Tag Archives: Community Relations

Under the sukkah with civic leaders

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of being at the Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture, as we welcomed five members of the Boston City Council along with several members of Mayor Wu’s cabinet into the sukkah. The visit, organized by the Vilna together with Councilor Kenzie Bok (representing district 8, home to the Vilna) and Council President Ed Flynn (a long-time dear friend and partner to our community and to JCRC), was an opportunity to share and celebrate our holiday tradition, to experience this historic space, and to engage in a discussion about the past and future of the Jewish community in the city of Boston. 

The Vilna was created by Lithuanian immigrants in 1919 as a spiritual center in their new country. In 1995 a massive 10-year restoration project took place, including uncovering and restoring the original Jewish folk art murals. Today the Vilna is the only immigrant era synagogue in Boston, is a registered museum through the Council of American Jewish Museums and serves as a cultural center. 

Caron Tabb, the accomplished visual artist who designed this sukkah installation, explained the symbols and meanings of the sukkah and her interpretation of it. Then Dalit Ballen Horn, executive director of the Vilna, gave a tour of the sanctuary and the restoration work – which is supported, in part, by the city’s community preservation fund.

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Photo Courtesy of Vilna Shul

To be in this space is to experience the layers of Jewish identity. The ark expresses an identification with this country – with its prominent American eagle – and also, more specifically, with New England through carved seashells (an unusual motif for a Jewish space).  The walls have mosaics envisioning the ancient homeland and sacred places of the Jewish people in Bethlehem and Hebron (in a building constructed before there was a State of Israel). The language above the door is Yiddish but uses English words. And of course, the name expresses the most immediate prior land from which the congregation’s founders came to America – Vilnius, (now in) Lithuania.  

I am always inspired when I am here. The councilors and cabinet members clearly were as well.

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When we sat down for a more intimate conversation about Boston’s Jewish community with Dalit, CJP’s Marc Baker, and myself, folks around the table opened up, sharing heartfelt and personal experiences of their Jewish journeys. We remembered those who’ve inspired and partnered with us over the decades, and discussed the work we’ve done together and our shared hopes for our partnership going forward. It was inspiring and energizing. 

It was a reaffirmation of a long partnership between civic leaders who value the Jewish community in Boston, and a community that values our legacy in this city as well as our commitment to its future.  

The city of Boston, with some 40,000 Jewish residents, continues to be one of the primary population centers of our local Jewish community - roughly equal in numbers to Brookline and Newton (albeit in a city with a much larger overall population). Boston’s Jewish community is also, in many ways, more diverse and diffuse than that of the region as a whole – it includes Orthodox, Russian, queer and Reconstructionist communities; seniors, young adults and empty nesters. And, it is spread out across neighborhoods that include Brighton, JP, West Roxbury and the downtown area. There is no one dominant center of Jewish life in the city, but rather several centers, each with its own flavors, traditions, and richness. Still, all these communities are invested in the future of the city and are participants in the vibrancy of their neighborhoods. 

Community relations – the building of connection, understanding and partnership between Jewish communities and our civic neighbors – isn’t just the work of JCRC. It’s the work of all our network members – the cultural, religious, activist, and social institutions that make up JCRC and who are the fabric of our vital community.  

This week’s visit of the Boston City Council to a sukkah came from the work being done by Vilna to situate itself in the broader Beacon Hill community – including its own heritage connected to that neighborhood’s early African-American legacy and the Baptist church that became Vilna’s first home in the area. Our time together built on the relationships that Vilna leaders have invested in with the public officials representing their neighborhood.  

So, kudos to the Vilna team, to Dalit, and to board chair Bob Thurer (who was also with us) for bringing us all together this week. And congratulations, again, to everyone who has been part of the revitalization of this space as a cultural and civic anchor in the city in recent years (I encourage you to take a tour!). I’m excited to see Vilna prosper, and to build on the relationships we nurtured, together, this week.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton
CEO, Jewish Community Relations Council

#TheTimesWeLiveIn

Yesterday I retweeted this tweet from Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn:  

“Lord am I overjoyed to check my phone after Yom Kippur and find no terrible news of an antisemitic incident at a synagogue! #thetimeswelivein”  

I echoed her sentiment and agreed that this was indeed an awful thought to have. Unfortunately, we had spoken too soon, and there came the reports of a German synagogue’s window being shattered during Yom Kippur services. 

These are indeed the times we live in, disturbing and frightening times where it seems like every other day there’s another swastika sighting, age-old antisemitic tropes resurface, or another Jew is attacked on the streets of New York.  

This antisemitism is multi-layered and multi-directional. It comes from the right and from the left, and it is a present and real threat. Our response must therefore also be multi-layered and multi-directional, addressing the root causes and each facet concurrently.  

We at JCRC and our partners have been hard at work on this multi-layered approach. We successfully advocated for a law mandating Genocide Education in our schools and secured $1.5 million for the genocide education trust fund to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust will be taught to future generations. And as religious institutions and those of our neighbors are threatened, JCRC successfully advocated to secure three million dollars in nonprofit security grants for vulnerable religious institutions. 

Our newest initiative, and the next layer, is grassroots, and leverages our successful advocacy campaign to directly educate the next generation. We are thrilled to be launching Student to Student (STS), a classroom-based experiential program that engages Jewish teens who are trained to demystify Judaism by giving presentations in high schools that have no Jewish presence. These young people authentically share their Jewish identities with their non-Jewish peers, many of whom have never met or interacted with someone from the Jewish community.  

"Can Jewish people celebrate birthdays? What about Thanksgiving?" "Do Jews still do animal sacrifices like in the Bible?" "Can you only go to Jewish colleges?" "What are your feelings about Israel? "Do stereotypes about Jews bother you?" 

These are just a few of the many questions that have been asked during the presentations, which take the form of informal conversations, confronting stereotypes and misinformation. Participants speak openly about their experiences as Jewish teens. They share stories about their lives and bring props to enhance their presentations. When discussing Shabbat, instead of just describing challah, they pass around the Sabbath bread for the students to sample. The non-Jewish students come away with a new understanding of Jewish religious and cultural practices and connect to the presenters on a personal level.  

The program was created 30 years ago by the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council, which five years ago began helping other communities launch their own STS programs. Of the non-Jewish students surveyed in D.C.’s Student to Student program during the 2018-2019 school year, 84% reported they had been motivated to share what they learned or take another step to learn more about Judaism and the Jewish people, and 61% shared what they learned with others. 83% of the teachers strongly agreed that the presentations broke down stereotypes, and 78% strongly agreed that the presentations helped counter antisemitism.  

“Student to Student gave me a platform to bring more awareness and understanding about my religion to other students. Without this program, other students would only have a surface level understanding of Judaism which could perpetuate misinformation and negative stereotypes.” 

– Nicole, Jewish Student Presenter 

Your child or a teen in your life can join us for the 2022-2023 school year to help break down stereotypes and foster increased understanding in our community! Nominations and applications are Open for this Year! 

For more information, please contact JCRC Director of Education Initiatives and Special Projects, Emily Reichman. 

We are committed to meeting these challenges together as a community, to working together with our partners, and investing in future generations. 

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy

Relationships of obligation and accountability

With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse
With clergy at the Moakley Courthouse

This past week, after much delay, Rachael Rollins was installed as the new U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. You may have seen some media in recent weeks about concerns for her personal safety, along with that of her family, in the wake of many threats she has received (an unfortunately not atypical experience for women, and women-of-color in particular, in high office).  

A few weeks ago – coming back online after Shabbat - there was a message for me from a pastor who has been a long-time friend and ally: will you sign a letter with several pastors, and ask rabbis to join you, calling on the Attorney General to address Rollins’s security needs? And, we need an answer by Sunday.  

We’ve got our own process at JCRC on responding to allies. We quickly consulted some of our members and huddled with our executive committee that night. We had some questions about some of the letter’s framing; but there was no question we would respond affirmatively to our partner. I called the pastor and told him that yes, I would sign the letter. We also reached out to our network of rabbis, many of whom signed on enthusiastically within that short window. The Boston Globe reported on that letter last week; and again, on short turnaround, well after 10pm on Wednesday night, another ask came from the pastors, to join a media event at the Moakley Courthouse, outdoors, in the bitter cold the next day. 

There was no hesitation on my part. I cleared my calendar and I went. I was proud to be there – along with Rabbi Elaine Zecher of Temple Israel in Boston – together with several ministers, many of whom we’ve been in deep relationship, and some of whom are relatively recent acquaintances.  

When I spoke, I evoked the very recent memories of how Rollins was the first public leader to show up when Rabbi Noginski was brutally attacked in Brighton last summer; how she stood with us that first morning after and unequivocally characterized this assault as an act of antisemitism. She asserted that people needed to be held accountable, made an example of, and pursued through a civil rights investigation. DA Rollins has our back, I said, and we have her back in the face of the threats she is now receiving. 

Afterwards, one of the pastors with whom I am close, commented that I must have had to navigate some complexity to show up here, given that he knows that the Jewish community is not of one mind about some of Rollins policy agenda. Not at all, I replied. This one was an easy call.  

And therein why I tell you all this. Because standing up for our U.S. Attorney in this moment wasn’t easy because it “was the right thing to do” (though it was the right thing to do). It was easy because of the relationships involved. It was easy because she’s had our back when we needed her, yes. But also because of the relationships with these ministers, many of whom have shown up for us time and time again over the years at the drop of a hat. Some of whom I’ve been privileged to bear witness to as they navigated their own complexities in order to stand with the Jewish community. Because we’ve built relationships together that have fostered trust between us, even when we disagree; relationships of obligation and accountability that also catalyze our ability to do more for each other.  

What I’m thinking about going into Martin Luther King Day, is not about any one specific policy change – though those are certainly important - to address the still incomplete work that he challenged us to do. It is, rather, about how we must be together with each other; the fostering of our obligations to each other to do that work, and more. It’s the weaving of the connections to others and not being “just” of and for our own communities. Connections that move us from a culture of many siloed communities to being one community; that obligate us to each other – as leaders and citizens - and that challenge ourselves to do the things that are hard. 

This is not easy work. These relationships take time, years of honest and often hard conversations, of real listening, and of showing up for each other in all sorts of ways. But the benefits are mutual, empowering, and transformative. 

Recommitting to the hard road that leads, eventually, to transformation; isn’t that what this weekend is about? 

I hope you’ll join us in that commitment and that work. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Jeremy Burton, JCRC Executive Director

p.s. If it is in keeping with your Shabbat practice, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins will be making one of her first public appearances in her new role tonight at Temple Israel in Boston. She will be the guest speaker at their annual Shabbat Tzedek service. The community is invited.  

The Story of our Community of Communities

When JCRC is in the news, more often than not, it is about a public policy issue, our engagement with elected officials, or some other political process that is complex and at times even controversial. And, more often than not, when we’re in the national Jewish news, it is because of fraught processes we are engaged in about communal boundaries; who gets to sit at the table, and what politics are out of bounds. These are both accurate representations of aspects of JCRC. We are, after all, a coalition of organizations and individuals from across the ideological spectrum, coming together to identify and advance collective Jewish communal concerns in Greater Boston.  

These days it can often feel like too much of the public discourse is offered solely through the prism of politics. You know the headlines, that tend to sound something like: “Breaking News: The President stubbed his toe. What will this mean for the midterm elections?”  

Or, to put it another way, most people do not wake up in the morning thinking about how a traffic jam on the Pike will impact the next election (though some people I know do). They’re worrying instead about how it will impact their ability to be home with family for dinner.   

So, while politics is what we “do” on behalf of our community at JCRC much of the time, it isn’t who we are. Who we are is a community – an organized community – the Jewish community of Greater Boston. And we are a community of communities; the many – over 40 – organizations that are the members of our Council. And even these organizations are communities of communities; the many congregations that make up a denomination, the many clubs and groups that make up a JCC. And so on.  

I’m privileged to be exposed to all these communities during the course of my work. I get to experience their programs, honor their differences, and be inspired by their energy. I get to appreciate all the ways that each of them is doing interesting, important things that – together – make up the story of our community. 

I aspire to a Jewish community where all of us get to appreciate what I see every day in our members. And I’m excited that we at JCRC are rolling out a new Speakers Series to lift up these communities that make up the JCRC Council.  

Over the last year, I’ve been sitting down with many of our civic partners and public officials to discuss their work and JCRC’s partnership with them. Many of you have joined us for these – now almost weekly – conversations. And we’ll keep having them.  

Now, starting on December 21st, I invite you to join me for a new series: conversations with my colleagues, the professionals who lead – as CEOs, executive directors, and regional directors – our member organizations. We’ll be talking about what brought them to this work, how they practice building a vibrant Jewish community, how they think about their communities in a broader ecosystem, and how they understand the notion of “community.” 

We’ll be kicking off this series with Dalit Ballen Horn, who began as the new executive director of The Vilna Shul this past year. In the coming weeks I’ll sit down with Lital Carmel of the Israeli-American Council of Boston, and with Ari Fertig of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. We’ll be announcing more conversations in the months ahead (with over 40 members, some half of whom have regional executives, it will take time to get to everyone).  

The focus of these conversations won’t be “politics” – though some may include the topic. What they will be are conversations about who we are in all of our parts. We hope that they will be illuminating to our appreciation of these leaders and their communities. And we hope they will deepen our understanding, as well as that of our civic partners, about who and what we mean when we talk about the organized Jewish community in Greater Boston.   

I hope you’ll join us on this journey. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

When “Holocaust” was trending on social media this week

Our work includes priorities that we work on for months and even years at a time. We don’t let go of these concerns and we never lose our focus on them, even as we work on several things at any one time. Then there are days when something in the news reminds us why we cannot and do not lose our focus. And sometimes, there are days when serendipity causes the head to spin, as such news unfolds side by side with progress on our efforts.

Yesterday was one of those days.

In the afternoon, the alerts started popping about a story broken by NBC, that a top administrator with a Southlake, Texas school district “advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an ‘opposing’ perspective.”

You read that right. This official was positing that there is an “opposing” view to the fact of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis against our people. Justified outrage and calls for retractions and apologies were being voiced. It was a vivid reminder of a problem  my colleagues and I have discussed repeatedly: in this space rising antisemitism along with a failure to know and understand the history of the Holocaust and other genocides and the lessons of that history. The result of that problem is that we have an American generation being raised with chasmic moral blind spots as we here in Massachusetts were reminded so vividly this spring in Duxbury.

(Reports this morning indicate that the situation in Texas may be more complex than originally reported and that the administrator wasn’t trying to “both-sides” Holocaust education, but rather is struggling to comply with a new state law barring certain educational methodologies)

And, yesterday, nearly simultaneously to the news out of Texas, came news that the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means had reported out S.2557, An Act concerning genocide education, that we support. As we and ADL said together last night (you can read our full statement here):

This strong bill achieves key objectives in providing schools across the Commonwealth with access to resources to implement genocide education programs. Through lessons about the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other instances of genocide, such programs will serve to ensure that students learn to recognize and fight hate in their communities.

Genocide education is key to combating hate by helping students understand how seemingly benign stereotypes and prejudice can turn into atrocity. Over the last several years, we have seen a significant rise in hateful incidents in our communities, paired with a dangerous downturn in knowledge about the Holocaust and other genocides. We appreciate the support of the House and Senate Chairs of the Joint Committee on Education in moving this legislation forward early in session and hope to see it make its way to Governor Baker’s desk as swiftly as possible.

And so, this morning, and every day, we at JCRC, along with our partners, are fired up to keep working on this specific effort. And we’re reminded anew of the urgency and importance of ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust does not fade, and that every possible effort is being made to confront and combat rising antisemitism.

I’m grateful to you all for your partnership in this urgent and important work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton 

Holding Complex Relationships

Earlier this week I was doing my morning meditation, following a prompt to reflect on the reality that when someone causes harm to someone else, more likely than not, the person causing the harm moves on quickly. Meanwhile the person who was harmed continues to carry it, in the form of anger. That anger prevents us from being able to be curious about why the harm was done, and by extension, to understand the motive behind the harm done. 

I’m paraphrasing that – because one doesn’t stop to take notes during meditation. It was also a bit disruptive to my session because it really got my mind going in that moment; thinking about some of the civic relationships that our community has been navigating of late. 

Over the summer I’ve been privileged to sit in on a series of meetings organized by the Agudas Yisroel for the Orthodox community in Brighton to engage with all of Boston’s mayoral candidates. I admire how these congregations have come together to talk about their specific concerns that are impacted by municipal government, along with their resilience in the wake of a violent antisemitic attack on the community this summer.  

And, this week I attended a meet-and-greet organized by the new ‘Cambridge Jewish Civics Club’ with most of the candidates for our city council. I observed my neighbors engaging with a range of candidates on many issues. Not all those conversations were easy; several people, rightly, challenged one incumbent who had made – what many of us interpret as antisemitic remarks at a Council meeting last May, for which he has yet to publicly apologize.  

I’ve been feeling hopeful as both of these parts of our community are mobilizing and registering voters ahead of the consequential elections next month. 

Heads Up: The last day to register for the MA municipal elections this year is next Wednesday, October 13th. You can still register here. 

And, of course, there’s the relationship that I discussed with the Jewish Insider last week; a relationship with our community, that has, at times, been very warm but has also become fraught and that, to judge by the responses I’ve received from our leaders and activists, draws a wide range of strongly held feelings.  

In other words, it is fair to say that in community relations work, it is not uncommon for someone – whether in civic space, or within our own community – to say or do something that causes genuine harm; to us, to the causes we are passionate about, to people who matter to us. And, we are all, including myself, sometimes angry and always passionate about harms done to us.  

Still and all, we’re in the business of relations, which is a bit more complex and nuanced than simply being advocates. We’re not only mobilizing our supporters and those who agree with us; we’re building bridges of understanding across disagreements. I, and we, can and need to be “angry and tired” at times, but I also get energized by the relationships we nurture, in all their complexity. And, I am energized by observing and supporting grassroots efforts – like the ones described above, but also many others – that build our community’s civic engagement and relationships.  

So, for now, I’m carrying our anger where I need to, and my curiosity, always. And I’m hopeful that the efforts of our community, in its diffuse parts, are helping to forge understanding and change as well as accountability where needed.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy Burton 

p.s. While October 13th may be the deadline to register to vote this year, JCRC is working in coalition with Common Cause MA and others to eliminate the gap between election day and the voter registration deadline. This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Votes Act, which would, among other reforms, establish same-day registration, already available in 20 states. Props, especially, to Senate President Spilka, Senator Creem, Senator Finegold, Senator Rausch and Senator Rodrigues for their leadership on this issue. But this bill is not a law yet and there is more work to be done. If you want to join us in working to enact this law, consider registering to join us at the VOTES Act coalition lobby day next Wednesday, October 13.    

The Derek Chauvin Verdict and the Work Ahead

On Tuesday afternoon, like so many of us, I spent an hour anxiously waiting for the Derek Chauvin verdict to be announced, after which I connected with others to share our reflections. A dear colleague shared that recently they had been feeling that if they can’t fix all the things in our world that are broken, why even try? Why not just give up amidst the heartbreak and the overwhelming demand put on our moral compasses?

Still, amidst the despair, there was that moment, in the first hour after the verdict, when so many of us had an initial reaction of relief, thanking God that a measure of justice was achieved.

And then we pulled back and reflected on the larger scope of what was happening. That this was not justice. Justice would be George Floyd being alive today. This was accountability for one officer who had committed murder. Justice would be a world in which this conviction was not so profoundly newsworthy as it is in the world in which we live, where only 1 in 2,000 deaths at the hands of law enforcement result in this kind of accountability.

So, what does this moment in Minneapolis mean? And equally important, what does it not yet mean?  How do we sustain and build on this all-too-rare moment of accountability to imagine a different future, one that values the humanity of all Americans, protects their lives and provides them with all that this country has to offer?

It means that a single police officer committed an act so heinous, that his fellow officers did all they could to disassociate themselves from his violence – and that he was held accountable in a court of law for those actions. We hope and pray that for the family of George Floyd, of blessed memory, there is some measure of comfort and healing that can take place now that his killer was convicted.

Yet, as we have been reminded by so many Black voices this week, ones often tinged with anguish and rage, justice would mean that Black Americans wouldn’t have to calculate their every movement, for fear of being killed as they go about their daily lives. Justice would mean that Black Americans would have the freedom to spend their energy pursuing their dreams, instead of battling unimaginable exhaustion as a result of having to weather chronic and persistent racism.

I am thinking back to a meaningful moment, early in my own entry to the work of police reform and racial justice, when in 1999, Amadou Diallo was gunned down on his own front steps by four New York City police officers. In the weeks that followed, protests occurred at One Police Plaza demanding accountability, almost exclusively by Black and Latino public officials and community leaders. At a JCRC (New York) breakfast, Congressman Charlie Rangel was asked by reporters about the protests, and he noted memorably that white New Yorkers were more inclined to take to the streets after the death of a Central Park carriage horse than they were over police accountability.

Together, with friends, and through the vehicle of JFREJ, a local Jewish social justice group that I would later co-chair, we organized. Within a week, and fueled by participation from the majority of the seminary students at both Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, I, along with 126 rabbis and Jewish activists, was arrested in an act of non-violent civil disobedience that dominated the news cycle. Our presence affirmed broader and more diverse support for this cause than was being claimed by City Hall.

Those four officers would be indicted, and then, to our dismay, acquitted at trial despite the 41 shots at an unarmed man.

A year ago, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we witnessed the extraordinary sight of Americans of all races taking to the streets to demand justice, on a scale not seen in decades. They – we – understood that all of us are implicated in the racial inequities that plague this country, and that all of us are needed to effect real change.

At JCRC, we doubled down on the long term and painstaking work of systemic change, informed by the experience and expertise of Black members of the Jewish community and by our legislative and interfaith partners. We joined with them to advocate for police reform in Massachusetts. We connected synagogues and churches craving meaningful ways to act together to build a more just community. We gathered with our friends at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization to hear from the members of their 50+ diverse organizations, about the issues that matter most to their lives and to build the power to address them together.

How do I respond to that colleague, holding tension between this moment of possibility and the vastness of the challenge?

Unfortunately, there is much that hasn’t changed in 22 years. And yet there are, moments like the one we experienced this week, of genuine progress, including in the scope of public consciousness, and the diversity of people who are holding ourselves and each other accountable to do this work.

And I told them that I am reminded of the second century rabbi, Tarfon, who taught us: “It is not for you to complete that task, but neither are you free to stand aside from the work.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Our community is taking action

I hope that this finds you managing as best as one can in this challenging time. It is difficult to absorb and process all that is happening in our world, and all that has ceased to happen – at least for now.

We at JCRC, as always, are rooting our response in our understanding of our core purpose. We are advocating to uphold the social safety net and to secure a just society for the most vulnerable populations. The urgency of and need for this work is, as always, heightened in times of crisis. More and more members of our Greater Boston community are struggling to meet their needs on the most basic level.

JCRC’s advocacy and organizing teams are working hard from our homes to advocate for our neighbors, pivoting in our work to secure needed resources for those who need it the most during this time. Our recent advocacy work includes:

  • Leading the charge with our colleagues across the country and our partners at Jewish Federations of North America to urge Congress to expand the Paycheck Protection Loan (PPL) program for vital nonprofits. After our collective initial success in making sure that nonprofits were included in the first round of Small Business Administration (SBA) PPL loans, we are now working to ensure that the next phase of the legislation that calls for an additional $250 billion for the SBA loans is accessible to larger nonprofits. We’re monitoring the process closely and will be advocating for additional funds to further address community needs in subsequent legislative packages.
  • Submitting written testimony to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities for an online hearing this Monday on H.4622—An Act to Provide Short-term Relief for Families in Deep Poverty.
  • Facilitating final certification and permits from the City of Boston for a kosher food pantry in the city so that the community was able to move quickly to meet new and urgent needs in this time.
  • Leading with our partners in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) to draft a letter to the Governor, in which we pledged the support of the faith community in fighting COVID-19 and addressing the crisis, while also inviting his partnership on access to health care, rent, and mortgage accommodations, and responding to the perilous situation of those who are incarcerated. The letter now has over 70 signatories from across faith communities, including many area rabbis. A delegation of clergy met with the Governor (virtually) this week.
  • Continuing to bond out those in immigrant detention - including people detained across the country, since many other ICE offices have been closed. As conditions worsen inside jails, and in this season of Passover and freedom, JCRC and our partners have bonded out 62 people over the past month.

Our community is stronger when we speak together in one voice. I hope that you will continue to join us in these efforts, by calling your legislators and engaging in the weekly action items that we are sharing with the community.

As I find myself, like all of us, physically distanced from community, I am also finding strength in the willingness of our community to build social connections by taking action on our moral responsibility to each other and our neighbors in this challenging and uncertain time. Thank you for joining us in this work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

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Taking Action, Staying Connected

My, how rapidly the world has changed this week. Yet I am hopeful. We’ll get through this. And I believe we’ll be stronger for it. As Garrett Graff wrote this week, what we are doing now to #FlattenTheCurve is a “collective act of almost unprecedented community spirit, a fundamental statement of how we stand together as a species.”

I was watching a comedy on Netflix last night in which two fellows meeting up at a café embraced each other in a big “long time no see” kind of hug as they arrived at the table. It felt surreal, and reminded me of what it was like, 18 years ago, to watch 1990’s movies where families saw their loved ones off at the gate for departing flights – a world in the very recent past that is now so very different.

So yes, we’re resilient, and yet we’ll be changed by all this. We’ll return to work, to our congregations and schools, maybe even to sporting venues, but the world will be changed; even if we don’t know exactly how yet.

But one thing that need not change are our core values, our commitment to community, our belief that we are bound together with each and that our resiliency in challenging times comes from our commitment to the collective good.

So, for JCRC, even as we are profoundly changed in what we can do this week – with our volunteers not serving as reading buddies in public schools, our Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers unable to do face-to-face people-to-people work, our inability to show up on Beacon Hill to testify and rally in support of our immigrant neighbors – what hasn’t changed is the purpose of our work, why we do community relations.

That, “why,” our belief in the building of bridges and strengthening of bonds that tie us to each other and to the civic public space, remains more urgent than ever. These are the ties that give us the fortitude to flatten the curve, to help those who are most struggling right now, to be good neighbors in hard times.

That’s why I’m proud of the work our team has been doing this week, to keep us all focused on the “why,” even as the “how” has changed – for now.

We’ve launched a campaign to take action and stay connected, building bridges during this period.

Some opportunities to take action:

  • Join us for our Pathways to Peace Learning Series: a six-part webinar series featuring Israelis and Palestinians telling their stories of identity, friendship, and cohesion even during a time of social distancing. On Tuesday, March 24th we will have a virtual, facilitated conversation between Hanan Schlesinger and Noor A'Wad at 12pm. As members of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian societies living side-by-side in the West Bank, they will share their powerful story of coming together to learn each other's stories. Then on Thursday, we will hear from certified tour guide Mike Hollander for a talk titled "Jerusalem - Borders, Barriers, and Beliefs."
  • Help distribute valuable information on COVID-19 this Saturday, during a citywide distribution of important information to every home and in multiple languages. (For those whose Shabbat practice would permit participation.)
  • Create a “Soup In A Jar” kit for our partner shelters and food pantries. These soup mixes can be used immediately or at a later date. For more information, contact Grace Farnan, TELEM Coordinator

I hope that you’ll join us in this effort to help our partners, support our neighbors, and continue to be good citizens this week and in the weeks ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Building connections while we’re separated

With the World Health Organization declaring a coronavirus “pandemic” this week, we are all entering a new and difficult phase of this challenge to normal life. Earlier this week, in response to Governor Baker declaring a public health emergency here in Massachusetts, JCRC began taking significant steps to limit in-person social interactions through our staff and programs. Today, Friday, we have moved to a remote workplace for an extended period in the near future.

Of course, we’re not alone in these steps. Institutions, congregations, and businesses across our community are also taking these steps. And because we’re listening to the experts, experienced professionals in public health, we understand that we all have a role and a responsibility to “flatten the curve” on the spread of this virus.

Without diminishing the urgency and importance of every step we can take to minimize transmission, it’s not easy. Not touching our faces is hard, even unnatural, for human beings. So is profound social distancing. Ours is a community and society of gatherers; baked into the DNA of Jewish community is the notion that we need to be together as ten adults to perform some of our most sacred rituals. Our nation’s foundational document protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as part of our first constitutional freedoms.

As one pastor put it on a recent Zoom call with our Christian partners, separating ourselves from our neighbors goes against everything we believe in. At the same time, our tradition tells us that whoever saves one life (even at the expense of other good deeds), it is as if we had saved the world. And every health expert is telling us that physical distancing will save lives.

So here we are. I worry, not just for my own family and for our staff and friends, but for our society. In the midst of one of the most vicious electoral cycles in our modern history, the last thing we needed was large-scale isolation and dependence on social media for news and engagement. When I see pushes online of “things to do in quarantine,” like a booklist that pushes a specific worldview or narrative, I worry about us amplifying our self-confirming biases. And most of all, as someone with good health and a salaried income, with paid sick leave and health care, I worry about the more vulnerable who enter this challenge without the same resources and resiliency.

If you share these concerns, I invite you to join me in committing to building bridges and connections even as we separate ourselves physically. I’m committing myself in the coming weeks:

  • For each event that is postponed, I will reach out and FaceTime with someone with whom I don’t connect regularly.
  • I will read books that challenge my worldviews and expose me to new ideas, whether those be volumes making the case for perspectives I’m disinclined to share, or novels that take me into cultures other than my own.
  • Every day that I am working from home I will use my social media platform to lift up examples of people who are doing good deeds and practicing bridge-building in ways that are responsible for this moment.

Over the coming days, our team will  be rolling out a number of ways to stay connected to and supportive of our partners – from the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence groups who are canceling spring visits to the US to the kids in local under-resourced public schools who work with our literacy tutors. We’ll be mobilizing in support of vulnerable immigrants, many of whom don’t have healthcare and depend on hourly wages, and for policies providing relief to the hardest hit, including some of our vendors in the hospitality industries.

And, I want us to stay connected with you. Tell us how you are taking steps to maintain and build connections in the weeks ahead. What books are you reading? How are you helping our neighbors? How are you touching the lives of others even as we cut down on physical engagement?

Inspire me. And help us inspire others to be the good neighbors we all need to be right now.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy