AND YES, NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT WE SHOULD BLAME THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY.

I’VE BEEN ASKED - TOO OFTEN: WHY DOES THE JEWISH COMMUNITY SPEAK OUT WITH SUCH FORCE IN SUPPORT OF OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS? AND WHY – AS WE SEE RISING ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE WORLD - ARE WE AT JCRC PRIORITIZING THE ACHIEVEMENT OF FULL TRANSGENDER RIGHTS?

I TELL PEOPLE THAT JCRC’S PURPOSE IS TO ADVANCE THE VALUES, INTERESTS AND PRIORITIES OF BOSTON’S ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY WITHIN A LARGER CIVIC CONVERSATION. WE’RE BRINGING– TO INTERFAITH SPACES AND TO THE STATE HOUSE – OUR COLLECTIVE VOICE AND OUR DETERMINATION TO ENSURE A STRONGER AND MORE EQUITABLE CIVIL SOCIETY.

OUR COMMITMENT TO ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF ALL PEOPLE’S DIGNITY RUNS DEEP, ALL THE WAY BACK TO GENESIS. AS WE STRIVE FOR INCLUSION AND ACCESS FOR ALL, WE ARE REMINDED THAT IN OUR CREATION STORY WE ARE TAUGHT THAT EVERY HUMAN BEING IS CREATED B’TZELEM ELOHIM - IN THE DIVINE IMAGE.

AND SO WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE FULL REALIZATION OF EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING IN THE IMAGE OF THAT DIVINE CONCEPT.

WE BELIEVE THAT WITHOUT FULL INCLUSION, OUR COMMUNITIES CANNOT BE WHOLE, AND OUR MEMBERS CANNOT BE FREE.

I ALSO TELL THEM THAT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN BEST SERVED WHEN OUR NATION DELIVERS ON THE PROMISE OF EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL PEOPLE.

WE ALL BENEFIT FROM A FREE SOCIETY WHERE THERE IS NO TOLERANCE FOR DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND, WHERE WE REMOVE THE OBSTACLES THAT STAND IN THE WAY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR EVERY ONE OF US.

WE KNOW THAT A CULTURE THAT DEMONIZES AND MARGINALIZES OTHERS THREATENS US AS WELL.
WE KNOW THAT A NATION THAT VALUES THE DIGNITY OF ALL PEOPLE IS ONE IN WHICH WE ALL THRIVE.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY WAS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT FOR ALL OF US.

BUT THE STRUGGLE FOR LGBTQ EQUALITY DIDN’T END ON JUNE 26, 2015. CONVERSION “THERAPY,” IS STILL LEGAL IN MASSACHUSETTS. IN TOO MANY STATES WE CAN GET MARRIED, BUT WE CAN ALSO BE FIRED AND LOSE OUR HOUSING FOR DOING SO.

JCRC WAS PROUD TO STAND WITH OUR ALLIES IN 2011 WHEN GOVERNOR PATRICK SIGNED AN ACT RELATIVE TO GENDER IDENTITY, PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN EMPLOYMENT, HOUSING, AND VARIOUS SERVICES.

TODAY WE ARE WORKING TO PASS AN ACT RELATIVE TO TRANSGENDER ANTI-DISCRIMINATION, TO PATCH THE HOLES IN PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION PROTECTIONS THAT THE PREVIOUS BILL LEFT OPEN.

SIMPLY PUT, OUR ANSWER TO THIS DARK POLITICAL MOMENT – WHEN WE ARE BEING CALLED TO TURN ON EACH OTHER - IS TO INSTEAD TURN TOWARD ONE ANOTHER.
WE STAND FOR MORE DIGNITY, FOR MORE EQUALITY, FOR A BETTER NATION. AND WE BELIEVE THAT MASSACHUSETTS NEEDS TO LEAD.

THAT IS WHY, AGAIN, TONIGHT, WE CALL UPON GOVERNOR BAKER TO TELL THE PUBLIC WHERE HE STANDS ON THE PUBLIC ACCOMODATIONS BILL. AND WE THANK SENATE PRESIDENT STAN ROSENBERG FOR HIS VOCAL SUPPORT OF SB 735. AND WE CALL, AGAIN, FOR SPEAKER DELEO TO BRING HB 1577 TO A VOTE SO THAT THE GOVERNOR MUST MAKES HIS VIEWS KNOWN.

SIMPLY PUT: IF STATES LIKE NORTH CAROLINA AND MISSISSIPPI CAN RUSH TO ENACT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY IN THIS ELECTION YEAR, THEN SURELY MASSACHUSETTS CAN TAKE ACTION TO FINALLY CLOSE THE HOLES WE LEFT FIVE YEARS AGO.

FINALLY, AGAIN, IT IS AN HONOR TO BE UP HERE ON BEHALF OF THIS ORGANIZATION THAT I AM PRIVILEGED TO LEAD.
BUT THIS AWARD IS NOT JUST FOR THOSE WHO WERE INVITED TO THE STAGE. THIS HONOR IS FOR THE COMMITMENT OF ALL OUR LEADERS – ACROSS A NETWORK OF AGENCIES – INCLUDING ADL AND JALSA WHO ARE ALSO PART OF THIS COALITION FOR TRANSGENDER RIGHTS - SYNAGOGUES, OUR PROFESSIONALS, AND OUR INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY, INCLUDING KESHET – WHO HAVE WORKED TO MAKE THESE VALUES OURS.

SO THANK YOU KESHET FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT AND FOR INSPIRING US TO ACTION. THIS AWARD IS AS MUCH FOR YOU AS FOR US.

TOGETHER WE WILL CONTINUE TO WORK AS ONE JEWISH COMMUNITY FOR INCLUSION AND EQUALITY.
THANK YOU.

What Makes A Jewish Issue Our Issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JTA’s Twitter List is a Wake Up Call on Inclusion

To mark the tenth anniversary of Twitter this week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published a list of the top 25 “most influential people on Jewish Twitter.”

There’s a lot to like about this list: I follow almost all these people, respect many of them, and consider some to be good friends. But there are also some serious problems that the list brings up (full disclosure – in 2009 JTA did a “Top 100” list in which I was included).

For one, the list was compiled based on tweeters who use the terms “Jewish” and “Israel,” as if all that matters to Jewish twitter is a particularistic conversation. As my friend Sheila Katz tweeted: “Too bad @JTAnews left off all the Jews worth following that tweet about Jewish issues in addition to Israel and/or use their platform to tweet about pressing world issues that Jews should care about like genocide, #BlackLivesMatter, sexual assault... You know, justice.”

The problem I’d like to focus on here is that of the twenty-five people on the list, only three are women.

Now, I don’t blame the JTA for this. Their algorithm produced a list based on volume of followers, and they published it. But when the Jewish conversation on Twitter is barely 10% female at the top of the pyramid, it’s an indicator of a bigger problem we have about the quality and depth of Jewish conversation.

I recently attended an important Jewish public gathering that included introductory remarks, a featured speaker, and a panel.  After those six men spoke, a woman finally came to the stage to co-lead a closing song (with a male colleague).  This past week, I was approached to co-sponsor a panel tackling an important challenge facing the future of the American Jewish community and the participants were all men.

This is not to say these problems are exclusive to the Jewish community. Only 17% of Fortune 500 directors are women.

I admit I come to this with a bit of self-interest. Beside it being right to assert that women’s leadership and ideas are vital to our community, I also know – as an LGBTQ Jew who identifies as Mexican-American – that if we can’t find a way to include and showcase 51% of our population, we’re never going to really welcome people who identify as Jews of color, queer, disabled, Sephardic or otherwise outside of traditional norms of leadership. A Jewish community that turns it’s back on the talent and promise of the majority of its members doesn’t have a vibrant future.

Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, dedicated to helping women move ahead in their careers in the Jewish community, intentionally sunset this past year. Still, there is work left to do. A few simple ideas for all of us, and especially for men:

  1. For men who are invited to speak publicly, take the Men as Allies pledge. Join me and many others in committing ourselves not to appear on or to convene panels that don’t include women. You don’t need to publicly shame the conveners. Just ask them who else is on the panel and tell them what your precondition is. Give them the opportunity to do it right and thereby have a more inclusive and thus richer discussion. In my experience most organizations will make that adjustment and for those who drop your invitation and move forward with the all-male panel – well a little public shaming isn’t a bad thing.
  2. For those of us who like to go to programs to educate ourselves, when you see something, say something. If an organization has an all-male panel take five minutes and write a note to the sponsors. Tell them how important the topic is to you personally, how you really wished to attend, but that you are refusing to come because there are no women. When organizations realize that we are losing participation, they’ll likely adjust.
  3. For those of on social media, take it upon ourselves to listen to or lift up diverse voices. There are plenty of interesting Jewish women on Twitter (in addition to the three on that list) including members of Knesset, journalists, think tank folks, educators, activists, Jewish professionals and rabbis, for example. A few years ago I made a little list of several hundred Jewish women who I follow. I invite you to check it out and I welcome your recommendation of other women to include. Follow them, and more important, retweet them – tell the people in your networks that these are women we will all benefit by learning from.

There’s so much more we need to do if we are to become a community of all our members. These are just a few places to start.

Note: This post also appears on Times of Israel