Category Archives: The Friday Blog

What’s in my Beach Bag

With a few more weeks left to enjoy summer, and me heading out today for two weeks of vacation, now seems like a good moment to share some of what I’ve been reading this summer.

I love a good travelogue and there are two this year that I have particularly appreciated:

unnamed
unnamed

South to America by Imani Perry

A Black woman from Alabama returns home to encounter the South in all its diversity. It is a brilliant examination of 400 years of history and culture below the Mason-Dixon line that provides deep insight into the American nature. Bonus: There’s some story telling about the Jews of the South, and in particular of New Orleans, that is fascinating and nuanced.

Twelve Tribes by Ethan Michaeli

In this portrait of Israel, somewhat inspired by President Rivlin’s now famous “four tribes” speech, an Israeli-American spends four years traveling around the country, immersing himself in the people, the cultures, and the food. I found myself recognizing fondly many of the places and voices as Michaeli paints a vivid portrait of a diverse country. Reading it almost felt like I was on one of our study tours.

Two writers I enjoy have new works out this season:

unnamed

Koshersoul by Michael Twitty

The James Beard Award winning chef follows up his first cookbook come memoir, The Cooking Gene, with this new volume exploring the intersection of his Jewish and African heritages, and the food he creates based on these identities and cultures. It’s a beautiful, touching, and revealing work.

unnamed

The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón

Named as America’s poet laureate earlier this year, her most recent volume is a stunning collection. I’m reading it very slowly because I’m just cherishing the sounds and images of every line, exploring the humanity, loss, interconnectedness and relationships.

I love history, and the reexamination thereof, and there are two new works that I can’t stop talking about:

unnamed

The Arc of a Covenant by Walter Russell Mead

This fantastic volume flips the table on decades of conventional wisdom about the U.S.-Israel relationship. It centers the story of American Christians, going back to the 19th century, within the context of Jewish homecoming; and demonstrates how the success of the modern state of Israel has impacted Christianity in America.

unnamed

The Pope at War, by David I. Kertzer

In 2020, the Vatican unsealed many of Pius XII’s papers, including voluminous documents covering the Pope’s interactions with Nazi Germany. This is the first of what will no doubt be many works examining these archives detailing the Pope’s thoughts and actions as Europe was engulfed in war and genocide.

Finally, a dive into two collections of new classics:

unnamed

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Novels, Stories & Poems, Library of America

As a collector (and a patron) of the Library, I enjoy discovering an author I haven’t been previously introduced to. This volume brings a collection of late 19th century Gothic tales, speculative fiction, and other writings for a contemporary audience.

unnamed

Captain America, Penguin Classics/Marvel Collection

Because I’m me, I was thrilled when these two publishers teamed up to canonize early comics that are now cultural classics. There are three volumes out this year, covering foundational stories from Spider-Man and the Black Panther, but I’m starting with the OG anti-Nazi, Captain America (who punches Hitler on his very first cover, back in 1941, included below).

For more on my interest in the early Jewish comic book artists who poured their identity into their characters, check out this conversation I had this last Spring with Mark Sokoll at the JCC of Greater Boston. Timestamp 2:00-4:25.

That’s some of what I’m reading this summer. I’d love to know what you are reading, and maybe I’ll add it to my fall pile.

Till I return from vacation I wish you a Happy Labor Day, and a Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

unnamed

Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

As soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, we knew that, as a Jewish community here in Boston, we needed to act in support of the Ukrainian people. Some aspects of that response were obvious and immediate – such as the huge philanthropic mobilization by CJP in support of the community in Dnipro that we have so much history with. And, for our member organization Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, it was a massive mobilization of urgently needed supplies. For JCRC, it was providing immediate leadership to successfully advocate for Massachusetts to divest state funds from Russian assets.

But despite our many years of experience mobilizing our community in support of immigrants and refugees arriving here, due to the lack of a uniform resettlement structure for Ukrainians, our mobilization for them was not as immediate. No family’s situation or requests for support have been the same. And while, now, hundreds have arrived here, the vast majority of the refugees remain in Europe. But for those who are here, many are requesting help with finding housing, accessing funds, getting connected to local resources and in some cases, a more comprehensive communal sponsorship. And our phenomenal community is stepping up to the moment, as we have done time and time again, steeped in relationships and connection.

Several weeks back, our Director of Synagogue Organizing, Rachie Lewis, received a call from an Afghan woman who had been serving as a translator for one of the community teams supporting a recently resettled Afghan family. She was working at a hotel in the area and had just checked in a recently arrived Ukrainian mom and her two kids who had nowhere else to go.

A few weeks after that, we heard from our partner, JFS of MetroWest, about a local Jewish Ukrainian woman who was trying to bring her great grandchildren - currently in limbo in Europe - to Massachusetts.  Last week we were approached about a Ukrainian family that has been in the area for several months hosted by relatives, and who now needed a longer-term place to call home in this continuing uncertain time.

These moments are just snapshots of the needed aid that we and our partners are being called to provide to the growing number of Ukrainians who have arrived in Massachusetts and are in need of local resources. Still others are trying to figure out how to get here and will need comprehensive support to make that hope a reality.

In this evolving moment, JCRC continues to work with our partners, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Catholic Charities and The Shapiro Foundation to leverage the resources we have organized throughout our community and beyond to answer these different and varying calls. Together, we are taking steps to make the best use of our communal infrastructure, as we also try to balance the needs of other immigrant and refugee populations. We are, first and foremost, building support systems on top of the already-formed foundation of 35 congregational support teams well-versed in resettlement through the work of supporting Afghan families and individuals. Those are the leaders we sought out when we got the aforementioned calls.

We know that the interest in this work runs deep; both within the existing teams and beyond them as well. If you are not already, now is the time to get engaged in this work. If you or your synagogue, community, or network, is interested in offering support of some kind, please fill out this survey. We will be calling upon you as this work develops. You can also reach out directly to Rachie Lewis at with specific questions.  

We are a community that knows how to show up and knows how to say yes. We are compelled to action by our long and deep relationship with the Ukrainian people, and also by the ideals we hold for America as a place that must be a refuge for those fleeing harm from around the world. Our ideals connect us to one another and guide us in building networks, enabling us to respond to others in need. This collective community infrastructure is the heart of who we are at JCRC and are proud that you are a part of it. 

We will continue to support Ukrainians and other immigrants and refugees seeking safety here. We invite all of you to be a part of this important work. We are grateful for this incredible community and the opportunity to live our values through this important work. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“The Good Jews”

With the fast of Tisha B’Av (9th day of Av) – a day for mourning the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem - this Sunday, I find myself contemplating troubling trends within our Jewish community. Specifically, the growing toxicity of our communal discourse and our inclination to blame each other for the actions of those outside the Jewish community who mean to do us harm.  

It would be fair to say that this behavior of blame has been going on for centuries. Something we often describe when preparing civic leaders to visit Yad Vashem is how, after the Holocaust, there were those at opposite ideological polls of the Jewish discourse who blamed other Jews for causing the Shoah.  

And though this is not new, it is on my mind of late because I see this behavior increasingly showing up in my inbox. After a white supremacist attacks a Jewish institution, I get notes from some who say that “if only” certain other Jews (not them, of course) did certain things differently, these attacks would not happen. And again, after the Mapping Project and its public clarification of a particular form of left antisemitism, the notes and calls arrived - telling me that if only we Jews did certain things differently, maybe these antisemites wouldn’t come at us.  

I couldn’t help noticing that these “it’s the Jews who are to blame” notes in recent weeks didn’t, themselves, map onto a neat left/right narrative. It wasn’t only members of our community with one ideological stance that were blaming other Jews for these troubles. It was diverse members of our community, who each see themselves as “the good Jews” (and maybe even the ‘only’ good Jews), and who see the rest of us as part of the cause of our own troubles. 

Again, this is not new. It comes very naturally to a people that has been oppressed for, quite literally, thousands of years. We ask ourselves why anti-Jewishness is so persistent. And at times it is too easy to offer the incorrect answer that comes with internalizing our oppression: We blame ourselves. We blame other Jews. We blame our institutions and our leaders. We tell ourselves that our troubles are caused by what we do and believe, rather than because of who they (our oppressors) are and what they believe.  

Now please, don’t mistake me as suggesting that we should table our internal disputes, or that we should not engage in critique of each other and our institutions. But it is one thing to debate and argue, lovingly, for different ideas of what it means to live as Jews, and for different aspirational visions for our future as one people. It is quite another thing to openly tear down other members of our community and to question their very legitimacy as Jews. It is one thing to express constructive critique of leaders and to debate and weigh strategies for confronting antisemitism. It is quite another thing when Jews, in claiming the mantle of serving the Jewish people, evoke the same language used by the antisemites, saying that (other) Jews are a ‘threat’ to our community, one that must be dismantled or removed. 

I say all this with the caution that I do not wish to be seen as pointing a finger of j’accuse at one faction or ideology in our community. I offer this perspective rather to explain that from the seat I am privileged to sit in, I see this toxic self-blame showing up in all sorts of ways in our community.  

As we head into Tisha B’Av I am reminded that the rabbis of the Talmud taught that a cause of the destruction of the Temple was the baseless hatred sown between Jews. While this teaching may be familiar to many in our community, maybe now is a good time to tell ourselves that our tendency to blame ourselves, and other Jews, for rising antisemitism is, in fact, misplaced. And still, also, let’s use this fast to forgive ourselves and those among us who – in sowing fear in troubling times like these – also seek to turn us against each other and against our own community. Their tendency to live in fear, and to blame other members of our community, is a natural outcome of the centuries of trauma that they and we carry with us.  

With hope for a future in which we overcome our trauma and heal each other, 

Shabbat Shalom (and wishing an easy fast to those who will be doing so on Sunday),  

Jeremy

The Weavers of Peace

By CEO Jeremy Burton

I arrived home yesterday after spending eleven days traveling with JCRC’s first study tour to Israel in over two years. Our delegation, a dozen local Christian ministers, was chaired by the Reverend Dr. Greg Groover, pastor of the Charles Street A.M.E. Church, and Rabbi Joel Sisenwine of Temple Beth Elohim. The group included Congregationalists, Lutherans, Unitarians, Methodists, Baptists, U.C.C., and non-denominational Christians. 

Before we began our journey, I encouraged participants to listen in our various meetings for what point in time people began their stories. 1917 or 1948 or 1967? The arrival of Saladin or of Abraham? And so on. Because in this place that I care so much about, where you start your story says something about your identity and your analysis.  

Along our journey, in addition to providing experiences uniquely meaningful to Christians, such as baptisms in the Jordan river, we met with people expressing diverse perspectives and narratives. Some of them challenged me deeply. For example, Hannah, who brought us to the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to tell us about the work that she and others at Ir Amim are doing there. But even in her critique of her government, I hear values that resonate – such as her commitment to a two-state solution. She’s fighting, she tells us, as an Israeli, to protect and advance her understanding of Zionism; a term and a hope and a necessary Jewish homeland that resonates for her, despite the flaws she’s seeking to change. 

Across the barriers that exist here, we hear a common thread. Whether it was a Palestinian guide in Bethlehem or a Jewish member of a farming community very near the Gaza border, we hear a critique of ‘solutions’ that, though they may solve the immediate symptom, do not address the underlying problem. Rather, they create more barriers, more obstacles. “It's Tylenol”, this Jewish villager near Gaza tells us. 

Demonization and simplistic answers may make people in the U.S. feel good, but they won’t actually help people on the ground. “We” need to build more mutual interests, not mutual animosity.  “We have to learn”, said this villager who has to explain the red-alert of the rocket alarms to his three-year-old, “how to be good neighbors so that eventually these walls can come down, as all walls do.”  

On our final day we toured the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation - an organization that we are committed to working with through our Boston Partners for Peace (BP4P) initiative. We met with Nadav Tamir, the former Consul General to New England and a dear friend of Boston’s Jewish community. When asked how Shimon Peres still managed to feel young when he was well past ninety, Nadav cites a famous quote from the former President: 

Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death, but they live very different lives... You are as young as your dreams, not as old as your calendar. 

As we concluded our time together in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night, I invited our participants to join me in staying connected with this place and its people when we return home – not by looking back to where the story begins, but by looking forward with optimism. 

I invited us to remain inspired by groups and leaders that we met with along the way this week and whom we are committed to amplifying through BP4P. Visionaries like Mohammad Darwashe of Givat Haviva who is working every day to move Israel toward achieving the promise of its declaration of statehood, to ensure the full civic equality of all its citizens. People like Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, two leaders of the Parents’ Circle who are holding each other’s grief and trauma over the loss of daughters to the violence and working together to build a shared future in a shared homeland.   

Women like Hamutal Gouri, a leader in so many feminist spaces including Women Wage Peace, building a grassroots movement with their Palestinian partners at Women of the Sun to support and advance negotiations. And activists living on the West Bank, like Hanan and Noor from Roots/Shorashim/Judur, who are doing the challenging work of bringing Jews and Palestinians in their communities together for a movement of understanding and transformation.  

We end our time together by looking to the future, holding on to and lifting up those who dream for this still-young country and its neighbors.   

We all have a choice. There are those – here and in the U.S. – who want simple solutions to simplistic questions about who to blame and why this conflict endures. Their answers demonize; creating walls both physical and metaphorical without addressing the possibilities on the ground for a better future.  

Or, we can choose to stand with those who want to build relationships and who see the possibilities for these two people. I choose the builders of these bridges, the weavers of peace, the ones who understand that holding each other's humanity is itself a profound act of transformation. I choose hope. 

I hope that you will join with me, JCRC, and Boston Partners for Peace, in making that same choice.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

Greetings from Israel

It’s Thursday evening and I’ve just arrived in Jerusalem, along with a few of my JCRC colleagues and a dozen Christian ministers from around Greater Boston. We’ve been in the north - visiting Haifa, the Galilee, and the Golan Heights - since Monday on a JCRC study tour chaired by Reverend Greg Groover and Rabbi Joel Sisenwine.

While we have, for most of my time at JCRC, regularly brought groups of civic leaders to Israel twice a year, this particular study tour has been a long time awaited. Many of our group - some longtime partners of JCRC, some more recent colleagues in interfaith spaces - had planned to come with us in the summer of 2020. And then…

But we’re finally back and I couldn’t be more joyous as we arrive in Jerusalem. For me this is a blessing; to introduce this land and people that I and our community are so connected to, to our friends and partners. And it’s an opportunity to see Israel through the eyes of our partners, to hear their questions, to engage in deep conversations, that enrich our understanding together of this place that matters to all of us in different ways.

I don’t typically reflect on these trips until we are back home. I look forward to sharing some thoughts with you in the coming weeks when I can convey the totality of who we’ve met and what we’ve heard. We’re not even half way through our journey at this point.


But whether it’s meeting visionaries like Mohammad Darwashe of Givat Haviva earlier today, visiting communities like Yemin Orde, which so many of us in Boston are passionate about, bearing witness to our partners’ baptisms in the Jordan River, or having serious geopolitical conversations standing on Mount Bental,* I, and our relationships, are already being enriched by a dialogue that hasn’t been possible in this way over these difficult two years.

I am looking forward to the rest of our journey with gratitude to our Christian leaders who accepted our invitation, and to those in our community who help make this work possible.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

*P.S. Also, I’ve already introduced them to Kippah Man in Jerusalem, amongst many personal favorite places to go and people to talk to here.

By the Rivers of Babylon

Tonight, as we start Shabbat, we also arrive at the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar. This fast day (observed on Sunday) commemorates when, after a prolonged siege, Roman legions breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This date begins the “three weeks,” a period of collective Jewish mourning leading to the 9th day of Av. Tisha B’Av commemorates five calamities - among them the destruction of our first Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the destruction of the second Temple following a pitched battle through the streets of the city for three weeks after the breach of the walls in 70 CE, and the crushing of the “Bar Kokhba revolt” against the Romans in 135 CE.  

There are many access points from which to reflect on this history; Jews in every time and place have lifted up the particulars of this period that are meaningful to their own moment. For many, it is meaningful to focus on the Talmudic teaching that the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between the Jews (or by some interpretations, between Jewish leaders) of that time. We may take inspiration from the psalmist, mourning the first Temple “by the rivers of Babylon” and find meaning in those earliest efforts to adapt Jewish identity to a diasporic experience that refused to forget Jerusalem and that yearned for a homeland.  

Over time, this period in our calendar has been connected to the memory of numerous calamities – those that happened precisely on 9 Av, or those that happened more generally in high summer, which has been a historically bad time of year.

The first Crusade began with the slaughter of 10,000 Jews in France in that Av, August 1096.  The Jews were expelled from Spain in the first week of Av, at the end of July 1492. The first World War, and the horror and disruption that built toward the Shoah, began on 9 Av, in August 1914. 

Today we live in what is, by any measure, a trying time. There is so much hatred and division. There is a genuine and persistent threat to our societal institutions. The very stability of our society that we have long accepted, maybe naively, is no longer a given. More particularly, there are genuine challenges to the unity of the Jewish people and to our shared sense of collective purpose. Our safety is threatened around the world. Our ability to engage with civility in our disagreements with each other is sorely tested. 

After reviewing the long list of calamities that we mark at this time of year, I am sitting with the remarkable continued vitality of our people through the millennia. Any community that has endured what the Jewish people have, time and again, for over 2,000 years, should – logically – no longer exist. And yet we do.  

We exist and we thrive because of people like Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, a “hero” of Tisha B’Av. He perceived the coming crisis and he chose to negotiate with the Romans. He could not save the Jewish commonwealth, but he secured the town of Yavne and established a community of study there where, surrounded by students and with the generations that would follow him, he re-imagined and re-invigorated Judaism for a post-Temple world. His vision, willingness to negotiate with the enemy, and ability to adapt, set the groundwork for what we now know as “rabbinic Judaism.” 

There’ve been other heroes throughout the ages, those who challenged our oppressors, those who negotiated with our enemies, and those who guided our people to rise from the ashes. What they have had in common is their belief in the resiliency of our people; a resiliency that comes from understanding history, from not being afraid to hold an analytical eye to current affairs, and from opening their imaginations to the knowledge that the “worst” outcome is always a possibility. But also, a resiliency that comes from knowing that we’ve survived and thrived, and that through our ability to prepare, resist, and adapt, we continue to see a future of hope, including – as for the weeping psalmist by the rivers of Babylon - our hope and faith in our return to Jerusalem.  

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

How our past informs our future

“To be literally informed about America’s Jewish problem, it is not necessary to know Hebrew or Yiddish. All that is required, initially, is a familiarity with the English alphabet. The following primer of English letters with Jewish meaning will serve for illustration.” 

I read those words last Thursday and I held my breath.  

I was visiting the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center, where JCRC’s archives, and so much of the New England Jewish community’s history is preserved. The staff had invited me to check out the collection following JCRC’s recent program with Professor Charles Gallagher. I sat down with him in April to talk about his book, Nazis of Copley Square. If you joined us that day you may recall that he talked about his use of JCRC’s archive, where so much information about right-wing extremism in 1930’s Boston is kept for posterity.  

As I looked through JCRC’s archives, another file, from June 1958, caught my eye. In a collection about our efforts to track and confront “White Citizens” councils and other groups here in Boston, there is a professionally printed pamphlet, The Point, produced in Still River, MA. This 4-page issue is devoted, in its entirety, to a mapping of the Jewish communal institutions of the time. Those words above come from the introduction. The rest of the newsletter is in the same hateful vein.

1

(R): From the JCRC archives: The Point, 1958

I’ve been thinking a lot about that document, and our purpose, this past week. 

It was a rough week. I don’t need to tell you. We all follow the news. Last Saturday some 100 white nationalists marched through the streets of Boston. The condemnations and the questions followed. I’m reminded again how grateful we are to our partners at the ADL for their efforts and their their efforts.  

Then, of course, came the horror in Highland Park, Illinois on July 4th. This is one of those weeks when I’m grateful that it is not just Jews, but also leaders like Rev. Cornell Brooks at Harvard, who are connecting the dots for us, naming that antisemitism is a likely factor here, even as the investigation continues.  

It was also the week when antisemitic flyers were distributed in several towns around Massachusetts, including Chatham, Ipswich, and Hamilton.  

We at JCRC have been paying attention to the threat of right-wing extremism for a very long time. In the 1930’s, Jewish leaders and activists in Boston began monitoring Nazis in our city. This initiative led to the formation of JCRC as a shared communal effort to engage with government, the media, and faith partners.  And, as the technology and the expressions of antisemitism have evolved and developed over the years, we’ve continued to focus on this work. But since the beginning, that focus has also included action - organizing our community and our partners to confront this hate; to articulate expectations for our elected officials, local media, and civic partners, and to build bonds of partnership around shared interests and shared threats to our civic fabric.  

Although we know that antisemitism has evolved and is not limited to that which comes from the right (as even the reference, right now, to “mapping” reminds us) it still is not lost on us and our community that a particular and violent threat to Jews and to all Americans, and to the very fabric of our democracy, is very real, as was seen again this week: 

One of the efforts we’ve amplified and supported in recent years was the successful litigation by Integrity First for America against the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Robbie Kaplan and Yotam Barkai, two of the attorneys in that effort, said it well in the Boston Globe this week: 

In light of Patriot Front’s actions — in Charlottesville in 2017, in Idaho in June, and in Boston this past weekend — anyone who doesn’t think that the freedom and independence that we celebrate every year is under severe threat is sorely mistaken. We hope that Americans are finally paying attention. 

I hope that we, together, will continue to pay attention, to take this threat as seriously as we must, and that you’ll be a part of that work with us – confronting antisemitism, defending our democracy, and building bridges with all of Boston’s communities in service to our common future.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

P.S. There were many incredible finds at the Wyner Family Center that tell our story and provide other examples of the ways we’ve been grappling with very familiar challenges as a community for a long time. I hope to tell you more in coming posts. And I encourage you to check them out as well. They are an amazing resource for our community. 

JCRC Statement on Polarization, 1970
JCRC Statement on Polarization, 1970

Our Shared Voice

Capture

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