Tag Archives: GBIO

In 18 days, your vote has an impact on our criminal justice system

The Massachusetts legislative session just ended, with mixed results on issues dear to our community. We at JCRC were pleased with many aspects of the budget and the economic development bill, but we (and our partners in the immigration advocacy community) were sorely disappointed at the failure to adopt basic protections for immigrants being targeted in our community. And yet, on another issue of deep concern to our community, criminal justice reform, we celebrated the passage of the most significant and far-reaching state legislation in years. With our partners at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and the ACLU, we were greatly encouraged to see many of our own priorities (as determined by the JCRC Council – our representative body on behalf of our 43 member organizations) enshrined into law. And as with all other legislative victories, we knew that monitoring implementation of the new law would be critical in achieving justice that has been long delayed for so many in our community.

The ability of this new law to deliver a just criminal justice system hinges on a person whose influence is not universally understood: the District Attorney. And now, for the first time in recent memory, six of our eleven Massachusetts DA elections are contested and potentially decisive primary elections, scheduled for September 4th: only 18 days away.

So, those of us who have worked so hard for criminal justice reform are encouraging our community to become educated on this critical role, and to choose our candidates wisely.

Despite what we tend to believe about the determinative power of judges in our criminal legal system, a recent Boston Globe op-ed said that in fact:

“Prosecutors wield near absolute power. They determine which and how many criminal charges to file, with a grand jury typically rubber stamping the charges. Prosecutors then decide whether to offer a plea bargain and dictate its conditions. Given that more than 90 percent of criminal cases are resolved through pleas rather than trials, these choices by prosecutors effectively determine the outcome of the vast of majority criminal cases, even if judges nominally oversee the entry of the plea."

That amount of power in any one person’s hand should draw our attention, especially because we live in the shadow of decades of “tough-on-crime” laws that have prioritized mass incarceration over rehabilitation. Now more than ever, we need our DAs to be our partners in ensuring that our criminal justice system is truly just.

Here are some steps you can take to be a fully informed voter on this vital issue:

  • Review the key issues for the candidates running in your county (and perhaps remind yourself what county you vote in – for example: Boston is Suffolk; Cambridge, Lexington, and Newton are Middlesex; Brookline is Norfolk – find your county here). Check out the ACLU voters guides for Suffolk County, Middlesex County, and the rest here. JCRC Councilmember Kathy Weinman has collected all of the candidates’ websites in a great blog post.
  • See the candidates in person. If you belong to a congregation that’s a member of GBIO, come to the Suffolk and Middlesex candidate forum that they’re hosting on August 23rd at the Boston Teachers' Union in Dorchester (reach out to our organizer Ben Poor for more information).
  • Learn more about what a DA does. You can attend the CourtWatch training on August 21st at Temple Israel in Boston, hosted by members of various congregations advocating for Criminal Justice Reform (anyone is welcome). ​​Court watching is a way to hold DAs accountable by attending court hearings and documenting what happens. You don't need any previous experience to come to the training, only a desire to hold judges and prosecutors accountable for fairness and equity.

As I head into the voting booth on September 4th, I’ll be thinking about the public servants who are charged with implementing the laws we work so hard to pass, and about the importance of having the fairest DAs – who will ensure public safety while also advancing a system that is equitable and just.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy

Out of Many One: Stories from Boston’s Muslim Community

In December, in the wake of the election, JCRC mobilized synagogues and Jewish organizations across greater Boston to participate in a gathering at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, as one united community across religious, racial, and socio-economic lines. Our community came together to reaffirm a commitment to our shared values and to each other. Organized by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), the event, Out of Many One, featured several speakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Marty Walsh, who offered words of support.

For many of the 2,600 participants, the highlight of the evening came in a quieter moment, when they were invited to turn to someone they did not know and share their stories. They learned about the dreams and hopes of their neighbors throughout Greater Boston. And they heard the fears and vulnerabilities experienced in this moment, most acutely from Muslim community members, anxious and uncertain about their future in America. These moments of human connection, when we bridge the differences that too often divide us, when we listen to each other’s experience with open hearts and minds – these are the building blocks of community relations.

That memorable evening was the catalyst for an ongoing GBIO Out Of Many One initiative; a series of interfaith encounters planned in collaboration with members of the Muslim community, to hear their stories of what they are experiencing in this moment and to learn how best to ally with them. The first of these gatherings was held a few weeks ago at First Church, Cambridge; a congregation whose pastor, the Rev. Dan Smith, is a close friend as well as a trusted partner of JCRC and the co-chair of our last clergy trip to Israel.  Among the stories shared that afternoon:

  • A Muslim family, citizens and long term residents of the United States, flew home to Logan Airport after a recent vacation. To their shock and horror, they were detained. They were interrogated about a wide variety of topics, including their religious practices and who they voted for in the recent presidential election. They were required to turn over their cell phones for the immigration agents to pore through their communications before they were finally released, hours later.
  • A fifteen-year-old of Somali origin described how her Boston public school had been welcoming. But on her walk to and from school every day, she was harassed, heckled, and even called a terrorist. After completing her freshman year, she chose to be home schooled out of concerns for her personal safety.

I encourage you to read this heartbreaking account of Dr. Nassrene Elmadhun, the wife of a friend and partner of ours who has been a leader in fostering Muslim-Jewish understanding.  The chief surgical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess, she shares her painful decision to stop wearing hijab after a man threatened her and her toddler:

For Elmadhun, wearing hijab for most of her life was “a positive and powerful message, allowing me to recognize that I am not just what I appear to be, but I’m a human being who should be valued for who I am and what I have to offer.”

And though she does feel relieved in many ways, and feels safer with her son outside, “I’m also sad that I was driven to this,” she says. “I’m sad about what it means about our religious freedoms in general in our country, I’m sad that I had to give it up. I was kind of forced into this. It wasn’t really a choice.”

For JCRC, our community relations mandate – and our history as Jews – calls on us to listen and to bear witness to these stories of others experiencing hatred and fear. In doing so, we are renewed in our determination to always work to protect and defend our constitutional freedoms under duress – including freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. And, we are reminded that the most effective way to do so is by standing in solidarity with other Americans in pursuit of a common cause.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

p.s. If you would like to learn about future Out of Many One programs and other efforts by JCRC and our partners to confront hatred and bigotry, sign up here to receive notifications.

Humility and Unity

If the upcoming Presidential election is about any one thing, it is about our anxieties for the future: in a changing and dynamic world that we struggle to understand, are our families and children safe? Will our children have the quality of life that we have known? Is our nation capable of facing the potential challenges of this changing world? To add to these anxieties, we are grappling with them in a profoundly individualistic and atomized society where our collective identity has been greatly diminished, where we struggle to see ourselves as sharing one national purpose - a sense of unity in the face of our challenges.
 
This experience of anxiety can easily escalate into deep-seated fears, not least of which is expressed in our search for someone or something that is responsible for our troubles. This yearning for answers can all too easily transform into a hatred of those we perceive as “other.” 
 
In his insightful new book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes that “anyone who wants to unite a nation, especially one that has been deeply fractured, must demonize an adversary or, if necessary, invent an enemy.” In doing so, he goes on, a culture becomes “susceptible to a pure and powerful dualism,” one that focuses on and sometimes invents external enemies. But, he warns, the real victims are the members of this society itself, because “no free society was ever built on hate.”
 
On Wednesday, January 20th, JCRC, along with our partners in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), will come together and invite congregants from all of our faith traditions to a series of four conversations at diverse houses of worship. Together we will develop relationships, learn about each other’s traditions and affirm our shared values and common humanity. The day will begin with a fast – for those who choose to participate in this way - and continue as a day of humility and unity.  We will conclude this day with a break-fast and the first of our four conversations.
 
The idea of fasting and humility in search of renewed unity and shared purpose is not new. In 1863, while our nation was even more profoundly divided, President Lincoln proclaimed such a day. He urged that this fast be done “in sincerity and truth…that the united cry of the Nation be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
 
Rabbi Sacks writes that in this century, Christians, Muslims, and Jews are “summoned” to: 

“…take seriously not only our own perspective but also that of others. The world has changed. Relationships  have gone global. Our destinies are interlinked….For the first time in history we can relate to one another as dignified equals. Now therefore is a time to listen, in the attentive silence of the troubled soul, to hear in the word of God for all time, the word of God for our time.” 

I invite you to join us and our partners in recommitting ourselves to our common humanity, to listen to each other and in doing so, engage in the restoration of a shared civic purpose that soundly rejects the politics that would divide us.

To RSVP for the January 20th break-fast and first conversation which will take place at ISBCC, and to find out more about the schedule of conversations, please visit our website.