Tag Archives: Government Affairs

The most powerful non-violent tool

I often say that good policy comes from good process. When it comes to the effective functioning of a healthy democracy, good process starts with an engaged electorate that votes.

I’ll keep this one brief because I know you don’t need to be persuaded: In times of crisis and in times of calm, there is no more sacred task than voting. It is, quite simply, the most direct tool we have to hold government accountable to those who are the governed.

This year, like no other, the process of voting involves a few more hurdles; the clearest and most dangerous being the COVID pandemic. Here in Massachusetts, our primary date is unusually early, September 1st, before Labor Day, incurring the risk of many folks “missing” the primary. This year’s primary features several important elections that will likely determine the victors in November as well. The stakes are as high this year as they have ever been.

So, it is very important that we get out the vote ahead of and on September 1st.

“Ahead of,” because due to mobilization by JCRC and our partner advocates, Massachusetts has a new law regarding election safety during the 2020 primary and general elections. This important legislation gives all eligible voters the opportunity to vote early in the primary and general elections, allowing us to vote by mail, and expanding access to absentee ballots. 

“On” September 1st, because time is running out to vote by mail.  Even if you don’t vote early, your vote is vital. There are several races of great interest to our community in Greater Boston, including the state-wide primary for the U.S. Senate, and congressional primaries in several districts with large Jewish populations, covering large parts of Greater Boston, from Sharon, Needham, Newton and Brookline, to parts of the city of Boston, and most of the North Shore.

Our community has values, interests and priorities that will be impacted by the outcomes of these elections. And because this year’s elections amidst COVID are more complicated, JCRC has prepared a comprehensive guide to the voting process in the MA primary, including important dates and instructions for how to vote by mail or vote early. If you want to vote by mail, you need to send in your application, which you should have received in the mail, ASAP.

Of course, while JCRC is a 501(c)(3) and does not endorse candidates or political parties, I encourage you to take the time before you vote, to learn about the candidates and their views on issues of concern to you and our community. For example, in the MA 4th Congressional District (currently held by Rep. Kennedy) you might check out the video of this recent primary debate hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or this helpful candidate survey compiled by AJC New England. There are other resources as well and I urge you to research the candidates, their positions, and their endorsements before you vote.

As the late Congressman John Lewis, of blessed memory, said:

"I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy."

So please, make a plan to vote, not only in the general election, but in the primary. Tell your friends to vote and share this information widely so that they know how. Ask your congregations and organizations to help get the word out.

There is nothing more urgent right now than our participation in the democratic process, so that we can ensure that our voices will be heard.

Building a more just Commonwealth

When we celebrated JCRC’s 75th anniversary last year, we marveled anew at the forethought of the founding fathers (yes, they were all men at the time) in recognizing the need to form what we now call the “organized Jewish community, by founding an umbrella institution  “for the purpose of acting in unity in matters relating to civic protection” for the community. And every year at our Legislative Reception, we recognize our organized Jewish community’s partners in government who have allied with us to build a more just Commonwealth; one that embodies the most cherished values of our Jewish community. This event, which will be held this year on March 26th, celebrates not only our honorees, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, but also the power of civil discourse and debate across ideological lines, and the investment in coalitions that ensure access to economic opportunity, quality of life, and independence for all in the Commonwealth. Our work is animated by our communal commitment to defending civil rights for all Americans and safeguarding long-fought gains against discrimination, hatred, and bigotry of all forms.

On behalf of JCRC, the Mass Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF), our member organizations, and our partner agencies, we are delighted to be presenting awards to five public servants who help further our shared agenda: standing with immigrants and refugees, advocating for criminal justice reform, fighting for economic justice and education, supporting our Jewish social service agencies, and allocating resources to protect vulnerable communities through the Non Profit Security Grant Program. We work with these and many other public officials to enshrine and execute policies that protect people across the Commonwealth—along with the lives of members of our own community.

On March 26th, we will honor these remarkable public servants:

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Senator Sal DiDomenico (Everett) – From his first term, Senator DiDomenico has been a trusted partner on many of our key priorities, most specifically the charge to provide a ladder to economic opportunity for all people. He was the Senate lead sponsor on the recently enacted “Lift the Cap on Kids” legislation to ensure that families in poverty have access to needed supports and has led efforts to provide job training opportunities for immigrants and refugees.

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Representative Claire Cronin (Easton) – Representative Cronin was the House lead on the ground-breaking Criminal Justice Reform legislation from 2018, pursuing a vision of justice and dignity. Rep Cronin is quickly rising in the ranks of the House and is widely respected as a fierce advocate for her constituents and the advocate community.

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Representative Jeff Roy (Franklin) – Representative Roy is a strong partner in the fight against rising antisemitism and hatred. As a former School Committee member, Rep Roy views education as a crucial tool in fighting bigotry, and has joined the fight with JCRC, ADL, and our partners by filing a Genocide and Holocaust bill for the past three sessions, with the explicit goal of teaching children across the Commonwealth how unchecked prejudice can escalate to atrocity.

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Boston City Council President Kim Janey – Council President Kim Janey is a leader on the City Council on issues of equity, civil rights, and criminal justice. She has helped JCRC bring Boston Partners for Peace organizations, comprised of Israelis and Palestinian peacebuilders, to meet with leadership at City Hall. Councilor Janey is a dedicated advocate for education, housing, and small business development, and works to ensure equitable access to opportunities and resources in her district.

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Brian McKeon (Assistant Chief of Staff for Cabinet Affairs – Office of Governor Baker) – McKeon has played a key role in the funding and implementation of the Non-Profit Security Grant program, coordinating conversations with the policy team, the budget writing team, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. He is a dedicated public servant who works tirelessly behind the scenes as a key point person in the Governor’s office to shape the implementation of critical policies.

A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding, public servants like these five individuals, along with the hundreds of elected and appointed officials, staff, and civil servants who honor their duty to the Commonwealth. Our legislative agenda is bound by this common theme of our shared humanity, whether it be standing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees seeking safety and security, ensuring that people with disabilities and seniors live independent lives of dignity, or providing crucial security measures for members of our community.

We look forward to coming together as a network to celebrate these five leaders and to recognize the work of JCRC and our partners.

I invite you to join us.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy

Our Urgent Need to Sustain Faith in Democracy

With all the attention given to this week’s fiasco of reporting results in Iowa, I find that I can’t let go of a recent report from the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Future of Democracy that — for the first time — “a majority of Americans (55 percent) are dissatisfied with [our] system of government.”

In an article, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa (co-author of above report) note:

“Citizens have become steadily disenchanted with their democratic systems. As a result, they are more and more willing to vote for extremist politicians who promise to break with the status quo. It is perfectly possible that democracies will recover from their current crisis in the years to come. But every new data point makes it that much harder to deny that such a crisis exists.”

This, of course, is not the first time we’ve grappled with an existential challenge of this nature. Jill Lepore reminds us in an essay this week that in the 1930s when “democracy nearly died all over the world and almost all at once, Americans argued about it, and then they tried to fix it.”

Today, this conversation about what has gone wrong with our system, and how we can fix it, has become most urgent. People will differ about some of the causes of this crisis, and certainly about what is to be done, but there is a conversation beginning to take shape.

I’m in the middle of two books right now that try to grapple with this:

  1. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream by Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. As Levin writes in an essay last month, “What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.”
  2. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein, founder of Vox, a liberal aligned media platform. Klein writes that “one of the few real hopes for depolarizing American politics is democratization” including, for example, establishing automatic voter registration – for which there is legislation under consideration here in Massachusetts that we at JCRC support.

In reading these works, and others (such as Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States), I’m struck that these aren’t only challenges for the nation as a whole, but for all levels of community and civil society. The challenges to institutions also come in our Jewish communities, where some who are unsatisfied with the values and priorities of the collective seek to tear down and delegitimize the very fabric of centuries-old communal institutions rather than engage in substantive debate. And the challenges of public leadership are not limited to elected officials, but to anyone who has a leadership role in building trust in institutions.

No doubt each of us can find ways to agree or disagree with some of the options and strategies these authors and others are offering right now. But with every passing event – such as Iowa – I’m imbued with a sense of urgency about this conversation and about our role as leaders and institutions to both model a better way forward and act as advocates for the repair of civil society.

I’d love to hear from you about this: What are you reading? How do you think about this moment in our society? And, most importantly, what is our communal call to action?

In that same essay, Lepore gives examples of many things that were attempted back in the 30s to address these challenges. She notes, “These efforts don’t always work. Still, trying them is better than talking about the weather, and waiting for someone to hand you an umbrella.”

That wisdom rings true to for me in our current moment. I hope that it does for you as well.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

JCRC Statement on Non Profit Security Grant Program

The organized Jewish community welcomes the action by the Massachusetts legislature to reach an agreement on a supplementary budget for FY19. In particular we take note and express our appreciation that the legislature allocated an additional $1 million toward non-profit security grants as proposed by Governor Baker. This comes after legislative leadership, led by Senate President Karen Spilka, Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senator Eric Lesser and their colleagues in the House and Senate seeded a pilot to provide initial funds over the past three sessions.

“While the Jewish community is still reeling in the wake of what appears to be the third deadly attack on our institutions and places of gathering in this country in less than 14 months, it is commendable that our legislature has acted in support of protecting vulnerable communities,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “This is a time of vulnerability and crisis, and a time for action. Massachusetts is joining other states in protecting non-profits that may be targets of antisemitism and violent extremism. We will continue our work with the Governor and our strong allies in the House and Senate to promote policies that combat hatred in all forms.”

The SS Zeeland and the State Budget

This Friday, a message from Director of Government Affairs Aaron Agulnek. 

I recently received an old government document with notations written in cursive that I could not quite decipher, along with a yellowed photograph depicting a ship, reminiscent of the Titanic, but nowhere near as grand. Entitled, “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States,” the document included the names of passengers sailing from Antwerp and arriving in New York City on December 6th, 1911. On line 21 was an entry I made out to be “Zunke Goldberg,” age three, who apparently traveled with a four-year-old sibling and her mother. Zunke, or Celia as I knew her, was my late grandmother, and the photo was the ship that brought her and her family to America: the SS Zeeland.

I remember asking her as a little kid to share the experience with me. She seemed like a superhero to me, but I could not really comprehend the details: she fled her homeland; traveled in steerage; met a “stranger” who took her away on the crowded hectic docks (her father who she hadn’t seen in a year and could not remember); and began life in a new land. She talked about the struggles of poverty, antisemitism, and nationalism; some of the very same challenges facing today’s freedom-seekers from different lands.

But it was not just the challenges that she shared. She also spoke about the role of community, about the social service networks who supported her and her family: the community activists from all walks of life, the politicians and public servants who cared deeply for her family and their neighbors while they struggled to get a toehold. It was those stories that brought me to JCRC, where I could play a role to develop a robust social service network that buoys the immigrant, the unemployed, the senior, and the impoverished.  

A few weeks ago, Governor Charlie Baker signed the Massachusetts State Budget, with JCRC’s imprint and values firmly affixed. This was a historic budget for our community, one that increased the public investment in our priorities to $8 million, while recognizing the value of partnership, community, and shared humanity.

Here are some of the quick highlights:

Job Training & Education

  • $1,250,000 for the Employment Service Program for Immigrants and Refugees, which provides English-based job training and placement services for recent immigrants and refugees.
  • $250,000 for Transitions to Work, an innovative job training model for young adults with disabilities.
  • $500,000 for Bridges to College, which provides college prep to individuals seeking careers with opportunities for advancement. The budget also included a $250,000 earmark for Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to expand its innovative programming.
  • Continuity funding for the MA Pathways to Economic Advancement Initiative, which will increase employment opportunities for limited English speakers and help them progress up the economic ladder by providing workforce development services.

Seniors

  • $856,000 for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), to bring wellness programs and socialization services directly to seniors, allowing them to remain in their homes and communities.

Combatting Hatred

  • $500,000 for the Non-Profit Security Grants, a pilot which provides vital security enhancements to Jewish communal infrastructure at increased risk of threat.

Anti-Poverty

  • $2,000,000 for the Secure Jobs Initiative, for homeless families to increase their level of economic self-sufficiency.

These programs and initiatives are, in part, the manifestations of our traditions and values operating in a pluralistic society. We never forget that we were once strangers in a strange land, and we know that we all thrive when today’s strangers are provided the same opportunities that helped us integrate and succeed in this country. It is vitally important for us to remember our past, while pushing for a better future for all.

Seeing the photo of the very ship which carried my grandmother to safety in America provided me with a newfound perspective about why people sacrifice everything they know for freedom. My family crossed a vast ocean, with their most precious cargo, their 3-year-old daughter, packed into the overcrowded, dark, and damp steerage, to escape to a foreign land. They took this unfathomable risk, believing in their family’s future in their adopted land—a dream now realized through me and my own children. We will honor their sacrifice, and those who are like them today, by fighting for justice and opportunity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron

 

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, Executive Director

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