Category Archives: The Friday Blog

Taking a Stand Against Holocaust Distortion

On Thursday we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the global day set by the United Nations marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on January 27, 1945. 

I had the privilege a few years ago to visit Auschwitz. As anyone who has been there would tell you, the scale of the place is overwhelming. Despite everything I know and have learned about the Holocaust, I was completely unprepared for the size of this place. The sorting ramp – a railroad platform - where arriving Jews were separated and condemned to death or forced labor (or, horrifically, violent human experimentation) seems endless. As one walks from there on the path to the death machine, one only begins to absorb the scale of this space where 100,000 people were being kept at any given moment in slave conditions as they awaited the gas chambers.  

100,000. 

That’s a scale equivalent to the population of the city of Cambridge, where I live.  

I’ve been thinking about that experience a lot this week, as several disheartening events unfolded directly related to Holocaust memory and education: 

  • Last weekend Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the opponents of COVID vaccinations in the U.S. had it worse than Anne Frank: "Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.” Recall that this teenager was killed by the Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen death camp, because she was a Jew. (He has since apologized, after being publicly condemned by his own wife, but we should note that this comes as part of a history of offensive Holocaust analogies.)  
  • On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Tucker Carlson devoted an entire Fox News show to promoting and perpetuating the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory – which centers Jews in a conspiracy to destroy Western, i.e. Christian and white, civilization. That’s the same conspiracy theory that was referenced by those “Jews will not replace us” chants in Charlottesville in 2017. ADL rightly called it out.  
  • And, in Tennessee, the McMinn County school board unanimously removed from their curriculum Maus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel depicting the experience of the author’s father, a Holocaust survivor. As one board member said “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids.” As if the only way to teach history is to ignore or deny the bad parts 

Still, in the midst of all of this, there is cause for hope. With leadership from Germany and Israel, the United Nations overwhelmingly adopted a resolution taking a stand against Holocaust denial and distortion (Though there was one unsurprising holdout - the Iranian regime).  

And locally, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts returned a stolen painting to the family of a Hungarian survivor, in what their attorney described as “a model restitution process.” 

I can’t stop thinking about the scene yesterday in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, where the Speaker of Israel’s Knesset, Mickey Levy, said the Kaddish – the Jewish prayer to honor our dead. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s also a reminder of the potential of a people to face a terrible wrong in partnership with their victims, honestly, and forthrightly.  

And, I remind myself that, for the first time, we in Massachusetts marked this week’s anniversary with a new state law in place that we at JCRC were proud to advocate for, along with key partners, mandating Holocaust and Genocide education in our schools.  

Three years ago, after visiting Auschwitz, my primary observation in that moment was: one cannot ever fully understand the scale of the Shoah, the death camps, and complete devastation, but still, we must make the effort to do so. One cannot begin to truly comprehend Auschwitz without walking in this place, but we must make the effort to do so.  

Not everyone is blessed with the opportunity for that tactile experience, but we are all still able – even if only for a finite number of years– to bear witness first-hand to the memories of the survivors, and to become stewards and transmitters of those memories to future generations.  

Progress is indeed possible. But it takes work. A lot of work. Especially in these times when there are those who choose to minimize, distort, or deny.  

We’ll stay at it. And I hope that you will too. 

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy Burton

JCRC Executive Director

What to Read After Colleyville

Like everyone in our community, I’m going into this Shabbat with the events of last Shabbat, in Colleyville, Texas, very much at the front of my mind. I find myself not having much to say that I haven’t said before; and appreciating things that have been said by several others this week.   

So, here are a few pieces I’d encourage you to read this weekend, and one action I would urge you to take: 

Time and again I’ve written that it is not our responsibility as Jews to fight antisemitism. That responsibility falls to the communities from whence it comes: the churches and mosques, our society as a whole. It is, however, our role as Jews, the impacted and targeted community, to help our neighbors see and appreciate what we are experiencing, and to understand what antisemitism is. 

To that end I commend to you two new pieces this week about what antisemitism is and how to understand it: 

Laura Adkins explains in the Washington Post how antisemitism is, at heart, a conspiracy theory: 

While we often rush to characterize these attacks as emanating from the “right” or “left,” this is not a helpful impulse. Antisemitism transcends such binaries. Reducing the conspiracy theory to a political argument only makes combating it harder and can blind people to antisemitism when it is advanced by those in their own circles. Instead, we must attack the problem at its roots. Rather than looking for political solutions or pointing fingers across the aisle, we should be combating the myth of Jewish power. 

And Yair Rosenberg explains in The Atlantic how well-meaning people who say they oppose antisemitism can still get it wrong (as we saw in some statements coming out of Texas on Saturday):  

The FBI later corrected its misstep, but the episode reflects the general ignorance about anti-Semitism even among people of goodwill. Unlike many other bigotries, anti-Semitism is not merely a social prejudice; it is a conspiracy theory about how the world operates. This addled outlook is what united the Texas gunman, a Muslim, with the 2018 shooter at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, a white supremacist who sought to stanch the flow of Muslims into America. It is a worldview shared by Louis Farrakhan, the Black hate preacher, and David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard. And it is a political orientation that has been expressed by the self-styled Christian conservative leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran’s Islamic theocracy. 

On Tuesday night, JCRC joined CJP and ADL to convene a community briefing with over 1,200 people to share information and resources, and to hear from Joseph Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Boston; and Rachael Rollins, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. If you missed it, you can watch it here.  

As I said that night, we do need to, and can have a conversation clearly, publicly and thoughtfully about the perpetrators of all the attacks on our community these past few years, from white supremacists, black nationalists, and – in Brighton and Colleyville – an Egyptian and a British national who are Muslim.  

But in having that conversation, we also, I said, need to be aware of and lift up voices of our partners and allies, including a dear personal friend of mine, Imam Abdullah Antepli, who spoke at a JCRC event this past September. Imam Antepli has been outspoken in addressing antisemitism within his own community – before Colleyville, and again this week. I encourage you to read or listen to an interview he gave to Jewish Insider on Tuesday.  

(While you are at it, you might want to read this op-ed by Antepli’s co-director of the Muslim Leadership Initiative, Maital Freidman, on what we as Jews can learn from his leadership as a model for the Jewish community on how to combat hate within our own community) 

I recommend to you this piece in the Boston Globe today by JCRC’s vice-president, Samantha Joseph. She writes from a deeply personal place as the daughter of a congregational rabbi. She also writes with pride about the work we do at JCRC advocating for government funds toward non-profit security. 

Thank you to Samantha, and to all these friends who put their thoughts to paper this week. They’ve helped me think through the events of last Shabbat and they guide my thinking, this week and always.  

Finally, I said I would have an action item for you. If you haven’t done so already, I ask you to contact your Members of Congress and urge them to double the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NPSG) funding this year.  

We’re proud of the work we’ve done over the years together with Jewish Federations of North America and with JCRCs around the country to advocate for this resource, and for a supplementary Commonwealth grant fund here in Massachusetts. These funds have had a significant impact in helping our institutions with the resources they need as they make hard choices to continue being places of gathering and vibrant Jewish life despite recent threats. Now you have a role to play in ensuring that more funds become available, and that our government meet its responsibility to ensure that we can continue to enjoy our freedom of assembly and worship. 

Take action, enjoy these readings, and Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton

JCRC Executive Director

Relationships of obligation and accountability

With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse
With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse

This past week, after much delay, Rachael Rollins was installed as the new U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. You may have seen some media in recent weeks about concerns for her personal safety, along with that of her family, in the wake of many threats she has received (an unfortunately not atypical experience for women, and women-of-color in particular, in high office).  

A few weeks ago – coming back online after Shabbat - there was a message for me from a pastor who has been a long-time friend and ally: will you sign a letter with several pastors, and ask rabbis to join you, calling on the Attorney General to address Rollins’s security needs? And, we need an answer by Sunday.  

We’ve got our own process at JCRC on responding to allies. We quickly consulted some of our members and huddled with our executive committee that night. We had some questions about some of the letter’s framing; but there was no question we would respond affirmatively to our partner. I called the pastor and told him that yes, I would sign the letter. We also reached out to our network of rabbis, many of whom signed on enthusiastically within that short window. The Boston Globe reported on that letter last week; and again, on short turnaround, well after 10pm on Wednesday night, another ask came from the pastors, to join a media event at the Moakley Courthouse, outdoors, in the bitter cold the next day. 

There was no hesitation on my part. I cleared my calendar and I went. I was proud to be there – along with Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel in Boston – together with several ministers, many of whom we’ve been in deep relationship, and some of whom are relatively recent acquaintances.  

When I spoke, I evoked the very recent memories of how Rollins was the first public leader to show up when Rabbi Noginski was brutally attacked in Brighton last summer; how she stood with us that first morning after and unequivocally characterized this assault as an act of antisemitism. She asserted that people needed to be held accountable, made an example of, and pursued through a civil rights investigation. DA Rollins has our back, I said, and we have her back in the face of the threats she is now receiving. 

Afterwards, one of the pastors with whom I am close, commented that I must have had to navigate some complexity to show up here, given that he knows that the Jewish community is not of one mind about some of Rollins policy agenda. Not at all, I replied. This one was an easy call.  

And therein why I tell you all this. Because standing up for our U.S. Attorney in this moment wasn’t easy because it “was the right thing to do” (though it was the right thing to do). It was easy because of the relationships involved. It was easy because she’s had our back when we needed her, yes. But also because of the relationships with these ministers, many of whom have shown up for us time and time again over the years at the drop of a hat. Some of whom I’ve been privileged to bear witness to as they navigated their own complexities in order to stand with the Jewish community. Because we’ve built relationships together that have fostered trust between us, even when we disagree; relationships of obligation and accountability that also catalyze our ability to do more for each other.  

What I’m thinking about going into Martin Luther King Day, is not about any one specific policy change – though those are certainly important - to address the still incomplete work that he challenged us to do. It is, rather, about how we must be together with each other; the fostering of our obligations to each other to do that work, and more. It’s the weaving of the connections to others and not being “just” of and for our own communities. Connections that move us from a culture of many siloed communities to being one community; that obligate us to each other – as leaders and citizens - and that challenge ourselves to do the things that are hard. 

This is not easy work. These relationships take time, years of honest and often hard conversations, of real listening, and of showing up for each other in all sorts of ways. But the benefits are mutual, empowering, and transformative. 

Recommitting to the hard road that leads, eventually, to transformation; isn’t that what this weekend is about? 

I hope you’ll join us in that commitment and that work. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton, JCRC Executive Director

p.s. If it is in keeping with your Shabbat practice, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins will be making one of her first public appearances in her new role tonight at Temple Israel in Boston. She will be the guest speaker at their annual Shabbat Tzedek service. The community is invited.  

What I’m Grateful for This Year

This being the last blog post I’m planning to write this year (we’ll be closed the next two Fridays) as well as the last blog post of my 52nd lap around the sun (Monday will be my birthday), allow me to focus for a few minutes on gratitude. 

In a week that’s brought some hard news – our nation reaching 800,000 deaths from COVID – in an overall challenging year, with so much loss and pain, so much anger and hate, I find it valuable to lift up gratitude in my life. 

I’m grateful to be alive and to be in reasonably good health (and have health care). And I’m grateful to have a job that I find genuinely fulfilling and that I’m eager to get up and do (most days). I’m grateful to have friends and loved ones who care about me and who inspire me to be a better person.  

My gratitude is elevated by the recognition that these are not small things. Not everyone has their health or employment right now, or work that they find meaningful. And so many of us, including myself, have lost friends and family this past year. So, I’m grateful for what I have. 

I’m grateful for the things we’ve been able to celebrate this year, and the communities I have to celebrate them with: all of you who joined us in celebrating my ten years at JCRC. And all of you who were part of coalitions that celebrated wins this year – like passing the genocide education law here in Massachusetts.  

I’m grateful for the communities and coalitions that gave me – and I hope some of you – strength this year; empowering us to take action in response to horror, rather than throwing up our arms in despair when the world can be so overwhelming. I’m appreciative of the amazing network of faith communities, human service agencies and congregations that we organized to welcome hundreds of Afghan refugees to Massachusetts. I’m thankful for the times we’ve come together, with the solidarity and support of civic leaders and partners, to stand against hatred, antisemitism, and violence, like in Brighton in July, or at the New England Holocaust Memorial during Chanukah.  

I’m grateful for the opportunities to continue to learn and think this year; reading amazing books, having interesting conversations, following interesting people on social media – people who step outside of the echo chamber to ask thoughtful questions with a genuine spirit of openness to growth and change, in response to new information or better arguments.  

I’m grateful to have had any opportunity to travel this year (though less than usual) and for having been able to visit friends and partners in Israel this summer, including many in the travel and education industry who’ve suffered during this time far more, professionally, than we have.  

I’m grateful to have had the opportunities to share my thoughts and passions and hobbies with you; to write and tweet, and to be in public conversations. Thank you those of you who’ve engaged with me and us this year; about Bruce Springsteen’s Superbowl ad, Black-Jewish shared interests, Jews and comic books, progressives and Israel, how to talk about antisemitism, and so much more.

I’m grateful to the entire JCRC team – our professionals, our volunteers, our community, and our supporters like you – without whom none of the things I am grateful for would be possible. 

These are just a few of the things I am grateful for at the end of 2021. 

I hope that as you read this, you are inspired to think about what you are grateful for.  

And since you’ve read this far, I hope that one of things that you are grateful for is JCRC; for the work we do and the voice we bring into Boston’s civic square as we represent our community. 

And if you could help us out, as a birthday present to me, with a gift to our year-end campaign – I would be so ever grateful to you. 

Thanks. And, with gratitude, Shabbat Shalom.

Jeremy 

The Story of our Community of Communities

When JCRC is in the news, more often than not, it is about a public policy issue, our engagement with elected officials, or some other political process that is complex and at times even controversial. And, more often than not, when we’re in the national Jewish news, it is because of fraught processes we are engaged in about communal boundaries; who gets to sit at the table, and what politics are out of bounds. These are both accurate representations of aspects of JCRC. We are, after all, a coalition of organizations and individuals from across the ideological spectrum, coming together to identify and advance collective Jewish communal concerns in Greater Boston.  

These days it can often feel like too much of the public discourse is offered solely through the prism of politics. You know the headlines, that tend to sound something like: “Breaking News: The President stubbed his toe. What will this mean for the midterm elections?”  

Or, to put it another way, most people do not wake up in the morning thinking about how a traffic jam on the Pike will impact the next election (though some people I know do). They’re worrying instead about how it will impact their ability to be home with family for dinner.   

So, while politics is what we “do” on behalf of our community at JCRC much of the time, it isn’t who we are. Who we are is a community – an organized community – the Jewish community of Greater Boston. And we are a community of communities; the many – over 40 – organizations that are the members of our Council. And even these organizations are communities of communities; the many congregations that make up a denomination, the many clubs and groups that make up a JCC. And so on.  

I’m privileged to be exposed to all these communities during the course of my work. I get to experience their programs, honor their differences, and be inspired by their energy. I get to appreciate all the ways that each of them is doing interesting, important things that – together – make up the story of our community. 

I aspire to a Jewish community where all of us get to appreciate what I see every day in our members. And I’m excited that we at JCRC are rolling out a new Speakers Series to lift up these communities that make up the JCRC Council.  

Over the last year, I’ve been sitting down with many of our civic partners and public officials to discuss their work and JCRC’s partnership with them. Many of you have joined us for these – now almost weekly – conversations. And we’ll keep having them.  

Now, starting on December 21st, I invite you to join me for a new series: conversations with my colleagues, the professionals who lead – as CEOs, executive directors, and regional directors – our member organizations. We’ll be talking about what brought them to this work, how they practice building a vibrant Jewish community, how they think about their communities in a broader ecosystem, and how they understand the notion of “community.” 

We’ll be kicking off this series with Dalit Ballen Horn, who began as the new executive director of The Vilna Shul this past year. In the coming weeks I’ll sit down with Lital Carmel of the Israeli-American Council of Boston, and with Ari Fertig of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. We’ll be announcing more conversations in the months ahead (with over 40 members, some half of whom have regional executives, it will take time to get to everyone).  

The focus of these conversations won’t be “politics” – though some may include the topic. What they will be are conversations about who we are in all of our parts. We hope that they will be illuminating to our appreciation of these leaders and their communities. And we hope they will deepen our understanding, as well as that of our civic partners, about who and what we mean when we talk about the organized Jewish community in Greater Boston.   

I hope you’ll join us on this journey. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Telling the True Story of a Place

Earlier this week I sat down with one of our beloved Israel educators, Yishay Shavit. Yishay used some of his time during the pandemic – and shut-down of Israel’s tourist industry – to co-edit a fascinating collection of pieces by his guide colleagues, titled Heartbeats: The Insider’s Guide to Israel. 

We had a great conversation about the publishing process, the stories in the book, and about some of his own experiences during the pandemic, as a parent at one of the seven Hand-in-Hand schools, a shared-society initiative that we are proud to feature through JCRC's Boston Partners for Peace initiative.  

I talked with Yishay about our experience working with him and some of the other educators in the anthology, and the deliberate effort he made to include a diverse set of voices from across the Israeli spectrum – right and left, secular and religious, Mizrahi, Russian, and Arab citizens of Israel. Knowing that he has Palestinian friends and colleagues who are not Israeli citizens and who guide under the Palestinian Authority tourism ministry, I asked him why those voices were not in the book. 

His response is one I’m continuing to sit with. 

Yishay said that the easy answer would be that this is a book about Israel. “But that would be a lie. You cannot understand Israel without the point of view of the Palestinians.” He went on to say that their plan had been to include at least one story from a Palestinian guide who was not an Israeli citizen. A Palestinian guide had in fact submitted an essay. But then, Yishay tells us, this guide withdrew from the project. 

His Palestinian colleague told Yishay: “To talk to a group on a bus, it is wonderful. But to have everything printed, in a book… Someone is not going to be happy with what I wrote, Israeli or Palestinian.  I could pay a heavy price for that and I simply don’t want to take the chance.”  

Yishay then approached four other Palestinian colleagues, who raised similar concerns. Regrettably, he and his co-editors concluded that “it simply wasn’t going to work.” 

Yishay called this a “tragedy.” “That people are too scared to write their own opinion, about the conflict… and print it in a book” (and to be fair, he notes, a book printed by Israelis) is why he and the other guides featured in this book are unable to capture the complete spectrum of the issues and nuances of the region.    

For me, this story really gets at the complexity of telling the story of what’s happening in a place, particularly in a place like Israel. There’s such a difference between reading an article in a newspaper or book in America and traveling there and actually engaging with people on the ground. There’s no replacement for having authentic conversations with people to learn about them, their lives, and their realities. There are things people choose to tell or not to tell a reporter. And there are things people choose to have or not have on the record, in print, forever. The best, most illuminating, and most real conversations are the ones that happen in people’s living rooms – or on the bus - where they can tell me their truths, ones I sometimes find challenging to hear, but whose authenticity I cannot question.   

I am, as always, grateful for Yishay’s wisdom, and for the stories that he and his colleagues share in this new book (and I encourage you to check it out). And I am grateful for the reminder that not all truths will be found in reading about a place. I’m yearning to get back to Israel as soon as I possibly can to continue these conversations. I’m excited for the pastors who will be traveling with us and Yishay next summer.  

And I’m encouraging everyone to remember that you can’t really know everything about any place, and certainly not somewhere as complicated as Israel and the Palestinian Areas, by reading an article or a book. You have to go and have the conversations with the people who live there; with as many and as a diverse a representation of them as possible. In doing so, we can truly begin to understand this place, in all of its complexity, that we care so deeply about – while at the same time acknowledging what we still have yet to understand.  

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy 

Jeremy Burton 
Executive Director 

My Conversation with Rep. Auchincloss

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week I had the privilege to sit down with Congressman Jake Auchincloss for a wide-ranging and thought-provoking conversation.

We talked about Build Back Better, human services and infrastructure; rising antisemitism and the security needs of our institutions; the U.S. role in building on the success of the Abraham Accords, his efforts to strengthen economic and research partnerships between Israel and the United States, and also to support efforts that advance a two-state resolution for Israel and the Palestinians.

We thanked Congressman Auchincloss for his recent votes supporting funding for the Iron Dome and for the Infrastructure Bill, and for showing up in Brighton this summer when Rabbi Noginski was stabbed just blocks from his district.

We talked about mental health and about the work of our human service agencies during these demanding times. And we expressed our support for his leadership in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to our shores.

That’s just a bit of what was covered. You can read more about our conversation, and in particular the Congressman’s concerns about rising antisemitism as well as his thoughts about his support for the US-Israel relationship, in this extensive Jewish Insider piece. Our full conversation is available for viewing here.

I’m always grateful for these opportunities to hear from our elected leaders about how they are thinking about issues of concern to the organized Jewish community, and to share with them our priorities. Thank you again Congressman Auchincloss for your time and your friendship.

p.s. One of the topics we covered was U.S. credibility and leadership on the world stage. I referenced my own past writing on this topic. If you are interested, you can read my 2017 column about the need for bipartisanship in foreign policy here.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Remembering Izzy Arbeiter

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Malden Mayor Gary Christiansen, Izzy Arbeiter z”l, Former Consul General of Germany to New England Dr. Ralf Horlemann, Malden High School Students

Our community lost a giant last week. Izzy Arbeiter z”l, 96, was the survivor of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Attending his funeral and shiva this week has been a blessing in itself; to witness the outpouring of memories, to retell the impact he had – as a fierce advocate on behalf of his fellow survivors' needs, and as a passionate transmitter of memory of the Shoah to future generations. As co-founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial and in many other ways, he had a long and deep history working in partnership with JCRC, and sometimes, challenging us to do more. You can read a wonderful obituary of his life here.

I won’t retell all the great Izzy stories here. I have no special claim to them as one of thousands in our community who have had the privilege of knowing him. But I witnessed first-hand a quintessential Izzy story several years ago, of which I was reminded at his funeral on Monday.

In 2017, the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM) was desecrated, not once, but twice, in the span of a summer. The second time the glass was shattered, days after the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, the person responsible was a teen from Malden. The morning after the attack, the community gathered at the Memorial. Mayor Marty Walsh, who - like every mayor of Boston since Ray Flynn - had embraced the sacred responsibility of stewarding this site, invited Malden Mayor Gary Christiansen to join Izzy, myself, leaders from the Jewish community and our partners. Christiansen expressed being “completely disheartened” to learn that the vandal was from his community. Izzy took the mayor on a tour of the memorial and shared his own experience, as he had with thousands of others before. It was the beginning of an amazing and inspiring friendship.

In the weeks that followed, Christiansen came back to NEHM with Malden students, to meet with Izzy, Janet Applefield, and Anna Ornstein, all Holocaust survivors in our community; to listen, learn, and to take action. One of the students, a young Muslim woman, told them: “We have seen the damage hate and intolerance can cause. We have experienced it ourselves.” She continued with a written declaration from the students: “We are here to come together to try and reverse hate. We will not stand for hate. We will come together with love, peace, and dignity; to celebrate our differences, because that is what truly brings us together. In order to start the healing of the damage caused by hate, we have come here tonight to honor victims of the Holocaust.”

Izzy responded: “To see you all here, to talk to you, to get to know you, to see the diversity of the students, gives me such hope for the future.” He went on to speak in front of 500 students at Malden High School, so they too could bear witness and hold his story.

As we buried Izzy this week, I found myself standing next to Mayor Christiansen. He talked about his close friendship with Izzy. The dinners and lunches they shared over the years, visiting him and his wife Anna and hearing this message of hope right up until these final weeks. “I love Izzy” he said to me. I was profoundly moved to witness the mayor expressing that love of Izzy one last time, as he performed the special mitzvah of participating in the burial, shoveling dirt onto Izzy’s grave.

There have been dozens, if not hundreds of stories shared this week: The relationship Izzy built with German leaders, and the powerful personal reflections shared by Nicole Menzenbach, Consul General of Germany to New England, on behalf of all those who held her role and became his friends over the years. My predecessor, Nancy Kaufman spoke at the shiva about when Izzy and Stephan Ross z”l (who passed away last year) insisted, and convinced everyone, to move the community Yom HaShoah gathering from Newton to Faneuil Hall because it needed to be in the heart of the city and be open to the entire greater Boston community, not just Jews. Izzy and Stephan realized their dream of building the New England Holocaust Memorial just steps away, embedding it into the fabric of Boston for all to experience.

I have my own personal memory, of my second week here, when Izzy and I had lunch and he took me through the NEHM for my first time. Over lunch he then extracted, quite willingly on my part, a “blood oath” (his words; though no blood was shed there was some playfulness with a butterknife) that we at JCRC would always prioritize work with civic leaders and education beyond the Jewish community at the Memorial, and that we would always stand up to neo-Nazis and others who perpetuate antisemitism and hate in Boston.

That’s who Izzy was. Always there to share his story of survival with one more person. Finding hope in young people of all backgrounds who could receive his experience and be inspired to act morally in the world today. Challenging leaders to do more and to ensure that even as we approach the end of this period in which the survivors walk amongst us, we will always place the Holocaust, its memory, and moral calling at the center of our city and our collective conscience.

Izzy Arbeiter’s memory is and will continue to be a blessing, not just for the work he did, but for the work we are charged by him to continue doing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton

JCRC Executive Director

What’s on my nightstand

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

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People Love Dead Jews, by Dara Horn 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Poets Project: Selected Poems, by Kenneth Koch 

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

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All the Marvels, by Douglas Wolk  

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

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

Shabbat Shalom!

Jeremy

When “Holocaust” was trending on social media this week

Our work includes priorities that we work on for months and even years at a time. We don’t let go of these concerns and we never lose our focus on them, even as we work on several things at any one time. Then there are days when something in the news reminds us why we cannot and do not lose our focus. And sometimes, there are days when serendipity causes the head to spin, as such news unfolds side by side with progress on our efforts.

Yesterday was one of those days.

In the afternoon, the alerts started popping about a story broken by NBC, that a top administrator with a Southlake, Texas school district “advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an ‘opposing’ perspective.”

You read that right. This official was positing that there is an “opposing” view to the fact of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis against our people. Justified outrage and calls for retractions and apologies were being voiced. It was a vivid reminder of a problem  my colleagues and I have discussed repeatedly: in this space rising antisemitism along with a failure to know and understand the history of the Holocaust and other genocides and the lessons of that history. The result of that problem is that we have an American generation being raised with chasmic moral blind spots as we here in Massachusetts were reminded so vividly this spring in Duxbury.

(Reports this morning indicate that the situation in Texas may be more complex than originally reported and that the administrator wasn’t trying to “both-sides” Holocaust education, but rather is struggling to comply with a new state law barring certain educational methodologies)

And, yesterday, nearly simultaneously to the news out of Texas, came news that the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means had reported out S.2557, An Act concerning genocide education, that we support. As we and ADL said together last night (you can read our full statement here):

This strong bill achieves key objectives in providing schools across the Commonwealth with access to resources to implement genocide education programs. Through lessons about the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other instances of genocide, such programs will serve to ensure that students learn to recognize and fight hate in their communities.

Genocide education is key to combating hate by helping students understand how seemingly benign stereotypes and prejudice can turn into atrocity. Over the last several years, we have seen a significant rise in hateful incidents in our communities, paired with a dangerous downturn in knowledge about the Holocaust and other genocides. We appreciate the support of the House and Senate Chairs of the Joint Committee on Education in moving this legislation forward early in session and hope to see it make its way to Governor Baker’s desk as swiftly as possible.

And so, this morning, and every day, we at JCRC, along with our partners, are fired up to keep working on this specific effort. And we’re reminded anew of the urgency and importance of ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust does not fade, and that every possible effort is being made to confront and combat rising antisemitism.

I’m grateful to you all for your partnership in this urgent and important work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton