Category Archives: Reflections

Jeremy Burton’s Comments at Keshet’s OUTstanding! Gala

The following are comments as delivered by JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton at Keshet's Annual Awards Dinner.

THANK YOU DANA FOR THAT PRESENTATION.
AND THANK YOU KESHET, FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT.
PERSONALLY, KESHET IS MY COMMUNITY. MY LIFE HAS BEEN ENRICHED IN THE EIGHT YEARS I’VE BEEN PRIVILGED TO BE ON THIS BOARD WITH INCREDIBLE FRIENDS, INCLUDING DANA.

AND IT’S DEEPLY MEANINGFUL TO ME TO BE UP HERE TONIGHT FOLLOWING IDIT KLEIN, BARRY SHRAGE, AND NANCY KAUFMAN. BECAUSE OF KESHET ‘S WORK, AND CJP’S COMMITMENT TO A FULLY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY, AND JCRC’S RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF A PUBLIC AGENDA OF EQUALITY – THESE THREE LEADERS HAVE ALL PAVED THE PATH THAT LED TO ME BEING ON THIS STAGE ON BEHALF OF JCRC.

TONIGHT HAS BEEN AN INCREDIBLE CELEBRATION–OF JCRC, AND OF THE KESHET COMMUNITY. BUT AS WE CELEBRATE, THERE’S A DARK CLOUD HANGING OVER OUR FESTIVITIES AND OVER OUR NATION:

A CLOUD OF HATE AND DISCRIMINATION.
PEOPLE ARE TELLING AMERICANS THAT TO DEAL WITH OUR CHALLENGES WE SHOULD TURN AGAINST EACH OTHER; THAT WE SHOULD BLAME MUSLIMS AND IMMIGRANTS. THAT WE SHOULD AVERT OUR EYES FROM THE CRISIS FACING –YOUNG MEN OF COLOR WHO ARE BEING CRIMINALIZED IN MASSIVE NUMBERS.

THAT WE SHOULD CIRCLE THE WAGONS AND FOCUS ONLY ON NARROWLY DEFINED SELF INTERESTS.

AND SOME IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ARE SAYING THAT ADDRESSING ANY OF THIS SUFFERING WILL DIMINISH OUR ABILITY TO ADDRESS ANTI-SEMITISM. WE ARE BEING TOLD TO BUILD WALLS BETWEEN COMMUNITIES, RATHER THAN STAND TOGETHER.

AND YES, NOT FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT WE SHOULD BLAME THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY.

I’VE BEEN ASKED - TOO OFTEN: WHY DOES THE JEWISH COMMUNITY SPEAK OUT WITH SUCH FORCE IN SUPPORT OF OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS? AND WHY – AS WE SEE RISING ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE WORLD - ARE WE AT JCRC PRIORITIZING THE ACHIEVEMENT OF FULL TRANSGENDER RIGHTS?

I TELL PEOPLE THAT JCRC’S PURPOSE IS TO ADVANCE THE VALUES, INTERESTS AND PRIORITIES OF BOSTON’S ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY WITHIN A LARGER CIVIC CONVERSATION. WE’RE BRINGING– TO INTERFAITH SPACES AND TO THE STATE HOUSE – OUR COLLECTIVE VOICE AND OUR DETERMINATION TO ENSURE A STRONGER AND MORE EQUITABLE CIVIL SOCIETY.

OUR COMMITMENT TO ADVOCACY ON BEHALF OF ALL PEOPLE’S DIGNITY RUNS DEEP, ALL THE WAY BACK TO GENESIS. AS WE STRIVE FOR INCLUSION AND ACCESS FOR ALL, WE ARE REMINDED THAT IN OUR CREATION STORY WE ARE TAUGHT THAT EVERY HUMAN BEING IS CREATED B’TZELEM ELOHIM - IN THE DIVINE IMAGE.

AND SO WE ARE COMMITTED TO THE FULL REALIZATION OF EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING IN THE IMAGE OF THAT DIVINE CONCEPT.

WE BELIEVE THAT WITHOUT FULL INCLUSION, OUR COMMUNITIES CANNOT BE WHOLE, AND OUR MEMBERS CANNOT BE FREE.

I ALSO TELL THEM THAT THE JEWISH COMMUNITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN BEST SERVED WHEN OUR NATION DELIVERS ON THE PROMISE OF EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL PEOPLE.

WE ALL BENEFIT FROM A FREE SOCIETY WHERE THERE IS NO TOLERANCE FOR DISCRIMINATION OF ANY KIND, WHERE WE REMOVE THE OBSTACLES THAT STAND IN THE WAY OF OPPORTUNITY FOR EVERY ONE OF US.

WE KNOW THAT A CULTURE THAT DEMONIZES AND MARGINALIZES OTHERS THREATENS US AS WELL.
WE KNOW THAT A NATION THAT VALUES THE DIGNITY OF ALL PEOPLE IS ONE IN WHICH WE ALL THRIVE.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY WAS A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT FOR ALL OF US.

BUT THE STRUGGLE FOR LGBTQ EQUALITY DIDN’T END ON JUNE 26, 2015. CONVERSION “THERAPY,” IS STILL LEGAL IN MASSACHUSETTS. IN TOO MANY STATES WE CAN GET MARRIED, BUT WE CAN ALSO BE FIRED AND LOSE OUR HOUSING FOR DOING SO.

JCRC WAS PROUD TO STAND WITH OUR ALLIES IN 2011 WHEN GOVERNOR PATRICK SIGNED AN ACT RELATIVE TO GENDER IDENTITY, PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN EMPLOYMENT, HOUSING, AND VARIOUS SERVICES.

TODAY WE ARE WORKING TO PASS AN ACT RELATIVE TO TRANSGENDER ANTI-DISCRIMINATION, TO PATCH THE HOLES IN PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION PROTECTIONS THAT THE PREVIOUS BILL LEFT OPEN.

SIMPLY PUT, OUR ANSWER TO THIS DARK POLITICAL MOMENT – WHEN WE ARE BEING CALLED TO TURN ON EACH OTHER - IS TO INSTEAD TURN TOWARD ONE ANOTHER.
WE STAND FOR MORE DIGNITY, FOR MORE EQUALITY, FOR A BETTER NATION. AND WE BELIEVE THAT MASSACHUSETTS NEEDS TO LEAD.

THAT IS WHY, AGAIN, TONIGHT, WE CALL UPON GOVERNOR BAKER TO TELL THE PUBLIC WHERE HE STANDS ON THE PUBLIC ACCOMODATIONS BILL. AND WE THANK SENATE PRESIDENT STAN ROSENBERG FOR HIS VOCAL SUPPORT OF SB 735. AND WE CALL, AGAIN, FOR SPEAKER DELEO TO BRING HB 1577 TO A VOTE SO THAT THE GOVERNOR MUST MAKES HIS VIEWS KNOWN.

SIMPLY PUT: IF STATES LIKE NORTH CAROLINA AND MISSISSIPPI CAN RUSH TO ENACT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY IN THIS ELECTION YEAR, THEN SURELY MASSACHUSETTS CAN TAKE ACTION TO FINALLY CLOSE THE HOLES WE LEFT FIVE YEARS AGO.

FINALLY, AGAIN, IT IS AN HONOR TO BE UP HERE ON BEHALF OF THIS ORGANIZATION THAT I AM PRIVILEGED TO LEAD.
BUT THIS AWARD IS NOT JUST FOR THOSE WHO WERE INVITED TO THE STAGE. THIS HONOR IS FOR THE COMMITMENT OF ALL OUR LEADERS – ACROSS A NETWORK OF AGENCIES – INCLUDING ADL AND JALSA WHO ARE ALSO PART OF THIS COALITION FOR TRANSGENDER RIGHTS - SYNAGOGUES, OUR PROFESSIONALS, AND OUR INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY, INCLUDING KESHET – WHO HAVE WORKED TO MAKE THESE VALUES OURS.

SO THANK YOU KESHET FOR HONORING JCRC TONIGHT AND FOR INSPIRING US TO ACTION. THIS AWARD IS AS MUCH FOR YOU AS FOR US.

TOGETHER WE WILL CONTINUE TO WORK AS ONE JEWISH COMMUNITY FOR INCLUSION AND EQUALITY.
THANK YOU.

Israel 2014: A Closing Reflection

This blog was originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

Israel has a powerful story to tell but in order for us to hear it we need to allow ourselves to see the full picture. Those of us that are pro-Israel know why we love the people there but we can’t avert our eyes from what is imperfect.  We who care deeply about the dignity and future of the Palestinians also can’t ignore the hard realities that Israel has endured since its establishment. It is not enough to marvel at the start-up nation, the vibrant culture and the thriving democracy without also seeing the problem of continued control over the Palestinians.  It is not enough to see the dilemmas associated with resolving this conflict without also understanding the existential challenges for Israel living with hostile neighbors on all sides in a region of instability.

To fully appreciate the amazing reality of Israel as a people coming home after 2,000 years, rebuilding after the Holocaust and striving to create a society rooted in idealism, one also has to look at the incomplete journey, the places where Israel hasn’t fully realized the values within its’ declaration of independence:  The dilemma of refugees from Eritrea; The integration of Palestinian citizens of Israel who want their citizenship to be part of their identity.  Yet we also need to honor the places where that vision has thrived and the idealism has endured:  The outsized numbers of universities and the thriving creative culture, the expansion of LGBT equality, the creative re-envisioning of Jewish literacy and commitment to  applying the best of our tradition to a modern nation, the insistence of so many of Israel’s people in holding on to its Jewish character and its equality for all, the commitment to confronting hard military challenges in the most moral ways that they can.

In doing so we can also appreciate Israel in all its complexity, wonder and inspiration.

During JCRC’s recent Study Tour trip to Israel, we saw a medical system that must prepare for the worst at home – building bomb shelters as hospitals – while sending doctors around the world to bring life changing surgery to rural impoverished regions. We saw a young country, not even 70 years old, that absorbed millions of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union, and now again from France amidst rising anti-Semitism in Europe.  We met urban leaders who are dealing with terrorism and rocket fire, but also trying to solve questions of parking, creating space for pre-schools, and building educational opportunities for Jewish and Arab children alike.

What we saw, on a trip that began on the same day that the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted to call early elections, was a society trying to figure out the next step.  We met an incredibly diverse people across the ideological spectrum who expressed a yearning for visionary leadership on the big questions, while also trying to manage the needs of day to day life.  We saw a nation yearning for a normal existence despite all the challenges it faces.

One comes away feeling challenged after nine days of talking to a wide range of Israelis and Palestinians, but also hopeful. The reality on the ground is far more complicated than the headlines we read but the passion of the people and their hope for their future is palpable.  The people we met carry many narratives and great tensions, but they also have great potential.  If they can bring the vision, inspiration and creativity within them to bear on these questions, their future is bright indeed.  That’s the whole picture. If only more people took the time to look at it honestly.

(Jeremy Burton recently returned from the 2014 Israel Study Tour with Massachusetts state and local officials)