Category Archives: Letter from the Director

“I get it. BDS is wrong, but then what?”

The topic that’s dominated just about every conversation I’ve had this week has been BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), the global campaign to deny Israel’s legitimacy. My week began by sitting on a Sunday morning panel at the J Street conference, about countering BDS. And throughout the entire week, I’ve been working intensively with many of our members and partners – within and beyond the Jewish community – to challenge an effort by BDS proponents to secure the support of the Cambridge City Council in advancing their cause.

The topic of BDS is one I’ve grown comfortable discussing. This movement, so often rooted in anti-Semitism, is one we’re committed to confronting whenever it rears its ugly head and in whatever form it takes. But frankly, as a Jewish community activist and as a passionate supporter of the State of Israel, this is not how I would prefer to spend my days.

But there’s one question that keeps emerging from my conversations about BDS, one that I invite and welcome. Over and over again, I keep hearing, “Well, ok, I get it. BDS is wrong, but then what? What do you propose we do to help pave the way to peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis?”

I truly love this question, and the opportunity it opens up to discuss an aspect of our work of which I’m very proud.

Our view at JCRC has been formed by the considerable time we’ve spent, particularly through our Israel study tours, talking with Palestinians and Israelis both in “pre-1967” Israel and on the West Bank. We have grown in our understanding that the path to a better future needs to come from changemakers on the ground: by creating partnerships and collaborations across all that divides them, recognizing each other’s human dignity, and affirming each other’s narrative and legitimacy in a shared homeland. Most important, our view is that we, sitting here in Boston, need to invest in their social, political, and financial capacity to change the narrative and shape their future.

This is why we were so proud to launch Boston Partners For Peace. It is our way of saying, in partnership with CJP, that we have a responsibility to do something and to make sure that it is productive.

It is why we support people-to-people groups like The Parents Circle – families on both sides who have lost loved ones to the violence and who are promoting reconciliation through educational programs and dialogue circles. It is about us believing in civic engagement of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women from diverse backgrounds who, through Women Wage Peace, are working to create a groundswell to pressure decision makers to work toward peace. It is about the power of economic cooperation to build the conditions for a better future, through groups like EcoPeace, bringing together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists in cooperative efforts to protect the environment and advance sustainable regional development.

And it is about supporting education through a group based right here in Cambridge, MIT MEET, where young Israeli and Palestinian leaders come together to create positive change through technology and entrepreneurship.

Our work in this arena is also about our own advocacy for the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, through the Alliance for Middle East Peace (AllMEP). AllMEP’s efforts resulted in a 20% bump in support for Israeli-Palestinian people-to-people project funding in the recent U.S. Federal omnibus spending bill.

At JCRC, we’re not “solutionists.” We don’t pretend to have a shared analysis of every obstacle on the ground to achieve peace. We don’t presume to offer a comprehensive plan for resolving one of the world’s most enduring and complicated conflicts. But we do believe that it is the people on the ground – who we’ve come to know and believe in – who already are, and have the potential to become, the agents of a more hopeful future.

We believe that the path to a brighter future is not paved with boycotts and other efforts to further divide people and prevent the interactions that cultivate recognition and respect. Rather, we believe the future should be shaped by those who choose to walk together on a path toward mutual understanding, security, and peace.

Together, we can amplify their voices, change the narrative, and shape the future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Reading Buddies and the New Normal

Every Friday at lunch time for the last seven years, a team of volunteers from JCRC and CJP jump into Ubers to dash to the Condon School in South Boston. Along with a volunteer team from the law firm of Nutter McClennen & Fish, they meet with the second graders they've been paired with, to spend an hour together immersed in the joy of reading.

Like the other workplace teams that JCRC’s Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) places in local public schools through its “Reading Buddies” program, Team JCRC/CJP has formed enduring bonds with their young friends, along with a deep admiration for the talented and hardworking teachers and administrators at the school they visit. And they marvel at the dedication of their liaison, Condon School Reading Specialist Annellen Lydon, who seems to know each and every student in this large school, and goes to great lengths to provide them with just the support they need to succeed.

A GBJCL volunteer at the Condon School

So we were all dismayed to learn that last Thursday evening, a man was fatally shot just outside the school. Due to the ongoing police investigation, children had to remain indoors during recess the next day, and a bullet and bullet hole were found in a third-grade classroom. Disturbingly, this is not the first time the Condon has been affected by the presence of firearms. The previous June, a gun was found inside a bathroom on a day when police reported nearby gunfire.

When we called to express our concern and check in with our friends, we were not surprised to learn that despite teachers and administrators being on edge, they focused on trying to make it a normal day for the students. Ms. Lydon shared, “Some of the students knew, especially the older ones. We tried to keep things normal; not sure what normal is.”

Though we felt reassured that these cherished students and community were safe, we were also reminded of the sober reality of the “new normal” in our country; where teachers, charged with the academic, emotional, and social wellbeing of their students now also have to worry about the prospect of gun violence erupting at any moment. And we were reminded that despite the understandable shock and horror we all feel in the aftermath of high profile mass shootings like Parkland, the fact remains that many more young lives are claimed through the ongoing scourge of gun violence in the streets of our cities.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about our work to prevent gun violence; both our pride in being part of a coalition to pass legislation resulting in Massachusetts having the lowest gun death rate in the country and our ongoing commitment to doing more. An important measure which would further reduce gun violence is The Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO), a bill to reduce access to guns for individuals with an elevated risk of harm to themselves or others. Last Friday’s frightening news has only deepened our commitment to pursue all actions to further decrease gun violence, and to persist until all our children are safe.

We will continue to stand with our friends and partners in South Boston and throughout Greater Boston, and to engage our Jewish community in doing so through our multiple avenues for action at JCRC. We will keep showing up at our local schools to help children discover the joy of reading and to celebrate their achievements—and we will keep showing up at the State House, to demand that guns stay out of the hands of those who would cause them harm.

I invite you to join us in our efforts. Contact Public Safety Committee Chairs Representative Naughton and Senator Michael Moore to urge passage of ERPO today. Join our GBJCL family; tutor a child weekly or for special events, donate needed books to under resourced schools. Help us build a healthy and vibrant community, one in which all of our children can flourish.

Stand with Immigrants this Passover: An Action Guide for Your Seder

As you prepare to gather with family and friends to celebrate Passover 5778, we want to wish you a sweet and meaningful holiday – and to share this resource for your seder, informed by our community’s experience of standing with immigrants this year.

We’ve shared with you the many ways in which we at JCRC have engaged our Jewish community in responding to the urgent crisis facing our foreign born neighbors – the lobbying by so many of us for passage of the Safe Communities Act, the 15 synagogues and approximately 400 individuals involved in Sanctuary congregation work, the 40 immigrant detainees we, along with our interfaith partners in the Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network, are supporting in a variety of ways, including pastoral visits from rabbis, access to legal representation and financial support for bond and legal fees. There is no more fitting way to mark this Festival of Freedom than to remember those in our midst who are currently detained, in fear for their lives should they be deported back to countries rife with violence and trauma...We encourage you to use this resource, created with a team of active synagogue leaders, to stimulate conversation at your Seder table, and learn about action you can take to bring about liberation for those among us, yearning to be free.

Chag Same'ach,
Jeremy

Things that make us uncomfortable and lessons learned

Early one morning this week I received an email from a member of the Boston Jewish community whose counsel I value, though we often disagree on quite a few things. She questioned my decision to promote the voice of a virulently anti-Israel person and also challenged the agenda I was serving by doing so. I was genuinely surprised.

Clearly I needed some context here. So I looked into the matter.

As folks know, I share a lot of content on social media. We’re a diverse community and our collective conversation is informed by a multiplicity of voices. I disagree with many of the folks whose opinions I share, on a wide array of issues, but I’m also curious to hear reactions and takes on these matters – whether or not we at JCRC have a position on them. So I often just say that a piece is “worth reading” or “something to discuss.” In other cases, where we have a particular advocacy position we’re advancing, I’ll expand on a piece to underscore how it supports our view.

And sometimes, when an issue is driving conversation in the Jewish community, I share a lot of comments that can elevate the topic and inform the discussion even when JCRC hasn’t made a formal statement. For example, over the past weeks when our community was rightly outraged over revelations about notorious anti-Semitic minister Louis Farrakhan’s ties to various elected officials and public figures, I shared a lot of content about that.

And when CIA Director Mike Pompeo was nominated this week for Secretary of State, some folks in our community – and beyond – pointed out that he had a history of close affiliation with far-right groups. So, when an activist I respect shared someone else’s tweet specifically noting the ADL description of a group that honored Pompeo as “the largest anti-Muslim group in the US” and one that spreads “hateful propaganda,” I retweeted it with the comment that this was a “thing we need to talk about.”

Little did I know then – as I learned the next morning from that email – that the original tweet was by someone problematic. I was vaguely aware that this person was a commentator on a major cable news channel and had well over 100,000 Twitter followers. But until my own further research, I did not know about her close ties to a prominent anti-Semitic figure on the left and her own public statements.

I did not want to risk being seen as giving aid and comfort to someone I would never knowingly endorse. So, I thanked the person who reached out to me and told them that I didn’t know what I now do about this person. I continued on to say that I believe that the message that I shared is important and relevant for our community, i.e. a “thing we need to talk about.” That’s not an endorsement of this person or her views. It’s a statement on how some of the things that make us most uncomfortable are, in fact, the ones that most merit conversation.

I reaffirmed that if we are to appropriately lambast the left for trucking in bigotry, including anti-Semitism and including by some who are closely associated with figures in high public office, then we also have an obligation and responsibility to similarly talk about bigotry on the right that is being mainstreamed and normalized, including Islamophobia and white supremacy at and near the highest levels of our government.

And yet, I admitted it was important that the voice I chose to elevate was not one that would distract from something that we need to be able to discuss. So I deleted the retweet and found an alternative source so that I could share the findings by the ADL and others about Pompeo’s troubling affiliations.

Once again, let me restate how much I welcome feedback and relish the opportunity for community conversation. And I will reassert my commitment to make that conversation a wide-ranging one that hears and considers a multitude of perspectives. I will continue to amplify the voices of people from across the political spectrum with whom I may disagree on a range of topics, in the service of building a richer and more complex discourse.

But this week, I learned an important lesson: that to ensure diverse perspectives are truly heard, I must take greater care with the sources I look to. Failing to do so can not only distract from the message, but even worse, it can inadvertently validate those who purvey or condone hatred. I’m grateful to those of you who take the time to follow me on social media. I ask you to pay close attention to the totality of what I post and to join me in building a robust and wide-ranging discourse on the issues that matter to our community. And I will count on you to keep holding me accountable to sharing a myriad of perspectives, through sources worthy of our consideration.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Question I Had at AIPAC

What resonated most for me about this week’s AIPAC’s Policy Conference?

I could tell you about the energy I felt when I participated in lobbying meetings with a half-dozen members of Congress; engaging in rolling and elucidating conversations about the U.S.-Israel relationship and listening to their vigorous denunciation of BDS or Iranian efforts to export terror around the region. I could tell you about the more intimate conversations during an evening reception with the many candidates who took the time to fly in to meet and build relationships with activists and reaffirm the importance so many of us place on Israel’s security.

Meeting with Congressman Moulton (sixth from right), Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem (on left) and North Shore AIPAC leaders

But what’s stayed on my mind is a question I was asked several times by those present and those following from afar: Given our vigorous expressions of concern about the unique challenge that President Trump’s administration poses to our nation’s democratic norms and institutions, what it was like to be in a room where key members of the Trump administration were greeted with warmth and applause (by at least part of the audience)?

It might surprise you to know that I was inspired to be in a room with many Trump supporters, and I came away from the experience feeling more hopeful.

What I kept noting this week was the wild diversity of participants, speakers, and issues discussed. Yes, the audience skews politically conservative and toward the Orthodox, though I also had great conversations with delegations and rabbis from many of Boston’s most prominent Conservative and Reform congregations. But the progressive focused sessions are also drawing crowds, the LGBTQ party has become a significant event, and I now see an increasing number of non-Jewish liberal civic leaders showing up to lobby. For all that I and others in the room are repelled by Vice President Pence’s embrace of and praise for President Trump as well as his own views on a host of social issues, I was also energized by the voices of those like Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) or our own former Governor Deval Patrick on the main-stage; in his case to introduce the inspiring Ohad Elhelo, founder of Our Generation Speaks, who spoke passionately about the work of young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs coming together to work for a better future and an end to the conflict.

With (from left) Rabbi Jonah Pesner, former Governor Deval Patrick, and JCRC Board Member Alex Goldstein

In panel after panel I heard distinguished commentators rail against the worst characteristics of the Trump administration. Israelis talked openly about the need to end the relationship of Occupation with the Palestinians, criticizing the settlements, or grappling with other dilemmas that Israel faces. I’m sure that others were challenged by these voices, as I was by some of those I heard. If I had one criticism of the program – and I’ve shared this with AIPAC staff – it would be that I wish more sessions were open to the press. Then maybe the public would have a better sense of the varied conversations spread across the spectrum that actually go on throughout these days.

And in that diversity lies an essential point. AIPAC is the coming together of people who don’t sit together in other places, who have deep disagreements that are named openly in various rooms, but who share a core commitment around one issue even as they represent different approaches on so much else.

Coming together requires compromise: I accept that this won’t be the organization that will advocate for all aspects of our aspirations for Israel’s future. There was no main stage call to action to help Israel to address the dilemma of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers humanely. There are other Jewish spaces to do that work (including here at JCRC).

There was no shared analysis about how to support coexistence and peace building work between Israelis and Palestinians – though there was a resounding challenge from AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr that the absence of a peace process was “nothing to celebrate” and that, “We must all work toward that future: two states for two peoples. One Jewish with secure and defensible borders, and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.”

What defines the AIPAC experience is powerful, and unique in Washington. It is an explicit and implicit willingness to say, “that which we disagree on will not divide us when we need our collective efforts to achieve what unites us: Israel’s security.” AIPAC, when at its best, embodies a commitment to civility, and even curiosity and learning. My proudly sporting a Wider Bridge rainbow-flag/Israeli-flag pin invited more conversations about LGBTQ inclusion and Jewish life from folks new to my perspective than I am ever going to encounter in a liberal synagogue here at home.

So, for me the question is not “can AIPAC survive in this fractured partisan political era?” The question is “how can we learn from AIPAC’s model to create more spaces in which thousands of people can come together despite our differences, work together on what we agree on, and learn from each other where we don’t?” Because if we figure out how to do that more often, which I believe we can, then I have even more hope for our future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Life Well Lived

Mike Selsman

The JCRC family lost a dear friend and colleague this week. Our longtime Chief Operating Officer, Mike Selsman, passed away last weekend surrounded by his family.

Mike would want you to know that for the past six years he lived and struggled with breast cancer, the disease that finally took him from this world. He was first diagnosed at Stage IV, a consequence of the lack of education for men who are at risk, and the lack of early testing that might have given him a different prognosis. He talked openly about his cancer and seized every opportunity to spread the word about male breast cancer; embracing the notion that through his experience he might make a difference in the lives of others. In 2012 he was proud to stand at Governor Patrick’s side when, thanks to his advocacy, Massachusetts named the 3rd week of October “Male Breast Cancer Awareness Week.”

Mike, to the right of Governor Patrick, with his family at the designation of MBC Awareness Week

The passion that Mike brought to his advocacy is one that he brought to all aspects of his life. This week, as we shared memories around the office, what came up over and over was how fully he embraced life, the profound empathy he felt for those who needed an ally, and the absolute joy that he took in his family.

He loved so many things deeply and he loved to share them with those around him; whether it was the very loud and hard-edged music he blasted in his office, or the peculiar food passions that he tried so hard to get us to join him in. He was a champion for others who needed one, whether it be an underdog sports team, a rescue dog or a young staff member in need of a mentor…it didn’t really matter, if the world wasn’t on your side, you could count on him to be there.

Mike with Senator Elizabeth Warren

Mike believed in JCRC’s work, engaging as Jews beyond the Jewish community; and he practiced it. He served as a tutor for the past six years through our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy. Even when his treatments impacted his energy, he wouldn’t let his reading buddies at the Condon Elementary School down.

This year, he was matched by the site-captain with a boy who, it was felt, would benefit from a “cool male figure” and the two reveled in their shared passion for hockey. He cared about advocacy, and in addition to his efforts connected to his cancer, you could always count on him to show up for a rally or hearing at the State House on our agenda.

But more than anything, Mike loved his family – his wife Kara and his two boys, Jacob and Adam. Nothing fired him up more than talking about those boys and everyone who worked with him became familiar with the joys of their life journeys. We’d hear about track meets, driving lessons, school projects – Mike treasured every moment with them. I will always have fond memories of our regular check-in on the last day that he was able to come into the office, when with only the slightest of prompting he spoke at length about Adam’s graduate school plans and Jacob’s college search. It was a treasure to experience the sheer joy on his face knowing that they had bright futures ahead and that he had done all he could for them in the time he had; Mike was deeply proud of having done so.

Mike’s memory is for a blessing and we hope that his family will find some comfort in the legacy he leaves with all who knew him, and especially with those two boys.

As mentioned, Mike hoped that by sharing his experience he could help save others. His family invites you to help continue that work for him. Please join me in making a donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, P.O. Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284 or online at www.dana-farber.org/gift. Please specify that the donation is for Mike Selsman. Any donations in his name will go directly to support Male Breast Cancer research and patient care.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Not Completing the Task

As we absorbed the news last week out of Parkland – yet another mass shooting in yet another school – like so many of you I found myself enraged. But as time passes, I’ve also been struck by a sense of both despair and hope when I reflect on our work and my own responsibility as a community leader.

Though I am far from the only person to note this, I am saddened by my own cynicism in thinking that a nation unable to come together to address the scourge of gun violence after the slaughters of Newtown or Las Vegas (to cite just two examples) is unlikely to do so now. And yet I find hope in these young survivors of Parkland, who are bringing renewed energy to a long struggle. The profound and authentic anger of this generation, coming of age in the nineteen years since Columbine, is palpable; as is their indictment of adults who have failed to keep them safe. And their relentlessness in taking on a mantle of responsibility for their own safety and that of our nation is truly inspiring.

For us at JCRC, the commitment to gun violence prevention runs deep. We take pride in our participation in the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and, most significantly, our investment in passing our state’s 2014 legislation – a measure that has resulted in Massachusetts having the lowest gun-related mortality rate in the nation.

I am also sobered by the realization that on this matter, as with so many of those we have taken on, the work is long-term. The thorniest and most critical issues we’ve tackled have known periods of great intensity, including big wins and painful losses; most often, they are enduring campaigns that span decades and are seemingly without end. Whether it be the fights for civil rights, building support for Israel against her demonizers, or the effort to expand the social safety net – these struggles play out over decades. Candidly, I am also at a stage of mid-life reflection, approaching fifty this year – increasingly aware that the odds of my being part of the culmination of successful efforts to achieve some of our most audacious and far-reaching goals during my career grow slimmer with each passing year. What keeps me from despair is the knowledge that if we nurture and support the next generation of leaders – eloquent and passionate young people like these riveting Parkland students commanding our attention right now – this sacred work will continue and ultimately bear fruit.

And so I think about ours and my own core imperative and responsibility to the generation that will follow; to affirm the continuing renaissance of the Jewish people and our dreams and aspirations, including as a force to make the world better for all people (to paraphrase the great teacher and Jewish leader Avraham Infeld). Part of that obligation is to ensure that the young people coming up now are skilled leaders, for the future and for right now.

It means making space for their leadership and lifting up their passions, their concerns, and their visions. It is in the willingness to bend to meet them where they are and be willing to follow them to places that may be discomforting or even jarring to us. We – and I – have a responsibility and opportunity to help them rise and hone their skills as leaders. We can offer our mentorship and impart lessons that were hard-earned for us, even as we remain open to lessons they will teach us. We can do everything possible to ensure that they have the skills and resources to lead their generation, and to take on the responsibility of continued renaissance for the one after them.

I am reminded of the teachings of the sacred Mishna, a text we often turn to for moral guidance in our work. In refusing to give into our cynicism and despair, in recommitting to supporting and developing the leadership of the next generation, we are acting upon the wisdom of Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Honoring our partners in government

Every year, we take the opportunity to recognize our community’s
partners in government who have allied with us to build a more just Commonwealth; one that embodies the most cherished values of our Jewish community through our Legislative Reception. This event celebrates not only our honorees, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, in the service of building strong and powerful coalitions, to improve the quality of life, and ensure access to opportunity for all in the Commonwealth.

On behalf of JCRC, the Mass Association of Jewish Federations, our member organizations, and our partner agencies, we are honored to be presenting awards to four remarkable public servants who recognize that during times of great challenge, we must unite in our commitment to act on an urgent agenda; from civil rights to human services, economic opportunity to safety and security, supporting the MA-Israel partnership, and inclusion and respect to public safety and democratic values.

For a “spoiler” sneak peek into this year’s award recipients, I encourage you to read below:

Prior to her legal career, Attorney General Maura Healey was a professional basketball player, a point guard known for her floor vision, ability to attack the rim, and above all, sportsmanship.  She has carried these attributes into her role as Attorney General, running point on the fight for immigrants and refugees, combating racism and anti-Semitism, and working to ensure that all people have their rights secured.

Widely known in Jewish communal circles as the originator of the first White House Passover Seder while working for President Barack Obama, State Senator Eric Lesser has quickly developed the reputation as an innovative thought leader behind the Commonwealth’s economic development policy. Senator Lesser led last session’s bipartisan Millennial Engagement Initiative focused on creating policy and procedures that are responsive to the needs of young people.

Upon State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez’s recent nomination as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee he offered some insight into his philosophy: “I hope to use this post to protect those in most need of it.” When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Chairman Sanchez, amid concerns for his own family, quickly mounted a campaign to raise funds and ensure that the Commonwealth was ready to aid as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It’s not merely his sharp legal mind and grasp of policy that has made Chief Legal Counsel Lon Povich a trusted advisor to Governor Charlie Baker. Lon’s ability to leverage both humor and humility to wade through the partisan fog in his quest for truth, have cemented his reputation as the go-to mensch on Beacon Hill. His openness to be a sounding board and an ally for building consensus epitomizes the best of the hard working and dedicated staff members serving the Commonwealth on Beacon Hill.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these four individuals, along with hundreds of elected and appointed officials, staff, and civil servants who honor their duty to the people of the Commonwealth and the weighty responsibility to secure the rights and privileges to all who reside within her borders. Our legislative agenda is bound by this common theme of our shared humanity, whether it be immigrants and refugees seeking safety and security, people with disabilities and our seniors living independent lives of dignity, or are neighbors and friends seeking to rise up and provide a better future for their families.

To celebrate these four partners and meet other leaders, advocates, and policy makers in the Commonwealth, please come together with us on March 19, 2008 from 3-5pm at the Massachusetts State House.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Refusing to Let the Window Close

A message from Jeremy Burton, Executive Director and
Eli Cohn-Postell, Director of Israel  Engagement

Two polls were released in recent weeks, each of which highlights a disheartening aspect of the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Pew Survey pointed to a sharply increasing partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans when asked about their sympathy for Israel. Meanwhile, a semi-annual poll of Israelis and Palestinians indicated less than 50% support for the two-state solution among both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza (support for a two-state agreement remains much higher among Arabs with Israeli citizenship). Both of these polls are concerning for those of us who are committed to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and yet, they offer us glimmers of hope.

Interestingly, this data has not significantly impacted support for the two-state solution among American Jewish institutions. While we have disagreements about the obstacles to peace, the immediate next steps, and our own potential role in the process, it remains clear that most American Jews view the two-state solution as the only acceptable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continue to have a broad consensus that the two-state solution is the only viable option for preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and we know that achievement of this goal requires Israelis and Palestinians to be committed to this solution.

How might we achieve the two-state solution given the increasing pessimism among Israelis and Palestinians and a growing partisan divide here in the United States? On the plus side, we know that at least some of the obstacles to the two-state solution are psychological and not political. For example, among both Israeli and Palestinians, there is a predominant feeling of distrust and fear toward the other. The recent poll of Israelis and Palestinians, mentioned above, reveals that 50% of Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinian non-citizens believe that “nothing can be done that’s good for both sides.” Over 75% of both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians believe that the other side cannot be trusted. It is important to note that this refers to a distrust of individual Palestinians and Jews, and not to the Palestinian Authority or Israeli government. Similarly, 35% of Palestinians feel fear toward Jews and 57% of Jews feel fear toward Palestinians. Certainly, we cannot expect a conducive environment for peace when such a lack of trust exists.

On their face, these statistics offer little encouragement. But these attitudes can be changed. This kind of distrust and fear is built by separation, both literal and metaphorical. As American Jews, we can invest in projects that not only support our vision of Israelis and Palestinians living in peace, security, and dignity, but also help to reduce fear and mistrust. This includes supporting Palestinians who are building their civil society in ways that foster confidence in their ability to uphold democratic principles and future peace agreements, as well as Israelis and Palestinians who are breaking traditional boundaries in the name of a brighter future. JCRC will be hosting two such individuals in Boston on March 15th – grassroots activists from Roots/Shorashim/Judur.

In recent weeks and months, we have seen significant speculation that the two-state window is closing. It is right to be concerned, because we know there is no alternative that supports our vision of a Jewish and democratic Israel. Many people believe that recent actions by government leaders in the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority have moved us further from a peace agreement. Even if this is true, engaging in this blame game does not serve the cause of peace. It is true that leaders’ actions have consequences, but so do the miraculous interactions between individuals that occur every day. We must continue to celebrate the Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to see the two-state window close even an inch. We must amplify the voices that continue to work for normalcy, legitimacy, recognition, and peace.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy and Eli

Why I Write (and Tweet)

Candidly, some weeks as Friday is approaching, I am challenged to carve out the time to write a post. And sometimes, when colleagues ask me, “how do you find the time to tweet every day?” I question my own decision to prioritize writing on busy days. Given the reactions generated by what I write – dissection of every word, a good deal of push back from multiple corners of our community, and occasional regrets about words chosen that cannot be taken back – it’s a fair question: Why do I write and tweet so much?

I sometimes think about the 1996 film City Hall. It captured a time when politics were navigated, deals were made, and power was wielded in smoky backrooms. It wasn’t the only film of its kind, but it resonated because it was about a New York mayor (Al Pacino) and his young idealistic aide (John Cusack) at a time when I was a young aide to a New York mayoral candidate. The notion stuck with me that there was a lot less transparency than there ought to be, both in the film and the world in which I was working. I could tell some stories about real life, from dumpster diving for opposition research to occasionally glimpsing an envelope with questionable content and intent, but I probably shouldn’t go there.

As a young adult struggling with how and whether to identify with the organized Jewish community, I also struggled with my frustration about what our community was saying in public – and how little I, and my peers, knew about how and why those choices were being made.

Suffice to say, I resolved that if I were ever in a position to help set that agenda and move that work, I’d do so with transparency. I thought of that younger self a few years ago, reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle (and trust me on this, the book is way better than last year’s movie). Young, idealistic techies embrace the idea of a world gone “clear,” in which people wear devices and stream video of their every action in real time to the web. It is intended as a cautionary tale about the oversharing world we live in – and perhaps, about the dangers of taking a commitment to transparency to the extreme.

So over the years I’ve learned two things: 1) That it was impossible to practice full transparency and still allow for the quiet and necessary relational conversations where people can take risks or seek compromise, and 2) That, at least for communal organizations that purport to speak for broader communities, the pursuit of transparency is in service to something more complex and all-encompassing: the claim to legitimacy.

One of the great communal conversations in the American Jewish community over the coming years is going to be about who gets to speak for the community, and how. And I suspect that a large part of the answer to “how?” will be by earning legitimacy every single day through building trust. Smarter folks than I have written volumes about the building of trust, but certainly part of that comes from communicating not just what we are doing, but the why and the how. And trust is earned not just by engaging with designated communal leaders but by broadening and democratizing debate throughout the community.

So every week when I sit down to blog (or, to be “transparent,” about one-third of the time to edit something a member of our staff drafted for me), and every day when I’m tweeting, my goal – and ours – is to build trust; not just by showing what we do (that could go in an annual report or a press release) but how we do it. Who do we listen to? What are we reading? What considerations inform our decisions?

It’s impossible to “go clear” (back to Eggers); the sheer limitations of time and topics prevent that. But it is possible to say, “here, on Twitter, are the writers and thought pieces we’re reading and discussing,” and, “this, in a blog post, is what we think about when deciding to make a statement.” And it’s also opening us up to you – so that anyone can ask a question on social media and as long as it is civil, we’ll try to answer. Hopefully, somewhere in all that give and take, we’re generating just a bit more trust, and legitimacy, for what we do.

With that thought, I’ll close with a request that I often make when speaking to our own Council and agency leaders: Ask us about anything. We’ll try to address those questions in an upcoming blog post.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy