Tag Archives: Anti-Semitism

Should American Jews Stop Trying to Defeat Antisemitism?

This blog post was originally posted on Times of Israel.

Should we, American Jews, stop trying to defeat antisemitism?

It is a question I’ve been pondering as I recently spent a month traveling through Europe and experiencing Jewish memory. And it is a question I’d love to hear from others about: Should we, as an American Jewish community, stop carrying the fight to “end” antisemitism in our country?

Why do I ask this question?

Because antisemitism – prejudice and hatred targeting Jews – has been a reality of Western Civilization going back for the better part of 1,500 years. As James Carroll laid out in his monumental Constantine’s Sword some twenty years ago, antisemitism is an enduring and defining feature of Western Christian civilization. To experience Europe’s history is to be reminded that antisemitism is our civilization’s constant, ever-evolving vehicle for defining what it means to belong to the West by defining the “other” within, i.e. the Jew, as something else.

We Jews attempt to adapt and conform to evolving European projections of belonging within the larger collective, only to experience a consistent response in which the collective is redefined in order to ostracize and exclude Jews. The examples are endless: When we considered ourselves to be as authentically Spanish as the Catholic Monarchs themselves, they determined Catholicism to be a defining feature of Spanish identity. When Enlightenment Protestants defined the modern nation-state, and relegated religion to the personal and private sphere, we adjusted our public identity accordingly, categorizing Judaism as religion (an ahistorical primary definition of Jewish identity) so that we might belong to the nation. But then, in Germany and elsewhere, we experienced, with devastating results, the re-centering of a racial national identity, with the Jew as the outsider once again. And, when Jews unified around the political nation-state as the fulfillment of our national being, post-nationalist elites made Israel, “the Jew amongst the nations,” the singular target of their anti-nationalist fervor.

We as Jews in the Western diaspora have always experienced and lived with antisemitism. If we think we can defeat it, we are deluding ourselves. As American Jews, we’ve become complacent in recent decades, when we embraced the notion that antisemitism was behind us. We did so because for a very brief moment in this nearly 2,000 year old civilization – from sometime in the mid-1980s to the early part of this century – and in our one truly exceptional country, antisemitism ceased to be part of our lived daily experience; it was largely banished from social acceptability and from the laws of the land.

If the current moment feels abnormal for a generation of American Jews who came of age in the last quarter century, what we are experiencing is in fact a return to the normal we’ve known for over a millennium.

If this is an accurate assessment, then what is to be done?

First and foremost, we must continue to insist – as we must insist for any oppressed minority – that we are the only ones who get to define our oppression. Others have no right to tell us what is antisemitic, nor how we should feel in response to it.

We as Jews need to be honest with ourselves about the enduring nature of Western antisemitism (and yes, I’m fully conscious that there is also non-Western antisemitism, including that within Muslim civilization. But the taxonomy of that antisemitism differs from that of the West. Since I’m writing specifically in the context of our US domestic challenge, to the extent that it is socially and politically tolerated, it is done so within the context of the larger challenge of the West. So, I’d like to defer and unpack that challenge on its own another day).

But antisemitism ought not and need not define us as a Jewish people. What should define us is our work of advancing the continued renaissance of our people as a force for good in the world (to paraphrase Avraham Infeld).

Antisemitism is not our disease. It’s the disease of our larger society. It is not we who need to visit the doctor and take the antibiotics. It is the society in which we currently reside.

This is not to suggest that we should stand down. Nor should we shut down our defense organizations. Far be it. We have a particular role, as a Jewish community, in tracking incidents and identifying the problem; in providing education and support to those who seek to eliminate its expression in their schools, workplaces and other settings. And, we as a Jewish community need to be focused on the specific challenge of securing our institutions and spaces so that we may gather as Jews in safety; our partnerships with government and law enforcement must be leveraged to that end.

But it must be the work of faith and civic leaders beyond the Jewish community – our elected officials, our Christian neighbors, and others – to root out this virus. The emergency strategy meetings within our community about fighting antisemitism (of which I have attended many) need to be supplemented by the emergency meetings of the leaders of every Christian denomination, by special sessions of legislatures, by the urgent and sustained action of our society’s leaders.

Jewish tweets and statements of condemnation will not beat this hate (though there is value in our articulating to others what we are experiencing and why we feel the fears that we do). What is needed is the amplified public voice of others amidst this rash of violence and targeting of our people.

I am reminded of the words of French prime minister, Manuel Valls, in 2015, following the attack on the Hyper Cacher market. He said that: “If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”

If the US would be judged a failure for no longer being a place where Jews can live in safety and security, then who will be judged and who will be the failure? It is not us, the American Jewish community. It will be the failure of the nation as a whole, and of those who stood idly by as expressions of this ancient hatred flourished once again.

And so we Jews must go on doing what we’ve always been doing: Being a people of “joy and not oy” (as Dr. Deborah Lipstadt puts it), building communities of caring and meaning, teaching the Jewish ethical tradition to our children, and bringing its wisdom and power into our society.

We as a Jewish community should fight antisemitism in America because of what it means for this nation, of which we are a part, to which we pledge our allegiance, and that we love no less than any other Americans. We must, in the words of President Washington, “give to bigotry no sanction” because we are Americans and because it undermines the ideals of our nation.

But we need not be defined by antisemitism. And we should be taking note when the nation of which we are a part is failing to rise to its challenge.

I would welcome a conversation about this approach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building Hope and Resiliency

If you had told me last week that joining a public letter calling out the New York Times for a cartoon would be only the second most noticed message this week about rising antisemitism, I would not have believed you.

But if you had told me one year ago that a synagogue shooting resulting in the murder of a Jewish woman wouldn’t even rise to being the most significant synagogue attack in this country this past year, I would not have believed you.

Yet, this is where we are. I believed it when I read this week’s announcement in an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) audit that “people across Massachusetts continue to experience antisemitism at historically high rates." And I believe it that we recorded the fourth highest number of incidents (following California, New York, and New Jersey).

There is a growing awareness and fear that this tide of hatred toward Jews isn’t dissipating anytime soon. The signs are unmistakable: the second murderous assault on an American synagogue by white supremacist this past year, waves of vandalism, and an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer—all occurring just days before we marked Yom HaShoah, this year on May 2nd, the Jewish national commemoration of the Holocaust.

And yet, this is not 1938 when, on Kristallnacht, German police and political leaders coordinated and abetted the attacks on the Jewish community. Nor is this 1943 when Boston’s Jewish community lacked the relationships with our political and civic leaders to respond to local acts of antisemitic violence that were cheered on by radio priests as police looked the other way.

Rather, we live in 2019. And as we saw after Pittsburgh and again this week, our local political leaders, civic partners, and law enforcement are standing with us. They are reaffirming a commitment to protect our houses of worship. They are rejecting as un-American the violence, the antisemitism, and other hatreds that are seeping back into the mainstream.

We now live in a time when we have the power to act. Governor Baker has reconstituted the MA Hate Crime Task Force. And our partners in the legislature share our commitment to ensure that institutions and all houses of worship can make the appropriate and necessary choices to balance safety and security with being open and welcoming. We are grateful to our representatives on Beacon Hill, led by Senator Eric Lesser and Representative Ruth Balser, who have secured $225,000 for pilot state-level non-profit security grants over the past two years. That money has directly benefited the JCC in Newton, Gann Academy in Waltham, and a synagogue near Springfield.

But it is not nearly enough. Massachusetts has fallen behind other states.

Since Pittsburgh, several states reacted swiftly by partnering with at-risk institutions to develop security enhancements and protocols, including: the State of New York offered $10 million in grants; New Jersey released $11.3 million in funds; Maryland released $5 million; and recently the Governor of California announced $15 million in grants. Massachusetts, however, has no funds yet allocated for the next year.

We have work to do. Massachusetts should lead, not follow, in protecting all Americans as we practice our first amendment rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of worship.

After every occurrence, we post our own and share others’ statements and public messages, both to share our community’s experience and to resist accepting the unacceptable as “normal.”

But statements aren’t the heart of our work, as JCRC or as a community. Our real impact is through our advocacy, the engagement of civic leaders, the determination to ensure that we do not stand alone—the very work that JCRC began 75 years ago. And it’s the work we’ll continue to do as we, along with our partners, shine a light on bigotry and antisemitism, and ensure that we have the tools and resources to reduce fear and build hope and resiliency.

Building hope and resiliency is what we’ll be doing this Sunday, May 5th, 2:00 pm, when we gather yet again at Faneuil Hall. We’ll be joined again by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, along with our Christian and Muslim partners, for the community-wide Holocaust commemoration of Yom HaShoah. This year's program will center on the transmission of memory from survivors to generations to come and will feature Holocaust survivor, Janet Singer Applefield, whose testimony encourages children and adults to stand up to discrimination and injustice.

We will also honor the student winners of the 13th Annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest. This year they were asked to answer the question: What responsibilities do you have as a “witness” when you see an act of hatred today?

That’s an important message and a question for our times.

I hope that we can count on your partnership in this collective effort this Sunday and in the weeks and years to come.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

CJP, JCRC Statement on Synagogue Shooting in Poway

CJP and JCRC were shocked and heartbroken at the news of another synagogue shooting at a Chabad center near San Diego yesterday.

The shooting, which happened during services marking the end of Passover, occurred six months to the day of the Tree of Life attack in Pittsburgh. It was also the first opportunity for a yizkor (memorial) service for the 11 Tree of Life victims.

Today, we mourn the life of Lori Kaye (z”l), a loving wife and mother, killed while she worshipped. Lori is described by friends as a “jewel of the community,” and an Eshet Chayil, a woman of valor. According to eyewitnesses, her last act demonstrated her courage – shielding the rabbi from the shooter as she was fatally wounded. Three other victims, including an 8-year-old girl, are recovering from gunshots.

This was yet another crime fueled by hatred. The suspected shooter had posted anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim messages on social media, and reportedly had a manifesto citing the attacks in both Pittsburgh and Christchurch as inspirations last month.  He also said he tried to burn down a mosque in March and self-identified as a white supremacist.

During these anxious times, we are grateful for our close partnership with local law enforcement to ensure that all houses of worship have the support they need to make the appropriate and necessary choices balancing safety and security while continuing to be a welcoming community.

We have been in contact with our partners in San Diego, including Chabad and the Jewish Federation of San Diego County to help meet the needs of those impacted by this devastating act. More information about how you can help with recovery efforts will be available in the coming days.

We join with people around the world in praying for the recovery of the victims and mourn with the friends and family of Lori Kaye. May her memory be a blessing.

Anti-Semitic tropes and the conversations that follow

I imagine that by using the term “anti-Semitic tropes” in this lead, you will expect to read a piece about events swirling around Capitol Hill. But I’d like to take a moment to share some insights from a different incident closer to home.

Last Saturday night, minutes after coming back online post-Shabbat, I became aware of a piece in Sunday’s Boston Globe Ideas section declaring that “a shocking number of Jews have become willing collaborators in white supremacy.” And much as I try to read everything with an open mind, I was immediately triggered when, five sentences in, the author proclaimed Jared Kushner along with several others to be “kapos.”

That Shoah-related term refers to, per the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “a concentration camp prisoner selected to oversee other prisoners on labor details. It is often used generically for any concentration camp prisoner to whom the SS gave authority over other prisoners.” I hate when I see this term used by some to refer to others in the contemporary Jewish community for political purposes.

Recognizing that I was triggered, I made a point of checking my judgment before reacting. I reached out to several people – folks whose wisdom I value – for a gut check: Was my reaction to the overall piece just mine, or was it as awful as I thought? Did it merit a response? And how quickly?

Within 90 minutes on Saturday night the answer was clear: Yes, it was as offensive as I thought. In fact, some of our member agencies were already drafting letters to the editor. But the piece was gaining traction on social media, with some highly complimentary reviews. Within hours, this was going to be on people’s doormats. We needed to act quickly and nimbly, to share our concerns and shape readers’ understanding of the problematic assertions in this essay.

With input from trusted colleagues, I tweeted a thread and shared this Facebook post naming some of the worst problems with the essay. I knew that my posting would preclude publication of a letter from me with the same points; an editor would perceive this as previously published content. But I also knew that my colleagues at ADL New England and AJC New England would be making their own articulate cases to the Globe, which devoted their entire letters to the editor section to negative reactions to the piece on Wednesday.

My post went viral, with over 100,000 impressions in 24 hours, driving the kind of discussion we had hoped for. We used that post in response to inquiries from civic and faith leaders with openhearted curiosity about our take on the essay, and with those who had praised it online. These honest exchanges yielded rich lessons for us.

In speaking to that other anti-Semitism conversation this week, Rabia Chaudry and Wajahat Ali – two Muslim activists and journalists from whom I am learning, and who are eagerly seeking out the Jewish community to help them in their own learning – wrote: “Different communities hear words differently and we all need to listen, engage, and communicate with one another to understand why.”

Their insight resonates as we’ve been reminded once again that the words that wound us so deeply can be in a language more private than we realize. We’ve been struck by how many well-educated and informed people outside of the Jewish community were unfamiliar with the term “kapo” – a word that sends chills down our spines. We’ve had many a conversation over the years explaining the history of “blood libels,” “dual loyalty,” and other anti-Semitic tropes with otherwise knowledgeable friends who are appalled once they learn the toxicity of these terms. We leave the conversations with reassurances, not needed but nonetheless given, that not only will they never use those terms in the future, but they’ll be sure to challenge those who do.

The trust that allows for these open exchanges with friends also creates the space where they help us to understand the all-too-frequent assaults on their dignity and humanity. They teach us the language of their hurts; to decipher dog whistles containing tropes offensive to their communities, which enhance our understanding of their experience and strengthen our ability to stand with them when they need us.

The very thin silver lining from that despicable Boston Globe piece is that it exposed anti-Semitic tropes to the light of day and opened up the space to have conversations that differentiate between the actions of individual Jews and the collective accusation of our people. We’re grateful for the heartfelt conversations this has led to – ones in which we can ask our partners how they experience unfolding events and learn something new from what we hear.

And those are the conversations that enrich us all.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Deeply Troubling Essay in The Boston Globe

I am deeply troubled and disappointed that The Boston Globe would publish the essay, “A shocking number of Jews have become willing collaborators in white supremacy.” This piece misappropriates Holocaust imagery in a reductive way and amplifies an anti-semitic trope without making the case for the author’s underlying thesis. To apply the term “kapo” to any Jew, and in general to use terminology related to the Holocaust in any context other than specifically talking about actual Nazis and the Holocaust is reductive and hurtful to Jews and victims of the Shoah. We at Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston have called out conservative Jews (inc. specifically Amb. David Friedman) for using the term “kapo” with regard to progressive Jews. It’s wrong when they do it and it is wrong when Jews on the left use it in political discourse regarding Jews on the right.

Further: It’s fine to go after Michael Cohen for his crimes and his actions. It’s fine to go after him as the son of a Survivor for his willful blindness to hatred & antisemitism that he had a part in elevating (he put that issue on the table himself). But to go from Michael Cohen to a larger thesis of “a shocking number of Jews” being “willing collaborators” to white supremacy elevates and perpetuates the anti-semitic trope of the nefarious Jew behind the curtain, aiding & abetting. In this case, specifically, the author makes the case that this is “a more extreme version of the same deal so many light-skinned Jews make with white supremacy” amplifying the hateful notion of the selfish Jews, putting ourselves and our interests above all else.

That the author does all this without ever making the case or offering data that Jewish individuals are overly represented amongst Trump abetters relative to our percentage of the population (or to exclusion of all the other trump abetters) is itself deeply problematic. Not to mention that the author makes no effort to take note that the vast majority of American Jews have rejected Trumpism (82% voted Dem in 2018) and many are leading the charge against him in a variety of forms.

In addition: This author uses language and framing that specifically and explicitly places Jews, as a whole, in the “whiteness” bucket in a way that minimizes Jewish experience and invisibilizes Jews of Color & Jews of sephardic/Mizrahi origin.

In sum: S. I. Rosenbaum is wrong to use term “kapo” in application to contemporary Jews, is wrong to lift up tropes that amplify anti-Semitic perceptions of Jews, and is wrong to oversimplify Jewish racial identity. And the Boston Globe was wrong to publish this piece.

CJP and JCRC Condemn Attack on Argentina’s Chief Rabbi

We were horrified and saddened to learn of the attack on Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich and his wife in their Buenos Aires home early Tuesday morning. Rabbi Davidovich, who suffered injuries after being beaten by intruders, remains hospitalized in serious condition. His wife was not injured. The attack is being investigated as an act of anti-Semitism.

We pray for his speedy recovery and for Argentinian officials to bring the perpetrators of this hideous crime to justice. And we pray for a time when Jews around the world will no longer experience the scourge of blind hatred.

A Special Post Announcing A Decision Made by Our Council Last Night

Seventy-five years ago, in 1944, a group of Jewish organizations in Boston formed a coalition to confront threats to the Jewish community, including and specifically anti-Semitism. That coalition, JCRC, came to act as a representative voice of the organized Jewish community, and over time, its constituent organizations developed abiding principles and values that live on in our mission statement.

JCRC’s priorities and agenda have evolved over time but our principles have endured.

In our early years, support for a safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel meant working for the survival of a nascent state and supporting the early upbuilding as it absorbed Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews expelled from Arab countries. Today it calls us to defend the State of Israel from those seeking to delegitimize its very existence, while working with our Israeli and Palestinian partners in support of their efforts to achieve the full promise and inspiring vision embedded in the Israel declaration of statehood.

Our commitment to promote an American society that is democratic, pluralistic, and just was a call to action for a generation of post-War American Jews working to find their place in a country where neighborhoods and associations could still say “No Blacks, No Jews.” Today, we face other and real threats to the norms of our democracy, challenges to the credibility of the institutions that bind us together as a society, and the fraying of our national sense of shared purpose around an American creed.

Six months ago, a member organization of JCRC signed on to a statement organized by a self-identified Jewish organization aligned with the global BDS movement, a movement that denies the legitimate national aspiration of the Jewish people. That action triggered questions and concerns within our coalition, given our long-established view that support for BDS is contrary to our mission. Our Membership Committee began a process of discussion and dialogue with our member organization.

In the course of those conversations, that member organization questioned whether JCRC’s long abiding principles were not only operative, but also whether they were in fact the view of the Council as a collective (comprised of 43 member organizations, 29 community representatives, along with our Officers, Board of Directors, and past presidents), affirmed through its decision-making process. To ensure a transparent democratic process, last month the JCRC Membership Committee asked the Council to reaffirm and codify our view.

As JCRC does when we are at our best, we entered into a deliberative process across our network. We circulated draft resolutions and rationales to all of our member organizations, who then went through their various internal processes to determine their views, articulate changes they would seek, and guide their votes on a final, codified view. Member organizations lobbied each other and community representatives on the Council. Caucuses came together around various specific issues and wording. Alternative motions were circulated and re-drafts were shared.

Last night, the Council came together at its regular meeting to hear the report of the Membership Committee and to make a decision.

The debate was tinged with sadness and humility.

Sadness that, in their frustration and anger with the government of Israel, some Jews would choose to hold the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; to act from an ahistorical ideology; to be part of organizations that lend credence to noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community.

Sadness that at the end of this JCRC process we may ultimately separate from a venerable organization, the Boston Workmen’s Circle (BWC), a founder of our coalition and a home for many Jews in Boston who have no other Jewish space that resonates for them.

Humility that our actions have consequences. We are clear that we are mandated only to define the compacts that bind this coalition together, and not to define who is a Jew or who should be excluded from the broader Jewish community. Even so, our hearts are heavy in the knowledge that the steps we take may be read by others as rejection of them as individuals and Jews; not just of an ideology that is counter to our mission.

Humility that we must do more to create spaces and pathways to action for those in our community who are disappointed and dismayed by the actions of Israel’s government. Pathways that connect them to Israelis and Palestinians who share their hopes and sense of urgency, without denying the legitimacy of our people’s national aspirations.

Our debate was held in the spirit of argument for the sake of heaven, with the understanding that good people who share a commitment to Israel’s future as a Jewish state can and often do have different ideas about that future and how to achieve it. It was a debate in the spirit of the houses of Hillel and Shammai as recorded in the Talmud, two vigorously dissonant views on issues fundamental to the codification of rabbinic Judaism but who, at the end of each debate, went home inextricably linked to each other as one community.

And then, finally, by a vote of 62 ayes and 13 nays, with 8 abstentions, our Council resolved:

That no member organization of JCRC, through its programs, activities and practices, shall partner with – in particular by co-sponsoring events primarily led or co-led by or by signing on to statements primarily organized or co-organized by – a self-identified Jewish organization that declares itself to be anti-Zionist;

such action is not compatible with, and is in conflict with, JCRC’s mission, and could be grounds for removal from the JCRC upon the determination of and through the procedures of this Council and its bylaws.

While our dialogue with BWC will continue in the coming weeks, we took an important step in clarifying who we are as a coalition, and what boundaries define this coalition in advancing JCRC’s mission. We did so through our process of deliberative and representative democracy on behalf of our organized Jewish community; a process that we rely on to form our principles and our policies; a process that is the foundation of the legitimacy to do public advocacy and community relations on behalf of this coalition. And we move forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Protecting our community while protecting our values

This week we marked the shloshim for those murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by white supremacist gunman Robert Bowers; the 30 days following burial in which mourners refrain from some everyday practices and communities engage in performance of mitzvot to honor the dead.

This past Friday night the Jewish community experienced another attack on a congregation, this time in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mohamed Abdi attempted to run down two visibly Orthodox men leaving Friday night services while yelling anti-Semitic epithets. Thankfully no one was injured.

These and many other incidents of rising acts of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes have our communities wrestling with new challenges. Wherever I traveled this past month, leaders in institutions – synagogues, JCCs, and others – are grappling with the unenviable task of navigating the balance among competing core values and priorities of Jewish communal spaces: between being safe and being inclusive and welcoming. How much security is necessary? What are the best practices? What measures are “too much,” either because cost outweighs the benefit, or because they exacerbate the problematic experiences for Jews of Color, or otherwise limit the ways in which we aspire to welcome people into Abraham’s four-fold open space?

This is, to say the least, an evolving conversation. And it is one we’ve been having with our own leaders and member agencies here at JCRC. I don’t presume to have “the” answer for every congregation or community, beyond encouraging each of them to have these conversations, to explore their own values, and to ask how they will hold multiple values in a dynamic tension that feels appropriate for them.

Our responsibility at JCRC is to do everything we can to ensure that our governments, at all levels, are doing everything in their capacity to ensure the security of our community and its institutions.

Last year we worked with the New England ADL and the Mass. Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF, which is run by JCRC) to seek Governor Baker’s commitment to reconstitute the state’s Hate Crime Task Force, which he readily did. We’ve been appreciative of the Governor’s support after Pittsburgh and have been pleased in recent days to see him leading on working with the Task Force to encourage all law enforcement agencies to fully report hate crimes and to take other measures to ensure that there is a “zero tolerance” for hate in Massachusetts. Our joint commitment to the vitality of this task force remains strong.

MAJF and JCRC also worked last year with our partners in the state legislature to establish a $75,000 pilot for non-profit security grant funding, complementing the federal grants which we advocate for in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America. This year, the state doubled the funding to $150,000 and we will be working with the governor and the legislature to increase the pool and streamline the application process to expand eligibility.

And the Jewish Emergency Management System (JEMS), a partnership of CJP, JCRC, ADL, and the Synagogue Council, is helping our network of agencies access a series of trainings and briefings on the issues they are grappling with in this time.

We’re also continuing to work on the range of public policy matters that were important to our community before Pittsburgh, which have taken on increased urgency in its aftermath. We are more committed than ever to ensuring that the United States remains a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees from around the world, including supporting our noble legacy institutions like HIAS, supporting our network of synagogues here in Massachusetts working in concert with interfaith partners to pass gun-violence prevention laws, and challenging those at the very highest levels of public life who are validating and amplifying the kinds of bigotry and hatred that lead to these attacks.

A month after Pittsburgh, the Jewish community has been changed. We don’t know yet fully how. But we do know that we all have a role to play in facing that change responsibly, while also remaining constant in our purpose and our values about who we are in the world.

We have a choice: To react passively to unfolding events, or act with agency, to protect both our community and its most deeply held values. I, for one, choose the latter option.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Standing Together During a Really Bad Week

It’s a bit of a “bad joke” amongst certain political and interfaith partners of ours that if we are gathered more than twice in one week it has been a bad week. This past week has been a really bad week.

Like all of you, I was shattered last Shabbat by the news out of Pittsburgh.

And, on Saturday night, I was struck by the immediate outpouring of love and support from partners and allies outside the Jewish community. The director of a mosque already reaching out to several rabbis before noon on Shabbat offering support “in any way.” The African Methodist Episcopal minister who, before we had even made Havdalah, emailed to tell us how our community’s solidarity with his following the church massacre in Charleston three years ago was seared in his memory; that what helped was to know that they “were not alone” and that “we will come at any time and in any way to support you.”

And there were texts and calls from public officials – some to me, many more to others who described them to me – the governor, the mayors, police commissioners, legislators, their aides; all offering help, all wanting to make sure we knew that they were ready with whatever our community needed in this moment.

Hearing these messages brought clarity; we needed to make sure that the experience of being held in love and support by the broader community would not be limited to a small circle of Jewish communal leaders. We needed to make sure that all of our community could be held by these folks; because our grief is not the private reality of rabbis and CEOs but of all of us, every single member of a community reeling in the aftermath of this unthinkable slaughter.

So we tapped into our network of member agencies, each with key relationships and unique competencies. Within hours, we had announced a vigil for Sunday afternoon on the Boston Common, and quickly had commitments from a broad array of the state’s leading public and faith figures. They stood wall to wall with us on Sunday. Their messages were heartfelt; understanding our pain, denouncing the hate motivating the attack and offering strength as we struggled to cope with the weight of events.

They invoked profound relationships: Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the partnership between our communities in supporting immigrants and refugees. They understood us and our fears: Shaykh Yasir Fahmy urged us to keep wearing our Judaism proudly and publicly, to “hold our yarmulkes tighter” just as he would tell his own youthful congregants to “hold their hijab closer” after an experience of Islamophobia. And with gentle and loving insistence, they challenged us to be with them as well, as Rev. Liz Walker did when she invited us to be in partnership with her community in Roxbury as it deals with ongoing and almost daily acts of violence.

Sunday was a beginning toward healing and also a reminder – we haven’t and won’t be facing violent anti-Semitism alone. And it was an invitation, made all the more resonant as we were reminded often this week – by the murder of a black couple in Kentucky last week, and then on Wednesday with the racist graffiti as Tynan School in South Boston – to be present in the struggles of our neighbors as well, as this country grapples with the toxin of hatreds targeting all of our communities.

The power of Sunday on the Common didn’t “just happen,” and it certainly didn’t happen in just a few hours on Saturday night. It was made possible through years of investment in relationships by the network of JCRC members. We have built deep and enduring ties with our interfaith partners on matters of common concern, while engaging in honest and challenging conversations about areas of tension and disagreement. We rolled up our sleeves to work with our friends in the state house over decades to advance our values and work together for the better good of the commonwealth. We heard “yes, of course I’ll be with you” from every partner we reached out to on Saturday night, because, for years, our community has invested in the urgent necessity of community relations.

And this morning I joined leaders from ADL New England and JALSA, along with many of those same faith and community leaders, at the Tynan School to show our support for our neighbors and to stand with them against hatred here in Boston. We stood together because we all need to be held and we all need to hold each other in these times if we are going to find a way forward as a nation.

L-R: Robert Trestan of ADL New England, Cindy Rowe of JALSA, and Jeremy Burton of JCRC

And as we enter this first Shabbat after Pittsburgh, we will again see many of those partners in shul this weekend. I am heading off to services tonight joined by so many of our friends who are joining Jews around the world to #ShowUpForShabbat.

The problem and the threat of violent anti-Semitism isn’t going to be solved overnight. And it is deeply intertwined with a larger challenge of violent and hateful extremism that threatens not only the Jewish community but all Americans – as members of threatened communities and as stakeholders in a nation being threatened by the normalization of hatreds.

So yes, seeing our partners so often means it has been a very bad week. But it has also been a week filled with hope – because they’ve shown up for us and we’ve shown up for them. Together we are finding the resiliency to move forward, stronger together and ready to do the work we do every day of holding community and communities in partnership.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

CJP, JCRC Joint Statement on Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

Community Vigil Scheduled Tomorrow (Sunday, Oct. 28th) on the Boston Common at 2:00pm.

Today, during a Shabbat service of reflection, prayer, and celebration, 11 people were murdered and another six injured by a suspected anti-Semitic, xenophobic extremist at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

We are as devastated as we are horrified. We have reached out to the Pittsburgh Jewish community to express our support. We pray that the families of the victims find comfort during this unimaginably painful time and for the full recovery of the wounded. And we offer our gratitude to the brave first responders in Pittsburgh who risked their lives to prevent further bloodshed.

In our close-knit Jewish communal world, many of us have friends and family in Pittsburgh, and know congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue. These are our brothers and sisters, our friends, our family, and our children.

During this time of great despair and anxiety, CJP and JCRC have been in close contact with local law enforcement, who have been extremely proactive and supportive in their response. We also appreciate the outreach from Governor Baker and the interfaith community, who stand with our Jewish local community and those around the country. There is no indication of any increased threat locally.

Anti-semitism and hatred in its many forms are antithetical to our faith and an affront to humanity. For the victims, we will mourn. For the living, we will continue to fight for a better, more just world.

May the memories of those we lost today be a blessing.

We invite you to join us for a CJP/JCRC/ADL vigil for the victims at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Please join us as we gather on Boston Common at the Parkman Bandstand at 2:00pm