Category Archives: Letter from the Director

What’s on my nightstand


It’s been a while since I’ve shared what I’m reading. I’m still on pace for my annual goal of 100 books each year. These are the books that are bringing me pleasure as a reader and challenging me in my perceptions, right now, and I’m excited to share them with you. 


People Love Dead Jews, by Dara Horn 

Dara Horn writes amazing novels, deeply rooted in Jewish images and ideas. I’m consumed by them. This, however, is her first work of non-fiction, and it does not disappoint. Some of these essays may be familiar to you; as Horn herself notes, after events like Pittsburgh, Poway, or Jersey City, she’s become something of the go-to writer for op-eds in national papers to lend clarity and a Jewish voice, about what is happening to our world. Through her travels around the world, to places where we once lived and are now memorialized – like Harbin, China – or in the stories, we tell ourselves – say, about how we came to have Americanized names – Horn grapples with memory; of Jews and of those who persecuted us. It’s a remarkable collection, that challenges us to think and talk with new eyes about our own narratives. 


Heartbeats: The Insider's Guide to Israel, by Yishay Shavit, Ya’acov Friend & Gilad Peleg 

How did you spend your pandemic? Well, JCRC friend and study tour educator Yishay Shavit got together with some colleagues and wrote an anthology. For those of you who’ve been on the bus with us, these are the voices of Israel’s most talented experiential educators, sharing the perspectives, narratives, dilemmas, and questions they invite us to consider when we are with them. At a time when fewer of us can travel, this is an invitation to see a place through the diversity of its own people’s experiences. In addition to Yishay’s editing and contributions, we also get to hear from Michael Hollander, JCRC’s other (and equally beloved) tour educator. 

p.s. I’m delighted to announce that we’ll be hosting a book talk with Yishay on November 17th at 12pm!


Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, by Charles Gallagher 

Father Charles Gallagher, S.J., teaches history at Boston College, with a focus on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust. His new book examines the history and legacy of the Christian Front, a far-right group active from 1938-1940 in Boston. When rave reviews started appearing a few weeks ago, I commented on Twitter that I was excited for this book, but that I wouldn’t characterize this history as entirely “forgotten.” In fact, it was part of my onboarding ten years ago, when, upon arriving here, community elders told me about this dark period in our city’s past. The bigotry they experienced in the 1940’s informed the creation of JCRC, as a catalyst for the Jewish community to compel government, media, and the church to address antisemitism in Boston. I soon heard from friends who recounted stories of Boston’s antisemitic history they heard from their own Jewish family members who had grown up in our city. For the victims of this era, the memory lives on, in how we organized our community. It’s great that this period is now being documented and presented to a broader audience.  


American Poets Project: Selected Poems, by Kenneth Koch 

By now you may know my passion for poetry, and for reading at least a few selections every morning. Kenneth Koch was part of the New York School, publishing from the 1950’s until his death in 2002, while also teaching at Columbia University. His witty and surreal work is part of a great tradition of Jewish-American poetry. In his own words: “The comic element is just something that, it seems to me, enables me to be lyrical." His work invites us to reimagine the way in which we see the world around us. This short anthology is part of the Library of America’s American Poets Project (full disclosure, I am a patron of this organization). It includes his piece “To Jewishness”, a modern classic. 


All the Marvels, by Douglas Wolk  

The Forward promoted their interview with this author by saying: “He read every Marvel comic so you don’t have to.” Wolk took on the project of reading all 27,000 Marvel comic books printed over the last sixty years, a vast epic story in a world often like our own – and examining the themes and characters, and what they say about the moments in which they were published, and about us. It is a portrait of America in the modern era, a feat of cultural analysis, and a treat for us Marvel fans). Somewhere out there in the Marvel multiverse, there’s a version of me that ends up being like him. 

These are the books I’m enjoying and appreciating right now. What are you recommending to readers these days? 

Shabbat Shalom!


What’s on my nightstand


When I’m looking for a respite from the noise of the day, I withdraw into the comfort of reading. I try to finish at least two books every week, and often have as many as five or eight open at any one time. This week, I thought that I’d share with you what’s currently on my bedside table:



Edited by Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center in New York.

I’m a huge fan of poetry. The best poetry draws us in, immerses us in its  visual and lyrical structure, and invites us to feel and to think. This anthology has been hailed as one of the best works of 2020 and is part of the Library of America’s continued collection of our literary heritage (full disclosure, I am a patron of this organization).  It’s a collection of hundreds of published works by Black poets in chronological order by era, from Phillis Wheatley in the 1770’s, right up to Clint Smith and Aja Monet in the last decade. It includes an introductory essay from Young, brief biographies of hundreds of our nations’ finest poets, and historical notes on the text. I’ve been working my way through it over the past few months (it’s over 1,000 pages long) and it has been taking my breath away every single day.



Edited by Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and Claire Sufrin, Assistant Director of Jewish Studies at Northwestern University.

This reader collects selections from some 80 previously published works on the great debates over Jewish politics, memory, and identity. I approached it with some hesitation, having read many if not most of these pieces when they were originally produced. What makes this work a ‘must’ for anyone interested in our communal conversation are the new essays that follow each piece. These commentaries – from some of the leading educators and academics of our time – offer context, reflections, and insights that enhance the original works and will generate discussions for decades to come.



Allan Heinberg, writer, with a team of artists from Marvel Comics.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you already know that one of my COVID hobbies has been a deep dive into documenting the representation of Jewish superheroes in American mainstream comics. I’ve been tracing this path from the metaphorical (Superman in 1938, Captain America in 1941), to the first explicit representation (DC’s Colossal Boy celebrating Chanukah in 1979) to the centralized identity (the X-Men’s Kitty Pryde, introduced in 1980, and Batwoman, introduced in 2006). This week, I came to this Avengers mini-series, which I first read when it ran in 2010. In it, three generations of Magneto’s family grapple with their family trauma; and, when his grandson Wiccan describes himself, in canon, as a “Gay Jewish fanboy”, well, suffice to say I felt personally represented.



Edited by Nicholas Lemann, Dean Emeritus of the Columbia University School of Journalism.

Yes, another anthology, again from the Library of America. If you’re reading this,  you might have read some of my other blogs, or attended some of our recent programs, such as the panel discussion hosted by the JCC of the North Shore on the film American Creed. In that case, you’re aware of my interest in the intricate debates over the values and ideas that lie at the heart of our nation. This collection contains a range of historic pieces, from George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, to selections from Hannah Arendt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Andrew Jackson. Reading them together is to grapple with questions such as “Who are ‘We the People’?” and “What is the Government For?” These were urgent questions when these authors addressed them, and they remain urgent for all of us in 2021.



Rachel Sharona Lewis, author

This one is on almost every nightstand at team JCRC this week. It’s the just-released first novel by someone familiar to many of you, our own director of synagogue organizing, Rachie Lewis! By her telling, she was inspired by the 1960’s Rabbi Small series and decided to try her hand at an updated take that speaks to our contemporary communities. The result is the first of what we hope will be many great stories about a young, queer, female, rabbi who attempts to serve her congregation and engage meaningfully in the life of her city. It is a novel of our time, and we’re so proud of Rachie for this gift to the new canon of our community’s literature.

I’m loving all of these books and I highly recommend each of them. If you’ve read them, I’d love to know what you think. Please respond and tell me what is on your nightstand these days!

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton

Glimmers of hope in dark times

This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.

This week has been painful for us at JCRC. Due to the COVID-related economic crisis, we made the excruciating decision to suspend programs we value, and to lay off staff we cherish. Afterward, we gathered together as a team to reflect and to mourn. One of the staff members who will be leaving us asked if he could speak briefly to his peers. What he said astonished us.

He cited a teaching from the Jewish ethical practice of Mussar about the trait of hakarat hatov—recognition of and gratitude for what is good in the world. Our beloved colleague went on to express his profound appreciation for his years at JCRC; the opportunity to put his Jewish values into practice and to be part of an organization whose mission was so central to his identity. We listened to our open-hearted friend and were moved to tears.

I’ve been thinking about that astonishing moment ever since. What would it mean if each of us were able to summon that kind of gratitude, even in the darkest moments we face? And what might we find to be thankful for at a moment like this one—in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, an economic recession, and a country erupting over centuries of injustice and brutality?

We might look around us and marvel at the ways in which people are rising to the moment, exhibiting courage and creativity that buoy us and expand our imagination. Synagogues and other houses of worship have expanded beyond the four walls of their currently empty buildings, meeting the needs of their newly expanded community, and welcoming the participation of double and triple the number of people they once engaged.

Against all odds, this is a time when many of us have not only resisted isolation but managed to deepen our connection to friends and family – sometimes on screens, sometimes outdoors, yelling across distances to be heard. We’ve discovered new ways to envision family get-togethers and holiday celebrations. Some of us have become reacquainted with the adults our children have become, as we find ourselves living in close quarters after years of separation, discussing and debating the pressing issues of the day.

On our daily walks, we may be more attuned to the miracles of nature unfolding around us; sights that perhaps went unnoticed in our previously packed lives. On our infrequent trips to the grocery store, we may now be expressing our (shamefully) newfound appreciation for the workers who sustain us through their service, even at potential risk to their own health.

If we were to acknowledge the good as a collective, we would celebrate the impulse of our community members to serve others and reach out to those whose world has been most upended by this pandemic. We would be heartened by the myriad ways in which they have chosen to roll up their sleeves to deliver food, donate funds, and offer companionship, whether virtually or in person.

And we would be in awe of the sustained and determined action of so many across our country and across the globe, taking to the streets to insist that this country treat all its residents with the full humanity they deserve. We might even see glimmers of hope that change is coming, perhaps even setting this country on a path toward achieving its still unrealized ideals.

Acknowledging the good cannot diminish the very real suffering of this moment, and it must not minimize the profound brokenness of this country and this world. But being mired in the pain of this moment can crush us with despair—and obscure our vision from seeing the yetzer hatov, the universal human impulse for good, that can renew our spirit and our belief in the promise of a better future.

Thanks to a wise and gracious colleague, I’m ending a very sad week with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for blessings that too often go unnoticed. I invite us all to heed his sage words, and to take stock of all that is good and hopeful in a world we seek to repair.

Shabbat shalom,


A Tale of Three Churches

The 2018 JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour

This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.

Almost every Saturday, you can find me in synagogue, where I celebrate Shabbat with my community, joining in the sweet song of Jewish prayer and the joyful study of Torah. But on three recent Sundays, I found myself in other houses of worship, outside of the tradition in which I’ve spent my life. Given the starkly different surroundings and the unfamiliar observance, I might have expected to feel out of place or perhaps even uncomfortable. So, it was a bit confusing for this Jewish girl to feel so at home in Baptist, AME (African Methodist Episcopal) and Episcopal churches, where I was greeted warmly with hugs from friends, old and new. In each church, though the ritual and religious language were not mine, I felt deeply connected to friends and partners inspired by their own faith traditions to realize our collective dreams for our community.

Each of these connections was forged on our last JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour, at each other’s sacred sites; gazing over the Sea of Galilee, walking the streets of Nazareth and Bethlehem, marveling at the throngs of praying Jews at the Kotel, experiencing the wonder of this Holy Land through the lens of the other. We wept together at Yad Vashem and were buoyed by the hope embodied in the work of Israelis and Palestinians working together toward a better future for all. And throughout, our affection and admiration for each other grew, as did our shared commitment to build a society back in Boston reflecting the values of our disparate faith traditions: freedom, equality and justice.

So why all the church visits?

The first opportunity came late last summer when Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz called with an unusual request; could I recommend a minister who could address the Temple Emanuel community during the break in their Yom Kippur service?  They were hoping that an inspirational speaker might counteract their weariness and revive their flagging spirits during a long fast day. I connected them with Rev. Jeremy Battle, who had left an enduring impression on me during our trip. Reverend Battle did not disappoint. Not only did he deliver rousing remarks that day, but he developed a bond with the Temple Emanuel clergy and congregation in the process. That visit led to an immediate plan for a larger interfaith gathering in Cambridge, when the Temple Emanuel community was invited to join with Rev. Battle and his congregation (Western Avenue Baptist Church) along with another minister from our trip, Rev. Lorraine Thornhill, and her congregation, Kingdom Empowerment Center.

With the full participation of the three congregations, their clergy, and choirs, the gathering had to be held in a larger space – the MLK School in Cambridge. The ministers shared their reflections of their time in Israel, with Rev. Thornhill attesting to the enduring impact of her Shabbat experience in Jerusalem on her own Sabbath observance back home. This time, it was Rabbi Gardenswarz who stirred the crowd with his sermon, and the choirs joined in jubilant song. In a region and country too often marked by divisiveness and rancor, we were people of God— proudly celebrating the richness of our distinct traditions, and our common humanity. You can watch a video of the interfaith gathering here.

Speaking at the interfaith gathering in Cambridge

The next week I was invited by another Israel trip alum, Reverend Greg Groover, to join in the celebration of his and his wife Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME. Rev. Groover, who serves as mentor to countless area clergy, will be co-chairing this summer’s JCRC trip to Israel. The celebration of their leadership was as moving as I knew it would be, with tributes from Mayor Walsh, Attorney General Healey, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and BPS Superintendent Brenda Casselius. Rev. Groover’s extraordinary accomplishments as Chair of the Boston School Committee resonated deeply with JCRC’s 20+ year commitment to the schools through our literacy program.

Reverend Greg Groover and Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME

On the JCRC Israel Study Tour with Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw

And just this past Sunday, I was in yet another church, St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newton Highlands, for a farewell service and celebration of Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw. Though she too was on our trip, we actually met the previous year, at a meeting of faith communities called to address the crisis facing local immigrants. This visionary minister took an immediate leap of faith at that meeting, committing her church to be a sanctuary for people targeted for deportation. A cluster was formed to support the work, and I was privileged to participate through my own Newton congregation, doing regular overnight shifts. The sanctuary was sustained through Rev. Grimshaw’s leadership and a robust and tight-knit network of Jews and Christians who JCRC helped to organize. We turned out that day in full force, to honor our clergy leader, marveling at the magnificent liturgy she created and sharing our words of Torah in the celebration afterward.

The Talmud describes Shabbat as containing a foretaste of the world to come. On a different Sabbath – on three Sundays and in three churches, I got a glimpse of that world. Through foreign and unfamiliar ritual, I saw the expression of shared hopes and dreams – of interfaith understanding and connection, and a common commitment to equal opportunity, freedom, and dignity for all. Informed by our respective faith traditions, we came together to build a community where there is no “other”, where all are one as God’s creations.

Wishing you a Shabbat – whenever you celebrate it – of peace, inspiration and hope.

Shabbat shalom,



Guarding Our Tongues

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

As I sat in shul on Yom Kippur this year, joining with my community in the traditional vidui (confession) of the Al Chet repeated ten times throughout the day, I was struck by how many sins on that long list have to do with speech. For the sin we have committed before you with the utterance of our lips, through harsh speech, with impurity of speech, through foolish talk, with evil talk, with the idle chatter of our lips, through tale-bearing, through swearing in vain. And there are still more (i.e. verbal confession, false denial and lying, scoffing impudence, passing judgment) where speaking is implied.

I’ve always been fascinated by the dominance of speech on this list, and the lengthy enumeration of the many categories of sins related to it. The author seems to be warning us that we as human beings we can inflict such grievous harm on one another through speaking that each variation on this theme must be spelled out.

I take great comfort in reciting all of these sins in the plural, and in knowing that I am not the only one in my community cringing at the recitation of these particular transgressions (perhaps more than some others, like bribe taking and embezzlement!). Who among us hasn’t been judgmental or condescending, or lashed out impulsively in anger? Who hasn’t inadvertently caused pain, inflicting unintentional wounds with our words? Who hasn’t repeated (or reposted) something without scrupulously confirming its veracity, and who hasn’t shared something that even if true, could cause great damage? The Al Chet is my yearly reminder that speech can serve as a weapon in myriad ways, and that diligence is required in guarding my tongue against evil.

This year, while I temporarily serve as Executive Director of JCRC, I find myself reflecting not only on my personal actions, but on the actions of this organization, which in the words of our mission statement is the “representative voice of the organized Jewish community”. Given that weighty charge, what should be our guideposts in speaking on behalf of our community? What sins must we take great care to avoid committing? Permit me to suggest a few.

1. For the sin of ill-timed speech

Since so much of our work is by its nature reactive to unfolding events in our community and beyond, we frequently make rapid judgments about when to speak out. And sometimes we miss the mark. Speaking too quickly can mean that we haven’t sufficiently thought through the consequences of our words on all parts of the community. Waiting too long to speak can mean that we missed a moment when our community desperately needed to hear from us on an issue of grave concern.

2. For the sin of speaking when we should have remained silent

With the pressure of a never-ending news cycle to which we are all glued, we can succumb to the pressure to comment on a story that is still unfolding. We can make assumptions that are not borne out by facts once they are fully known.

3. For the sin of speech that is not representative

As the representative voice of the organized Jewish community, we go to great lengths to ensure that we are capturing the opinions, values, and sensibilities of that body. To be clear, we do not claim to represent the Boston Jewish community in general (how could anyone possibly do so?) but we are obligated to get it right in representing our organizations on policy issues. So we consult with our organizational Council members and check in frequently between scheduled meetings. But we can still get it wrong, and speak out in ways that are at best insensitive and at worst, hurtful, to parts of our community.

As we enter 5780, a year I fear will be no less fraught or complicated for our People, locally and around the world, we commit ourselves anew to listening carefully to our constituents and to speaking on their behalf when the time demands it of us, thoughtfully and respectfully. And to be transparent about our failures should we miss the mark. We hope to count on you to inform our decisions and to keep sharing your reflections with us.

Wishing us all a 5780 that inspires us to be our best individual and organizational selves.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,


Our “Founding Fathers”

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Though Rosh Hashanah falls relatively late in the secular calendar this year, I am probably not alone in still rushing frenetically to greet the holiday. And as in all previous years, I try to focus not only on my holiday menus and plans, but on the main purpose of this Jewish season; reflecting on this past year and resolving to honor new commitments in the new one.  At JCRC, our process of reflection began not in the beginning of Elul, but back in June, when we marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of this organization. Over the last three months, we’ve immersed ourselves in learning about our fascinating and glorious history, poring over archival materials, learning about earlier chapters of our history from spending time with many of our visionary leaders over the years. We did so not only to pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements of the last seven decades, but as a way to inform and inspire the future as we enter 5780.

Our story began on June 14, 1944, just a week after D-Day. Shaken to the core by the devastation of European Jewry and sobered by the realization that America’s Jews lacked the power to prevent this unprecedented tragedy, 16 Jewish organizations came together to create the “Jewish Community Council”. They knew that surmounting the multiple challenges their community faced would take a strong and united body. Desperately worried about the fate of Jewish refugees fleeing their Nazi murderers in Europe, they were also passionately committed to the establishment of a Jewish state in (then) Palestine as a safe haven for the Jewish people. Here in Boston, Jews were confronted by antisemitic rhetoric on the airwaves and violent assaults by gangs who targeted them with impunity. These wise men of the Council (and yes, they were all men) understood that only through building strong connections with people in positions of power and, equally if not more important, investing in relationships across racial and ethnic lines for the betterment of the entire community, could they ensure a vibrant future for Boston’s Jews.

With the end of the war, the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston (our original name) sent a “Council Message of Friendship” to some 2,500 clergy, state and city officials, labor leaders, heads of service clubs, and others on September 5, 1945:

If only we had been able to sit with these leaders – to hear what it was like to emerge from the darkest chapter in modern history, with one’s belief in a “brilliant chapter of progress” miraculously still intact. If only they could tell us how they were so certain that “mutual understanding and mutual respect” had the power to forever banish “hatred, suspicion and distrust”.

But, all these years later, as we face challenges both familiar and new, their message still resonates for us. As the inheritors of their legacy, we’re heirs to their beliefs, and their commitments. The language may be antiquated; we no longer speak just of “men” or pursue relationship just with Christians, but the underlying values of peace and human dignity endure, as does the certainty that they can be achieved only through developing and sustaining deep community relations.

Shabbat shalom,


PS - To pay tribute to our history and past leaders, we’ve compiled a commemorative book outlining our history and achievements over the years. This special book will be included in our gift bags to be delivered next week as a token of appreciation to all our JCRC75 participants. If you’d like to receive your own copy, it's not too late! Click here to participate in JCRC75.

PPS - Be sure to take a moment and peruse our online auction continuing through next week!

Why the Accusation of “Dual Loyalty” Cuts so Deeply

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Early in my twenty-year tenure at JCRC, I had a neatly packaged description of our organization and its evolution from our original mission of 75 years ago. I’d explain that at our founding, antisemitism was an ever-present fact of life in Boston and in America, evidenced by hateful rhetoric on the airwaves, assaults on Jews in the streets of our city, and the exclusion of Jews from academia, business, and political and civic leadership.  And then I’d say that since, fortunately, antisemitism is no longer a major factor in America, we expanded our mission to focus more broadly on social justice and civic engagement for Jews in Greater Boston.

With the sobering realization that a virulent form of antisemitism has resurfaced in this country, my shtick – and our work – has fundamentally shifted.

The latest lesson that has been thrust on us as a community is about the allegation of “dual loyalty” among American Jews. This classic antisemitic trope was employed months ago by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, which was met by condemnation by many, including members of her own party.  Yet this week, when she and Representative Tlaib posted a cartoon by the runner-up of Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest (yes, you read that right) with equally troubling antisemitic imagery about the exertion of Jewish power, with the notable exception of Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrats and progressives remained silent.

Most shockingly, this week, the allegation of Jewish dual loyalty was uttered from the very highest halls of power, by the President of the United States. Once again, while we heard rigorous condemnation from some, there was an eerie silence coming from those who are sympathetic and politically aligned with the speaker.

What is it about the accusation of dual loyalty that is such anathema to us as Jews? Why are we so triggered when it is hurled at us?

Being loyal to the society in which we live, understanding that our destiny is inextricably linked with the well-being of our larger community, is fundamental to our Jewish tradition. The prophet Jeremiah heeded us to,” …seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah, 2:9).  The rabbis of the Mishnah understood how vital that message was to our survival as a People and included a more ominous formulation of this message in the Ethics of the Fathers, “… Pray for the integrity of the government, for were it not for the fear of the authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive”. (Pirkei Avot 3:2)

We as Jews have always known that a well-functioning government, and a strong and vibrant society are the best ways to ensure our own peace and prosperity as members of that community. So, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and contributed in every way we know how: serving in the armed forces, voting in consistently high numbers, lending our gifts and talents to a wide variety of industries and fields, and playing leadership roles way beyond our numbers in civic institutions.

Up until now, our participation in American civic life has served us well – which is why it was profoundly disturbing to be accused of “disloyalty” by a member of Congress and by the President himself. In the darkest chapters of our history, we’ve witnessed what happens to our people when we’re perceived as treasonous. It does not end well when we are made out to be “other,” shady foreigners suspected of being loyal to another master or sovereignty, or a secret cabal manipulating the levers of power in nefarious ways.

The contemporary take on today’s myths may be subtler, but they are no less damaging; that we are a monolithic group with a uniform set of beliefs and ideas, and with interests that are separate and apart from our fellow Americans. Jews are often conflated with Israel, and we are identified with every decision and action of each government. The lively and robust debates among us are erased, the multiplicity and complexity of ways in which we connect with Israel are not seen or acknowledged. And allegations such as the one made in the White House this week assert that America’s interests will never be ours, and that when push comes to shove, our loyalty is – or should be – with Israel.

But we know better. We are a gloriously diverse community, with fiercely debated opinions on Israel and every other topic we care about. Our political and ideological differences mean that we engage as Americans in myriad ways. Our interests cannot be reduced to a single issue and can certainly never be defined by an outsider to our community.

The fact that we occupy so many disparate political arenas also presents us with a valuable opportunity; to name and challenge antisemitic tropes in our own ranks, and from sources with whom we may find ourselves otherwise aligned.  We can interrupt the resounding silence.  We can marshal the resources of our friends and partners, so they understand the danger inherent in insidious dog whistles, and join us in speaking out against them, whoever they target. And we can resist cynical attempts to use antisemitic rhetoric as a wedge to divide us along religious and racial lines. We can stand united as Americans, in pursuit of the cherished values we share.

When I describe our work these days, I sadly must include working to combat antisemitism as a central part of our charge. But the essence of our work remains what it’s always been; building a strong and vibrant community of engaged citizens, protecting and defending its interests as Jews and as Americans, a community which will never stop seeking the peace and prosperity of our city.

Shabbat shalom,


The Interconnectedness of Our Communities

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Late one night last summer, on a Jerusalem hotel rooftop, I had a jarring conversation with a Black Baptist minister, a participant in our JCRC Israel Study Tour for Christian Clergy. He was sharing his reaction to to Yad Vashem, which we had visited earlier that day. The iconic Holocaust museum always inspires deep emotion among our participants; grief, horror, and for some, anguish at the role of the church in these unthinkable crimes against the Jewish people. But this minister confessed feeling something I had not heard before – envy. He hesitated in sharing his reflection with me, knowing how insensitive it might sound. But he acknowledged feeling envious of Jews for knowing, and being able to document our history (albeit largely due to the fanatic documentation of our Nazi killers). He told me that as a black man, he didn’t know – and would probably never be able to discover – the history of his family and people. When your ancestors are kidnapped and stolen, when their identities are forever erased, you can’t know who or where you come from. You can’t share your story, and you can’t experience the compassionate support of others bearing witness to your trauma, as I do each time Christian friends accompany me to Yad Vashem. I was pained by this realization.

As Jews, we know that facing and sharing our history is a sacred obligation, no more so than in these times, when so many seek to deny our historical experience as a people. But my friend’s painful admission reminded me of my woefully inadequate knowledge of HIS people’s history, and of our failure as Americans to embed the ugly and uncomfortable truths of this nation’s history into our education system. So I resolved to organize my own “study tour”, to honor his story, as he had honored mine. And I learned several critical lessons along the way, beginning with the one my friend taught me that night; about the redemptive and healing power of facing one’s past.

So my husband and I headed south, first to Louisiana, then to Alabama. For the past few years, I had been following the work of Bryan Stevenson, the Harvard trained lawyer who has dedicated his life to compelling justice for black, brown, and impoverished people condemned by a racist criminal justice system. Stevenson’s achievements are legendary; winning the exoneration of wrongly convicted defendants, and even Supreme Court arguments, including one that has ended the practice of mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. Stevenson’s latest project is perhaps his most audacious, in founding the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial, where the untold truths of our nation’s past of racial oppression, violence and terror are meticulously documented and exposed. Stevenson and his team conducted massive research into the hidden history of terror lynching, documenting as many instances as they could, and bringing earth from the sites of these public murders, for display in jars at the Memorial.

Jars of soil from lynching sites

The words of poet Maya Angelou, adorning the outer walls of the Museum, serve as its raison d’etre: “History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, But if faced with courage, need not be lived again”. Located in a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned, visitors first descend into a dark area with barred cells, where hologram-like projections describe their experience - quoting from diaries of people once locked up in this space – crying out for the children who have been ripped from their arms.

But lest you think that you are learning about a chapter of history neatly tucked into our past, the museum tells a compelling narrative; that slavery never ended, it just evolved, through the chapters of terror lynchings and Jim Crow, to the current phenomenon of mass incarceration. In the words of Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man, who with Stevenson’s help, was exonerated after serving 28 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, “The executions moved indoors, they took off white robes and put on black ones”. Lesson two: the past is not really past; it extends fully into our present.

With the assistance of expert local guides, we made our way through the streets of New Orleans and Montgomery, shocked to see the still standing tributes to the Confederacy, among them statues of Jefferson Davis and Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology” whose scientific advances were the results of his tortuous treatment of enslaved women, on whom he operated without anesthesia. But we were equally shocked by the more implicit reminders of the South’s refusal to face its past; in more recently erected “historical” markers, referring to the trading of “commodities” leaving unsaid that it was human beings who were being bought and sold.

But just as our sense of Northern righteousness peaked, we visited the Southern Poverty Law Center, with its display of the iconic picture of Ted Landsmark being assaulted in Boston by a bussing opponent wielding an American flag as a giant spear. And we were reminded of Boston’s own shameful history of racial violence, and its enduring racial divisions and persistent racial disparities. Lesson three: Racial oppression and violence has never been limited to the South. It is everywhere in this country.

The last lesson we learned was an affirmation of a truth that has become an urgent one in these times; that my friend’s history is inextricably linked with mine, as are our fates. Our NOLA tour began with our reading from the Louisiana Code Noir, or slave code, introduced in 1724 and remaining in force until 1803. The first item in the code? “Decrees the expulsion of Jews from the colony”. And in the Montgomery Museum hangs a chilling sign from the Jim Crow South, “No (n-words) No Jews, No Dogs”.  At a time when so many are working so hard to sow divisions among us, these historical markers served as stark reminders that just as the Jewish and Black community are targeted by the same toxic ideology (with Jews of Color at the apex of this onslaught), our liberation can only be achieved by our collective effort.

Birmingham Jail

In the words of Dr. King, posted outside his jail cell on display in Birmingham,

 “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

My minister friend taught me to cherish the gift of knowing one’s history, and thanks to the trip his words inspired, I learned essential lessons about his people’s story, and the history we share as Americans. Shedding light on our most shameful chapters, understanding their enduring legacy in all parts of this country, and working together for peace and justice is the only way to truly ensure that we do not live this history again.

As I approach my twentieth anniversary at JCRC, the work ahead has never felt so urgent. Addressing the crisis of mass incarceration by advocating for criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth, joining with our interfaith partners to confront Boston’s enduring racial divide and nurturing relationships across the community that enable us to pursue our collective vision - that is the work of community relations. I can think of no more powerful vehicle than the field of community relations in acknowledging and honoring Dr. King’s “inescapable network of mutuality”, nor any greater privilege than engaging our community in this effort.

Shabbat shalom,


Time to Reflect and Refresh: My Sabbatical

Ours is a challenging and often messy world. Doing effective community relations and civic engagement in this environment can be trying. It’s also incredibly rewarding.
People often ask me whether I’d rather be doing something else than leading a JCRC in these fraught times, or what I imagine doing after JCRC. My answer to that is that I can’t imagine, for myself, doing anything else than this work. I consider myself incredibly blessed that in a world where so many ask “what can we do?” I go to work every day with an amazing team – our professionals, our volunteers, our network or agencies and the leaders across our community – who together say: “This is what we need to do and are going to do.”
As we head into the dog days of summer, I’m immensely proud of all that we’ve achieved this year as a coalition representing Boston’s organized Jewish community in civic space. Just this week, the Massachusetts legislature passed a budget appropriating over $8 million to support priorities of our community’s social safety net – benefiting the entire Commonwealth. And, our Congressional House delegation unanimously supported H. Res. 246, rejecting the delegitimization of Israel by the BDS movement and strongly supporting a two-state approach to resolving the conflict. Successes like these don’t happen without a long-term approach of building relationships with civic leaders, partnering over time on many issues, and having a strong network of Jewish institutions working together.
I couldn’t imagine anything more rewarding. Candidly, it can also be consuming. The building of long-term relations and networks always competes with the daily reality of events that drive the news. Ours is a work premised on always seeing the horizon while living in the moment.
And with that in mind, I’m incredibly honored and privileged that, as I come to the end of my eighth year as Executive Director of JCRC, I am taking a three-month sabbatical.
Our board and management team began planning for my sabbatical over two years ago. It’s been an opportunity for all of us to think about organizational resiliency, our core values and strategies, and to intentionally deepen relationships across our network and with our partners that go beyond any one person.
During my sabbatical, Nahma Nadich, JCRC’s Deputy Director, will serve as the Acting Executive Director. I have known Nahma for two decades and we have worked hand-in-hand, side-by-side for eight years. I can say with absolute confidence that JCRC is in very good hands. Our incredible professional team has been preparing for this period without me and I’m already seeing them grow as leaders in advance of this experience.
I’m incredibly grateful to our board for offering me this special (and rare) opportunity, and to our professional team who shoulder the responsibility (and additional work) that allows me to step away.
Over the coming months I’ll be making a radical shift in my daily habits; Rather than absorb and react to global and local developments every day, I hope to - by and large - ignore them entirely. Rather than read twenty hot takes and ten different daily papers, I hope to read more books. And rather than offer a public Jewish voice that helps our community and the civic space understand how “we,” the organized Jewish community, understands the complexity of the events of the day, I’ll be spending some time traveling and having new experiences for my own personal growth and edification.
In June our board approved our new three-year strategic plan that will direct JCRC as we build on our strengths, adapt to the latest needs, and pursue a long-term vision as we celebrate our 75th year. I look forward to returning this fall refreshed in my sense of the purpose that drives me in service to our community, and with new energy to lead JCRC as we continue to add value to Boston’s civic space in the decades ahead.
In my absence I invite you to enjoy the voices of Nahma and other members of our team each Friday in this space and to follow them on social media. My last day in the office will be this coming Tuesday, July 30th. I look forward to returning at the beginning of November. Until then–
Shabbat Shalom,


Israel in the Middle

JCRC Study Tour for Labor Leaders with Roots/Shorashim/Judur

This week's message is from Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell.

Last Friday, I watched in admiration as Shaul Judelman and Noor Awad unwrapped a new sign as though it were a birthday present. The sign was for Roots/Shorashim/Judur, the grassroots group of Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank who come together to foster understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among their societies. Shaul and Noor looked like they could have been two kids in a candy store, and the scene was only strange because these two were never supposed to meet in the first place. Both live in the West Bank. Shaul is an American-Israeli living in Tekoa and Noor is a third-generation Palestinian refugee living in nearby Bethlehem.

We get to see friendships like Noor and Shaul’s develop because we visit with them consistently on our JCRC Study Tours. During this week’s Study Tour to Israel for Labor leaders, we got an up-close look at some of the changes taking place in Israel. I heard many times this week that Israel is experiencing a transition moment, and this week we met speakers who shared their perspectives on the current trends shaping Israeli society and its future. As with any country, Israel is too complex and multi-faceted to know exactly in what direction the country is headed. Nonetheless, I was encouraged this week by the example set by Shaul, Noor, and others, which make me believe that some things are changing for the better.

In many ways, Israel is at a crossroads. Most obviously, Israel is in the middle of its second election campaign this year, which no one expected. This raises the obvious question of who Israelis will choose to lead them, with potential implications for the religious status quo, the Israel-Diaspora relationship, and many other issues.

Israel’s Labor movement is also in a transition moment. As in many places around the world, union membership dropped significantly in Israel beginning in the 1980s. However, Israel has seen that number rebound slightly in recent years, and many of the people we spoke with expressed guarded optimism about the future of Labor in Israel.

On a sadder note, many people feel that they are in a quiet moment in between wars. We visited Rambam hospital in Haifa, where we toured an underground parking lot that can be turned into a functioning, bomb-proof hospital in 72 hours. Over and over, the nurse who led our tour told us how the underground hospital would be used when, not if, the next war came. We heard similar language in the south near the Gaza Strip, where people talked about preparing for the next, seemingly inevitable round of violence back and forth between Israel and Hamas.

Finally, Israeli and Palestinians speakers told us about the generational shift that their societies are undergoing. Many speakers referenced the iconic image of Bill Clinton looking on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House Lawn in 1993. The number of people who do not remember that moment is growing, they are reaching adulthood, and their entire attitude toward peacebuilding and the “other” is different from previous generations. We do not know exactly how this new attitude will crystalize, but we should be hopeful about the rise of a generation that can re-imagine the possibilities of peace and human-to-human connection.

I was encouraged that so many of our speakers were working to make sure that this moment of transition is being leveraged to create positive change for Israelis and Palestinians. For example, many people are working to improve the conditions of the Labor force in Israel. This includes growing unions and a rejuvenated Histadrut (Israeli Labor federation). We learned about governmental programs and NGOs providing services and protections for all of Israel’s workers, including non-Israeli citizens.

We met with Hamutal Gouri, who is working to close the opportunity and pay gaps between men and women in Israel, and to advance the role of women in peacemaking. Hamutal is one of the founders of Women Wage Peace, a remarkable successful social movement that has grown to over 40,000 members in a few short years.

And, of course, we spent time with Noor and Shaul at Roots. I have met with activists at Roots many times now, and you can see how the trust and friendship between the participants has grown over time. This is enabling others in their communities to get involved, and to share in the belief that developing relationships with each other will create a better experience for everyone.

On these trips, we hear from people all over the political and ideological spectrum. I assure you that not everything in Israel is rosy. But this week, the message we heard with the most clarity was this one: there is hope to be found in the voices and experiences of those seeking justice and a better future for Israel and Palestinians. I am optimistic.

Shabbat Shalom,