Category Archives: Letter from the Director

New Year Brings New Lessons from Malden High Students

As we welcome the new year, we close the door on a summer that has shaken many of us. We were saddened and horrified when, in the space of six weeks, two glass panels from the New England Holocaust Memorial were destroyed by acts of vandalism. The second glass panel was shattered just days after white supremacists and self-proclaimed neo-Nazis marched in the streets of Charlottesville. Though we did not know the motivation of the vandals, the incidents at the Memorial were deeply painful for many in our community, particularly given the proximity to these frightening displays of hatred.

We do know that the young man who allegedly destroyed the second panel came from Malden, one of the most diverse towns in the Commonwealth. At a community gathering at the Memorial the morning after the incident, Malden Mayor Gary Christiansen told the crowd he was “completely disheartened” to learn that the person responsible for the vandalism was from his city.

Janet Stein Calm, President of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, publicly invited the mayor of Malden to bring students back to the Memorial to learn about the sacredness of the space directly from Holocaust survivors and their children. Last week, Mayor Christiansen, 30 Malden students, school administrators, and teachers took Janet up on her invitation and joined local survivors and Jewish community members at the Memorial. The Malden visitors came determined to begin the healing process both for their town and for the survivors, committed to learning and hearing from them firsthand.

It turns out the mayor wasn’t the only one who was pained by the vandalism. When students returned from summer vacation and learned of the incident, they were appalled and disbelieving that a peer of theirs could do something like this. They felt compelled to take action and say, “We will not stand for this in our community, to let this one person represent and define us.”

  
All images courtesy of the City of Malden. Click to enlarge. Left: Survivor Anna Ornstein. Right: Surivivor Izzy Arbeiter.

“We have seen the damage hate and intolerance can cause. We have experienced it ourselves,” said one student, speaking about her personal experience as a young Muslim woman. She continued with a written declaration from the student group:

“We are here to come together to try and reverse hate. We will not stand for hate. We will come together with love, peace, and dignity; to celebrate our differences, because that is what truly brings us together. In order to start the healing of the damage caused by hate, we have come here tonight to honor victims of the Holocaust.” Students went on to read the bios and obituaries for the family members of the survivors in attendance.

  
Left: Mayor Marty Walsh with Malden High Students. Right: Surivivor Izzy Arbeiter and Mayor of Malden Gary Christenson.

The survivors present were profoundly moved, not only by the students’ outrage, but by their commitment to understand, share, and preserve the legacy of their new friends, whose sacred site was desecrated.

“To see you all here, to talk to you, to get to know you, to see the diversity of the students, gives me such hope for the future,” said Izzy Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and one of the founders of the New England Holocaust Memorial.

“You are not that young man who destroyed the panel,” he told them.

 
Malden High School students.

Sadly, we know that acts of anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry are on the rise and we can’t stop them all. But we can take a lesson from the students of Malden High School, who took collective responsibility for an act committed by one of their own. Over the coming Days of Awe, we will recite the traditional litany of confessions as part of our liturgy. We will reflect not as an assemblage of individuals but rather as a collective, with our sins articulated in the plural Ashamnu – we have sinned. As these remarkable young people from Malden demonstrated, teshuvah the work of atonement begins with the painful acknowledgement of grievous errors and sins on the part of those in our circle. And it is completed with a resolution to do better, to hold ourselves accountable to be a more just and compassionate community. As we enter 5778, we deepen our own resolve to show up when it counts, and to stand with those in need of our support and solidarity within our own community and beyond.

Shanah Tovah and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Legacy of Connie S. Birnbaum 

I never had the privilege of meeting Connie Spear Birnbaum, who died in 2003 at age 48 of breast cancer. But as I’ve come to learn about her much too short life, it’s clear that she left behind a powerful legacy; a call for Jewish unity in our community.

Connie moved to Boston to pursue her Masters in Jewish Communal Service at Brandeis University. It was here that she met and married an amazing fellow, Dr. Herbert Birnbaum, and together, they raised a family. She pursued a vision for Jewish community that is even more urgent today than when she served as the Unity Associate for the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. That awesome job title – by definition, working for community unity despite our differences – defined what she was all about.

In a 1989 interview, Connie replied to a question about whether there could be unity in the Jewish community, “There are, to be sure, many skeptics among us, but I am not one of them. Philosophically, I believe in the value and necessity of K’lal Yisrael (the Jewish People).”

To hear her husband, Herb, tell it, “Her work bridged congregations and denominations, helping those from all affiliations to build an understanding that no one group of Jews has all the answers to the exclusion of others. As in the post-Impressionist artistic style of pointillism, she saw beyond the individual dots of color on the canvas to appreciate the brilliance of the big picture.”

This is why the Jewish Community Relations Council is honored that, after 13 years of stewardship by the Synagogue Council, Connie’s family – Herb, and their children Benjamin, Ilanna, and Ariella – has entrusted us with the annual Connie Spear Birnbaum Memorial Lecture, to continue advancing it as a force for good and a signature event of Boston’s Jewish community.

This year’s lecture will be delivered on Tuesday, September 26th at Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel in Newton. Our keynote speaker, Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, is the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, founded in 1654 as the first Jewish congregation in North America. Through this lecture we also mark a return of the storied Soloveichik rabbinic line – merging tradition with modernity, science with Torah – back to Boston where his great uncle, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, lived and taught. Rabbi Dr. Soloveichik, whose topic is entitled, “Rembrandt and the Rabbis: What the Artist Teaches Us About Preparing for Yom Kippur,” will enlighten us about the Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and his perspective on Jewish customs in preparing for Yom Kippur. The lecture is free and open to the public, though we invite you to register in advance here.

In these times when our community, and our society at large, are increasingly fractured in our civic discourse – unable  to bridge our differences, struggling to find common ground – Connie’s attentiveness to all Jewish voices and  interests from across our diverse community  continues to inspire.  Her legacy challenges us at JCRC to be the best we can be at convening the disparate parts of the Jewish community and weaving them into a powerful and united network. Her message - that none of us has a monopoly on the right answers, and that all of us benefit from the inclusion of each other in shared community - endures.

Connie’s memory is for a blessing. I invite you to join us in experiencing that blessing and legacy on September 26th.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

When To Speak Up; When To Speak Out

Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me: “Is JCRC making a statement on x today?” And hardly a week goes by when we don’t hear a critique of our choices. Some ask, “Why are you speaking on that?” From others we hear, “How could you possibly stay silent in the face of such an urgent issue?" Allow me to share just a few considerations we’ve weighed in recent months when deciding to make statements.

First, we try to be clear about who we are speaking for, and to who. We strive to represent the consensus voice of our network, acting as an umbrella on behalf of the organized Jewish community. And our primary purpose is to speak beyond the Jewish community, in Boston’s public square, to reflect our community’s consensus – where there is one – and to help the broader civil society gain an understanding of that collective perspective.

Some statements are made as an organizing tool to lift up a consensus and catalyze action by our network. When the executive orders on immigration and refugees were issued earlier this year, we consulted many of our members and released a joint statement that enabled forty-one Jewish organizations to speak as one. Though we didn’t say anything that JCRC hadn’t said before, we defined a broad communal consensus – including organizations not generally in the practice of weighing in on public policy issues – that has animated powerful action ever since.

At times we speak because our Jewish voice is being sought, often on previously unaddressed issues, and often in response to requests from our civic partners – and we step into new territory. When we do that well, we take the time for consultation with many of our members, we get feedback that sharpens and clarifies what we are able to say, and we establish “buy in” from our stakeholders. Last winter, when David Friedman was named ambassador to Israel, the process, from first draft to statement, took several days. The result was a better statement that raised questions and provoked interesting conversations with members of Congress.

Expressing consensus or addressing a new question about what we think isn’t always our goal. Some statements are intended to name that something is front and center, and of urgent concern in that moment. This summer, each time the New England Holocaust Memorial was desecrated, I doubt that anyone was wondering whether the Jewish community was dismayed. But as the steward of the Memorial’s education mission, JCRC was charged with sounding the alarm and ensuring that the media and the community were aware of these assaults on our sacred site.

We don’t always get it right. There’ve been times over the years where we moved too fast, and didn’t adequately consult our network. As a result, we shut down discussion and strained relationships, when we would have been better served by inviting conversations and striving to bridge differences. We’ve worked to hear and accept the feedback when we did so, and I’d like to believe that we’ve grown from those mistakes.

At the end of the day, statements are only one aspect of our work. What matters more than any announcement is what we do to act on our values and to stand with and for our partners every day.

I’m looking back at this crazy summer and what I’m most proud of wasn’t something we published, but something we helped organize – an interfaith gathering at Temple Israel ahead of the massive protest weekend in Boston last month. And while I’m proud of our statement on immigrants and refugees, I’m even prouder of what has happened since then: broad Jewish support for the MA Safe Communities Act, synagogues across the region engaging in rapid response and sanctuary work, and a new partnership between CJP and Catholic Charities to meet the legal services needs of immigrants in these urgent times.

I’ll close by adding that if JCRC is “speaking from” the Jewish community, then we do our best work when we are also hearing from the Jewish community. We value your input, your advice, and your feedback about the considerations we weigh, about the issues where you think our voice is needed, and when you think we get it right (or don’t).

I invite your thoughts. These conversations enrich the work we do every day, and I thank you for them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Legacy and Future

The other day, after moving to our brand-new renovated offices a few weeks ago (come visit!), we re-installed our wall of photos showcasing all the past JCRC presidents and executive directors, going back to our founding in 1944. I shared an image of the wall with our living past presidents and directors. The responses have been delightful, and prompted me to think about what it means to lead a legacy Jewish organization in a time of disruption and anxiety.


click to enlarge

I look at that wall and think about all the changes along the way that have brought us to where we are today. I’m reminded of an essay that Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University delivered in 1994. “A Great Awakening” explored the American Jewish experience, our ongoing renaissance, and in particular, our own revival in the late 19th century. Informed by forces external and internal, this revival was driven by new leaders from a younger generation.

Sarna concluded that for the American Jewish community of our own time, “continuity may depend on discontinuity,” that it was the young and those on the periphery of Jewish life who were most often the drivers of creativity and innovation, and that “over and over again” we’ve “confounded doom and gloom,” often emerging even stronger from the challenges.

I look at that wall and am reminded that JCRC was created as a response to the challenges of an earlier time, as are so many of the legacy organizations of our community. Jewish federations, advocacy groups, human service partners - even some of our congregational denominations - would not exist but for the need to innovate and respond.

I look at that wall and think about the nearly 75 years of work that informs who we are at JCRC today, and the responsibility to look to the next 75.

One of my teachers told me long ago that the Jewish idea of self is one in which we act in the present, but always existing in deep conversation with our past and our future. “And you shall tell your children that we do this, for we were once slaves in Egypt.”

We carry memory of the past across thousands of years into the present. It informs our understanding of our world and our work in it. We also carry in the present our obligation to envision a hopeful future, with directives to ensure that ours is not the last generation. This is the most important mandate we carry through the ages.

At a recent JCRC Officers’ retreat I was asked about my priorities - the things I “lie awake at night” thinking about for JCRC. I told them that what I think about every day is how to make sure we have the tools we need to effectively advance our community’s priorities and values right now in Boston’s public square and civic debate, and equally important, how to ensure that we will be even stronger and continuously relevant for our next generation in 20 years and beyond.

I’m looking at that wall this week and looking ahead to the coming year while thinking about the sheer volume of leadership change that our Boston Jewish community is undergoing, with new directors starting this summer at some of our finest institutions. Several of our most respected and inspiring professionals have announced plans to leave their current roles and some of our most dedicated volunteer leaders are now conducting important searches for their successors.

I am excited by what’s coming next for our community as so many of our institutions individually, and our community collectively, will be building on our legacy while stepping forward to innovate and respond to the challenges ahead. I am looking back with pride for what the Boston Jewish community has become, and ahead with hope for where we will go, and I am honored that we at JCRC are a part of that journey.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

By the Rivers of Babylon

This week our latest study tour – for Boston area Christian leaders – returned from Israel. I’ve heard about some of the experiences they had over the course of eight days, including spending last weekend in Jerusalem; sharing Shabbat dinner in a family home and learning later about the brutal murder of the Salomon family at a similar table only miles away. I write this fourteen days after terrorists emerged from the Muslim community’s sacred Noble Sanctuary – the place we treasure as the Temple Mount – to kill two Israeli Druze policemen, and then they fled back to that holy place. I write this unsure of what today, tomorrow, and the next day will bring.

What I do know is that come next Tuesday - the ninth day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar – thousands of Jews will converge at the Western Wall as many Jews around the world, including myself, observe the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av. We will commemorate the destruction of the Jewish Temple twice over. Many wise words will be shared in the days ahead about the contemporary relevance of this fast. Some will emphasize the significance of remembering the burning of ancient Jerusalem while violence roils in the streets of the modern city; and others will focus on the ways in which Jews continue to turn on each other and the deep divisions that often separate us.

When civic leaders study Israel with us, they inevitably ask questions about the nature of the Jewish connection to this land. They seek to understand our Jewish sense of belonging here, and how that sits alongside a Palestinian narrative of identity and their place in that same land. As I think about those conversations, my thoughts turn to the words of Psalm 137, written in the wake of the destruction of the first Temple, following the conquest of ancient Judea in 587 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar.

“By the rivers of Babylon,” the writer tells us, “there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”

The destruction of that first Temple was a formative moment in Jewish history. The Israelite people were being forced to establish a diasporic national identity. Psalm 137 describes the existential grief of a people entering exile. Under the watchful eye of the invader’s army, the Israelites were marched into modern day Iraq. As they reached the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, they asked themselves: “How shall we sing God’s song in a foreign land?”

In that moment, an important aspect of our national identity took form. Wherever we might go we would never abandon our connection to our homeland. They said: “If I forget you, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth.”

It was in the Babylonian and Persian exiles so long ago that key aspects of Jewish identity took form, including the first recording, in the book of Esther, of a member of an Israelite tribe other than Judah - Mordechai from Benjamin - being called a Jew. When the Persians allowed our ancestors to return to Jerusalem to build a second Temple, not all of them returned – thus beginning 2,500 years of diaspora-homeland relations.

I linger today on the Psalmist’s words. They record a historical moment when national identity and place were articulated as inextricably linked. For two-and-a-half millennia, our ancestors would nurture that identity: we were indigenous to Judea, wandering in the world. Some would always remain living in the homeland throughout those long centuries. But all would keep the vow made by the rivers of Babylon; to never forget where it was that we belonged.

Today our hearts and minds turn again to Jerusalem, many of us with deep sorrow for the events unfolding. For many of us, as well, there is the pain and the knowledge that there is work to do in learning to share that homeland with another people who also have a national narrative in the same place. As we commemorate Tisha B’Av this coming week let our songs and our stories – even those filled with sorrow - strengthen our understanding of our connection to this place, and what it means to the Jewish people to belong there.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

It’s Time To Say: #NoHateInTheBayState

This Tuesday, July 18th, the Massachusetts legislature will conduct a public hearing on a bipartisan bill S.1689/H.1685: An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts. Filed by Senator Cynthia Creem, Representatives Paul McMurtry and Steven Howitt this bill is being sponsored by over one-third of the members of the legislature. We at JCRC are proud to be leading a broad coalition in support of this bill.

Some on the far-left who work to demonize Israel and who seek to boycott everything and everyone connected with her are mobilizing a vociferous opposition to this legislation. They claim that this bill, if adopted, would restrict their right to freedom of expression, including boycotting Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here is what the bill would actually do. S.1689/H.1685 requires anyone seeking to do business with the Commonwealth to affirm that they are in compliance with the state’s anti-discrimination laws. In other words, that they do not refuse to employ, serve, or rent to people based on their immutable characteristics – including nationality. It also requires that these contractors affirm that they will not categorically refuse to do business with someone based on those same characteristics – including nationality.

Basically if your business boycotts the government of China because of human rights abuses in its prisons, you can still do business with the Commonwealth. What you cannot do is refuse to do business with someone because they are a Chinese national – and still do business with the government of our Commonwealth.

Nothing in this legislation denies or restricts an individual’s right to boycott a foreign government or to participate in a political or social movement. What it does is say that when participation in a political boycott crosses the line and starts targeting individuals based on who they are and what they cannot change, our Commonwealth will utilize its procurement power to make its own view known: Discrimination, by any name and in all its many forms and window dressings, is abhorrent and antithetical to the policy of our state and will not be subsidized with taxpayer funds.  That opponents of this bill are so vociferous in their opposition tells you something. They aren’t defending their right to protest the Occupation. They aren’t even defending their right to engage in economic warfare against Israel and to deny Israel’s right to exist.

No. This time they are fighting for the right to discriminate against Israelis.

Massachusetts’ civic leaders, and JCRC’s network alongside them, have boldly led the nation in rejecting bias and bigotry in so many areas in recent years – standing up for the transgender community, for women, for the disabled, and for immigrants. Now they have a responsibility to reject this kind of discrimination as well.

Because I have the privilege of taking legislators, including nearly one-third of the current members, on study tours to Israel – a privilege that is not available to lobbyists – I will not be testifying on Tuesday in support of this bill. But JCRC has endorsed S.1689/H.1685 and members of our leadership will be testifying in support. And I will be there for the hearing as leaders from across our network, along with our allies within and beyond the Jewish community, come together and urge the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight to favorably report this bill to the full Legislature.

In October 2015 our Legislature strongly demonstrated their commitment to the Massachusetts-Israel relationship and rejected the movement to isolate and demonize Israel when they unanimously approved a resolution, sponsored by Senator Michael Moore and Representative Jeff Roy, to underscore the depth of connection between the Commonwealth and Israel.  Now, we are asking them to demonstrate their commitment to preventing discrimination against Israelis who seek to do business with our Commonwealth, and who ought to be valued and supported as part of the fabric of our civil society.

We hope that you will join us in this effort by attending the hearing this coming Tuesday and filling out the action alert urging the Committee to favorably report the bill out of committee.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Shattered but Not Broken

Early Wednesday morning a carefully planned day was disrupted by an event whose urgency would necessitate JCRC’s immediate attention and action: as Holocaust survivors and their children across our community awoke, they would learn about the desecration of a sacred space – the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM) – on the morning news.

By now you are no doubt aware that a pane of glass – etched with numbers the Nazis carved into the arms of their victims – had been shattered in an act of vandalism during the night. For JCRC – charged with the responsibility of convening our community together at this site and ensuring its centrality as a conduit for education and the transmission of memory –  several critical questions arose. How best to support our community in the face of this trauma? How to begin the process of healing? How to be assured that justice would be done, enabling us to move forward as a stronger and more united community?

The answer was one that defines community relations: reach out to our network, rely on the strengths of each of our member organizations, look to the relationships we and they have built over years, and speak with one voice as one community in the public square.

By the time most Bostonians woke up, our team was working with many of our members, in particular CJP, ADL, and the American Association of Holocaust Survivors, along with many individual leaders, and particularly those who led in the building of the Memorial over two decades ago. As a collective, we had more information, more resources, and more contacts with public leaders than any of us individually could possibly have. Together, we had a plan.

By the time most Bostonians arrived at work, we knew where the replacement glass panes were stored. We knew how the Boston Police Department and Commissioner Evans were handling the investigation. We knew that Mayor Walsh was personally involved and that District Attorney Conley was preparing to arraign a suspect in custody.

And we knew that in concert with our various organizations and leaders, we needed to demonstrate our strength and resiliency, to stand with our public officials in sharing this information with our community, and most significantly, to assert that while glass had been shattered, we were not broken.

By 9:30 am we released an advisory, contacted and briefed more of our members, and encouraged them and our partners to get the word out. By 11:00 am we were gathered, some 200 of us, together with Mayor Walsh, the DA, many members of the City Council, interfaith partners, and most importantly, leaders from the Holocaust survivor community.

We stood before the shattered glass in front of a bank of cameras – virtually the entire Boston media and many from afar – to support each other and to stand as one. We heard from Izzy Arbeiter, community leader and survivor of multiple concentration camps, who bore numbers on his arm like those on the shattered memorial. Izzy told us of being woken by his sobbing wife, whose inability to speak alarmed him into thinking that perhaps something tragic happened to a family member. We heard a resounding and unwavering message of support from Mayor Walsh and a message on behalf of Governor Baker who was unable to be in Boston this morning. We had a briefing from DA Conley, with his assurance that justice would be done. Thanks to the witnesses who fulfilled their civic responsibility by reaching out to law enforcement, and thanks to CJP’s 24-hour video monitoring, the case was already moving swiftly. And thanks to the foresight of the community leaders who established the NEHM, replacement glass would be on its way, to be installed in a rededication ceremony in the very near future. Speaker after speaker confirmed the most important message of all; that we were stronger than the person who broke the glass, that the sanctity of the Memorial would be restored, and the values of our community reaffirmed.

As the news broke, we were flooded with messages of concern and support from our interfaith partners. As the day went on we heard from concerned citizens, Memorial neighbors, and our own community members, with offers to help with the repairs.

None of this would have been possible without the strength of our network. None of this would have come together so quickly, and smoothly, without the relationships cultivated by our network of member organizations over the years. None of this would have happened if we didn’t have an organized Jewish community, committed to acting together and speaking with one voice on matters of gravest concern to us all.

I invite you to join me in making a gift to support the NEHM’s repairs (click the banner above). I invite you to join me at the rededication effort in the coming weeks (details to follow). And I invite you to draw – as I do – strength and resiliency from the reminder this week that we are stronger together and more powerful than the sum of our parts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

When Our Community Comes Together

With the start of summer this week, I find myself looking back at what we’ve achieved together in the past six months.

I’m particularly proud of one aspect of our work, specifically at JCRC and across many institutions of Boston’s organized Jewish community as a whole. Work that has engaged a broad swath of our community, people whose commitment has only deepened as time goes on.

In the cold days of January, following the first round of Presidential orders regarding immigrants and refugees, we were the first local Jewish community in the country to speak forcefully with one voice. JCRC reached out to our community’s religious, philanthropic, civic and human service organizations – more than 40 Boston Jewish organizations – to say as one that these actions were unjust, and would inevitably cause anxiety, pain and anguish throughout immigrant communities and our nation. We stood together on the side of empathy and religious tolerance and we urged compassion for those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.

Of course, the commitment to this work didn’t start in January. This statement amplified years of powerful work, rooted in the Jewish experience and our values. Jewish Vocational Service was already serving some five hundred refugee clients in Boston. Jewish Family Service of Metrowest was already leading a collaboration with many of our area synagogues to resettle refugee families. Several of our member agencies are active in the Mass Immigrants and Refugees Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. We at JCRC were proud to draft a resolution, together with HIAS, on welcoming refugees that was adopted as national policy for the Jewish community relations field in 2015.

This spring, 98 years and one day after my own – then four- year-old -- grandfather, Jose Casillas Sandoval, immigrated by crossing the Rio Grande River with his parents, I was honored to stand in front of the State House with our partners at MIRA and hundreds of Jewish community members to rally in support of the Safe Communities Act; legislation to protect the civil rights, safety and well-being of all Massachusetts residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety. I was proud to tell my grandfather’s story, and also to talk about CJP’s partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston which established the CJP Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants, to address the urgent needs of local immigrants, including some who have lived in our area for decades.

The bill continues to attract significant support, particularly from much of the Jewish community – including our members and partners at the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Jewish Vocational Service and the Workmen’s Circle – who packed a hearing on June 9th amidst stiff political opposition (you can read my testimony here).

In addition to our continued advocacy for passage of the Safe Communities Act, we’ve immersed ourselves in organizing a network of our Jewish communities – synagogues and young adult groups – to stand with families at risk of deportation. In partnership with organizations like the MA Communities Action Network (MCAN), JCRC has been organizing multi-faith clusters of congregations around Eastern Massachusetts to respond to the urgent needs of these families – families desperate to stay safe from threat, families in our local congregations, families connected to leaders inside our congregations, families searching wherever they can for a lifeline.

Together we have established five geographic clusters, each with a minimum of six congregations. More than a dozen synagogue communities with over 250 trained volunteers have committed to offering a variety of forms of support – including in some cases supporting sanctuary churches responding rapidly to a diverse set of needs of immigrant families and participating in broader state-wide legislative advocacy. We have had the privilege to create new partnerships and work with people like Gaby Chavez and Nestor Pimienta – two phenomenal organizers and recent graduates of Harvard Divinity School, who you can read about in a Boston Globe article this week.

All of this work is a reflection of the very best of our community: Acting together on long and deeply held values; each of our institutions bringing our unique capacities and institutional roles; working in authentic partnerships beyond the Jewish community; and being willing to act boldly in the face of a uniquely challenging moment.

As we begin our summer at JCRC and our planning for the coming years, I know that there are many challenges ahead. But I draw strength and resiliency by looking back and knowing what we are capable of when we are at our best. And I am grateful to be part of this organization and this community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building Possibility Through Teen Service

The story below about Mr. Clark is just one example of why I am so pleased to tell you about the generosity of the Jim Joseph Foundation, as they are matching 100% of every dollar donated to TELEM before June 30th, 2017 (up to $30,000). We hope to reach this goal with your help!

 

At 94 years of age, Mr. Branson Clark is as vigorous and engaging as they come. When TELEM teen service program staff visited Mr. Clark in his Jamaica Plain home last winter, he showed them how he ‘jogs’ up and down his hallway to stay limber in the cold and snowy weather. His jog isn’t merely a slow run; it is a rapid, high, knee-pumping activity, with the intensity of an NFL running back in training. It was a remarkable display of fitness and strength.

But notwithstanding his admirable fitness, Mr. Clark was unable to maintain the upkeep of his home on his own. Without the resources to hire contractors to repair unsafe conditions, his ability to live independently was in jeopardy. Enter a new partnership between the JCRC’s TELEM and Rebuilding Together Boston (RTB). RTB harnesses the skill and muscle-power of volunteers to help seniors and vulnerable persons live safely in their homes. TELEM teen participants – with their extensive experience repairing damaged homes in New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York – wanted to provide similar assistance to Boston residents. Mr. Clark’s house was the first of this type of rehab project in Boston, and the partnership with RTB made this vital work possible.

On an unseasonably chilly day in March, as part of the South Area’s CHAI Mitzvah Day, 34 volunteers from synagogues in Sharon, Randolph, Brockton, Canton, and Easton lent their skills and brawn to a wide variety of projects to make Mr. Clark’s home a more safe and livable place. Adult and teen volunteers – including a crew of 12 from Temple Sinai Sharon’s youth group – built railings, repaired walls and doors, painted trim, installed wallboard, and cleaned lots of yard debris. The youngest volunteer, about to become a b’nai mitzvah, donated $70 of his winter snow-shoveling earnings towards the purchase of materials for Mr. Clark’s home. He and his dad – a professional contractor - worked side by side for four hours to rebuild a wall badly damaged by water leaks.
 

  

  

(L-R) Mitzvah Day Participants; Teens from the TELEM program; Mr. Branson Clarke with TELEM teen; Mr. Clark (center) with Volunteers from the Temple Israel, Sharon, Brotherhood

By the end of the day, many necessary projects had been completed, the dumpster was full, and Mr. Clark was only too grateful for what had been accomplished. The South Area volunteers, with TELEM in the lead, enabled Mr. Clark to continue to live as he desired; safely and independently in his own home.

As we complete TELEM’s 12th year, we’re proud to have engaged over 8,000 Jewish teens in similar projects; bettering the lives of our neighbors in Greater Boston, animating the values of chessed and tzedek, and learning what it means to be engaged citizens and Jews in service to others.

 

 

Through your gift and its match from the Jim Joseph Foundation, you will allow JCRC to sustain TELEM’s current model and expand service opportunities – both on-going and one-time programs – for Boston area teens. We hope you will make your donation today, and enable more stories like Mr. Clark’s come to fruition.
Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

P.S. - This is a time-sensitive match for TELEM through the Jim Joseph Foundation, so please consider making a contribution today. You can make your tax-deductible donation to JCRC:

  • Online by selecting TELEM under “Gift Designation”
  • By check payable to: JCRC, 126 High Street, Boston, MA 02110
    ATTN: Tasha Lipsky - please note TELEM on the check's memo line
  • With a CJP designation
  • Through a donor advised fund

Adapting to Action

The Jewish community relations field has been around for a long time. JCRCs across the nation were by and large founded in the mid 1940’s. The notion was that if the volunteer leaders and executives of a diverse network of organizations could unite and speak as one with high public officials, publishers, heads of churches, etc… then we as a Jewish communal enterprise could advance our shared public agenda. The good men of the town – and it was and still is, unfortunately, largely men – would act effectively, and usually quietly and behind the scenes, on our collective behalf.

Things have changed over the years and those JCRCs that have adapted with the times have thrived. Here in Boston one major shift, some 18 years ago, was our decision to invest in interfaith multi-issue, congregation-based community organizing. Our leadership at the time rightly saw this as an opportunity and a vehicle; to broaden Jewish action on a public agenda by mobilizing the power of the masses in synagogues, while strengthening community relations by forging deep connections among those congregations and other communities, clergy, and public officials. We saw those connections bear fruit as we stood side by side with our partners in the fights to secure healthcare and marriage rights for all in Massachusetts. Congregational organizing became and continues to be a key method and “technology” in our approach to community relations work and broader impact in Boston, our commonwealth, and our country.

Today we need to adapt once more – to identify and embrace new methods and technologies that respond powerfully to the changes in our communities and in our world. Most of us are no longer “members” of traditional “brick-and-mortar” Jewish institutions, including synagogues. Identifying and “doing” Jewish is still incredibly important to folks, but we need new models and tools for involving them in collective expressions of our shared voice. Further, we’re now in a time in which public action is proliferating in new ways, including online.

So once again, JCRC is adapting.

This March, we were privileged to receive a grant from the Boston Foundation as part of their response to the current political and social environment. They focused their support on organizations working to protect the rights of immigrants and other vulnerable communities. At that time, I said that this support “will have a direct and profound impact on the participation of the Jewish community in Greater Boston at this critical time.”

As a result of that grant, this week, we launched Alert2Action, our new, easy-to-use platform that allows you to get involved in the range of campaigns we’re working on by quickly sending e-mails, calling your legislators, and speaking out on social media; all right from your smart phone. We have already built a few Alert2Action campaigns related to key dimensions of our current work and reflecting the diverse interests of our community.

  • If you want to stand with our immigrant and Muslim neighbors, including taking action today in support of the Safe Communities Act which is having its legislative hearing as you receive this, click here or text IMMIGRANTS to 52886.
  • If you want to stand up to discrimination against Israelis and all people, and support state legislation that would prohibit discrimination in state contracts, click here or text STAND-UP to 52866
  • And if you want to advocate for smart criminal justice reform, including legislation that would reform our use of mandatory minimum sentencing, click here or text SMART REFORM to 52866

When you send a text, you will receive an immediate response with a link, allowing you to send individual emails to your elected officials. You’ll also be signed up to stay up-to-date on these campaigns and future ones, with more opportunities to take action in the weeks and months ahead.

This is a time that calls for innovation in our field. At JCRC of Greater Boston, we embrace the need for change. We have to stay nimble and responsive in a political environment that is making new and unexpected demands of all of us. And yet, some things remain constant, like advancing our collective values in the public square with one united and powerful voice. We remain committed to providing the technology that amplifies the individual voices of our community through collective action, enabling us to have more impact as we stand with our vulnerable neighbors under attack. Together, we will protect our precious democracy. All of us, together, can be a strong, connected, and empowered Jewish community. We can effectively meet the challenges of our times as we build on the foundation that the good men of Boston envisioned some 70 years ago.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy