Tag Archives: Community Relations

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

On being a force for good

"Stars of Hope" painted by teens on JCRC's MLK Day of Service

On Monday I had the honor of joining Governor Baker as he signed legislation releasing an additional $1 million in funding for non-profit security grants; a budget item that we at JCRC have prioritized. Afterward, a member of the press asked me if I was “happy” to be at the State House for this solemn occasion. “No,” I replied, “I’d much rather be here for other reasons, to advocate for the values and issues that we work on every day.”

I never imagined that confronting antisemitism would become a significant part of my daily reality in 2020. I came to this work over 20 years ago informed by a sense of my own purpose; to build Jewish communities that inspired engagement and activism for future generations, rooted in the same values, culture and traditions that enriched my own Jewish identity.

As violent Jew-hatred comes roaring back into our domestic American reality, I worry that as we fight against antisemitism, we’re going to lose our focus on the meaning and purpose of Jewish community. “Because, antisemitism” is not enough of a reason to evoke a commitment to living proudly and Jewishly in the world. “Because, they hate us” is not the foundation on which thousands of years of enriching Jewish culture is built.

Rather, I find meaning in the notion that our mission ought to be - as individuals, as Jewish organizations and as communities - in the words of Avraham Infeld: “to advance the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

So yes, I’m proud of the work that we at JCRC do every day, building relationships beyond the Jewish community, resulting in the support of allies who are with us as we confront this new reality. I’m proud and grateful that our Christian friends and partners, many of whom have played significant leadership roles in the work of JCRC, took it upon themselves to write a powerful statement on antisemitism last week, which has now garnered upward of 1,000 signatures. And I’m proud of the partnership we’ve forged with legislative leaders to fund non-profit security grants and anti-bias training in schools.

I’m also proud that we are a Jewish community in Boston that is committed to living our values in the broader civic space, affirming our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors; a commitment we’ll be honoring in just over one week when we come together for JCRC’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

This year, JCRC is offering a record 13 partner sites with the capacity for 900 volunteers. Members of our community will be painting and making interior upgrades to the Catholic Charities/Haitian Multiservice Center in Dorchester. This facility serves a crucial role in the Dorchester community and is in desperate need of repairs that Catholic Charities cannot do on their own. This Center provides a multitude of services to local residents, including food and housing assistance, English language classes, teen enrichment, and afterschool programming.

We will also be at St. Stephen's Youth Programs at the Blackstone Elementary School, a longtime partner of our ReachOut! program. Volunteers of all ages will be working on beautification and revitalization projects throughout the elementary school. After volunteering, there will be a lunch and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and why this day has become a day of volunteering.

I’m looking forward to being back at the State House on January 24th for the Safe Communities Act legislative hearing. We, along with many of our member agencies, are deeply committed members of the coalition working to pass this bill to protect the rights of our immigrant neighbors and create standards for law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And our team will be back at the State House to lobby on January 28th for Election Day Registration, a basic reform that would expand the franchise to more eligible voters, thus strengthening our democracy at a time when it is under assault.

I hope that you’ll join me for any or all of these activities. I also hope that the Governor’s actions this week will, as I said to him on Monday, help “give us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”

Because, as I concluded to that reporter at Monday’s bill signing, “these times are what they are.”

So yes, we’re grateful to our partners, including to the Governor for prioritizing our safety and including us in this week’s ceremony. And, I hope that because of our efforts to confront antisemitism and work for our community’s security, we will thereby strengthen our continued ability to be a force for good in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

A Tale of Three Churches

The 2018 JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour

This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.

Almost every Saturday, you can find me in synagogue, where I celebrate Shabbat with my community, joining in the sweet song of Jewish prayer and the joyful study of Torah. But on three recent Sundays, I found myself in other houses of worship, outside of the tradition in which I’ve spent my life. Given the starkly different surroundings and the unfamiliar observance, I might have expected to feel out of place or perhaps even uncomfortable. So, it was a bit confusing for this Jewish girl to feel so at home in Baptist, AME (African Methodist Episcopal) and Episcopal churches, where I was greeted warmly with hugs from friends, old and new. In each church, though the ritual and religious language were not mine, I felt deeply connected to friends and partners inspired by their own faith traditions to realize our collective dreams for our community.

Each of these connections was forged on our last JCRC Christian Clergy Israel Study Tour, at each other’s sacred sites; gazing over the Sea of Galilee, walking the streets of Nazareth and Bethlehem, marveling at the throngs of praying Jews at the Kotel, experiencing the wonder of this Holy Land through the lens of the other. We wept together at Yad Vashem and were buoyed by the hope embodied in the work of Israelis and Palestinians working together toward a better future for all. And throughout, our affection and admiration for each other grew, as did our shared commitment to build a society back in Boston reflecting the values of our disparate faith traditions: freedom, equality and justice.

So why all the church visits?

The first opportunity came late last summer when Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz called with an unusual request; could I recommend a minister who could address the Temple Emanuel community during the break in their Yom Kippur service?  They were hoping that an inspirational speaker might counteract their weariness and revive their flagging spirits during a long fast day. I connected them with Rev. Jeremy Battle, who had left an enduring impression on me during our trip. Reverend Battle did not disappoint. Not only did he deliver rousing remarks that day, but he developed a bond with the Temple Emanuel clergy and congregation in the process. That visit led to an immediate plan for a larger interfaith gathering in Cambridge, when the Temple Emanuel community was invited to join with Rev. Battle and his congregation (Western Avenue Baptist Church) along with another minister from our trip, Rev. Lorraine Thornhill, and her congregation, Kingdom Empowerment Center.

With the full participation of the three congregations, their clergy, and choirs, the gathering had to be held in a larger space – the MLK School in Cambridge. The ministers shared their reflections of their time in Israel, with Rev. Thornhill attesting to the enduring impact of her Shabbat experience in Jerusalem on her own Sabbath observance back home. This time, it was Rabbi Gardenswarz who stirred the crowd with his sermon, and the choirs joined in jubilant song. In a region and country too often marked by divisiveness and rancor, we were people of God— proudly celebrating the richness of our distinct traditions, and our common humanity. You can watch a video of the interfaith gathering here.

Speaking at the interfaith gathering in Cambridge

The next week I was invited by another Israel trip alum, Reverend Greg Groover, to join in the celebration of his and his wife Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME. Rev. Groover, who serves as mentor to countless area clergy, will be co-chairing this summer’s JCRC trip to Israel. The celebration of their leadership was as moving as I knew it would be, with tributes from Mayor Walsh, Attorney General Healey, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and BPS Superintendent Brenda Casselius. Rev. Groover’s extraordinary accomplishments as Chair of the Boston School Committee resonated deeply with JCRC’s 20+ year commitment to the schools through our literacy program.

Reverend Greg Groover and Rev. Barbara Groover’s 25th anniversary celebration at their church, Charles St. AME

On the JCRC Israel Study Tour with Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw

And just this past Sunday, I was in yet another church, St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newton Highlands, for a farewell service and celebration of Rev. Gretchen Grimshaw. Though she too was on our trip, we actually met the previous year, at a meeting of faith communities called to address the crisis facing local immigrants. This visionary minister took an immediate leap of faith at that meeting, committing her church to be a sanctuary for people targeted for deportation. A cluster was formed to support the work, and I was privileged to participate through my own Newton congregation, doing regular overnight shifts. The sanctuary was sustained through Rev. Grimshaw’s leadership and a robust and tight-knit network of Jews and Christians who JCRC helped to organize. We turned out that day in full force, to honor our clergy leader, marveling at the magnificent liturgy she created and sharing our words of Torah in the celebration afterward.

The Talmud describes Shabbat as containing a foretaste of the world to come. On a different Sabbath – on three Sundays and in three churches, I got a glimpse of that world. Through foreign and unfamiliar ritual, I saw the expression of shared hopes and dreams – of interfaith understanding and connection, and a common commitment to equal opportunity, freedom, and dignity for all. Informed by our respective faith traditions, we came together to build a community where there is no “other”, where all are one as God’s creations.

Wishing you a Shabbat – whenever you celebrate it – of peace, inspiration and hope.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

 

The Interconnectedness of Our Communities

This Friday, a message from Acting Executive Director Nahma Nadich.

Late one night last summer, on a Jerusalem hotel rooftop, I had a jarring conversation with a Black Baptist minister, a participant in our JCRC Israel Study Tour for Christian Clergy. He was sharing his reaction to to Yad Vashem, which we had visited earlier that day. The iconic Holocaust museum always inspires deep emotion among our participants; grief, horror, and for some, anguish at the role of the church in these unthinkable crimes against the Jewish people. But this minister confessed feeling something I had not heard before – envy. He hesitated in sharing his reflection with me, knowing how insensitive it might sound. But he acknowledged feeling envious of Jews for knowing, and being able to document our history (albeit largely due to the fanatic documentation of our Nazi killers). He told me that as a black man, he didn’t know – and would probably never be able to discover – the history of his family and people. When your ancestors are kidnapped and stolen, when their identities are forever erased, you can’t know who or where you come from. You can’t share your story, and you can’t experience the compassionate support of others bearing witness to your trauma, as I do each time Christian friends accompany me to Yad Vashem. I was pained by this realization.

As Jews, we know that facing and sharing our history is a sacred obligation, no more so than in these times, when so many seek to deny our historical experience as a people. But my friend’s painful admission reminded me of my woefully inadequate knowledge of HIS people’s history, and of our failure as Americans to embed the ugly and uncomfortable truths of this nation’s history into our education system. So I resolved to organize my own “study tour”, to honor his story, as he had honored mine. And I learned several critical lessons along the way, beginning with the one my friend taught me that night; about the redemptive and healing power of facing one’s past.

So my husband and I headed south, first to Louisiana, then to Alabama. For the past few years, I had been following the work of Bryan Stevenson, the Harvard trained lawyer who has dedicated his life to compelling justice for black, brown, and impoverished people condemned by a racist criminal justice system. Stevenson’s achievements are legendary; winning the exoneration of wrongly convicted defendants, and even Supreme Court arguments, including one that has ended the practice of mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. Stevenson’s latest project is perhaps his most audacious, in founding the Equal Justice Initiative Museum and Memorial, where the untold truths of our nation’s past of racial oppression, violence and terror are meticulously documented and exposed. Stevenson and his team conducted massive research into the hidden history of terror lynching, documenting as many instances as they could, and bringing earth from the sites of these public murders, for display in jars at the Memorial.

Jars of soil from lynching sites

The words of poet Maya Angelou, adorning the outer walls of the Museum, serve as its raison d’etre: “History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, But if faced with courage, need not be lived again”. Located in a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned, visitors first descend into a dark area with barred cells, where hologram-like projections describe their experience - quoting from diaries of people once locked up in this space – crying out for the children who have been ripped from their arms.

But lest you think that you are learning about a chapter of history neatly tucked into our past, the museum tells a compelling narrative; that slavery never ended, it just evolved, through the chapters of terror lynchings and Jim Crow, to the current phenomenon of mass incarceration. In the words of Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man, who with Stevenson’s help, was exonerated after serving 28 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, “The executions moved indoors, they took off white robes and put on black ones”. Lesson two: the past is not really past; it extends fully into our present.

With the assistance of expert local guides, we made our way through the streets of New Orleans and Montgomery, shocked to see the still standing tributes to the Confederacy, among them statues of Jefferson Davis and Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology” whose scientific advances were the results of his tortuous treatment of enslaved women, on whom he operated without anesthesia. But we were equally shocked by the more implicit reminders of the South’s refusal to face its past; in more recently erected “historical” markers, referring to the trading of “commodities” leaving unsaid that it was human beings who were being bought and sold.

But just as our sense of Northern righteousness peaked, we visited the Southern Poverty Law Center, with its display of the iconic picture of Ted Landsmark being assaulted in Boston by a bussing opponent wielding an American flag as a giant spear. And we were reminded of Boston’s own shameful history of racial violence, and its enduring racial divisions and persistent racial disparities. Lesson three: Racial oppression and violence has never been limited to the South. It is everywhere in this country.

The last lesson we learned was an affirmation of a truth that has become an urgent one in these times; that my friend’s history is inextricably linked with mine, as are our fates. Our NOLA tour began with our reading from the Louisiana Code Noir, or slave code, introduced in 1724 and remaining in force until 1803. The first item in the code? “Decrees the expulsion of Jews from the colony”. And in the Montgomery Museum hangs a chilling sign from the Jim Crow South, “No (n-words) No Jews, No Dogs”.  At a time when so many are working so hard to sow divisions among us, these historical markers served as stark reminders that just as the Jewish and Black community are targeted by the same toxic ideology (with Jews of Color at the apex of this onslaught), our liberation can only be achieved by our collective effort.

Birmingham Jail

In the words of Dr. King, posted outside his jail cell on display in Birmingham,

 “…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

My minister friend taught me to cherish the gift of knowing one’s history, and thanks to the trip his words inspired, I learned essential lessons about his people’s story, and the history we share as Americans. Shedding light on our most shameful chapters, understanding their enduring legacy in all parts of this country, and working together for peace and justice is the only way to truly ensure that we do not live this history again.

As I approach my twentieth anniversary at JCRC, the work ahead has never felt so urgent. Addressing the crisis of mass incarceration by advocating for criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth, joining with our interfaith partners to confront Boston’s enduring racial divide and nurturing relationships across the community that enable us to pursue our collective vision - that is the work of community relations. I can think of no more powerful vehicle than the field of community relations in acknowledging and honoring Dr. King’s “inescapable network of mutuality”, nor any greater privilege than engaging our community in this effort.

Shabbat shalom,

Nahma

ED Jeremy Burton Remarks at ISBCC Jumma Service on March 15th, 2019

Brothers and sisters, salaam alaikum.

In the Jewish tradition, when we comfort, we come first in silence. “מצטרף בצערך, I join in your sorrow.” And so, I will speak, but really all of us are here just to be alongside you. Because you’ve been alongside us, because we’ve stood together as communities time and again, because, candidly, we’ve become too good at this. We’ve become too good at being with each other in this city, in Boston. When we have mourned and suffered we’ve known that we have not mourned and suffered alone. I want you to know that you do not suffer alone.

My teacher, Shaykh Yasir, has spoken so eloquently today of the teachings of the Abrahamic faiths, of the understanding of prophets that go all the way back to Adam. And as my teacher Shaykh Yasir has reminded me, there is so much that is shared within our traditions. The Koran teaches us in Surah 5:32, that if anyone killed a person, that it would be “as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” That same spirit, that same tradition, is part of the Jewish tradition and the Jewish understanding of the way in which we walk in the world together. Our Mishnah, our holy text, tells us that God cried out to Cain when Cain killed his brother, and said: “The bloods of your brother scream out!” And our Rabbis explore that and say anyone who destroys a life, and I’m quoting from our text, is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world.

We share a tradition. We share a text. And our scriptures and our texts teach us, in understanding those verses, that it goes back to the very idea that when God created the world, and began with Adam, it was to begin with one individual, so that no one could say to their friend, “My ancestors are greater than yours.”

My brothers and sisters in Boston’s Muslim community, we stand with you because we understand. This terrorist and white supremacy are a sin against our traditions. They are a rejection of the teaching of God—that none of our ancestors are greater than any others. We stand with you to reject terrorism. There is no good on that side. There is no good to be found in those who march in praise of white supremacy and white nationalism. They are a threat to all of us. They are not the other side. There is only one side: It is the way of walking with God and understanding God as we each come to God in our own traditions.

And there is so much to share at a time like this. Know that you do not walk alone, that we will be with you. Shaykh Yasir spoke so powerfully, and in our tradition I want to share the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England, who taught us that:

“We need to recover the absolute values that make Abrahamic monotheism the humanizing force it has been at its best: the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, the twin imperatives of justice and compassion, the moral responsibility of the rich for the poor, the commands to love the neighbor and stranger, and the insistence on peaceful modes of conflict resolution. These are the ways that we build a future in which the children of the world, of all colors, faith and races, can live together in peace.”

In the Jewish tradition, when we hear of a death, we say, “May their memory be for a blessing,” and when we visit a house of mourning, before we leave, we say, “May you be comforted amongst the mourners.” Today I leave you with this: Today on this day, there are far too many blessings in this world, and there are more mourners than you can imagine. Salaam alaikum.

All Community Relations is Local

JCPA Opening Plenary: "Community Relations: The Past & Future of an American Jewish Success Story"
L-R: ED Jeremy Burton, AT&T’s Marissa Shorenstein, Rep. Jeremy Raskin (D-Md.), and David Brown

In recent weeks, a Jewish Federations of North America/Jewish Council for Public Affairs task force (of which I was a member), and the Reut Institute each released reports and recommendations on the future of the Jewish community relations field. Each calls for a reinvigoration of the network of JCRCs as an indispensable vehicle for the Jewish community – combining advocacy and relationship building efforts addressing both particularistic and universalistic issues – to navigate today’s polarized landscape and to advance core priorities and interests of our community. This past Sunday I was invited to respond to these reports as part of the JCPA Conference’s opening plenary.  What follows is drawn from my remarks:

Allow me to offer two metaphors to frame what the Jewish community relations (CRC) field needs.

Being from New England, the first metaphor is from football. When we look at the national field, some of our national agencies operate between the forty-yard lines, others work in the red-zone, but together the broad range of agencies – both JCPA members and other Jewish organizations – largely cover the field. There is virtually no issue, coalition, or partnership on the national stage where there is not some Jewish participation. There is virtually no leader of consequence with whom someone from across our network isn’t in relationship.

But there’s a second field, the field of the whole country across fifty states, and this one is not fully covered. And here, I offer a second metaphor. Since I live in Cambridge, MA, I’ll paraphrase our former congressman Speaker Tip O’Neill: All community relations is local.

Let me give you a glimpse of what my colleagues, CRC professionals around the country and I – do every day.

Each one of us is called upon (often multiple times daily) to hold the center of our local Jewish communities, listening and giving voice to a broad array of Jewish perspectives, and speaking to the values and interests of some 80-90% of American Jews. We know what those views are because we are the most over-studied and over-polled minority in American history. And we need to set and articulate boundaries – both to the left and to the right – to ensure that we are authentically representing the beliefs, opinions, and values that are the consensus of the vast majority of American Jews.

We are challenged – in an increasingly fractured time – to hold the center in broader civic space, finding ways to be in authentic and meaningful partnerships with evangelicals and LGBTQ activists, the Catholic Diocese and feminist leaders. We engage with all of them while also setting boundaries of hate, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, both on the left and the right; that small percentage of folks to whom we will give no quarter.

In civic spaces we are expected to act as interpreters, representatives, and advocates; Interpreters of the diversity of Jewish perspectives and representatives of the organized Jewish community’s concerns. And advocates for the priorities of our communities.

CRC professionals are looked to provide vision, design, strategy and execution. We are expected to build programs, partnerships, and relationships in service to a collective agenda. We are on the front lines of the hardest conversations and the moments of crisis that impact us all.

Which is to say that if we are serious about the findings of these reports (i.e. that community relations is a valuable and strategic resource that requires a serious investment) then our response needs to be a major investment in local JCRCs, in my colleagues around the country, and especially in those communities where there is currently little or no JCRC work being done right now.

We need to develop the professionals and volunteers who are committed to and trained in the practice of community relations. We need to support them in the challenging local work even when other forces try to nationalize every squabble and social media amplifies every fracture. We need to invest in local capacity to experiment and pilot in doing this work. And we need to measure and replicate those experiments in other local communities.

The organized Jewish community, through the community relations network, needs to cover the field. We need a fifty-state strategy of local community relations practitioners. These practitioners must have the benefit of a vibrant national peer network from whom they can learn and adapt to meet unique local relational needs.

Together with funders, national agencies, and other partners, we can strengthen this local work across the country. Now is the moment to look forward and to build the capacity and the tools to tackle our collective public affairs goals in a profoundly disruptive time.

On January 17, 2019, at a meeting of the Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the following resolution was adopted by a vote of 62-13 with 8 abstentions:

Whereas, in 1944 the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) was formed as a coalition of organizations to act as an organized Jewish community of Boston, the express purpose of this coalition being to confront, in a unified manner, threats to the Jewish community including and specifically anti-Semitism; And,

Whereas, JCRC’s mission includes being a “representative voice of the organized Jewish community.  Rooted in Jewish values and informed by Jewish history… Comprised of constituent organizations” ; And,

Whereas, as a coalition of organizations JCRC advocates for a “safe, secure, Jewish, democratic state of Israel” ; And,

Whereas, JCRC’s bylaws articulate that with regard to an organization’s eligibility to be a member of the JCRC, “the programs, activities, and practices of such organization and, if applicable, its parent organization, are compatible and do not conflict with the mission” of JCRC; And

Whereas, JCRC has, for many years, understood support for the global BDS movement to be an indicator of an organization’s denial of the legitimate national aspirations of the Jewish people to a state of our own in our homeland, and; has understood such denial to be incompatible with support for a safe, secure, Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and thus, to be antithetical to our mission; And

Whereas, the JCRC believes that when an organization that claims for itself an identity as a Jewish voice, while explicitly and unequivocally placing itself in opposition to Zionism, including: Fully rejecting the national aspirational movement of the Jewish people; making false and tendentious claims about Jewish history and the experience of Jews both in Europe and in Arab countries, and; defining Zionism as false and failed; That such an organization is speaking and acting from an ahistorical ideology that places itself outside the boundaries of the organized Jewish community that JCRC has been formed to represent. Additionally, such an organization is lending credence and validity to similarly noxious and anti-Semitic views outside the Jewish community; And,

Whereas, the JCRC believes that when an organization rejects the very legitimacy of Jewish national aspirations and, in the same breath, legitimizes and aligns itself with the national aspirations of other peoples, that such a position is, itself, holding the Jewish state to an unjust double standard; And,

Whereas, the JCRC understands such a self-identified Jewish organization to be, through its own words and actions, advancing an ideology that is expressly in opposition to a safe, secure, Jewish and democratic state of Israel; and, further, that such an ideology is riven with frameworks and analysis that place it in opposition to the mission of JCRC.

Now therefore be it,

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.

 

 

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