Category Archives: Statements

Holding complexity in a 280-characters-or-less world

As JCRC’s latest civic leaders study tour arrives in Israel today, this one led by Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell, I am both proud and envious to not be joining them.

I’m proud because this is the first time in seven years that I’m not traveling with JCRC’s winter study tour and my absence is a reflection of our success in implementing our strategic vision. We’ve developed a cadre of professionals – led by our Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell – that allows us to reach more civic leaders and connect them with Israel. The fact that this work is no longer dependent on the presence of the executive director is an indication of our enhanced capacity to deliver these vital programs.

And I’m envious, because this past week, I’ve been reminded of how enriching I find these trips, with their ongoing discussion of complex and complicated issues: conversations which are all too absent from our daily political discourse.

Two events in particular have drawn my attention. The first is the controversy over Airbnb’s decision to delist properties in Jewish communities in the West Bank beyond the 1948 armistice line between Israel and Jordan – aka the “Green Line,” though not in East Jerusalem. The second involves aspects of the commemoration of the life of President George H.W. Bush.

In the reaction to Airbnb’s decision, there has been a fair amount of hyperbole for partisan purposes: Anti-Israel activists have wrongly claimed that a boycott narrowly targeting homes in “settlements” is a victory for their movement, equating this with boycotts of Israel “proper.” In fact, many people, including us at JCRC, differentiate between these actions. We oppose boycotts of Israel, and, while we don’t support boycotts of West Bank products, we do not believe that they inherently constitute a form of anti-Semitism.

This level of hyperbole indicates a lack of complexity: Supporters of Israel were right to be angry that Airbnb adopted, for now, a policy about one conflict zone that they chose not to adopt equally for all conflict zones. At the same time, it’s important to note that in effect, Airbnb merely made the same differentiation that Israel’s own government makes; distinguishing in practice between Israel “proper” (i.e. areas under Israeli sovereignty since 1948 and those areas in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that have been formally annexed by Israel and live under Israeli civil authority) and Jewish communities in Area C of the Oslo Accords that have a temporary status until a final peace agreement is reached.

And then, regarding our public mourning for President Bush, I experienced several moments when people expressed flattering thoughts about Bush and his legacy – “decent,” “dignified,” “a statesman,” – and were then hammered for these expressions. Once again, there was a failure to acknowledge complexity, or to hold multiple and potentially competing truths at once. President Bush was both an ally and sometimes an opponent of various Jewish concerns, a transformational advocate for the disabled and yet also seemingly indifferent to the impact of the AIDS epidemic, a decent man whose campaign in 1988 was one of the nastiest in memory (at least at that time).

Complexity and nuance. Too often lost in our hurried and overblown rhetoric, our outrage-of-the-day, our tribalist “with me or against me” politics in a 280-characters-or-less world. Lost is the nuance and complexity, like the kind we offer on our study tours when we slow down and spend time over the course of a week hearing multiple and conflicting narratives from as many corners of Israeli, and Palestinian, society as we can expose ourselves to. We seldom make the space for the kind of interesting discourse that happens when we actually sit with someone and get to see them as a person with a life and experiences different from our own.

It’s in that space that generative ideas can emerge and real learning can take place, all of which I am envious to miss this week.

Or, as Frank Bruni rightly observed while reflecting on the discourse about Bush (I encourage you to read his whole piece):

“We do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders, and at understanding that it’s not a sign of softness to summon some respect for someone with a contrary viewpoint and a history of mistakes. It’s a sign of maturity. And it just might be a path back to a better place.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Double your impact: Loud and Clear on Beacon Hill

Your gift to JCRC ensures that the Jewish community’s voice is heard loud and clear as we make an impact on Beacon Hill. We are the organization that builds broad coalitions, advocates for social justice, and protects the social safety net by advocating for a compassionate and forward-thinking state budget.

With increased gun violence, unjust incarceration and high rates of recidivism, and rising hate crimes, JCRC has been working closely with our allies to lobby the Massachusetts state legislature and the Governor to take action on our community values and priorities.

Through our advocacy, we’ve taken steps to protect democracy by passing and signing into law the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Bill, and upholding justice by advocating for passage of the comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill. And we’ve advocated with our partners for successful passage of the Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) Bill, which allows loved ones to remove weapons temporarily from people who pose a risk to themselves and others. We also worked closely with our partners to support the ballot initiative to protect human rights for transgender individuals.

This year, in a time of limited resources and in some cases declining budgets, JCRC also has secured government funding for the community and our partners in excess of our organizational budget.

We have achieved an unprecedented level of success in advancing the priorities of our community in the 2019 state budget, securing a total of $3,842,000 in state funding for a broad range of human services. More than $2 million of this funding will support the work of our partner agencies to create pathways to economic opportunity for disadvantaged residents (including job training for immigrants), enable elderly individuals and families to remain in their homes, and ensure safety for our most vulnerable.

When you support JCRC, you’re not only advancing the Jewish community’s shared values, but also ensuring that we can protect our neighbors and increasingly vulnerable populations across MA. Please partner with us to make an even greater impact in the year to come!

Thank you for helping us go from strength to strength,

Margie Ross Decter
Chair, JCRC Public Policy Committee

CJP, JCRC Joint Statement on Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

Community Vigil Scheduled Tomorrow (Sunday, Oct. 28th) on the Boston Common at 2:00pm.

Today, during a Shabbat service of reflection, prayer, and celebration, 11 people were murdered and another six injured by a suspected anti-Semitic, xenophobic extremist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

We are as devastated as we are horrified. We have reached out to the Pittsburgh Jewish community to express our support. We pray that the families of the victims find comfort during this unimaginably painful time and for the full recovery of the wounded. And we offer our gratitude to the brave first responders in Pittsburgh who risked their lives to prevent further bloodshed.

In our close-knit Jewish communal world, many of us have friends and family in Pittsburgh, and know congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue. These are our brothers and sisters, our friends, our family, and our children.

During this time of great despair and anxiety, CJP and JCRC have been in close contact with local law enforcement, who have been extremely proactive and supportive in their response. We also appreciate the outreach from Governor Baker and the interfaith community, who stand with our Jewish local community and those around the country. There is no indication of any increased threat locally.

Anti-semitism and hatred in its many forms are antithetical to our faith and an affront to humanity. For the victims, we will mourn. For the living, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world.

May the memories of those we lost today be a blessing.

We invite you to join us for a CJP/JCRC/ADL vigil for the victims at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Please join us as we gather on Boston Common at the Parkman Bandstand at 2:00pm

JCRC Dismayed by Elimination of Funds for Israeli-Palestinian Co-existence

JCRC is strongly opposed to the recent Trump Administration decision to eliminate USAID funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We are particularly disturbed by the Administration’s decision to cut off funding for co-existence programs for Israelis and Palestinians. The suspension of all USAID support will harm the chances for peaceful reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and will only serve to punish the Palestinian people for the failures of their leadership and create an opportunity for extremist groups to gain strength in the Palestinian Territories.

Israeli-Palestinian co-existence programs are the best long-term strategy for achieving peace and the two-state solution. The support of co-existence programs allows the United States to exert its global influence to create change that speaks to our deepest values of justice, dignity, and peace. JCRC calls on the Trump Administration to reverse this decision, and to rethink how United States aid can be used to encourage rather than discourage peace for Israelis and Palestinians.

Resisting the temptation to walk away

This week: a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich

Earlier this summer, in a sterile and overly air-conditioned Jerusalem hotel conference room, we gathered with our cohort of 13 Boston-area Christian ministers for an early morning meeting, on the final day of our Israel Study Tour. We met representatives of The Parents Circle Families Forum, a group which describes itself as “the only association in the world that does not wish to welcome any new members into its fold.” Founded and sustained by a group of bereaved Israelis and Palestinians, their mission is to stop further acts of violence.

As is their practice, The Parents Circle was represented that morning by two presenters: one Palestinian and one Jewish Israeli. We heard from Bassam Aramin, whose ten-year-old daughter Abir, a bystander to a clash between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers, was killed by an Israeli soldier who hit her in the head with a rubber bullet. Robi Damelin’s 28-year-old son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper while he was guarding a checkpoint in the West Bank during his army reserve service. We were struck by the deep and trusting relationship between these two bereaved parents as they supported each other in sharing their excruciating stories to yet one more audience, and as they teased each other lovingly throughout.

An anecdote that Robi shared took our breath away. She described visiting a classroom – one of many she frequents in Israeli and Palestinian schools – in which she spread her message of peace and non-violence. When she told this class of Palestinian students about losing David, one teen-aged girl stood up and shouted, “Your son deserved to die!” Robi paused, while contemplating her response. She said that giving in to her temptation to simply walk out would accomplish nothing. As a survivor, she recognized the deep pain behind the girl’s unthinkably cruel statement, as the mark of someone who was undoubtedly bereaved herself. So, she gently asked the girl about her family. As Robi suspected, the young student had in fact lost family members to violence. As the conversation unfolded, they shared their experience of loss. And the girl apologized for her brutal remark.

Robi posed this simple yet profound question to all of us: “How do you find a way of talking to someone and still leaving them with their dignity?” That question has reverberated for me ever since. How, in the face of deep divisions and emotionally fraught conflicts, do we relate to others not as enemies, but as human beings created in the image of God, whose dignity we cherish? How can we even begin to know how to do that, when we’re relating to people we don’t always understand, whose lives and experiences may be radically different from our own? How do we enact the teachings of our rabbis, in making the honor of others as dear to us as that of our own? And how do we ensure that this sacred principle informs all that we do?

This is a season of reflection not only for us as Jewish individuals, but also for us a Jewish organization, as we prepare for our annual dinner, when we tell the story of our work and invite the community to join us in our efforts in the coming year. There are many ways to describe the various, seemingly disparate avenues through which we involve our community; volunteer service, legislative advocacy, community organizing, and Israel engagement. But the uniting principle behind all of them is the affirmation of human dignity.

When we facilitate volunteers to help children discover the joy of reading, we affirm dignity. When we advocate for adults to attain skills and receive the support they need to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages, we affirm dignity. When we support Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers on the ground, we affirm dignity. When we mobilize our community to provide safe shelter, legal representation, and freedom from detention for our foreign-born neighbors under attack – we are saying that their honor is as dear to us as that of our own.

When we are at our best, cherishing the dignity of others doesn’t only inform what we do – but how we do it. In the complicated and sometimes thorny world of interfaith and community relations, we aspire to make the dignity of our partners paramount as well. When we are hurt by the words or actions of partners with whom we’ve built long term relationships, like Robi, we resist the temptation to vilify them and walk away. Rather, we draw nearer, and invite difficult conversations; ones leading to new understandings and deeper insights, encounters enabling us to appreciate each other’s humanity and reaffirm our shared values.

The ancient rabbis taught that Elul, this month of introspection leading into the High Holidays, is an acronym for the familiar phrase from the Song of Songs, Ani L’dodi Vedodi Lli – I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me. The work of teshuva or repentance demands that we relate to others through loving eyes, and that we value the honor and dignity of all people, as we do our own. As we ready ourselves to enter 5779, let us resist the temptation to walk away, and instead challenge ourselves to affirm the dignity of all those we encounter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma

JCRC comment on Membership and BDS

In response to inquiries from some of our member agencies: JCRC is aware of the recent statement released by Jewish Voice for Peace on behalf of several largely fringe groups regarding BDS and anti-Semitism. We are further aware that Boston Workmen’s Circle, a member of the JCRC Council – and through its national body a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – is a signatory to this statement.

JCRC’s bylaws provide that the programs, activities and practices of our member organizations must be compatible and do not conflict with the mission of JCRC. It is the long established view of the JCRC Council – our policy setting body representing our forty-three member organizations and the community at-large – that support for BDS is contrary to our mission of advocating for a safe, secure, Jewish and democratic state of Israel.  The Council can and does, through its standard committee processes, review actions of our members that may reflect that such a compatibility is lacking.

 

Statement from the National Network of JCRCs Expressing Disappointment on Passage of Israel’s Nation-State Bill

New York, NY – The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) expresses its profound disappointment in the Knesset passage into law of the Nation-State. We are concerned that this new law undermines Israel’s vibrant democracy comprised of diverse religious and ethnic groups.

JCPA has worked tirelessly to affirm the central value of Jewish unity and the strong bonds that connect us to one another and to the State of Israel. However, over the past year we have become increasingly concerned about strains in the Israeli-Diaspora relationship, which this law further exacerbates.

“We are dismayed at this latest undermining of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship.” stated Cheryl Fishbein, JCPA Board Chair. “It is not Israeli democracy’s finest hour.”

“We are still assessing the implications of the legislation,” stated David Bernstein, JCPA President and CEO. “We urge the government to ensure that the law does not permit discriminatory conduct.”

JCPA urges the government to modify the law so that it aligns with the country’s strong value of equal rights for all Israelis and does not risk damaging the country’s reputation.

JCRC Joins 27 National Orgs in Condemning Family Separation Policy

JCRC has joined with 27 national Jewish organizations to express our strong opposition to the recently expanded “zero-tolerance” policy that includes separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border. As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. Our own people’s history as “strangers” reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. Separating families is a cruel punishment for children and families simply seeking a better life.

Click here to view the Jewish communal letter to Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen.

We strongly encourage individuals to sign on to ADL's petition for individuals calling for an end to the policy by clicking here.

We also encourage residents of the Greater Boston area to attend the "Rally to protect immigrant families in Massachusetts" on June 20th at the State House.

To learn more about how to make a difference in supporting immigrants and refugees right here in Massachusetts through JCRC’s work, click here.

Letter to Superintendent of Newton Schools Regarding “Middle East Day”

The letter below was sent to the Superintendent of Newton Schools earlier today by the Anti-Defamation League, New England and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston regarding questions from our community that have been raised regarding the "Middle East Day" that was held at Newton North High School last month.

Joint Letter to Superintendent David Fleishman from ADL and JCRC