Relationships that bolster our resiliency

For those of us who advocate on Beacon Hill on behalf of our communities, working to advance a broad agenda of budget and legislative priorities, the past year has been exceptionally challenging. Hearings and meetings over Zoom don’t have the same tactile richness as connecting in person. A virtual legislative reception, like the one we hosted last month, doesn’t allow for the small conversations, introductions and fortuitous moments that are so essential in finding common ground and overcoming differences on policy.

So we at JCRC are all the more gratified, as you know, to enjoy continued legislative and budgetary wins even now.

As many of you know, last week we said farewell to Aaron Agulnek, JCRC’s director of government affairs, who has been with us for almost twelve years. We’re grateful for all that he’s done in his time here on behalf of our community – advocating for non-profit security funding, workforce development, criminal justice reform, and the continuing effort to mandate genocide education were all sources of pride for him as he departed JCRC. We wish him the greatest success in his next ventures.

In my tenth year here, I’ve been thinking back on the many meaningful moments during my tenure. One that keeps coming back to me, is from my first days. When I was interviewing and then during the transition, there had been genuine concern about an “outsider” being able to do this job. And while “outsider” in Boston often means anyone who’s grandparents were not born here, in my case it wasn’t just that I came from somewhere else to take the job, but that I was stepping in without the benefit of relationships on Beacon Hill.

In those early months, I learned an essential lesson; that the strength of our network and our ability to be effective rested on no one person, not even someone with decades of history. Rather, it rests on a wide web of relationships built by volunteers and professionals across our member agencies. There were leaders on the Hill who didn’t know me, but knew us, or parts of us. Many of them were leaders in their own right within the Jewish community, others had been in the trenches with us and had bonds that were both deep and wide.

This season, as we jump into our second legislative session during a pandemic, I’m struck by the resiliency that comes through thick relationships. I was reminded of that again this week when the House budget was released, reflecting shared priorities championed through the leadership of so many of our friends on Beacon Hill.

So thank you to House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz (a former JCRC Council member) and Speaker Mariano (a recent JCRC legislative leadership honoree) for championing a historic budget that increases funding and support for crucial programs and social services, needed now in our recovery, more than ever. It’s great to see funding included for Transitions to Work, a longtime collaboration by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Boston, CJP, and the Ruderman Foundation, that creates job training programs for adults with disabilities. Chair Michlewitz has shepherded the work  to provide key funding to help young adults get into college for long-term success, a priority for us and our partners at JVS.

We’re thrilled to see continued investment in the Secure Jobs initiative, which provides job placement, housing support and stabilization services to those who are housing insecure. Leader Joe Wagner has helped us build this program over so many years. Rep. Ruth Balser, a leader in the Newton Jewish community, has been a passionate advocate and partner, working with us to bolster state funding to protect our at-risk institutions, including places of worship. 

Thanks to the leadership of members like Rep. Tommy Vitolo, Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) funding in the budget will help seniors stay in their homes and have access to exercise, socialization, healthcare and other services.  The Jewish community has also been a leader in providing training to new immigrants and refugees, such as our partners at JVS. State funding helps make sure this continues and Rep. Mike Moran has long led the charge for this.

Of course, the work is not yet done. In a few weeks, the Massachusetts Senate will present its budget plan, and then the two legislative branches will have to work out their differences. Down the line we look forward to thanking, again, those senators who’ve partnered with and championed the priorities of JCRC, our network of agencies, and the organized Jewish community.

But for now, we express our gratitude to  Rep. Michlewitz and Speaker Mariano and all of our friends In the House for their longtime deep support of the Jewish community and the programs above. And we are reminded, again, as I was ten years ago, that the strength of our relationships runs deep and wide, and that each generation of community leaders builds upon the work of those who came before us, and we will then pass the baton to the next generation who will carry the work forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy