Category Archives: The Friday Blog

Our Shared Voice

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JCRC Council member Emily Levine receives the Nancy K. Kaufman award, presented by board member Kathy Weinman

A Message from CEO Jeremy Burton:

Last Thursday night, JCRC held our annual meeting of the Council. But as often happens when the struggle against antisemitism is top of mind for our community, I didn’t have the opportunity to share this celebration with you the next day. And so, while response and reaction to the so-called ‘mapping’ project continues this week (I invite you to read this coverage in yesterday’s Boston Globe and my interview with GBH this morning I’d like to back up and talk about some of what’s making me and us happy right now.   

The annual meeting was the Council’s first in-person gathering in two years. For months, we’ve been looking forward to gathering together, at last (some folks did attend by Zoom), to elect the JCRC Board and community representatives for the coming year. I’m always so appreciative of all the volunteers who bring their talent and time to our collective table and work across differences to form our shared voice. This year, at our meeting, someone else expressed that sentiment far better than I could.   

JCRC was proud to honor our outgoing Public Policy Committee Chair, Emily Levine, with our volunteer leadership award - named in honor of my predecessor, Nancy K. Kaufman. Emily has led the Council through the process of forming and then taking action on our domestic agenda over the past three years. Personally, I’ve been in awe of her patience. I want to share just a bit of what she said to the Council when she received the award:  

“JCRC represents for me this intentional community which functions to live in the nuance and live in the messy, and the deeply personal. And it helps me to see that there are ways to find my own way into Jewishness, and to do it at my own pace.   

JCRC brings members of the Jewish community, ones who might never otherwise find themselves in the same physical or proverbial space, because they have fundamentally opposing positions at the core that are very personal and deep-seated. And despite that, they show up and you show up.   

That JCRC exists, that we find a way to coalesce as a Jewish voice, grounding our advocacy in our principles of economic justice, combating racism, civil rights, and defending our democracy, it’s what makes it feel so meaningful. JCRC represents a commitment to sit in that messy, in that nuance, and to deeply think about and sit with the commitment that we have to show up for communities who do indeed deserve and need it most.”

I’m reminded again this past week, as we came together as a unified body to deal with the mapping project, that our ability to coalesce as one community is about far more than confronting antisemitism.   

We’ve had a lot of victories and celebrations in the year since the 2021 annual meeting. We celebrated the passage of the genocide education mandate in Massachusetts (and the commitment by the House and Senate to fund the trust for its implementation). JCRC also successfully led the advocacy for our state to divest from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. 

This month, we’re celebrating the work of coalitions we’ve been in for years that have finally enacted legislation. We were thrilled to see the passage of the Work and Family Mobility Act enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. The bill follows in the path of 16 other states and was supported by many in law enforcement who know that this will make our roads safer for everyone.  We’re also proud to have been part of the Votes Act coalition, which celebrated agreement on a package this week that will expand voter participation at a time when the very fabric of our democracy continues to be challenged.  (We were also part of the Drawing Democracy coalition last fall, where we brought the organized Jewish community’s voice to the redistricting process).    

When it comes to our Israel engagement work, we’re excited to see that the Nita Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace fund has begun making grants, including to groups that we are so passionate about and seek to amplify through our Boston Partners for Peace initiatives. We’re proud to have platformed many groups of Israelis and Palestinians weaving relationships rooted in mutual recognition and dignity; and we’re excited to start visiting them in person again this summer as we return to hosting study tours.    

Last Sunday, I had the honor of speaking at the launch of the Religious Action Center – MA, the new local branch of the Reform movement’s national advocacy arm. I told them that I’d been looking forward to this event for a long time. And, in the wake of what we as a community have been confronting with the mapping, I couldn’t imagine a more joyous way to spend a Sunday than to be reaffirming all the ways that our community, and its many facets, remain committed to our collective participation in the Greater Boston civic space.   

I’m grateful for all these reminders of who we are as a community, and how we are refusing to hide behind locked doors and to be defined by those who wish to do us harm. 

I hope that you are inspired as well by whatever parts of our amazing Jewish community are meaningful to you, and by the ways in which we work together and support each other. 

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

A clarifying moment regarding BDS in Boston

I'm writing early this week to share a blog I wrote for The Times of Israel, "A Clarifying Moment Regarding BDS in Boston," in response to BDS Boston's offensive and inflammatory map of Jewish communal organizations across Greater Boston; blaming our community for the existence of Israel, and for all sorts of ills in our society.

JCRC and all of our friends and partners will continue to thrive in the face of attacks against our community. We will not be intimidated. And we expect others to take a stand as well. Please stay tuned for information on additional programming around this issue from JCRC, ADL, and CJP in the coming days, and read our joint statement here.

Addressing the Many Layers of Gun Violence

I was away last week taking a short respite, for which I am grateful – I unplugged from work, email, and social media in an attempt to filter out the world.

In the days before I stepped away, we were all grappling with the horrific white supremacist assault in Buffalo that took 10 lives. I thought I might come back and share some additional reflections on that – beyond our initial statements and outreach. I, like many others, have been reaching out to lend support to our friends and partners in local Black communities – and to express our solidarity as they have so often when Jews have been attacked.

But then, last week, came the horror in Uvalde, Texas, as 21 people – including 19 children –were killed. I sat down this week thinking I’d expand on our statement last week and outline  the work we have done and will continue to do to combat the scourge of gun violence that plagues our nation.

As I pondered what to say here, we learned of the killing of 4 people at a Tulsa medical center on Wednesday evening.

There are a staggering number of mass shootings (those in which four or more people are killed or injured) in this country; some 232 just this year already, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

It is impossible to give each of these assaults on our society, and each of the individual victims, the depth of attention and gravity that they are due. It says something about our country that the mass shooting of children has not – at least in the past – invited the kind of national focus and clarity of will that would lead to profound changes in our laws and practices in order to prevent the next such horror. 

But one aspect in particular that I’m sitting with this morning are the multiple layers of these mass shootings, and our need to focus on each aspect of this national crisis. There is the layer of intent, as in Buffalo and elsewhere, where the motives are white supremacist in nature. There is the layer of mental health, a rising crisis in our nation and possibly a factor in at least some of the recent high-profile assaults. And there is the layer of means, as in access to high powered assault weapons that enable someone to cause far more damage and pain than they might be able to otherwise.

I don’t have anything profound or new to offer by way of insight on these challenges today, other than to say “yes, and.”  

We can and must address all of these facets concurrently (and no doubt others as well). We have to combat rising extremism and its normalization – such as the ways in which the “great replacement” conspiracy theory (including its antisemitic aspects) has been normalized by major media figures and members of Congress. JCRC will continue to invest in partnerships and collaborations that build bridges across communities that invite and encourage us to stand up for each other, to confront hatred together, and to challenge those who choose to look away.  

We have to invest in mental health services at every level of society. JCRC recently adopted principles for mental health advocacy and we are working with CJP and the human service agencies that we proudly advocate for on Beacon Hill, to expand access for all in our Greater Boston community.  

We have to find a way forward on gun safety. We are proud members of the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and will continue to advocate both locally and with our federal partners. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the events of the world can be overwhelming, and how this post does not even begin to cover the litany of challenges we’re facing as a community and a society.  

I often am pressed to make a choice – about what we prioritize and who we partner with – and I appreciate that need to prioritize. We can’t possibly respond with the same urgency of purpose and resources to every crisis and every challenge in the world. And the choices we make about which ones we do respond to says something about ourselves as individuals and as a society.  

But this moment, right now - knowing that between the time I write this and the time that you read this there will, with almost absolute certainty, be yet another incident of mass gun violence in the United States - requires of us a specific form of urgency. We need to commit to addressing this crisis with a “yes, and” approach.  

Together we can make the choice to have the will to tackle all of its many facets and layers.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

We Invite You to Listen

Earlier this week I sat down with Ikhlas Ishtaya and Tal Kfir Schurr, two members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a joint Israeli-Palestinian community of some 600 families who’ve lost immediate loved ones to the ongoing conflict. This is one of the organizations that we support, amplify, and learn from through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative.  

Ikhlas lives in the Nablus district. In the early 2000’s, she lost her father, a cab driver who was shot by a Jewish resident of the West Bank. Tal lives in Jerusalem. In the same period, she lost her younger sister, who was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber at a bus stop. Each of these women shared their families’ experience of loss and trauma with us. They also shared how they’ve made the choice to not go down the path of wanting revenge. Ikhlas tells us that “revenge leads to more losses.”  

In the years since, they have shared their loss time and again with both Israelis and Palestinians who will listen. 

While we scheduled our conversation some time ago, all of us came to the table mindful of the violence that has claimed so many innocents in recent weeks (some of whose deaths have been global media stories, while many others of whose deaths haven’t generated such outcries). I asked them how they are absorbing and responding to recent events. They reminded our audience that PCFF is an organization that doesn’t want any new members – new members represent the tragic impact of continued violence; Tal talked about how everyone there lives in a continuous state of PTSD.  They worry about their own children. But they don’t see violence as the answer. “What we can do is that we do what we can.” 

What is it that they do? 

They listen, authentically, to each other’s experiences. As Ikhlas said: “Even though we don’t love it, we respect it. We learn to respect each other’s narratives.” At the PCFF, the message is “I invite you to listen.” And what comes from listening? Tal tells us that she came to see that “the details were different. But the pain was the same.”  

I asked them what their message is to us as Americans, and to American Jews.  

Ikhlas urges us to take care not to be caught up in media coverage that doesn’t give an accurate narrative. She asks us to support programs that encourage exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis; to contribute to joint initiatives. Tal asks us - and encourages Israelis as well – to not give up on the promise of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; the intention to be a state built on principles of liberty, justice, and peace, as taught by the Hebrew prophets.  

It was such a rich and powerful conversation with two incredibly strong women. You can watch the full program here. 

This is the heart of our Boston Partners for Peace approach (and in a broader way, all of JCRC). That relationships are transformational, that listening to other’s truths can be uncomfortable, but by doing so we can create bonds across differences that lead us to mutual accountability and collaboration toward a shared and more hopeful future.  

It is also the essence of JCRC’s commitment to the promise of Israel’s declaration of statehood. That we remain committed to the Tikvah, the hope within. That we do not despair but, rather, we invest in the bridgebuilders and the peace weavers. 

I take hope from Ikhlas's challenge to us. To keep believing in the power of dialogue and exchanges; to not be co-opted by those who seek to keep these communities from engaging with each other, and us with them. We will continue to support these joint initiatives, to offer an alternative to the extremists, the dividers and to those who reject hope.  

I hope that you will continue to join us in this work.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Debate over Reproductive Rights – A Jewish Perspective

Of all the issues that have come up in interfaith dialogue during my career, none has been more fraught, more unbridgeable, than when we have discussed differences across faiths about reproductive freedom, i.e. abortion. There are ministers and priests with whom I am in deep partnership on other issues or have found some shared recognition of our different narratives; but still, we are unable to find common ground regarding our understandings of this issue. 

I appreciate that difference that some of us hold. There are many facets of our society’s discussion of this matter. But the two points of entry that are most commonly blurred and confused in the spaces I am in are:  the proper and safe regulation of a medical procedure, versus what our traditions tell us about when life begins.   

The latter is fine, when in a faith setting. 

We are all aware of the report last week about a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Though the ruling may, in the end, be different in tone or substance than what we find ourselves with – this decision is not terribly surprising for those paying attention to the court in recent years. We are now preparing for a profound change from the status quo of the last half century. 

What we seem unwilling to acknowledge as a society is that our public policy debate on this – as on so many matters – is informed by views rooted in one faith tradition, the Christian i.e. Western, tradition, to the exclusion of views rooted in the traditions of other civilizations.  

This is not to say that all Christians have the same view of abortion, or that Christian tradition is uniform on this matter. That’s not my place to say. But it is certainly true that significant numbers of Christians, including justices of the court, invoke faith teachings to reach the conclusion – rooted in their belief - that human life begins at conception. This is not a belief shared by all of humanity.  

When we bring civic leaders to Israel, there is often a moment when a participant expresses an assumption about Israel having restrictive abortion laws; knowing that religious matters are much more present in public affairs and that Haredi Jewish parties and Islamist Arab parties both participate in that state’s governing coalitions. They are then surprised to learn that in Israel, abortion is a nearly universally available medical procedure, paid for by government funded insurance.  

This gap – between assumption and fact - is in no small part, because, even in a society where matters of faith are very present in public policy, when that society begins the conversation about reproductive policy by rooting itself in a non-Western and non-Christian tradition, it can reach very different conclusions from those that our Supreme Court may soon determine. 

It is impossible to fully articulate the nuances and complexities of thousands of years of Jewish tradition and law in one paragraph. Suffice to say that we approach the fetus as a “potential life” and one that must be considered and weighed in relation to the “existing and actual life” of the person carrying it.  

It is from this starting point that we arrive at the place where overwhelming majorities of American Jews support reproductive freedom and the rights protected by Roe. It is why we at JCRC were proud to support and advocate for the ROE Act in Massachusetts, ensuring that – in anticipation of what may be coming from the court – at the very least we were on the side of protecting the rights of people in our Commonwealth.  It is why - while nuances and differences exist within our community on this subject - the Orthodox Union (which often finds itself aligned on policy with Christian conservatives) said last week that “Jewish law prioritizes the life of the pregnant mother over the life of the fetus” and that legislation or court rulings “that absolutely ban abortion without regard for the health of the mother would LITERALLY limit our ability to live our lives in accordance with our responsibility to preserve life.”  

This is not to suggest that the United States ought to be governed by Jewish or Islamic law and tradition (Halakha and Sharia) on this or any other matter. But we must be honest and explicit in acknowledging that all Americans are about to be governed by a decision that is rooted, in some significant part, in Christian tradition.  

Our nation should be striving toward a society governed by humanistic and universal principles, rather than be limited by those of the dominant tradition. Our failure to do so will result in the denial of rights for all Americans, genuine harm for many, and, in this case, a severe limitation on the ability of minority communities to live fully in America in accordance with our own traditions.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

The Last Living Link

This is a week of remembrance. It started on Sunday with the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. As I write this on Thursday morning, we mark Yom Ha’Shoah v’laGevurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day). Established by Israel’s Knesset in 1951, it is a time for us to gather and remember the six million Jews who were killed in the Shoah (and is differentiated from International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January which honors, as well, all of the victims of the Nazis). 

Also this week, the ADL released its annual audit of antisemitic incidents. We sadly confirmed what we’ve been experiencing recently – a 48% increase in antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts in 2021, a rate even higher than the 34% rise nationally.   

However, we did receive some good news this week as well.  JCRC successfully advocated for an addition of $500,000 toward the Genocide Education Trust Fund, included in the MA House budget that was finalized on Wednesday. The Trust, a public-private partnership, supports the implementation of the Genocide Education mandate that we worked hard to enact in close partnership with ADL New England, the Armenian community, and others. While the budget continues through the legislative process, we are grateful to Speaker Mariano, House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, and to Representative Jeff Roy for their continued leadership in championing this cause. We look forward to the Senate taking this up in their budget in May, where we have two great champions for genocide education, Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues.  

This coming Sunday at 2:00pm we will gather for the virtual community-wide commemoration of Yom HaShoah, hosted by JCRC.  We’ll be hearing from survivor Frieda Grayzel, Dachau liberator Colonel Cranston “Chan” Rogers and others, including Mayor Michelle Wu, who will be delivering her first Yom HaShoah remarks as mayor.  

Earlier on Sunday, at 10:00am, I’ll be joining Boston 3G and the Israeli-American Council for #6MillionSteps, a walk from the State House to the New England Holocaust Memorial to form a “last living link” around the memorial, to recognize that we are coming to the end of the era in which the survivors of the Holocaust continue to live amongst us.  

I was reminded, again, of the personal connection of JCRC to this work – confronting Nazis and fighting antisemitism – on Tuesday. We invited Father Charles Gallagher S.J., associate professor of history at Boston College, to sit down with me for a public conversation about his book, Nazis of Copley Square. Professor Gallagher’s research documents the Nazi spy ring in Boston in late 30’s and early 40’s and analyzes the role of the Catholic church and local leaders in this ‘Christian Front.’  

I was aware from the book’s footnotes that Professor Gallagher had relied, among other sources, on JCRC’s historical archives. Even so, I caught my breath when Professor Gallagher shared onscreen a memo written by my predecessor, Robert E. Segal, the founding director of JCRC, discussing the beating of Jewish boys in the streets of Boston and the antisemitism that led to JCRC’s foundation in 1944 (on the right below). 

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Eighty years later, as we again experience rising antisemitism in our region, and as the generation of those who experienced the Holocaust is diminishing in numbers, our origin and our purpose remain a central part of who we are and what we do. We at JCRC embrace the need to both challenge and encourage our neighbors to be upstanders in this work, as we also strive to be partners with them in the work of combating all hatred and bigotry. 

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday, in-person and online, and in the year ahead as we continue to do this work with both our members and our partners. 

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

p.s. This month is National Poetry Month, and today is also ‘Poem in Your Pocket Day.’ Our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy volunteers are celebrating this week by inviting local poets to share their writing with students at our partner schools.  

Most of you already know my passion for poetry and my daily reading practice (and if you don’t, follow me on Instagram). This week I’m reading the new translation of ‘Flights and Metamorphosis’ by Nobel Literature Prize winner Nelly Sachs. Her work after the Shoah was deeply informed by her experience fleeing the Nazis.  I encourage you to check it out.  

 

 

Holding Hope for Peace

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On Thursday afternoon we had the honor to host - together with CJP & the Israeli Consulate - His Excellency, Michael Herzog, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, on his first visit to a U.S. city outside of Washington since assuming office this past November. Barely an hour before some fifty diverse community leaders gathered at our office for a candid discussion about the relationship between American Jews and Israel, the news broke out of Tel Aviv about the latest in a string of horrific terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians; The fourth such attack in two weeks (you can read our message to the community last night here). 

In addition, present in our discussion was the awareness that, this week, Israel found itself with a government crisis when one of its senior lawmakers decided to leave the coalition. The fragile change and the tentative optimism of last Spring are being challenged. What happens next? Here’s a great piece from Michael Koplow about what to watch for in the weeks ahead. 

This is a time of profound anxiety and concern about the weeks ahead. Is the violence in Israel different this time? There’s an excellent discussion of that question on this week’s Shalom Hartman Institute podcast as Yossi Klein Halevi, Donniel Hartman, and Elana Stein Hain consider the dilemmas of living with terrorism, fear, and suspicion (recorded prior to Thursday’s attack). 

As we head into Shabbat I’m striving to hold hope, and I’m leaning into a conversation we had earlier this week with two incredible and courageous women that I’ve come to respect and admire.  

 On Tuesday I sat down with Vivian Silver, a Jewish Israeli, and Layla Alsheikh, a Muslim Palestinian. Vivian is active with Women Wage Peace, a movement that has been focused on advocating to change the paradigm in Israel and move from the current status quo to active negotiation toward a political agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Layla, who we’ve come to know through her involvement in the Parents Circle (like Women Wage Peace, an  organization we connect with through our Boston Partners for Peace network) is part of a group of West Bank Palestinian women who recently formed a parallel organization to WWP called Women of the Sun, focused on changing the paradigm in Palestinian society.  

These two organizations came together last week in a massive women’s gathering at the Dead Sea to issue a ‘Mothers’ Call’ upon the leaderships of both sides to return to the negotiating table and to make peace. You can learn more about this event and their work together by watching the conversation here). 

What struck me most of all was the sense of hope and optimism they carry. Vivian noted Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s famous speech to the Knesset upon the visit of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977. Begin said that: 

“War is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.” 

Inevitable peace is a nice thought, but how do these women carry so much hope even amidst personal loss (Layla lost a child to the conflict), political turmoil, and continued threats and violence? 

A while back the former first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, sat down with Women Wage Peace. He told them that “if anyone had asked him, the week that the Good Friday agreement was signed (in 1998), that it was possible that in the near future there would be a signed agreement” that “he would have scoffed and laughed people out of his room.” Within five days, that agreement was signed. 

Conflicts end. People, notably women, play a central role in ending conflicts and are very active in reconciliation movements. “I am” Vivian tells us, “hopeful that we will be just as surprised.”  

It’s a good thought to end on, along with Layla’s call to us to do our part here in Boston: To support people like them, on the ground, doing the work of peacebuilding through collaboration, to talk about them. To not give up on them.  

I’m proud that we get to do the work of building hope and supporting the peacebuilders here at JCRC. I thank you for being part of this work with us. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
JCRC Executive Director

Walking in the World Together

I always take note when one of my weekly posts seems to have struck a chord and last week’s blog, about fatigue and resilience, clearly did for many of you. This week, I’d like to tell you a story about our community’s support of the Ukrainian people, one that I’m holding closely going into Shabbat; since for me, it speaks to the very heart of what I shared last week. 

You may recall that a few weeks back I wrote about showing up for our partners, and specifically about answering a call from a pastor with whom I have a deep relationship. I wrote then that weaving connections among communities fosters a sense of obligation that inspires us to unite and support each other. At that time, I didn’t mention the name of the pastor who had reached out on a Saturday night asking me and us to stand with him and his fellow clergy in support of (then D.A.) Rachael Rollins. 

Now I will share that this Saturday night call came from Rev. Ray Hammond, co-pastor of Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain.

I mention it again because, this Wednesday, we were together in community at a Greater Boston Interfaith Organization Clergy caucus and Pastor Hammond pulled me aside to ask how I and we were doing as a community with all that was happening in Ukraine. He informed me that his church had been following the events there with great pain for all the people suffering. He noted how, quite often over the years, he had heard JCRC leaders, going back to my predecessor Nancy Kaufman, talking about the latest trips to Dnipro and the excitement we had for the revitalization of that community. Pastor Hammond informed me that his church had decided that they wanted to do something meaningful to support the relief efforts, and, knowing that our Jewish community in Boston was so deeply attached to our sister community, the congregation would be making a $2,500 donation to CJP’s Ukraine Emergency Fund.  

Upon my return to my office there was a letter from Rev. Hammond’s wife and co-pastor, Rev. Gloria Hammond, addressed to myself and Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel. With permission, I quote to you in part:

We have partnered with you in social justice work for three decades and, like you, we are appalled by the naked aggression and oppression being visited upon the people of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. We welcome any opportunity to resist that kind of violence and imperialism. And we welcome the opportunity to remember that when our congregation (as part of a national movement) was calling attention to naked aggression and oppression in South Sudan two decades ago, JCRC and CJP partnered with us. You came to our rallies, supported our fundraisers, and joined in our advocacy efforts. You supported that work organizationally and through the efforts of many member organizations, especially our sister congregation Temple Israel.  

Thank you for giving us a vehicle to not only express our outrage, but offer relief to the victims of senseless war. And thank you for a 30-year partnership in the pursuit of justice, locally and globally. God bless you. 

I cannot imagine a more welcome reminder this week of the power of partnerships built over time. It speaks to the essence of what community relations is all about: that when we build deep relationships and strong bridges between leaders and communities - often over years and through many challenges - we can forge bonds of obligation that invite and inspire each of us to do more than we can do alone; to stand up for each other, to support each other, and to walk in the world together.

I closed my note last week saying that finding resiliency in challenging times comes through an awareness of how we choose to respond to events around us. I wrote: 

“We don’t always get to choose the challenges we face. We do get to choose how we face them. I, and we, choose to face them together.” 

I am so grateful to Pastors Ray and Gloria, and all the members of Bethel AME, for reminding me and us this week that we are in fact together in this world and this work. Their kindness and generosity remind us once again of how experiencing the partnership of friends can be an act of building resilience. And, in doing so, they demonstrate how all of us can “walk the walk” of living out our obligations to our neighbors as well.  

With gratitude and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

 

Finding Resilience Through the Fatigue

I’m hearing fatigue lately, in many conversations I’m having; and, if I’m honest, feeling it in myself. 

Fatigue that makes me want to turn off the news as the Russian assault on Ukraine enters its fourth week and as the horrors on our news feeds seem to only increase by the day (the AP’s reporting out of Mariupol this week, including children being buried in mass graves, will stay with me for a long time). 

Fatigue I experience about restrictions as we’ve passed the two-year mark since the pandemic state-of-emergency first locked us down. Even as much is re-opening, still over 1,000 Americans are dying every day from COVID and friends like Alex Goldstein at @FacesOfCovid continue to document their lives. 

Fatigue I feel for our leaders and activists right here in Boston who mobilized in 2015 to support Syrian refugees, then again for asylum seekers, since last summer for our Afghan allies, and who are now preparing to receive and support Ukrainian refugees.   

Fatigue I feel in our work with colleagues and partners as another year means yet another round of vicious campaigns to demonize Israel, Israelis and Jewish-Americans on local campuses; and as they prepare for what sometimes feel like inevitable “rinse and repeat” fights against those who seek simplistic (and biased, ahistorical) solutions to the complex and challenging realities of the world. 

This fatigue is natural. I certainly recognize myself in the voices of friends and family who tell me they need – or can’t bring themselves – to turn off the news, to stop checking twitter, etc… We all need a break. As someone said to me this week: “We’re lurching from crisis to crisis. Is this the new normal?”  

I hope not. 

This week I’m holding the experience we had on Wednesday, as so many of us in Boston joined our friends in Dnipro for a live reading of the megillah on Purim from their Golden Rose synagogue (a space many of us have been in over the years and where I’ve had the honor to be called to the Torah). It was emotional to see people we know, gathered to celebrate this joyous holiday, knowing that they are under fire, on the front lines, in dire jeopardy.  

I can’t even begin to imagine their fatigue.  

I have no particular words of wisdom right now other than to say that it’s ok – for those of us who can - to take a Shabbat from all this; a time out, a respite, the break that we all need.  

But I’m reminded as well of something I often say at the end of our study tours to Israel, after we’ve met our inspiring Israeli and Palestinian friends – who we’ve come to know and support through Boston Partners for Peace - who work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding and dignity. They are on the frontline, building a better future for themselves and their families and for their neighbors. They are the resilient ones. And they need to keep living and enduring even if we walk away. So, I ask, who am I to give up on these people? Who are we to walk away as long as they are resolved to keep toiling together? 

I admire and honor this resilience and persistence: Of the people of Ukraine; of our Israeli and Palestinian partners; of the refugees arriving here, and of the members of our community who volunteer and work with them; of the students who are dealing with hostility on campus and the professionals who support them; of the families still dealing with loss from COVID and the folks who are providing them care and those who keep documenting this loss.   

And I will take this Shabbat. I need it. And I encourage you to do whatever your personal respite is. It’s okay. We all need it. And I know that together we can be inspired by this resilience and find the resilience within us that we need to stay with all of these people, and to keep doing this work with them.  

We don’t always get to choose the challenges we face. We do get to choose how we face them. I, and we, choose to face them together. I hope you do as well. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

Our Legislative Work: Nonprofit Security, Aid for Ukraine, and more

It’s been a busy week for us on Beacon Hill, as most are. And as is often the case, unless you follow our social media closely, important updates can easily slip by. So as we come off of our JCRC/Mass. Association of Jewish Federations legislative reception just last night, allow me to draw your attention, briefly, to a few other items of interest this week. 

As you probably recall, in 2017 we worked with Senator Eric Lesser, along with Senators Cindy Creem, Harriet Chandler and many others, to establish a pilot Commonwealth Nonprofit Security Grant program to supplement and complement the federal Department of Homeland Security pool. What began as a $75,000 pilot, has – with active support from the legislative leadership and the governor – grown to a $1.5 million annual pool. This past week, the latest cycle of grantees received notifications. 

This week, 22 Jewish organizations across Massachusetts – synagogues, schools and a cemetery association – received a combined $732,238.29 in funding. 

I joined Senator Lesser in welcoming this latest round of support for our community and others who are targets of hate and violence. As he said in our statement together:  

Hate does not discriminate. It happens in Springfield, it happens in Quincy, and it happens in Boston where Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight times in broad daylight this summer. 

In this time of vulnerability, we welcome efforts by the Commonwealth to protect non-profit institutions that may be targets of antisemitism and violent extremism. These grants will make a meaningful impact for our community. I am grateful to Senator Lesser, all of our partners on Beacon Hill, and the coalition we’ve built of Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues and other Jewish communities that have worked together in recent years to get here.  

This year, federations across the Commonwealth are calling for a doubling of this grant pool.  

On another, equally critical note, last week I wrote to you about things you could do to take immediate action to support the people of Ukraine as they struggle against the continuing onslaught of the unprovoked Russian aggression. Included in that note was information about how to urge our Congressional delegation to secure federal military and humanitarian aid. I’m pleased to report that this aid was included this week in a Congressional emergency package.   

Also this week, after consulting with MA Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, we’re supporting state legislative action requiring the Massachusetts Pension Reserve Management Fund (PRIM) to identify and divest from companies doing business with the Russia state. This comes days after we welcomed action by Governor Baker directing state agencies to terminate any contracts they have with Russian state-owned companies.  

As we wrote in our letter endorsing this legislation:  

Any money invested in Russia or companies doing business with the Russian state is tacit approval of the reprehensible actions taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and those who prop up his regime.  

Finally, if you missed it last night, you can check out this year’s Legislative Reception on our YouTube channel.  We celebrated the work being done by our network of agencies to welcome refugees from Afghanistan. We expressed, again, our support for the Work & Family Mobility Act – which we hope will be sent to the governor for his signature very soon. We honored a fantastic group of legislative leaders on Beacon Hill, some of the staffers who’ve been key partners in advancing our shared priorities, and one amazing Cambridge City Councilor who we’ve come to respect and admire for her leadership combatting BDS there. This being the final year of the Baker-Polito administration, we also took time to thank the outgoing governor for all the ways he’s been a partner and friend to our community over the years.  

(By the way – In case you missed them, you can also see most of the programs we’ve hosted in recent years, our ever-growing library of speakers series, on our website and YouTube page). 

Its been a busy week, covering a diverse range of issues of concern – and not even close to all of the priorities we’re working on up on Beacon Hill. It’s a testament to our community that we can hold this diverse range of concerns – reflecting the values, interests and priorities of our community – and be effective on so many fronts. That’s thanks to all of you; our members, our partners, our network. 

For that, we’re grateful, and we look forward to our continued work together. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy