I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months discussing rapidly unfolding events in meetings with JCRC partners as well as with other local and national networks and coalitions JCRC is a part of. In many such meetings there often comes a point where the issue is raised of whether JCRC will make a statement - either as a representative of the organized Jewish community, or as a part of other local and national networks and coalitions we sit in. This discussion has occurred for issues as varied as the efforts in Washington to restrict immigration; Jewish solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and of course, the anticipation of actions that Israel’s government may (or may not) take in the coming weeks.
In these moments I always ask myself: Who is our statement attempting to reach?
It is an important question because it informs not just what we say, but how we say it and where.
For JCRC, the answer to this question, almost always, will be that our statement is communicating to Greater Boston’s civic leadership in the public square. This answer means that JCRC’s statements will almost always be very different from what some other organizations might say in the same moment. Our statements are certainly different from organizations that have different missions—such as those who seek to influence the Israeli conversation and their government’s decision making, or of those who strive to help members of our Jewish community make sense of events or find personal meaning in challenging times.
At JCRC we’re not striving (principally) to help the Jewish community make sense of current events - although this is often a byproduct of our work when community members read our statements. JCRC is also not in the business of telling the Israeli government, for example, what we think about Israel’s policies - although we certainly advise their representatives about conversations and concerns in our community.
JCRC’s mission is to communicate the interests and values of the local organized Jewish community to civic leaders in greater Boston and make sure that these concerns are part of the broader public discourse. This mission drives our statements which come from one of three starting points:
- We have deeply held values and priorities as a community that we want our civic partners to hear, understand and be responsive to.
- Our allies are asking us to make our voices heard in solidarity and partnership with them.
- Civic leaders are asking us how our community understands certain issues and concerns that are being debated and discussed in the broader public square.
While our responses always reflect the internal work we do with our Council and network of agencies to define our values, the first example often leads to decisions where we want to be heard collectively; often resulting in JCRC speaking on these issues with a clear and resonant voice – like our support for our immigrant neighbors. When we are responsive to our partners seeking our solidarity, we also speak with a strong voice as we either stand with them or we don’t – and we strive to demonstrate our commitment to this solidarity. It is in the third category – when JCRC is asked how the Jewish community understands an issue - that JCRC may lift up disagreements and a diversity of views of the Jewish community, despite our community’s shared values. That diversity of views and disagreements is never more present than in our discussions of Israel.
A blog post couldn’t possibly begin to discuss all of the complexity about why Israel engenders such diversity of opinions, but if you review JCRC’s statements made during the debate over the “Iran Deal” or when President Trump moved the embassy and compare them to our communal statement in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors in 2017, or the statement we signed last month with Jewish institutions across New England (organized by ADL) in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, you will see how the different criteria that we consider result in very different statements.
As events unfold nationally and internationally in the weeks and months ahead, JCRC will make statements about various developments. As you read them, I hope that you will appreciate who JCRC is speaking to and why, and how these statements were crafted. (by the way, these Friday posts are not first and foremost for that civic audience – they are intended as a way to share our work and our approach with our stakeholders).
Also know that JCRC’s statements are a framing device for how we understand a moment or topic and that our programmatic work is the true action we take in alignment with these values and partnerships. Actions like the legislative agenda we’ve endorsed and mobilized on in recent weeks regarding racial justice and criminal justice reform; the 70 of our immigrant neighbors released from detention during this pandemic because of our efforts raising $100K in bail money; and our continued work through Boston Partners for Peace to support Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to honor and recognize one another’s dignity and narratives as a step toward building a better future for both peoples.
Words matter, and we have an obligation to you to explain how and when we use words. But actions matter as much, if not more. With your continued support and partnership, JCRC will continue to speak for and advance the organized Jewish community’s interests and values in Boston’s civic space, for whatever new issues or conversations that may arise.