Shattered but Not Broken

Early Wednesday morning a carefully planned day was disrupted by an event whose urgency would necessitate JCRC’s immediate attention and action: as Holocaust survivors and their children across our community awoke, they would learn about the desecration of a sacred space – the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM) – on the morning news.

By now you are no doubt aware that a pane of glass – etched with numbers the Nazis carved into the arms of their victims – had been shattered in an act of vandalism during the night. For JCRC – charged with the responsibility of convening our community together at this site and ensuring its centrality as a conduit for education and the transmission of memory –  several critical questions arose. How best to support our community in the face of this trauma? How to begin the process of healing? How to be assured that justice would be done, enabling us to move forward as a stronger and more united community?

The answer was one that defines community relations: reach out to our network, rely on the strengths of each of our member organizations, look to the relationships we and they have built over years, and speak with one voice as one community in the public square.

By the time most Bostonians woke up, our team was working with many of our members, in particular CJP, ADL, and the American Association of Holocaust Survivors, along with many individual leaders, and particularly those who led in the building of the Memorial over two decades ago. As a collective, we had more information, more resources, and more contacts with public leaders than any of us individually could possibly have. Together, we had a plan.

By the time most Bostonians arrived at work, we knew where the replacement glass panes were stored. We knew how the Boston Police Department and Commissioner Evans were handling the investigation. We knew that Mayor Walsh was personally involved and that District Attorney Conley was preparing to arraign a suspect in custody.

And we knew that in concert with our various organizations and leaders, we needed to demonstrate our strength and resiliency, to stand with our public officials in sharing this information with our community, and most significantly, to assert that while glass had been shattered, we were not broken.

By 9:30 am we released an advisory, contacted and briefed more of our members, and encouraged them and our partners to get the word out. By 11:00 am we were gathered, some 200 of us, together with Mayor Walsh, the DA, many members of the City Council, interfaith partners, and most importantly, leaders from the Holocaust survivor community.

We stood before the shattered glass in front of a bank of cameras – virtually the entire Boston media and many from afar – to support each other and to stand as one. We heard from Izzy Arbeiter, community leader and survivor of multiple concentration camps, who bore numbers on his arm like those on the shattered memorial. Izzy told us of being woken by his sobbing wife, whose inability to speak alarmed him into thinking that perhaps something tragic happened to a family member. We heard a resounding and unwavering message of support from Mayor Walsh and a message on behalf of Governor Baker who was unable to be in Boston this morning. We had a briefing from DA Conley, with his assurance that justice would be done. Thanks to the witnesses who fulfilled their civic responsibility by reaching out to law enforcement, and thanks to CJP’s 24-hour video monitoring, the case was already moving swiftly. And thanks to the foresight of the community leaders who established the NEHM, replacement glass would be on its way, to be installed in a rededication ceremony in the very near future. Speaker after speaker confirmed the most important message of all; that we were stronger than the person who broke the glass, that the sanctity of the Memorial would be restored, and the values of our community reaffirmed.

As the news broke, we were flooded with messages of concern and support from our interfaith partners. As the day went on we heard from concerned citizens, Memorial neighbors, and our own community members, with offers to help with the repairs.

None of this would have been possible without the strength of our network. None of this would have come together so quickly, and smoothly, without the relationships cultivated by our network of member organizations over the years. None of this would have happened if we didn’t have an organized Jewish community, committed to acting together and speaking with one voice on matters of gravest concern to us all.

I invite you to join me in making a gift to support the NEHM’s repairs (click the banner above). I invite you to join me at the rededication effort in the coming weeks (details to follow). And I invite you to draw – as I do – strength and resiliency from the reminder this week that we are stronger together and more powerful than the sum of our parts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy