Category Archives: The Friday Blog

Sharing our 2019 Impact Report

Each week, I use this message to convey a sense of the challenges that face us as a community and share the many ways that we at JCRC address them. This week, as we prepare for Passover, I am delighted to share our 2019 Impact Report with you. Here you can view in one place, the many ways in which your support has enabled us to raise our voices and deepen our partnerships to combat antisemitism, bigotry, and hatred in all forms, stand with immigrants and our most vulnerable neighbors, promote peace for Israel, and engage our community in service.
 
I am grateful to you for your support – by listening to us, providing your wise counsel, sharing what we do, volunteering with us, and donating to us. Because of you, we are able to rise to today's challenges, not only by preparing for crises and ensuring that Jewish institutions have the means to stay secure, but also by engaging our community in myriad opportunities to act on our Jewish values by pursuing justice for our neighbors and ourselves. And in the last few weeks, when faced with the Coronavirus crisis, we were able to pivot quickly, mobilizing our community in response to urgent needs through our #TakingActionStayingConnected campaign, both within our community and beyond.
 
Through years of relationship building, we’ve been able to develop the trust to engage in critically important conversations and leverage our collective power to achieve goals more ambitious than any of us could ever accomplish on our own. We have rolled up our sleeves to tackle the thorniest challenges facing Greater Boston together, be it the ever-growing divisions over how best to connect with and support Israel or the increasing threats against our immigrant neighbors.
 
To continue and expand upon this important work, I hope you will consider participating in our “Fund a Need” campaign. Your sustained generosity enables us all go from strength to strength.
 
Shabbat shalom – and wishing you and yours a healthy and safe Passover,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
JCRC Executive Director

Staying Proximate from a Distance

This week, a message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Synagogue Organizing Rachie Lewis:

In this unprecedented time, many of us are figuring out what work and community look like from our homes and from safe distances. At JCRC, as we stay connected to our colleagues and partners over zoom—often distracted by a coworker’s bookshelf, or child, or snack—we are constantly discerning: What work can and must we still do—what relationships can and must we maintain—from a distance? From the isolation of our homes? Without ways to physically gather as a collective?

As we apply those questions to our immigration accompaniment work, it has become evident that to stay true to our values, to sustain our essential work, we must also figure out how to remain connected to those detained in immigration jail even as we keep our physical distance. 

In partnership with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN), we continue to free people from immigration detention, and to show up when asked. We know that jails are already atrociously unsanitary given that those incarcerated are forced into crowded living quarters and not provided with basic hygienic products. The social distancing that we know is critical to avoid community spread of COVID19 simply is not an option for them. BIJAN has been supporting those detained to publicize the dangerous and worsening conditions that all people who are incarcerated (both in immigration and criminal jails) are facing. We cannot fully stay away, because we know that ICE cannot be relied upon to take the necessary measures to ensure adequate hygienic prevention or health care for anyone who may get infected inside the walls of detention facilities. 

Our challenge is that this work has always required the opposite of hunkering down, isolating ourselves, and passively waiting. It has taken marshalling all of our resources, going everywhere we can safely go, opening doors rather than closing them, and being as proximate as possible to our friends and neighbors. 

This work has always required enormous creativity, along with a constant weighing of risk and priority. That has never been truer than in this moment. In the two weeks prior to Governor Baker’s order to shut down all non-essential business and advisory to remain at home, we succeeded in bonding out 18 people, we continued to raise money for bonds and legal support, and we figured out how to be present in whatever ways we could. Bond payers arrived at emptier ICE offices, and with their own clean pens in tow and paid bonds for those detained across the country, since many other ICE offices had been closed. Generous hosts opened their homes to individuals and families once detained, and strangers quarantined together quickly become family. Court accompaniers showed up, even as judges denied them entry, and they remained in the waiting room keeping family members company.

Now that we are staying put in our homes, we will continue to find ways to be proximate. We will write letters to let people in detention know they are not alone, we will help find legal representation, and we will continue to raise money and bond out the people we can and support for those whose hearings have been postponed. We will advocate for the release of ICE detainees, because we know that as conditions worsen inside jails, as resources are spread thinner and thinner, the situation for the detained and incarcerated will become ever more dire. This work cannot stop. It will evolve and look different, it will require more resolve and creativity, but we cannot step away now.

We hope you will join us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy & Rachie

 

 

Ways to Volunteer and Take Action During Coronavirus

1. Take our Pathways to Peace Learning Series:
Now more than ever, we need to find ways to connect with our neighbors. We live in a global community where stories from around the world can unite and inspire us. Join us for Pathways to Peace: a six-part series featuring Israelis and Palestinians telling their stories of identity, friendship, and cohesion even during a time of social distance.

2. Make sure our most vulnerable populations can eat:
Food For Free is mobilizing a volunteer team to make sure our most vulnerable populations still get food. Click here if you are willing to assist in a safe way during this challenging time.

3. Help kids continue to get their school lunches:
Click here to volunteer with Boston Public Schools, packing and distributing meals. You can also donate reusable bags for families to use when picking up from meal sites by emailing .

4. Create a “Soup In A Jar” kit for our partner shelters and food pantries:
These soup mixes can be used immediately or at a later date. For more information, contact Grace Farnan, TELEM Coordinator.

5. Virtually visit with a Hebrew SeniorLife resident:
Volunteer to be paired with a resident from either Hebrew SeniorLife or 2Life Communities to chat via phone or video about anything from favorite movies and books to places you have traveled. Click here to volunteer.

6. Take ten minutes to fill out the 2020 Census Form:
You can respond online, by phone, or by mail. Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year, and can shape many different aspects of your community.

7. Father Bill's & MainSpring Homeless Shelters are looking for donations of bagged lunches, prepared meals, and cleaning supplies.

8.  Volunteer at the Greater Boston Food Bank to unpack/repack food deliveries for distribution to GBFB partner food pantries and meals programs.

9. Write a letter to someone in immigrant detention
We continue to support our neighbors in immigration detention who are struggling from a lack of resources and care at this time. If you’d like to write letters to those we are supporting with BIJAN, please contact Rachie Lewis.

10. Help the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU) meet the needs of students, student workers, staff, and the entire university community during this difficult pandemic.

11. Sign this petition to demand an immediate moratorium on all evictions in MA to protect residents with few resources or safety net and to prevent the escalation of the pandemic.

12. Be part of our Fund-a-Need campaign launching next week: 
You can help fund various program efforts by donating now, and your donation will be included in our campaign.

13. Grocery shop for 2Life Community residents:
Residents are looking for people to help them buy groceries. They'll provide you with money and you'll purchase their pre-selected items at the grocery store and drop the groceries at the front door of the building for the residents to pick up. Click here to volunteer.

14. Contact your legislators:
Click here to ask your state legislators to co-sponsor HD 4951, an Act to Provide Short Term Relief to Families in Deep Poverty. HD 4951 would provide immediate one-time supplemental cash assistance to 30,000 families in Massachusetts hit especially hard by the pandemic.

15. Volunteer at Hebrew SeniorLife:
Hebrew SeniorLife needs volunteers to take shifts on their eight different campuses to perform onsite screening temperature checks. The sites are located in Brookline, Roslindale, Revere, Dedham, Canton, and Randolph. Protective gear will be provided, along with appropriate safety training. Prospective, healthy volunteers who are comfortable with physical proximity should contact Lynda Bussgang.

16. Donate blood:
Due to severe blood shortage, donors are urgently needed. For those allowed to do so, make an appointment to donate at Boston Children's Hospital.

17. Donate food to Hayley House:
Donate non-perishable food or sanitizing items, or send them items from their Amazon Charity Lists.

Taking Action, Staying Connected

My, how rapidly the world has changed this week. Yet I am hopeful. We’ll get through this. And I believe we’ll be stronger for it. As Garrett Graff wrote this week, what we are doing now to #FlattenTheCurve is a “collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit, a fundamental statement of how we stand together as a species.”

I was watching a comedy on Netflix last night in which two fellows meeting up at a café embraced each other in a big “long time no see” kind of hug as they arrived at the table. It felt surreal, and reminded me of what it was like, 18 years ago, to watch 1990’s movies where families saw their loved ones off at the gate for departing flights – a world in the very recent past that is now so very different.

So yes, we’re resilient, and yet we’ll be changed by all this. We’ll return to work, to our congregations and schools, maybe even to sporting venues, but the world will be changed; even if we don’t know exactly how yet.

But one thing that need not change are our core values, our commitment to community, our belief that we are bound together with each and that our resiliency in challenging times comes from our commitment to the collective good.

So, for JCRC, even as we are profoundly changed in what we can do this week – with our volunteers not serving as reading buddies in public schools, our Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers unable to do face-to-face people-to-people work, our inability to show up on Beacon Hill to testify and rally in support of our immigrant neighbors – what hasn’t changed is the purpose of our work, why we do community relations.

That, “why,” our belief in the building of bridges and strengthening of bonds that tie us to each other and to the civic public space, remains more urgent than ever. These are the ties that give us the fortitude to flatten the curve, to help those who are most struggling right now, to be good neighbors in hard times.

That’s why I’m proud of the work our team has been doing this week, to keep us all focused on the “why,” even as the “how” has changed – for now.

We’ve launched a campaign to take action and stay connected, building bridges during this period.

Some opportunities to take action:

  • Join us for our Pathways to Peace Learning Series: a six-part webinar series featuring Israelis and Palestinians telling their stories of identity, friendship, and cohesion even during a time of social distancing. On Tuesday, March 24th we will have a virtual, facilitated conversation between Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'Wad at 12pm. As members of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian societies living side-by-side in the West Bank, they will share their powerful story of coming together to learn each other's stories. Then on Thursday, we will hear from certified tour guide Mike Hollander for a talk titled "Jerusalem - Borders, Barriers, and Beliefs."
  • Help distribute valuable information on COVID-19 this Saturday, during a citywide distribution of important information to every home and in multiple languages. (For those whose Shabbat practice would permit participation.)
  • Create a “Soup In A Jar” kit for our partner shelters and food pantries. These soup mixes can be used immediately or at a later date. For more information, contact Grace Farnan, TELEM Coordinator

I hope that you’ll join us in this effort to help our partners, support our neighbors, and continue to be good citizens this week and in the weeks ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building connections while we’re separated

With the World Health Organization declaring a coronavirus “pandemic” this week, we are all entering a new and difficult phase of this challenge to normal life. Earlier this week, in response to Governor Baker declaring a public health emergency here in Massachusetts, JCRC began taking significant steps to limit in-person social interactions through our staff and programs. Today, Friday, we have moved to a remote workplace for an extended period in the near future.

Of course, we’re not alone in these steps. Institutions, congregations, and businesses across our community are also taking these steps. And because we’re listening to the experts, experienced professionals in public health, we understand that we all have a role and a responsibility to “flatten the curve” on the spread of this virus.

Without diminishing the urgency and importance of every step we can take to minimize transmission, it’s not easy. Not touching our faces is hard, even unnatural, for human beings. So is profound social distancing. Ours is a community and society of gatherers; baked into the DNA of Jewish community is the notion that we need to be together as ten adults to perform some of our most sacred rituals. Our nation’s foundational document protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as part of our first constitutional freedoms.

As one pastor put it on a recent Zoom call with our Christian partners, separating ourselves from our neighbors goes against everything we believe in. At the same time, our tradition tells us that whoever saves one life (even at the expense of other good deeds), it is as if we had saved the world. And every health expert is telling us that physical distancing will save lives.

So here we are. I worry, not just for my own family and for our staff and friends, but for our society. In the midst of one of the most vicious electoral cycles in our modern history, the last thing we needed was large-scale isolation and dependence on social media for news and engagement. When I see pushes online of “things to do in quarantine,” like a booklist that pushes a specific worldview or narrative, I worry about us amplifying our self-confirming biases. And most of all, as someone with good health and a salaried income, with paid sick leave and health care, I worry about the more vulnerable who enter this challenge without the same resources and resiliency.

If you share these concerns, I invite you to join me in committing to building bridges and connections even as we separate ourselves physically. I’m committing myself in the coming weeks:

  • For each event that is postponed, I will reach out and FaceTime with someone with whom I don’t connect regularly.
  • I will read books that challenge my worldviews and expose me to new ideas, whether those be volumes making the case for perspectives I’m disinclined to share, or novels that take me into cultures other than my own.
  • Every day that I am working from home I will use my social media platform to lift up examples of people who are doing good deeds and practicing bridge-building in ways that are responsible for this moment.

Over the coming days, our team will  be rolling out a number of ways to stay connected to and supportive of our partners – from the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence groups who are canceling spring visits to the US to the kids in local under-resourced public schools who work with our literacy tutors. We’ll be mobilizing in support of vulnerable immigrants, many of whom don’t have healthcare and depend on hourly wages, and for policies providing relief to the hardest hit, including some of our vendors in the hospitality industries.

And, I want us to stay connected with you. Tell us how you are taking steps to maintain and build connections in the weeks ahead. What books are you reading? How are you helping our neighbors? How are you touching the lives of others even as we cut down on physical engagement?

Inspire me. And help us inspire others to be the good neighbors we all need to be right now.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

AIPAC and How Bipartisanship Matters

This essay was originally published in The Times of Israel.

“Our challenge is less to calm the forces that are pelting our society than to reinforce the structures that hold it together. That calls for a spirit of building and rebuilding, more than of tearing down. It calls for approaching… institutions with a disposition to repair so as to make them better versions of themselves.” – Yuval Levin, A Time to Build

I thought of these words while attending AIPAC’s policy conference this week.

I came because I believe that for the United States to be an effective leader on the world stage, we need a comprehensive foreign policy – one that is built on a strong, bipartisan consensus. I’ve written before about the fraying global credibility of the United States as a consistent partner, which is due to the failure of incoming administrations to uphold the international commitments of previous opposing party administrations, and, in some cases, the outright reversal of those agreements. Our commitments are most reliable when they are built on a broad foundation of support across Congressional aisles. When bipartisan commitment is lacking for an agreement – whether on climate change or on how to contain Iranian ambitions – critical support does not endure beyond one administration. But the security relationship with Israel is the best example of the ongoing commitment that results from bipartisan support through Congress after Congress, under both parties’ control, upholding and sustaining ten-year agreements made under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Because we desperately need more of that credibility in the world, I believe in the importance and value of institutions like AIPAC; the rare spaces these days where Americans come together despite partisan differences in support of a bipartisan shared agenda on key foreign policy concerns.

This week, as in the past, there was so much that I appreciated at AIPAC, like the diversity of voices and the honest conversations, including explicit main stage calls to support Palestinian rights and statehood (which we support). There was some candid criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank by supporters of the US-Israel relationship. There were some speakers that didn’t resonate as much for me, making the strong case for policies that I don’t agree with. But hearing those voices is a part of committing to bipartisanship.

I welcomed the message of “yes, and” from some on the main stage; the articulation of “and this is how I work for two-states” as part of a statement that “yes, I’m committed to Israel’s security.” Notably, it was exciting and validating to hear Senator Schumer announce his support for the Partnership Fund for Peace on the main stage this year. It’s an area we’ve focused on at JCRC for several years, under the leadership of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, as an essential component of how we engage with the conflict.

Still, when I see that bipartisanship which AIPAC strives to represent being strained – from without and within – by the fractured politics of our time, I worry. When I see those in or seeking power working to replace the pursuit of shared values across political ideologies with doctrinaire, partisan approaches to the world, I worry. And when our allies and enemies watch us with increasing doubts about our will, knowing that our commitments, which are no longer bolstered by broad consensus, are not likely to last more than 4-8 years, I worry.

For decades, AIPAC has framed American support for Israel as one in which we have “friends, and potential friends.” Notably, this week we heard a distinct shift to the effect that “some people will never be our friends.” It was hard to hear this, but – in the hyper-fractured politics of our time and with some who are waging an active war on the US-Israel relationship – I have to agree, sad as that makes me regarding the state of our nation.

But if the core of this work is about building and maintaining bipartisanship on foreign policy and support for the US-Israel relationship, then it is also true that some of our friends, regardless of their love of and devotion to Israel, are doing us no favors either. Not for the first time, a very small number of speakers at AIPAC used that platform to make hyper-partisan attacks across the aisle, to applause from some part of the audience; I believe that they do as much damage to our purpose as the ones who attack the movement from outside. I hope that AIPAC will find a way to convey more clearly that these voices hurt our movement, and will educate participants to not respond to such overly partisan attacks when they come.

I care about the continuing success of AIPAC and about the success of American bipartisan leadership in the world.

Yuval Levin challenges us: “This is not a time for tearing down. It is a time to build.”

Let us continue to build together a broad consensus where we can.

Building a more just Commonwealth

When we celebrated JCRC’s 75th anniversary last year, we marveled anew at the forethought of the founding fathers (yes, they were all men at the time) in recognizing the need to form what we now call the “organized Jewish community, by founding an umbrella institution  “for the purpose of acting in unity in matters relating to civic protection” for the community. And every year at our Legislative Reception, we recognize our organized Jewish community’s partners in government who have allied with us to build a more just Commonwealth; one that embodies the most cherished values of our Jewish community. This event, which will be held this year on March 26th, celebrates not only our honorees, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, and the investment in coalitions that ensure access to economic opportunity, quality of life, and independence for all in the Commonwealth. Our work is animated by our communal commitment to defending civil rights for all Americans and safeguarding long-fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry of all forms.

On behalf of JCRC, the Mass Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF), our member organizations, and our partner agencies, we are delighted to be presenting awards to five public servants who help further our shared agenda: standing with immigrants and refugees, advocating for criminal justice reform, fighting for economic justice and education, supporting our Jewish social service agencies, and allocating resources to protect vulnerable communities through the Non Profit Security Grant Program. We work with these and many other public officials to enshrine and execute policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our own community.

On March 26th, we will honor these remarkable public servants:

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Senator Sal DiDomenico (Everett) – From his first term, Senator DiDomenico has been a trusted partner on many of our key priorities, most specifically the charge to provide a ladder to economic opportunity for all people. He was the Senate lead sponsor on the recently enacted “Lift the Cap on Kids” legislation to ensure that families in poverty have access to needed supports and has led efforts to provide job training opportunities for immigrants and refugees.

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Representative Claire Cronin (Easton) – Representative Cronin was the House lead on the ground-breaking Criminal Justice Reform legislation from 2018, pursuing a vision of justice and dignity. Rep Cronin is quickly rising in the ranks of the House and is widely respected as a fierce advocate for her constituents and the advocate community.

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Representative Jeff Roy (Franklin) – Representative Roy is a strong partner in the fight against rising antisemitism and hatred. As a former School Committee member, Rep Roy views education as a crucial tool in fighting bigotry, and has joined the fight with JCRC, ADL, and our partners by filing a Genocide and Holocaust bill for the past three sessions, with the explicit goal of teaching children across the Commonwealth how unchecked prejudice can escalate to atrocity.

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Boston City Council President Kim Janey – Council President Kim Janey is a leader on the City Council on issues of equity, civil rights, and criminal justice. She has helped JCRC bring Boston Partners for Peace organizations, comprised of Israelis and Palestinian peacebuilders, to meet with leadership at City Hall. Councilor Janey is a dedicated advocate for education, housing, and small business development, and works to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources in her district.

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Brian McKeon (Assistant Chief of Staff for Cabinet Affairs – Office of Governor Baker) – McKeon has played a key role in the funding and implementation of the Non-Profit Security Grant program, coordinating conversations with the policy team, the budget writing team, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. He is a dedicated public servant who works tirelessly behind the scenes as a key point person in the Governor’s office to shape the implementation of critical policies.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these five individuals, along with the hundreds of elected and appointed officials, staff, and civil servants who honor their duty to the Commonwealth. Our legislative agenda is bound by this common theme of our shared humanity, whether it be standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees seeking safety and security, ensuring that people with disabilities and seniors live independent lives of dignity, or providing crucial security measures for members of our community.

We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these five leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners.

I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Building a Coalition for Peace

Photo from one of Boston Partners for Peace's partner organizations, Roots-Shorashim-Judur

This week, a joint message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Israel Engagement Eli Cohn-Postell:

In the two weeks since President Trump released his administration’s framework for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, reactions have exposed the pre-existing divides in our discourse about the region and about the way forward. This may be unintended, but it is certainly unsurprising, as a consequence of this latest round of attention to the conflict.

Here at JCRC, we did not wake up the morning after the plan was released wondering about our role in this complicated historical moment. For years, we have been helping to lift up grassroots peacebuilders through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative. Today we are going public with endorsements from a broad coalition of religious, political, and civic leaders throughout Massachusetts. This is the beginning of a new phase of our work to validate and support the inspirational work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders; building upon the multi-year investment by JCRC in engagement through travel by civic leaders to the region and programming here at home.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a complex and divisive issue. The information we receive through traditional media channels is limited, and often distorted. Many times, we find ourselves in difficult conversations with our non-Jewish partners about how we understand and sit with these multi-layered issues. These conversations also take place in challenging intracommunal discussions such as with our Council, representing a broad diversity of views within our community. We at JCRC sit at the center of this complexity, as people who are inspired by the Israel we know and love, and also not looking away from its imperfections and its challenges, including in its relationship with the Palestinians.

This public statement of support for grassroots peacebuilding gives credence to our approach to engaging with hope for the future of this region. With over 60 leaders (and counting!) lending their names in support of Boston Partners for Peace, we are hearing from elected officials from across the Commonwealth, rabbis of every denomination, a diverse group of Christian clergy members, and other civic leaders. The vast majority are alumni of our Study Tour program, which introduces Boston’s civic leadership to the intricacies of Israel and to Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who are working to build trust and mutual recognition across real and metaphorical boundaries. As Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn put it when meeting with representatives from the Hand in Hand schools last fall, these interactions “make us a better city and a more effective city council.”

But, more than anything, this action speaks volumes about the work of Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders. They are following in the footsteps of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, armed with the knowledge that building peace between individuals is a necessary condition for building peace between societies. Their jobs seem to get more difficult all the time. Yet they continue to serve as a common source of inspiration. In a time when many of us cannot agree on the future direction of Israel or our own role in this process, we can agree on this: Israelis and Palestinians coming together at the grassroots level provide us with hope, inspiration, and optimism about the future.

Through Boston Partners for Peace, we are now running regular programs and reaching hundreds of people here in Massachusetts. People from many communities are coming together to hear from peacebuilders and apply best practices from their efforts to our own challenges here in the United States. As our Boston Partners for Peace community continues to grow we look forward to placing down new markers like this one, indications that we are building a coalition of people coming together to say, “Yes—we support you, yes—we support peace, and yes—we want to take our next steps together.”

We invite you to join them in supporting Boston Partners for Peace and the work of peacebuilding.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy and Eli

Our Urgent Need to Sustain Faith in Democracy

With all the attention given to this week’s fiasco of reporting results in Iowa, I find that I can’t let go of a recent report from the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Democracy that — for the first time — “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with [our] system of government.”

In an article, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa (co-author of above report) note:

“Citizens have become steadily disenchanted with their democratic systems. As a result, they are more and more willing to vote for extremist politicians who promise to break with the status quo. It is perfectly possible that democracies will recover from their current crisis in the years to come. But every new data point makes it that much harder to deny that such a crisis exists.”

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve grappled with an existential challenge of this nature. Jill Lepore reminds us in an essay this week that in the 1930s when “democracy nearly died all over the world and almost all at once, Americans argued about it, and then they tried to fix it.”

Today, this conversation about what has gone wrong with our system, and how we can fix it, has become most urgent. People will differ about some of the causes of this crisis, and certainly about what is to be done, but there is a conversation beginning to take shape.

I’m in the middle of two books right now that try to grapple with this:

  1. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. As Levin writes in an essay last month, “What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.”
  2. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, a liberal aligned media platform. Klein writes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization” including, for example, establishing automatic voter registration – for which there is legislation under consideration here in Massachusetts that we at JCRC support.

In reading these works, and others (such as Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States), I’m struck that these aren’t only challenges for the nation as a whole, but for all levels of community and civil society. The challenges to institutions also come in our Jewish communities, where some who are unsatisfied with the values and priorities of the collective seek to tear down and delegitimize the very fabric of centuries-old communal institutions rather than engage in substantive debate. And the challenges of public leadership are not limited to elected officials, but to anyone who has a leadership role in building trust in institutions.

No doubt each of us can find ways to agree or disagree with some of the options and strategies these authors and others are offering right now. But with every passing event – such as Iowa – I’m imbued with a sense of urgency about this conversation and about our role as leaders and institutions to both model a better way forward and act as advocates for the repair of civil society.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What are you reading? How do you think about this moment in our society? And, most importantly, what is our communal call to action?

In that same essay, Lepore gives examples of many things that were attempted back in the 30s to address these challenges. She notes, “These efforts don’t always work. Still, trying them is better than talking about the weather, and waiting for someone to hand you an umbrella.”

That wisdom rings true to for me in our current moment. I hope that it does for you as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How the Memory of the Holocaust Lives On

Photo taken last summer during my visit to Auschwitz

Last summer, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp in Poland that was liberated this week 75 years ago, on January 27, 1945. All my reading and studies could not prepare me for the sheer scope of this place, where around 100,000 prisoners were held at any time (that’s nearly the population of Cambridge, MA, where I live). Nor could I have anticipated the emotion of standing in the field beyond the crematorium where lie the ashes of over 1 million Jews murdered here – so many of whom we will never know by name.

Two weeks later, as a bookend to my personal journey across Jewish experience in central Europe, I stood in the graveyard of the Terezinstadt Ghetto in Czechia – liberated on May 9, 1945. Here there are some marked graves; Jews who died because of what the Nazis did to them, even after the liberation. Graves of people like Fritz Wohl and Martin Honig (May 18, 1945), and Franziska Kraus (June 14, 1945).

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I thought of all these men and women, the named and unnamed, those buried alive and those whose ashes were cast into rivers, as, this past Monday, leaders from Boston’s Jewish community gathered in the office of MA House Speaker Robert DeLeo to mark International Holocaust Day of Remembrance. The Speaker, along with Rep. Ruth Balser, presented a resolution to the New England Holocaust Memorial Committee and to the Consul General of Israel, marking this solemn day and recommitting the House to combatting the global rise of antisemitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Speaker DeLeo spoke personally and passionately about rising hate in our own time and right here in Massachusetts, including recent antisemitic events at a local college. Rep. Balser talked of her own family legacy, the lessons we Jews take from our experience in Europe, and the urgency of putting meaning and action behind the phrase “never again.”  On Thursday, a related resolution, also marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, was presented in the Massachusetts Senate by Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem. President Karen Spilka spoke powerfully about her own family, including the aunts and uncles she never met because they were killed in the concentration camps, and her father who was an American liberator at Buchenwald.

Gathering in the Speaker's office for a resolution marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day
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Presentations of the resolutions in the Senate and House

I thought of those graves because they remind us that though we mark January 27th as a day of remembrance, the Holocaust (or Shoah in Hebrew) did not end with the liberation of Auschwitz this week 75 years ago. Nor did it end with the conclusion of World War II; as survivors continued to die in the months after, and then carried their trauma and physical wounds with them out of the camps.

No, the Shoah lives on in the lives and experiences of the survivors and their children, and in our collective responsibility to memory on their behalf.

And sadly, we must grapple with the knowledge that, as Walter Reich, former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote this week: “Antisemitism has returned, in part, because the general public’s knowledge about the Holocaust has diminished.”

And so, in the coming weeks and months, as we continue to mark the events of this 75th year after the liberation, here in Boston we will gather for our community wide Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah on Sunday, April 19th at 2pm. This year, as we must grapple with rising hate, bigotry and antisemitism in our own time, we are reaching out more broadly to the community of Greater Boston than ever before.

We plan to galvanize our entire community through the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM), to raise awareness and stand united against antisemitism and all forms of bigotry and hatred. To ensure broad participation, we’ve formed a host committee of civic, political, academic, and religious leaders, representing all segments of our community, co-chaired by Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, Josh Kraft, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, and Reverend Nancy Taylor of Old South Church.

We have an obligation to ensure the enduring memory of the Holocaust. Not just as a terrible period in our history but as a legacy and a warning for all time.

As I was reminded in Auschwitz, where the walls of one of the barracks display the enduring words of the Italian Jewish survivor and literary giant Primo Levi:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy