Category Archives: Letter from the Director

Preserving the Legacy: Join us this Sunday for Yom HaShoah

This Sunday, April 23rd, at 10:30am at Faneuil Hall, we will again come together as one community to commemorate the Holocaust. Each year, as part of this Yom HaShoah program, we recognize the winners of the Israel Arbeiter Essay Contest. Mr. Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and a leader in our community, is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education. His story of survival in the face of horror has inspired thousands of students across Greater Boston.

Zachary Sclar, an 11th grader from Bromfield, MA does not have a Holocaust education program in his school. He is part of the JF&CS Legacies program that matches high school students with Holocaust survivors. Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors himself, he is passionate about learning all he can.

His eloquent, thoughtful, and heartfelt essay is the first place winner of our 2017 essay contest and I’d like to share several excerpts from it with you ahead of this Sunday’s Boston Community Yom HaShoah program.

Compassion and the Holocaust

By Zachary Sclar

“In the final analysis, I believe in man in spite of men.” Elie Wiesel uttered these words while giving his Holocaust Remembrance speech on April 23, 2009. In that same speech, he stated that even under the worst of circumstances, with cruelty and darkness abounding, many survivors of the concentration camps treated each other with compassion. Whether it was sharing a piece of bread with someone hungrier, or shielding a child from harm, somehow survivors found it within themselves to treat each other kindly despite their plight. Wiesel believed that compassion was not just a human right, but it was part of one’s identity and makeup as a human being. Additionally, he felt that every human rights campaign must begin with compassion if it were to be successful.

…I believe that compassion is more than a human right; it is deep inside each of us, and part of our wiring. Compassion is not an agenda item of the political left, nor is it exclusively the doctrine of religion. Compassion is our instinct and duty as human beings to abide by basic human principles that bind us together as members of the same human family. “When some deny our human capacity for compassion by denying human rights to others, they are not just attacking our universal human rights; they are also denying their identities as human beings” (Inn 2010).

Studying the Holocaust the past four years has had a profound impact on my life and has underscored the critical need for compassion today more than ever. One need only look at the Syrian refugee plight for proof of this. The few countries that have stepped up to help are making a huge difference in people’s lives. Whether suffering is in plain sight or around the world, it is everyone’s concern.

I remind myself daily that compassion starts with the smallest of good deeds. In my own experience, the smallest act of kindness goes a long way and can make a huge difference to someone. I am conscious of my privilege as a white middle class male, and I know that others often do not receive the same treatment that I do. I strive to listen to and respect everyone and believe everyone has a story to tell that is interesting and valuable. My responsibility to all, I believe, is simply to listen and remember. If we don’t honor the lives of those who suffered and learn from past mistakes, as the last remaining survivor population dwindles, their stories will die with them. Remarkably, none of the Holocaust survivors whose testimonies I have heard want revenge, and they don’t exhibit any hate or contempt. The unifying theme of all of their testimonies is a wish for a future that is more kind and humane, and that histories’ lessons don’t go ignored. When we bear witness, we become a witness. The onus is on my generation to create a world that is more compassionate. We are the bridge to a better tomorrow. We all need to be aware and do our part in this world. Kindness and compassion are the tools essential for building a future that is more humane.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, 10:30 am at Faneuil Hall as we recognize Zachary’s work and that of five other student winners. Together we will honor our local survivors, pay tribute to those who perished, transmit memory and ensure an enduring commitment to preserving this critical legacy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Beyond Books and Borders

On the eve of Passover, when we share our national story and reenact our journey, I share with you the story of one of our literacy volunteers and the deep connections she has fostered with her students through their shared life journeys.

In May of 1960, Marion Bank was 13 and living in Chile when she experienced the largest recorded seismic event to date. What became known as the Great Chilean Earthquake had devastating effects all over Chile, and continued to have ripple effects from Japan and the Philippines to Alaska. This experience left a lasting impact on Marion - one she would share over 55 years later with a group of fourth graders at the Stapleton Elementary School in Framingham, where – as part of a team from Temple Beth Sholom, Framingham - she tutors with the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL).

Marion currently works in the fourth grade science class on Wednesday mornings. On this particular day, the students were learning about earthquakes and Marion was able to make the concept come alive with her story of trauma and survival from her childhood. The room lit up. The students asked questions: “What did you do?” “Were you scared?” “Did you have nightmares after that?” The lesson became much more than a routine science class and the students were able to understand the very real impact of earthquakes in a new way.

Marion, like many of our GBJCL students, immigrated to America when she was young. Her parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939. They got on a ship -not knowing where it was headed - and ended up in Chile. Almost a quarter century later, having survived the Nazi era, Marion’s family decided to move to America.

Marion’s connection to the immigrant experiences of others is a deeply personal one. As a tutor at Stapleton, she is able to connect with students who are new to this county and who are adjusting to a new life in a new place. One young boy joined the Stapleton class shortly after he and his family emigrated from Brazil. He was very shy about using English and did not feel confident writing when asked. Marion worked closely with him, engaging him in conversation about what he wanted to learn. She would then write down his answers and share it with the teacher.

That experience gave this student more assurance and, by the end of the year, he was a full participant in the class. Marion’s own experience of being a stranger in a new land allowed her to lend the support needed to build her young friend’s confidence as a capable student and an English speaker.
After learning Marion’s story about her family’s journey to Chile and then America, Lianne Manzella, the 4th grade science teacher, decided to design her immigration unit around Marion’s experience later this spring. Once again, the students will have the opportunity to learn from Marion’s first-hand experience. They’ll have the opportunity to understand her unique perspective as an immigrant and just maybe, to share their own immigration stories.

As we continue our GBJCL20 celebration, we are sharing stories that celebrate the impact the program has had on students and volunteer tutors. Our tutors are as diverse as the students we work with, coming from different backgrounds and bringing a variety of experiences with them to the program. Join us in celebrating the 20th anniversary of our literacy volunteer program as JCRC Celebrates on May 24th.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Passover,

Jeremy

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

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

Embracing Optimism: Peres’ Message of Constructive Engagement

This blog was originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

At last week’s kickoff event for the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue, we honored the life and legacy of Shimon Peres. Israel’s former Consul General to New England Nadav Tamir began by sharing one of Peres’ guiding principles: unfettered optimism.

Peres chose to be an optimist despite facing various levels of opposition during his decades of public service in Israel. Peres, Nadav recalled, figured that since optimists and pessimists “all die the same way,” he would take the “glass half full” approach.

In these unpredictable and difficult times, we are embarking on a year-long effort to plot a course toward healthier conversations with each other about the ways in which we all connect with Israel. As we set forward on this path, one intention we can set for ourselves is to hear Shimon Peres’ wisdom in embracing constructive optimism.

Nadav articulated a few of the things that he learned from Peres that help him maintain an optimistic outlook for Israel and world Jewry.

First, he spoke about looking for win-win scenarios; seeking opportunities to learn and converse about significant issues together, particularly when we find ourselves in situations that appear to be adversarial in nature.

Second, he listened. Peres achieved his greatest successes when he was listening empathically, not when he was delivering a monologue based on scripted talking points.

Third, he didn’t dwell on past failures. Perhaps the ultimate key to Peres’ success was his ability to put the past aside to secure the future he hoped to create. He was not deterred by setbacks and failed negotiations. He insisted on pushing forward, armed with the belief that change would come, and that he could be a key instrument in bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians.

Regardless of our personal politics, I believe we can wholeheartedly embrace this principle of constructive optimism.

If we are to create a more productive community engagement with each other about Israel, we will need to put aside external factors and past experiences that lead us to feel pessimistic, apathetic, and despairing when we talk to one another about Israel. We have the ability to move forward as a community with productive conversations about the Jewish state and its central role in the Jewish future.

This is a difficult task, one which involves individuals letting go of pre-conceived notions that are often deeply rooted in historical narrative and personal experience, stopping to truly hear each other’s perspectives when we would rather not, and shutting out the voices that say having a conversation about Israel is so difficult it isn’t worth our time.

For us to succeed, we will need to acknowledge that the significance of this challenge attests to the importance of the task at hand. We can help provide answers for those who are stuck wondering how to move forward. We can be models of civic discourse, unity, and optimism in a time when these qualities are in too short supply. We need only to take responsibility for our community here in Boston.

After hearing Nadav, I was left with the following thought: we cannot afford to wait for “things to get better” before we become optimists. The burden is on us to bring optimism into the world and that starts within our own community.

It is important to understand that Peres saw this as a choice that we make — between optimism and pessimism.

Some people today are experiencing that same choice, while others are more personally attuned to the tension between optimism and apathy, or between optimism and despair. Sitting in the audience I found myself inspired by the emphasis on optimism. If we as a community embrace the principles Shimon Peres espoused and that Nadav Tamir shared with us last week, then we have reason to be optimistic about our communal conversations about Israel.

Watch Nadav’s keynote here.

Watch CJP executive director Gil Preuss introduce the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue here.

Read more about the CommUNITY Israel Dialogue, including a list of our 60 partner organizations and upcoming events.

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.

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Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie