Testimony of Jeremy Burton before the MA Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security (June 9, 2017)


Good afternoon Chairman Moore, Chairman Naughton, and esteemed Committee members. My name is Jeremy Burton, and I am the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a network of 42 organizations representing our organized Jewish community.

Much has already been said today about historic moments and lessons for today’s challenges. This week also marks the anniversary of a dark episode in our nation’s history, when our values were put to the test and we tragically failed.

In June 1939, the St. Louis sailed up and down our east coast, carrying over 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Canada and the United States refused to allow them entry and, on June 6th, 1939, they were turned back to Europe. One-quarter of those men and women were murdered by the Nazis.

We have not forgotten the tragedy that resulted from our people being turned back from US shores – and we refuse to let history repeat itself.

Like earlier immigrants, Jews came to this country seeking refuge and opportunity – as do immigrants arriving today to our great Commonwealth. Time and time again, forces rise up to denounce the stranger as a threat, rather than a neighbor. The story of the St. Louis is just one of the many instances where we have abandoned our principles: from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the days of “Irish Need Not Apply”, to many other instances of stereotyping and vilification of the other..  But, that is not the end of the story, because in our land, people of good conscience ultimately prevail. The road is long, but we do not despair.

This is why, in January of this year, In response to the executive orders on immigration and separately regarding refugees, some 40 Boston Jewish religious, philanthropic, civic and human service organizations came together to say that these actions – which are causing anxiety, pain and anguish throughout immigrant communities and our nation – are unjust.  We stand together on the side of empathy and religious tolerance and we urge compassion to those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.

We urge our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign born neighbors throughout the Commonwealth.

We believe that we need to stop approaching these issues with a rhetoric of fear and demonization and a policy that treats human beings around the world as an enforcement problem. We believe that these issues must be approached as a humanitarian matter, with a commitment to the dignity and welfare of all peoples.

That is why we at JCRC are here today to support the Safe Communities Act and it is why, over the course of the day, you will hear and receive testimony and messages of support from many of our member organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Jewish Vocational Service and the Workmen’s Circle. All of them join us in urging you to report the Safe Communities Act out with a favorable recommendation.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Shabbat Shalom