Category Archives: Letter from the Director

Building Bridges with Muslim Leaders

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a weekend retreat of the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI) of the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI). MLI was launched in 2013 under the co-leadership of Imam Abdullah Antepli, director of Muslim affairs at Duke University, and SHI senior fellow Yossi Klein Halevi. Over four years, four cohorts and some seventy participants, MLI has nourished a community of American Muslim leaders committed to understanding the complex religious and political issues we grapple with within the Jewish community.

Over the course of the weekend, I had opportunities to spend time with many of these leaders, engaging in honest conversations laden with both curiosity and tension. As we spoke, in quiet corners and over meals, I experienced their deep desire to understand my community, and an equal willingness to open themselves up to any questions I had about theirs. We talked politics, faith, culture; about hopes, dreams, and fears.

But most important, I found myself responding - to their deep and authentic desire to understand and connect - with my own authenticity, allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest.

At a retreat focused on coalition building, one theme from a teaching session by SHI’s Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer prompted my own reflections: a need to be clear, with ourselves and with our partners, about the imperatives that drive our work and our institutions. At JCRC, some of these would include our commitment to the national project of Jewish peoplehood including a Jewish state, and our will to speak and act with one voice as one community.

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a particular imperative that has long guided much of our work: the belief that the American Jewish community is best served – as we’ve been over many decades – when our nation is dedicated to equality of opportunity for all people. We all benefit, and as Jews we have thrived individually and as a community, in a free society dedicated to constitutional liberal democracy where freedoms – of press, of speech, of privacy – are cherished, and where the dignity of all people is protected. We are guided by the belief that only in a society with no tolerance for discrimination of any kind, and no obstacles standing in the way of opportunity for every one of us is one, can we all truly thrive. We know too well that a culture that demonizes and marginalizes others threatens us as well.

It is this belief that has compelled JCRC to work on civil rights issues, on criminal justice reform, and – long before I came to Boston – on women’s and LGBTQ equality.

At this moment, when such a vision of our nation seems challenged in so many ways, this strategic imperative to defend the American idea of a democracy has risen, for us, to a place of necessity and urgency. And engaging in these honest conversations with Muslim leaders, I could not help but think of the urgent necessity for the mainstreams of our two communities – the two largest faith minorities in this country - to stand together to meet this challenge.

I’ve experienced firsthand those in each of our communities who want to keep us apart, who focus on the extremes and the challenges that divide us. But this week, not for the first time, I am reminded that there are many who seek to build bridges between us.

In this moment of challenge for our nation, surely the bridge builders - those who seek to hold the centers of our two communities and to bind them to each other where we can in a shared interest – can, if they choose, be stronger than those who work to keep us apart. This is not simple or straightforward work, and I don’t say this naively. But when I see the work being done by this group at MLI, the relationships, the commitment, the honesty, I know that more is possible and that we have a role to play in supporting this work. And if we have a role to play, surely we have a responsibility to do what we can to meet this urgent moment.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

P.S., for another feature on the solidarity between Boston's Jewish and Muslim communities, read the piece in Friday's Boston Globe.

Layers and Narratives of Complexity

Last month I had the opportunity to spend four days traveling in Palestinian Authority controlled areas of the West Bank, and in Jerusalem neighborhoods with Palestinian majorities. This opportunity was provided by Encounter, which invites American Jewish leaders to engage with Palestinian experiences and perspectives.

I found some familiar experiences: meeting co-existence activists in Bethlehem (including one we meet with on our JCRC trips); touring Ramallah and hearing from a member of the Palestinian negotiation team. I also had new experiences: visiting a refugee community near Bethlehem that I have often viewed from afar; walking through a security checkpoint that six weeks earlier I had viewed from the Jerusalem side during a security barrier tour; visiting Battir – a Palestinian village with ancient Jewish significance - abutting the Green Line that divided the area for nineteen years, but where the Green Line remained open so that villagers could continue working their farms.

I’ve been thinking a lot about two particular encounters:

A small group of us had tea in Bethlehem with a Christian woman. She was animated, her emotions heightened as she relates her experience. She is adamant that she knows no one who has engaged in violent resistance, she rejects it, even abhors it. But she asks us why she must pay the price for the violence committed by others, and suffer the consequence of Israel’s response; why she must live with a security barrier limiting her passage to the Jerusalem she knew fondly, and complicating travel to other areas of the West Bank beyond the Bethlehem area.

During our conversation it becomes apparent that - despite having met with many American Jewish groups over the years - this woman’s perception of our identity is wildly inaccurate. She does not understand the distinction between “Jewish” and “Israeli” or seem to know that we visitors don’t have a vote in Israel, or that most of us never plan to move here. She is shocked by our articulation of this nuance. Then she is eager to move on rather than explore this new information. She has an urgent need to resume her narrative and have us hear more about her experience.

My second experience was a walking tour with a resident of Sheik Jarrah. The neighborhood is just north of Jerusalem’s Old City, over the Green Line and inside the present municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Our host was an academic and a mother of four. She was born in the home she lives in today - when the area was under Jordanian control. Her parents were refugees from what became Israel and, after 1948, Jordan resettled them in this neighborhood.

As a resident of the neighborhood, she and her children carry blue identity cards. Blue cards are for non-Israeli citizen Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Her husband carries the green card of a West Bank Palestinian. She is indignant that he is not permitted to live with her in Jerusalem, that she is forced to visit him at his home in Ramallah. She is passionately angry about the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and about the Jews that, she tells us, have “stolen” Palestinian homes. She is frustrated with the quality of her municipal services.

There is more to the story of this neighborhood that she does not tell us, and that she may not even know: before 1948 Sheik Jarrah was a mixed Arab and Jewish neighborhood with a second, Jewish, name: Shim'on HaTsadik. In 1948 the Jewish residents were forced to become refugees themselves and move to the western part of the city; many of the homes Jordan provided to the new Palestinian residents were on Jewish properties.

This omission from the narrative doesn’t diminish the importance of her experience. Why, we ask, does she stay here rather than live with her husband? “This is where I was born. This is my home.” Why doesn’t she exercise her right to vote in municipal elections and use the power she has? “Because not voting is part of our non-violent resistance.”

I’m comfortable with the intentionally unbalanced nature of these experiences. For me - steeped in Israel education, with years of living in Israel and traveling here– this is another slice, another aspect of a place I care so much about. And sometimes we need to do a little quieting of our own narrative so we can really hear the narrative of another. Too few of us get to travel here and converse with these people. This may be in part because we lack opportunities to do so, but often, we’re simply not interested in the whole picture.

This is a familiar challenge and frustration. So many of us are insistent on sharing our narratives, but we have little interest in hearing those of others. We become enamored of those facts that affirm our biases, and we claim them as our narratives, while ignoring that which challenges our world views or forces us to look beyond our own stories. Even during this encounter I wondered what our conversations with Palestinians would be like if they included participation by Israelis I know, with their own experience of suffering and helplessness in the face of the second Intifada’s attacks; violence that the security barrier almost completely halted. I wonder if those two narratives, side by side, could find some common narrative that could bridge the divide between them.

Encountering Palestinians doesn’t undermine my core commitment to achieving peace through a negotiated two-state agreement. Rather, it affirms it. This experience deepens my understanding of the complex challenges in achieving peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. And, it widens my appreciation for those innocents, both Israeli and Palestinian, who live daily with realities that come from the absence of peace; and who express an experience of having no personal agency in solving this.

A month later I am continuing to sit with the challenge and the frustration, but also with a hope: that by investing in coexistence and peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians, in time it may be possible to build at least one shared narrative in this place; of two people sharing peace.

And I am grateful to have had this opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How We Remember: April 23 is Our Community Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah

Last year I wrote about Dr. Robert Berger z’l, a Brookline Holocaust survivor, who had an immeasurable impact on our community and beyond. We were privileged to have him participate in our Yom HaShoah Committee, where he advocated passionately not only for the accurate portrayal of the horrific ordeal endured by Holocaust survivors, but also for teaching about the extraordinary ways in which they successfully rebuilt their lives and contributed so richly to our community .

This week, Dr. Berger’s life and legacy were featured on WBUR’s The Remembrance Project. His wife Pat spoke of his career as a pioneering cardiothoracic surgeon, whose lifetime of work included exposing the junk science and bogus results of the medical experiments performed by Nazis on Jewish concentration camp victims. His response to the death and destruction he witnessed was to dedicate his life to saving others, through his long and remarkable medical career.

This year, once again, we will feature the stories of local Holocaust survivors, as attendees at our annual Holocaust Commemoration hear firsthand survivor testimony. We are honored to feature Rabbi Joseph Polak, a cherished leader of Boston’s Jewish community, as the survivor speaker for the 2017 Commemoration.

Rabbi Polak was just an infant in 1945 when the Allied forces began to move across Europe. Before his first birthday, he was taken along with his family, first to one concentration camp, then another. He was nearly three years old when he and his family were liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Despite the unimaginable trauma he suffered in his early years, his story, along with those of other child survivors, went largely unacknowledged by the larger community. In his book, “After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring”, he writes poignantly about the pain that he and other child survivors experienced at the additional trauma of having their story of survival ignored and invalidated.

Rabbi Polak is the Emeritus Rabbi of the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University, and the Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, April 23rd to hear his story, honor the local survivors in our community, and pay tribute to the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Resilient Living

Jewish fears were front and center this week as the tide of bomb threats against JCCs and other institutions continued to roll across the country, disrupting communities, and sowing seeds of dread and anxiety. The desecration of hallowed Jewish ground at a cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri traumatized us as well. As buildings were evacuated, as members of our community reeled in horror at the violation of loved ones’ final resting places, many of us struggled to make sense of this new reality where Jews living in the United States in 2017 experience personal threat and fear; and it’s one that we are still trying to wrap our minds around.

On a larger scale, fears of various kinds have become the predominant experience for too many in our society. To some, this will be read as a partisan political statement. It is not. The fears are multiple and widespread, and are experienced across the diverse landscape of our nation.

The slow economic growth in recent decades (compared to the more dynamic U.S. economy in the latter half of the 20th century) has led many to fear for their security in our economy and for the prospects for their children’s futures. There are fears for personal safety in a world where violence of various kinds seems ascendant. There are fears of losing civil rights that we - incorrectly –assumed, once expanded, would not be reversed. There are fears that come from the experience of hatred and bigotry of all kinds.

But amidst the fear, we’re witnessing signs of hope as communities band together in solidarity. There was power in Vice President Pence’s surprise visit to Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on Wednesday where he joined in the cleanup alongside Muslim activists who had pitched in to quickly raise the funds needed for repairs, while offering messages of condemnation and solidarity. And there is power in the many expressions of care and concern we receive daily from our Christian and Muslim partners here in Boston.

We know we’re being targeted in this moment – but we’re far from alone. One need only talk to members of other communities –Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, among others – to understand the very real fears gripping them as well. We’re all grappling with the same dilemmas: How to resist giving in to the fear. How to keep getting up every day and going about our lives. How to make our communal spaces  safe enough to invite people in, while not allowing them to become fortresses that deepen anxiety and alienate people who would otherwise seek community.

And in appreciating the power that came from acts and expressions of solidarity directed toward the Jewish community locally and nationally this week, we recognize the power of our acts of solidarity with others; the folks who rushed to airports a few weeks ago; the Bostonians who reacted to the assault on a Quebec mosque by forming a “chain of peace” outside a local mosque.

The choice we have is between living in fear or embracing a more hopeful way forward; succumbing to victimhood or acting powerfully with the agency to not only take care of ourselves, but to join with others in repairing what has gone so wrong with society. We can live in despair or we can choose to act with resiliency. Resiliency requires solidarity - coming together in a powerful, shared endeavor. Resiliency includes rejecting the false choice between standing  up for ourselves or  standing up for others, because by doing both together we create a greater force to do all of the necessary and urgent work of repair that is so desperately needed right now.

I keep stepping out with my kippah proudly on. Every day, all across this country, parents continue to take their kids to JCCs, where we celebrate our heritage and explore our rich Jewish culture. We leave the mezuzot on our doors for all the world to see that we are here, living proud and joyful Jewish lives. We do so in the confidence that in moments like this week, when it really mattered, we stood up for ourselves and our neighbors stood up for us. And, we are reaffirming that, when our neighbors need us, as they do right now, we stand up for them too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some suggested values to guide our actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie

End Discrimination in the Commonwealth

While Jeremy is in Israel for professional development opportunities, we offer some reflections on an important legislative priority from our Director of Government Affairs, Aaron Agulnek.

At the beginning of every two-year legislative session in the Commonwealth, upwards of 7,000 bills are filed by Senators and Representatives, covering almost every issue imaginable (and likely, many that you may not have known were even issues). Each year we consult with our partners, networks of allies and legislative champions to identify where to focus our attention amongst the competing priorities. Our process is guided by the interests of the organized Jewish community, the opportunities to deepen ties with our allies, and our mandate to move an agenda that promotes a more inclusive and just Commonwealth. This is often an imperfect science, and requires focus on what is moving and where our voice is needed.

This year, one piece of legislation we are supporting is HD779/SD922 An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts (PDF). Filed by Senators Cindy Creem, Representative Paul McMurtry and Representative Steven Howitt, it is currently supported by a bipartisan coalition of over 50 co-sponsors. While we have a longstanding commitment to oppose discrimination in any form, this current political climate compels us to ensure that discrimination is not subsidized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the basis of who somebody is.

So, what exactly does this bill do? At it's core, this legislation is another step forward in Massachusetts' leading commitment to the principle of anti discrimination. First, that anyone seeking to do business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must affirm that they are in compliance with the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Laws, which prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, based on someone’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation; second, that they will not refuse to do business with someone based solely on these same immutable traits. To put it simply, if you want to enjoy business with the state, don’t discriminate.

Joined by 38 other local Jewish organizations, We recently issued a statement expressing our grave concern about recent Executive Orders on immigration and refugees, one of which banned refugees from seven targeted countries from coming to the United States. We all witnessed the incredible harm that discrimination based on national origin can wreak on individuals and society as a whole. The Anti-Discrimination legislation, if enacted into law, seeks to prevent the very damage such divisive acts inflict and would make it clear that people who seek to contract with the state cannot refuse to do business with another simply because of their nation of origin.

This bill also protects LGBTQ business owners who face threats of boycotts of their businesses, solely because of who they are. It protects women-owned businesses, Muslim-owned businesses, Asian-owned businesses, African-American owned businesses, and yes, Israeli owned businesses, from being discriminated against based on who they are.

In the face of bigotry, delegitimization, and forces that seek to define and judge people based on who they are, rather than what they do, we stand up and say that this invidious discrimination has no place in the Commonwealth.

Please visit JCRC’s Action Alert and let your Senators and Representatives know that our Commonwealth should not subsidize those who seek to tear our communities apart and thank those who have already signed on. We are stronger when we stand together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron

A Visit with the People’s Lawyer

When I was just starting on my own path to becoming a Jewish communal professional, a JCRC director (from another city) patiently explained to me why the national Jewish community relations field organized our policy and advocacy work with one bucket being defined as “Jewish Security and the Bill of Rights.” It wasn’t that we, the organized Jewish community, only care about the Constitution as it applies to ourselves. It was that, simply put, we understand that our ability to thrive and prosper as a minority in this country is due in no small part to the civil liberties that our nation promises to all people, and thus, that we must fight to fulfill the promise of those freedoms for all.

click to enlarge

  

This has been a tumultuous week on the national scene, to say the least. So it could have not been more timely that we sat down with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey this past Tuesday, along with representatives from JCRC’s network of agencies. Our focus was on the Attorney General’s priorities, our community’s concerns and the role we can play in shaping local and national policy in this uncertain and fraught time.

We’ve worked with her team in the past, to advance transgender public accommodations and equal pay for women, to enforce our Commonwealth’s strong gun violence prevention laws and to protect immigrants and the poor from consumer fraud at the hands of predatory lenders – to name but a few examples. But it was clear at the table this week that the work required of all of us in the face of new threats and challenges must be bolder and more ambitious.

click to enlarge

  

Attorney General Healey talked about her role, as our - the people’s – lawyer to enforce not only state laws, but also to address federal laws when the federal government falls short. It was a lawsuit filed by our AG’s office that led to the striking down of DOMA. Now, her office is part of a suit to force Exxon Mobil to disclose their research on climate change.

Healey reaffirmed her team’s commitment to civil rights, combating hate and racism, protecting the hard fought rights of the LGBTQ community, and ensuring that Massachusetts remain a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees. We discussed ways that her office can work with local police departments and with the ADL, as partners, to deal with rising anti-Semitism and hate crimes right here in Massachusetts.

And, she told us how we can amplify our impact by working together with other communities – not just here but around the country - to develop a critical mass of people who encourage other state AGs to follow suit.

click to enlarge

 

Seven decades after JCRC was founded to provide our community with a collective voice to protect Jewish interests along with the values for our nation, and as we rise once again to confront hate and bigotry, to champion civil rights, and to fight for our own safety in an insecure world, I can’t think of a time – since those early years - when the mission of community relations felt more urgent than it does today. At its root, our work animates a simple but profound truth; that our security and self-interests are deeply intertwined with the protection of the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all of our neighbors.

We are called, once again, to recommit ourselves to these values - but now with the urgency to maintain protections hard won in decades past. As Healey urged us, now "we must do everything we can to fight the normalization of marginalization."

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Prayer for Our Nation

Last July, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York accepted an invitation to deliver the invocation at the Republican National Convention. Under pressure from some members of the Jewish community, he withdrew from the event. We share with you the invocation that Rabbi Lookstein had planned to deliver last summer, and we invite you to join us today in reflection on his words, their meaning, and the call therein to us and our nation.

 

Click to enlarge

PrayerMessage_850px

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Our Tradition of Dissent

Dissent: The act of expressing opinions at odds with those officially held.

In the Jewish tradition, even God handles dissent with grace.

When God tells Abraham about the plan to obliterate Sodom, Abraham objects. He bargains. God listens and negotiates, but ultimately stays the course. The city is destroyed, but the relationship between God and Abraham endures and God fulfills the promise to establish Abraham as the father of a great nation.

In the wilderness of Sinai, the daughters of Zelophehad – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah – come before Moses to object to God’s already announced plan for the allocation of the land of Israel. God tells Moses that “the plea is just,” and these women are given their share.

The rabbis of the Talmud also embraced debate and dissent. The houses of Hillel and Shamai vigorously argued the law. Almost always, the majority sided with Hillel. But the dissent was heard, honored, and recorded for posterity. And then the two houses would break bread together and marry their children to each other.

The examples of dissent as a valued and embraced Jewish tradition go on and on.

This weekend we celebrate the life and legacy of another great dissenter, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King’ leadership in the civil rights movement challenged America and all Americans to aspire to live to our potential and enact our expressed values. He taught - or more accurately reminded - us, that active dissent against an unjust law was an act of moral responsibility.

Dr. King affirmed his faith’s teachings on dissent through acts of love. He taught us to embrace and explore our capacity for empathy for the other in service to bringing about a more compassionate and just world.

A half-century later, we’re still learning to embrace that vision and message.

At a time when hate is ascendant in our discourse, when journalists are bullied for questioning those with power, and when the fractures that divide our communities seem almost unbridgeable, we are called to remember our Jewish tradition’s deeply held appreciation for the expression of dissent.

Dissent with love: work for greater empathy in ourselves and others; Listen to, honor and record for posterity the voice of the dissenter; Be open to change – as even God is. And then, when the debate is done for the day, invite each other to break bread.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy