Tag Archives: Government Affairs

Representation matters

This week's Friday message is from Aaron Agulnek, JCRC Director of Government Affairs

Seventy-five years ago this month, JCRC was founded by a group of Jews demanding a seat at the table in civil society. They were living through the worst of times for the worldwide Jewish community, where inaction led to destruction and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. With no unified voice to compel collective action, and with limited representation in government, all the pressure fell on a few prominent Jews.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr, his only Jewish Cabinet member, was an easy target for anti-Semites. Morgenthau shied away from any perception that he favored Jewish causes for fear of embarrassing the President and providing more fodder for the scurrilous claim of dual loyalties levied against Jews. However, by January 1944, Morgenthau and his colleagues at Treasury could no longer remain silent. They prepared a report with an initial title: “The Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews,” which led FDR to issue Executive Order 0417 and establish the War Refugee Board.

Though still novel in the 1940s, Jewish representation in the upper reaches of Government was not unprecedented. Only 25 years earlier, Justice Louis Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court. He was met with virulent antisemitism from fellow Justice James McReynolds. According to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “McReynolds was an out-and-out anti-Semite, and he treated this brilliant man with utter disdain. When Brandeis would speak at conference, he would stand up and leave the room… Brandeis ignored it. 'Dignity' is the right word to describe his response to that bigotry."

Rather than shy away from his background and values, Brandeis led with them, proving to the nation that being Jewish and American were not incongruous. He inspired a young, mostly-immigrant American Jewish community, seeking a future in a country in which it was still finding its collective footing. Brandeis’ legacy to the Jewish community goes much deeper than his judicial chops and world-altering decisions. He cemented a sense of belonging to a wandering people.

Today, there are Jews serving at all levels in government, proudly representing their constituents. Where necessary, many have directly asserted their Jewishness in public spaces. There was no clearer example than the public debate following the attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Chabad centers here in Massachusetts.

JCRC led and championed an advocacy campaign enlisting rabbis, synagogues, day schools, and other communal institutions for the expansion of a grant program to provide security enhancements to houses of worship, community centers and other vulnerable institutions across the Commonwealth. In late May, the Massachusetts State Senate debated an amendment to the State budget to increase its funding.

When the amendment was called, lead sponsor Senator Eric Lesser (Longmeadow) like any effective senator, framed his remarks in the context of public safety and the proper role of government. He spoke about the rise in antisemitism, attacks against mosques, the targeting of LQBTQ community, and the burning of a black church in Springfield the night of President Obama’s election in 2008. But when Lesser began sharing his experience as a Jew, a deep silence fell over the Senate chamber. He expressed the deep sadness and despair he felt when he learned of the murders at the Tree of Life synagogue, just as he and his young family were at Shabbat services.

Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (Newton) described how her temple has balanced security with inclusiveness; Senator Cindy Friedman (Arlington) spoke about the recent incidents at Chabad in Arlington; Senator Barry Finegold (Andover) shared a story about the security conversations he had with his rabbi for his daughter’s bat mitzvah; Senator Becca Rausch (Needham) spoke of her children and her concern for their safety at a Jewish day care; Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler (Worcester) spoke about the impact that violence is having on our communities; all under the watchful eye of our Jewish Senate President, Karen Spilka (Ashland).

Seven Jewish senators, from every corner of the Commonwealth, each sharing their vulnerability and trauma; each speaking from their own lived experience to advocate powerfully for their – our – community, sharing their pain and bringing their petition directly to the floor of the Senate for redress. Representation matters.

But for many in our society, representation is still a distant dream. There are currently zero African-American and zero Muslim senators in the State Senate. There is a single Latina senator and two LGBTQ senators. Representation is not just about numbers, but also about the power of personal testimony, in compelling justice for marginalized communities. Only when we represent our own interests in the halls of power can we effectively protect and defend our community’s interests. We need to demand no less for other minorities. Shirley Chisholm said it best, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” When debate ended and the roll call was taken on Senator Lesser’s amendment (which passed 40-0), the impact of the debate had a lingering resonance in the chamber. Twenty minutes later, when offering up his amendment to codify the Hate Crimes Task Force, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr opened with these remarks:

…I have been a member of this body a fairly long time and I have never been prouder …. What makes this so extraordinary are the types of remarks we heard around the chamber where members were willing to come into this chamber and share their thoughts about fear and anxiety and concern for themselves, and for all of us. That takes character, it takes commitment and it takes dedication. What just happened in this chamber is so extraordinary in some ways because … hate lives in darkness. It thrives on concealment. And it preys on fear. Do you know what happened here? People brought the reality of the threat we are faced with right into the daylight and said here is it and we are going to stand up to it.”

With the inspiration of Brandeis and Morgenthau at our back, the Jewish community is better represented today than it has ever been in history of the United States. May their memory inspire us to stand up for ourselves and others, and may it grant us the wisdom to make space for the yearnings of other peoples in their dreams.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron Agulnek

“We, the People”

The foundation of our American democracy is “We, the People”; an engaged electorate, with robust participation, and elected officials who represent communities. Communities and people from whom power flows.

But democracy is a fragile thing.

In his excellent book “The People vs. Democracy,” Yascha Mounk outlines how this fragility takes many forms: the internet era has “weakened traditional gatekeepers, empowering once-marginal movements and politicians.” A fraying of common ethnic identity within a country can lead to a “rebellion against pluralism.” Mounk writes that a healthy democracy balances the competing imperatives of individual rights and popular rule. One can end up with “illiberal democracy” – a state where popular will outweighs rights but is instituted through elections. At the other end of the spectrum one can have “undemocratic liberalism,” like the European Union. And when democracies fray and lose that balance, we see eruptions of discord and challenge to the very institutions of our societies.

A healthy democracy needs trust in governmental processes, checks and balances, fair and free elections. In other words, our enduring constitutional system.

Over the last several months, JCRC leaders met with experts, activists, and attorneys to ensure that we were fulfilling our mission to protect America’s democratic institutions. During our Council’s public policy process, they took a deep dive into the vitality of our political systems, the strength of our institutions, and the overall functioning of our democracy.  Together, they developed a series of principles – rooted in Jewish values – which were approved by our full Council last week and will now guide action over the coming years.

For example, in the last Massachusetts legislative session, JCRC worked with our allies to finally pass Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts. However, more is needed. Seemingly every day across the country, there is an innovative ploy to block access to the polls and to water down the vital principles of one-person-one-vote.  There are attempts to criminalize voter registration drives, punish people for errors on registration forms, overturn citizen initiatives on access to the polls, and voter restrictions targeting African-Americans with surgical precision.

We tell ourselves that Massachusetts is immune from these anti-democratic principles plaguing our country, but really, we know we have work to do right here in our communities. We have had elections where the winner only receives 22% of the votes, a Mayor was recalled and reelected in the same election, voter registration deadlines were declared unconstitutional (but then that decision overturned), and as we know, gerrymandering was invented here in Massachusetts. “Even” in Massachusetts, democracy is showing signs of weakness.

JCRC’s principles will guide us to support policies that make voting easier and elections more secure and reflective of the people, and to institutionalize norms that lead to a more informed electorate and accountable government. These principles will provide a lens for JCRC action over the coming years as we analyze legislation with our partners. We have already jumped into the fray in support of Election Day registration, where Massachusetts would join 15 other states and Washington D.C., to improve turnout and transparency, and to modernize our voting systems.

The fraying of democratic norms in America didn’t start this year or five years ago. It’s been happening over decades. Our collective commitment – as Jews and as Americans – to the health of our democracy isn’t new either. We’ve invested in, and benefited from American democracy for generations. But as the conversation about the health of our democracy has been heightened and sharpened in recent years, we feel compelled to clarify what we stand for and what we, as a community will fight to protect.

Challenging times call us to action. JCRC’s Council has heard that call and is responding. We hope that you will stand with us in these efforts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron and Jeremy

Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs

Aaron Agulnek
Director,
Government Affairs

Jeremy Burton

Jeremy Burton
Executive Director

An Urgent Agenda

It has been over twenty years since the American Psychiatric Association deemed so-called conversion therapy (attempts to “repair” a person’s sexual orientation) to be harmful. Still, shockingly, 698,000 LGBTQ adults, including about 350,000 people who received treatment as adolescents, have been subjected to this traumatic practice in the U.S. alone.  Last month, after years of effort, the practice was banned for minors in New York, making it the 15th state to do so.

You may be surprised to learn that Massachusetts is not among the states that have banned this practice for minors. JCRC wants that to change.

Boston JCRC has a long and proud record of openly advocating for LGBTQ rights. Many years before I arrived here, Boston was the first Jewish community relations council in the country to fight for marriage equality. JCRC has supported legislation against conversion therapy in the past. And just a few weeks ago our Council’s Public Policy Committee unanimously affirmed that House Bill 2848, a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors in MA, should be one of JCRC’s priorities for this legislative session. I’m proud that we will be working to ensure that teenagers are no longer subjected to this sadistic practice masquerading as “treatment.”

Our advocacy on this bill, along with all our government affairs priorities this legislative season, once again reflects our commitment to defending civil rights and safeguarding long fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry. We are committed to working with our partners in government to enshrine policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our community.

In 2017, the ADL tracked an 86% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools right here in Massachusetts—with many of these incidents involving Holocaust-related imagery and language. We need to act decisively to stem this disturbing tide. So, we are working with ADL to advocate for passage of An Act Concerning Genocide Education, to mandate Holocaust and genocide education in social studies classes in Massachusetts, enabling students to understand how unchecked prejudice and hatred can escalate to atrocity.

These are just two of seven bills that JCRC supports in our current Legislative Agenda, which includes a bill to protect immigrants being targeted for deportation, and others to help individuals and families overcome obstacles to opportunity and inclusion. Our legislative collaboration includes parties in the private and public sectors: philanthropists, social service agencies, our network of member organizations, and community leaders.

Each year at this time, we take the opportunity to recognize our partners on Beacon Hill who have joined with us to build a more just Commonwealth and a more vibrant democracy. JCRC’s annual Legislative Reception celebrates the importance of building powerful coalitions to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for all in the Commonwealth. We lift up the work of the organized Jewish community to unite with others and act together for an urgent agenda; from civil rights to human services, economic opportunity to safety and security, supporting the vibrant MA-Israel partnership, and the protection of democratic values.

On March 5th, JCRC will honor four remarkable public servants who exercise their leadership to promote the common good. We will present awards to Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Joan Lovely, Representative Ron Mariano, and Springfield Council President Justin Hurst. These four public servants have answered the call for leadership in a time of great challenge, to address the urgent issues before us.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these four individuals, who honor their duty to the people of the Commonwealth. We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these four leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners. I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Complexity and Connection

The impact of our Israel trips is not easily observed or measured. Sometimes trees fall in the woods, with no one around to hear them. If one of our study tour alumni tells a story to a congregant or a constituent about something they experienced in Israel, we may never hear about it. That is why we were so heartened to read the news out of Springfield earlier this week.

Justin Hurst, the Springfield City Council’s new President, traveled with JCRC to Israel in December as part of our Municipal Leaders Study Tour. The speech he delivered at his swearing-in ceremony was largely inspired by his Israel trip, his appreciation of the complexity he encountered, and its connection to his work in Massachusetts.

 

(L-R) Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst, and JCRC Board Member Fredie Kay at the swearing-in ceremony.

One of our study tour visits is particularly relevant here. Toward the end of our trip, we met with Dr. Thabet Abu Ras, co-director of the Abraham Initiatives (featured as part of our Boston Partners for Peace program). Thabet spoke to us about many of Abraham Initiatives’ programs, including their safe communities and equitable policing initiative. The Abraham Initiatives are working from two directions—with the Israeli police and security services and with Arab communities in Israel—to develop better relationships and safer communities. This includes increasing the representation of Israel’s Arab citizens in the police force, various high-level training programs, and other trust-building initiatives.

I wonder whether Justin had that conversation with Thabet in mind when he raised this particular issue during his swearing-in speech. In both Israel and Massachusetts, we witness the often fraught relationship between minority communities and the police. This is a common theme that stretches from Massachusetts to Israel and around the world. In Israel, Justin heard about cutting edge efforts, that are succeeding in ensuring greater representation of minorities on local police forces, and building stronger relationships between law enforcement and the community. Finding common cause with their counterparts in Israel experiences, sharing the challenges they face as municipal leaders, and being inspired by each other’s creative solutions; these are the very sparks we hope to ignite during the study tour experience.

But the new relationships and connections don’t end there. Justin was not the only study tour participant present at his swearing-in. Boston City Councilor Kim Janey, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, and JCRC board member Fredie Kay were all there to support him. Not only did Justin make an individual connection between his role in Springfield and his Israel trip, he made connections with the rest of the group that will lay the ground work for new collaborations in the years to come.

This brief vignette captures everything we hope to achieve on our study tours: complexity and connection. We introduce people to the complexities in Israel—some of which are unique to Israel, while others resonate deeply with participants’ own experiences back home. This creates the opportunity for deep and meaningful connection; we can learn lessons from the Israeli experience that help inform our lives in Massachusetts and can share our own insights with our friends there. I was thrilled to see both complexity and connection at play in Springfield this week.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

Our Concerns for 2020

With election 2018 (not quite) behind us, and election 2020 squarely in the headlights, we’re sitting in the brief moment between cycles of hyperbolic conversations about how non-profits engage on the great challenges facing our nation.

In the most simple sense, there is long standing legal guidance that allows 501(c)(3)s (the IRS designation for federal tax exempt nonprofit organizations) to address public issues – as we do in our advocacy for legislation and public policies – provided that we do so without expressing a preference for a party or candidate in an election, endorsing a candidate, or releasing a voter guide that is implicitly single issue or preferences one party.

More can be said on this (don’t consider the above paragraph as legal counsel to your organization!) but candidly, that’s a technical answer about what the law allows and what magic words one can or cannot say.

Of more interest to us is – what do we care about? What matters to us in the arena of government and policy? And how do we galvanize our attention on these matters?

It bears repeating that we at JCRC – a network of Jewish organizations coming together in shared purpose around the collective agenda of the Jewish community in the public arena – see ourselves as fundamentally invested in two core principles (as stated in our mission): advocacy for a safe, secure, democratic state of Israel; and promoting an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.

To those ends, we intend to educate 2020 candidates about our views on the policy issues that stem from those principles, such as our support for the U.S. as an engaged leader on the international stage, including support for our ally Israel and efforts to achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. It means informing candidates about the Jewish community’s commitment to civil rights for all Americans, the importance of addressing anti-Semitism and bigotry, fair and just immigration policies, and a strong social safety net. And we’ll also be listening to candidates, hearing their views, and sharing with our community about how they think about these policy concerns.

But frankly, there are concerns in 2020 that are both broader and potentially more urgent than these longstanding communal priorities.

It would have been naïve to think that this week’s election would resolve a much larger existential challenge facing our nation – our fractured and tribal culture, the fraying of our democratic norms and the institutions of our civic space, and the breakdown of our ability to work with each other across specific policy disagreements in service to a common notion of the American idea. Naïve because these challenges didn’t start in the past few years, though they’ve been greatly exacerbated; these challenges have been growing, albeit ignored by many, long before 2016.

A challenge that’s been festering over the past two decades isn’t going away tomorrow or in 2020. It’s going to take leadership over the next decades – and not just from those seeking high national office, but from all of us in positions of influence over the civic space and our public discourse.

So yes, heading into 2020, and 2022, and 2024, we’ll need to be educating candidates and ourselves about the policy issues we hold dear. We’ll also need to be asking them what their vision and strategy is for healing the divides that are fracturing our nation, challenging them to show leadership to that end – regardless of what others in public life might do – and challenging ourselves as leaders to model a better future for what ails our nation.

I invite your thoughts and insights on the specific things we can do to influence this conversation and model it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Championing our community’s values in the 2019 MA Budget

A state budget is a financial document. But at its essence, it’s statement of values and an affirmation of what a government stands for. At JCRC, we’re keenly aware that for many in our Commonwealth, budget decisions are not abstractions, nor is the process a game of wins and losses. These debates have profound implications for the lives of real people. The determinations of lawmakers can make the difference between a stable job or economic despair, between staying in your home or being institutionalized, between living in safety or hiding in fear.

In partnership with our communal agencies, JCRC champions our community’s values by advocating for funding of three overarching priority areas: creating pathways to economic opportunity, supporting individuals and families in their homes, and ensuring safety for our most vulnerable.

Yesterday, Governor Baker signed the budget for Fiscal Year 2019. Below is a glimpse into our achievements, and the very tangible ways in which the services funded will improve lives.

Creating Pathways to Economic Opportunity
  • More than ever, a college degree is a foundational element to get a foothold in today’s evolving economy and for some, this pathway is simply unattainable. The Bridges to College budget line-item, modeled after the JVS program, helps students surmount obstacles and enter directly into credit bearing classes. This year, for the first time, we delivered additional dollars directly to JVS to meet the increased demand.
  • People in our community face multiple barriers to employment, and we’ve fought consistently for those who’ve been left behind.

We secured $150,000 for the Transitions to Work line-item, modeled after the innovative program developed by the Ruderman Foundation, JVS, and CJP to help adults with disabilities enter the workforce; $1,000,0000 to train immigrants and refugees who have come to Massachusetts to create their own futures;

and $1,000,000 to the Secure Jobs Initiative, (a $350,000 increase), envisioned by the Fireman Family to help individuals facing homelessness find stable jobs and supports to stay in their homes.

"I came to Boston from El Salvador speaking no English. I knew that I needed college to get a good job, but I did not even know where to begin. At JVS, I learned English, how to apply to college and financial aid, and as a result, I am the first person from my family to graduate college.” – Dimas, Jewish Vocational Services client

Supporting Individuals and Families in their Homes

“Having a baby as a single parent is hard enough as it is. Adding a layer of substance use is an added stress, something most other parents don’t have. The team at JF&CS have stood with me and my baby when it seemed like everyone else wanted to give up on us.” – Kelly, Jewish Family and Children's Services Client

  • At JF&CS, Fragile Beginnings and Project NESST were created to offer vital services to support the parents and caregivers of vulnerable infants who have had to stay in the NICU, including premature and substance-exposed babies. We helped secure $400,000 to provide services to these families as they transition home, and throughout their child’s developmental years.
  • We sustained funding of $642,000 for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) line-item, a model which enables many seniors to stay in their homes and communities by bringing valuable programs and services to them. For the last decade, we have worked with JFS Metrowest, JF&CS, and JFS of Western Mass to expand this model of healthy aging in place.

“JFS works so hard to get outside speakers and entertainment to come to us and I am so thankful. They brought an exercise instructor to teach weekly aerobics classes and my doctors are so thrilled that I am getting weekly exercise at my apartment. The lunch group and trivia have been very helpful too. After my fall this winter, I feel that I have lost some of my memory and the trivia really makes me think."
Barbara, JFS Client

Ensuring Safety for our Most Vulnerable

  • In past years, this priority area focused exclusively on populations traditionally seen as vulnerable, including fragile seniors and those living on the economic margins. But with emerging threats to the Jewish community and other minorities, we’ve been called to respond to a new and disturbing vulnerability of our times.

"There's been a heightened sense of vulnerability and a documented increase in threats and hate crimes against Jewish community centers, African-American churches, and mosques, and it is very important that we provide these types of organizations, especially those on a shoestring budget, the means to put meaningful protections in place" – State Senator Eric Lesser

In response to these threats against JCCs and day schools, JCRC led efforts to create a pilot program to provide security support to communities excluded from a similar federal program. This year, the state doubled the grant to $150,000 and ensured that all regions of the Commonwealth have access to these vital grants.

While we took many steps forward as a Commonwealth during the FY19 budget process, we also experienced great disappointment. One of the most hotly discussed policy items considered during the budget debate was a compromise containing elements of the Safe Communities Act, to promote the safety and civil rights of our immigrant neighbors. These provisions, included in the Senate budget but absent in the final product, reflected long-standing constitutional protections, including an end to unlawful racial and ethnic profiling, the acknowledgment of the right to counsel in civil proceedings, and a ban on registries based on religion. The failure to act will result in continued persecution and danger for immigrants (and those perceived to be) and the trampling of constitutional rights which extend to all persons in the United States.

As the legislative session comes to an end on July 31st, we are grateful to our many partners in the House and Senate who worked with us to set these priorities, and we remain committed to work with our partners in advocacy and government to enshrine policies that reflect the best in our shared humanity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy 

Urging legislative action

As the Massachusetts legislature begins the second year of its two-year session, there’s been chatter about town about what was accomplished last year and what remains to be done. It is no secret that this year’s budget process may be the “trickiest” in some time. Governor Baker, amongst others, has been outspoken in urging legislative action this year. It behooves us at JCRC to tell our community, our allies, and our friends on Beacon Hill what our priorities are for the remainder of this session.

1. A budget that reflects Massachusetts and Jewish values:
At a time when more and more in our society are pulling away from each other, when a tribal inclination to care only for our own is being amplified, we believe it is more important than ever to be invested in the common good and to care for each other. We support a state budget that works with human service providers in a public/non-profit partnership to ensure a social safety net, provide a ladder of opportunity, and strengthen the civic network that enriches our Commonwealth.

By continuing to invest in a robust partnership among service providers including Jewish human service agencies and our Commonwealth, we marshal our resources together to advance our shared priorities. These include:

  • Building a strong safety net for the most vulnerable, including seniors and those who are at-risk of homelessness.
  • Demonstrating a strong commitment to inclusion and workforce development focused on surmounting persistent and artificially imposed barriers to employment, including for young adults with disabilities, recent immigrants and refugees, and adults who have struggled to get a leg up in this economy, and;
  • Ensuring a vibrant non-profit sector, including implementation and expansion of state supplements to the federal non-profit security grants initiative, benefiting a wide array of vulnerable institutions that bear a heavy security burden.

2. A civil rights agenda that sets Massachusetts as a beacon of hope in troubling times:
We have said, repeatedly, that what has made America a great country for the Jewish community to thrive in is our protection for the rights of all individuals and our defense of the freedoms and opportunity ensured by the rule of law and the advancement of equality for all who live here. To that end:

  • We remain steadfast in our broad communal commitment, expressed last January, that the United States must not close our doors to immigrants and refugees and that our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign born neighbors throughout the Commonwealth. To that end we will continue to urge passage of the Safe Communities Act to protect the civil rights, safety and well-being of all residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety.
  • We continue to prioritize passage of the Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts. As nearly half of all states have taken related action, it is well past time to close the loophole in state law that allows state contractors to discriminate based on national origin and other immutable traits. As Massachusetts continues to compete in a global economy it serves us poorly that other hubs for international business partnerships – like Rhode Island, Maryland, New York and California – have taken action to prevent discrimination against Israeli (and other) individual owned businesses while Massachusetts remains inactive. We should be a leader in the fight against discrimination in all its forms.
  • We will continue to work for comprehensive criminal justice reform guided by the policy recommendations set by our Council last winter. While the MA House and Senate have each passed a version of this legislation, we will work, in coalition, to ensure that each house passes a final bill that addresses the crisis of criminalization of people of color.

3. Defending our democracy’s norms:
We live in a period of unique challenge for our nation, in which, as David Brooks wrote this week, we’re not just debating current policy but also working to ensure that the norms of our vibrant democracy are preserved for the future. To that end, we are all called to defend the institutions and customs that ensure accountability, transparency, and a healthy, vigorous, and respectful public debate about the issues our nation faces. We therefore will continue to urge passage of An Act Restoring Financial Transparency in Presidential Elections and will consider other legislative means to do our part here in Massachusetts to protect those norms through the establishment of new laws that preserve the fundamentals which make our nation great.

We also are working alongside civil rights and voting rights activists to secure passage of the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) legislation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences. Similarly, when one person is ensured that access, we all reap the rewards. AVR could bring hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls on Election Day.

This agenda, defined by our Council representing our 42 member organizations and the community-at-large, through a deliberative process, reflects the organized Jewish community’s priorities, established over time and evolving to meet this particular moment. We remain steadfast in our determination that through the actions above, Massachusetts can continue to be the ‘City on the Hill,’ a shining island of hope in these challenging times and a model to other states about the way forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC Statement regarding proposed MA Democratic Party Resolution

In response to press inquiries regarding the proposed resolution on peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton has offered the following statement on behalf of JCRC:

"We share the sentiment of the resolution's sponsors that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security achieved through a two-state solution. However, this resolution presents a simplistic response to a complex conflict. By offering a one-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem, the resolution is a failed opportunity to offer constructive guidance on how to achieve peace. We urge people of good will to support those Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who are working together to create the conditions of co-existence and mutual respect that are necessary for achieving the peace we all yearn for.

This is a time of great uncertainty in the world. Serious questions are being raised about our own governments' ability to lead. Given the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria, the challenge of North Korea, and the threats to liberal democratic institutions in Europe, among other issues, we are interested to see if the proponents will put forth a comprehensive foreign policy platform articulating American interests in the world and addressing the numerous international challenges we must face.

We share the drafters' sense of urgency that together we must address rising anti-Muslim hate in the wake of the election. We are curious why the resolution does not address the actual policies that are being advanced in Washington, such as limiting visitors to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries and closing our doors to immigrants and refugees from the Muslim and Arab world. We would hope that any serious response to rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Washington would address these issues as well as the increase in hate targeting our Muslim neighbors here in Massachusetts and around the country."

Conventions and Conversations

If you are like me you are probably a bit sleep deprived today, having stayed up far too late for most of the last two weeks watching the two party conventions, their speakers, floor drama, and subsequent analysis. Or, maybe you only watched one convention, or maybe some key moments, highlights, or possibly just followed some of the coverage without staying up for the speeches. Either way, most of us are alike in one aspect – by and large we watched with at least some pre-existing notions about who we’d be voting for in November, and by and large what we saw and heard reaffirmed our notions.

To be fair, national party conventions aren’t about the practice of speaking to those already affirmed in their loyalty across the partisan divide. They are intended to establish the candidates and their parties as clear alternatives to each other. The rhetoric is, quite naturally, a mix of inspiration to mobilize a political base and, when effective, to re-introduce candidates and make some headway with those who are on the fence. Frankly, in an election season, it is vitally important to articulate and make known the distinctions between the candidates. We must be clear about the consequences of the choices in front of us, and we must cast our votes with the solemnity of the power that is entrusted to us in doing so.

But we also need to have the conversations that bridge our divides – as a nation, and for that matter as a Jewish community; the conversations that enable us to understand those with whom we deeply disagree, to identify and define shared national aspirations, to dream as one people, and to determine how our leaders should govern for the whole nation. We haven’t been able to have those conversations in recent years when – as Pew has noted – our increasingly negative partisan feelings toward each other have pushed us further away from finding common ground with each other.

One might ask why we must (and even how we can possibly) make an effort to converse with people whose views are opposed to ours or perhaps deeply offensive to us? Reasons are abundant – including the importance of unity to counter the daunting challenges in these difficult times. It is worth evoking David Brooks’ proposition that in a deeply complex world, the better conversation is rooted in “a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process” which improves the mediocre idea or legislation. Brooks' writes that in this system, “others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.”

As smart, passionate, knowledgeable and experienced as each of us and any of our leaders may be, Brooks argues that people should be modest enough to acknowledge that “they are useless without the conversation.” That there is no greater wisdom than the one society acquires through a collective process of sharing, disputing and discussing ideas over time.

I’m reminded of a verse we’re all familiar with from Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are less familiar with the sentences leading up to this injunction:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

When read in full, the biblical text calls us not only to love our neighbor, and not only to rebuke them when necessary, but do both simultaneously, as equally important social duties. I read this text as a reminder that we need to disagree, and rebuke, but always with love. We can argue, but we must not have malice. We can debate, but we must not divide.

During the 2012 election cycle Rabbi Amy Eilberg, writing about polarized political communication, quoted Martin Buber:

“The human world is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understands the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth. . . . Each side has assumed monopoly of the sunlight and has plunged its antagonist into night, and each side demands that you decide between day and night. . . . ”

Noting that these words, written in 1952, could apply to our modern politics and to Jewish communal disputes, Rabbi Eilberg wrote:

“I can imagine how pained Buber would be to see the dynamics of polarization growing ever more violent with the passage of time, endangering the integrity and cohesiveness of Jewish communities and of democratic societies. But once we recognize the underlying dynamics of polarized communication, we may rediscover our ability to relate to others — even our ideological opponents — as persons created in the image of God, our neighbors and friends.”

Four years later, we are more polarized than ever.

As I head into the weekend ready to catch up on my sleep, I’m glad I watched both conventions. I like being an informed voter, knowing the messages of both parties and both candidates, and – frankly –I am thrilled at the experience of witnessing the historic breaking of a glass ceiling in real time. But I’m also yearning, maybe fantastically, for another convention; the one where we’ll all come together – every American - to listen respectfully and humbly, to rebuke with love, to find understanding, and to remind ourselves that all of us are created in the Divine image.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy