Tag Archives: immigrant justice

#YesOn4 is a Victory for Jewish Values 

There were many races and many outcomes on Tuesday. I’ll leave it to the pundits to make sense of it all. For now, we here at JCRC are celebrating the victory of #YesOn4 and the successful defense of Massachusetts’ Work and Family Mobility Law

This campaign will help to ensure safer roads for our Commonwealth and will uphold a common-sense law that has already been enacted in 17 other states and the District of Columbia. Passage of the bill, and the success this week, would not have happened without broad support from law enforcement leaders. Still, it is not lost on anyone that, as Jeff Jacoby observed last weekend, the fact that this law was under attack was about scapegoating immigrants.

The history of our Jewish community in this country has always been in part about the idea of building a nation that should be welcoming to immigrants, and about the hostility that we and others have experienced when coming here. As regular readers of this blog know, when those first Jews arrived in 1654, they were received by a hostile Governor Peter Stuyvesant, who called our ancestors “repugnant” and “vermin.” To this day there are public officials who follow in his footsteps, displaying open hostility to others arriving here, who may not be coming from the same nations their ancestors arrived from.

It is a matter of great pride to many in the Jewish community that, in the 19th century, in order to raise money for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, it was the Jewish poetess Emma Lazarus who famously penned The New Colossus and these words:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. 

From the earliest years after JCRC's founding and the ‘organizing’ of our Jewish community in Boston in the 1940's, advocacy for refugees has been one of our top legislative priorities. In those first years our efforts were heavily focused on supporting arriving Holocaust refugees – and recognizing that the United States could have saved more of our people had this nation not closed its doors to immigrants like those on the St. Louis, even after the horrors of Kristallnacht (for which we marked the 78th anniversary this week) made evident the dire situation in Germany.

That commitment and advocacy to reflect a deeper and broader understanding of the promise of America to people around the world grew over the years. We and many of our member organizations have been active for decades advocating for pro-immigrant legislation and mobilizing our community in resettlement work for all new arrivals. 

So it was hardly surprising when, in January 2017, at a time of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and real threats to the safety and security of many who were already here, our community proudly came together with a unified and very public voice to say that "we must not close our doors.” We urged "our elected and appointed officials at all levels of government to do everything in their legal authority to protect our foreign-born neighbors." 

In the years since, together with many of our members, our synagogues, our allies and our interfaith partners, we have built a robust network for action, including resettlement, accompaniment and legislative advocacy. 

We, and I, are proud of that work. We’re proud to be a member of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), and of the Driving Families Forward coalition. We have been proud to mobilize on legislative priorities with them and with leaders on Beacon Hill including Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Liz Miranda, Rep. Ruth Balser (Safe Communities) and Sen. Brendan Crighton, Rep. Tricia Bouvier and Rep. Christine Barber (Work and Family Mobility). 

We are proud of the role we played in the #YesOn4 effort; canvassing, phone banking, making the case to voters, and hosting educational events within our community.  

This week was a victory. For #YesOn4. For safer roads. For the dignity of our neighbors. For the values we stand for.  

And, there is still plenty more work to do. This week we are reaffirming what we said in 2017:  

"We reject any effort to shut our nation’s doors on the most
vulnerable. We recommit ourselves to the work of protecting and advancing the dignity of all human beings and to preventing suffering in this world." 

I hope that you will continue to be part of this work with us, and we thank you for your generous support. 

Shabbat shalom. 

Shouting our Kindness

In 1654, the first Jews arrived in what would become the United States. Fleeing the persecution of the Inquisition and its long arm in South America, they came from Recife to New Amsterdam.  

Peter Stuyvesant, then governor of the colony, ‘welcomed’ them with bigotry and fear-mongering. He informed the colony’s directors that these new arrivals were “repugnant”. Our ancestors were - he told the community - a “deceitful race” that should “be not allowed further to infect and trouble this new colony.”

Others – including some of Stuyvesant’s bosses back in Holland - saw the merit of welcoming these refugees, organizing to pay for the release of their possessions, to help them on their journey to establishing their community; one that would, of course, go on to become the most vibrant Jewish community in the history of our diaspora. They have been joined by the generations of Jewish refugees over the centuries since, and have given so much more back to the city of New York and to our nation than was ever given to them in those first months.

Since the very dawn of the American Jewish story, we have experienced fear mongering directed at us, directed at the very idea of us, and of others who, like us, arrive here as refugees and asylum seekers.

I’ve been thinking about Governor Stuyvesant as events developed this week here in Massachusetts. On Sunday, as we marked and mourned the attack on our nation 21 years ago, three masked cowards stood on a bridge in Saugus with a sign blaming Jews for 9/11. By mid-week, I was getting calls because the anonymous cowards behind the Mapping Project continue to use their Twitter platform to amplify their hateful website and re-post its content targeting our local Jewish community.

And on Wednesday night we all learned about how some 50 migrants - who arrived in this country seeking the same American opportunity and freedom as our own ancestors – were herded onto a plane by the governor of another state, and cruelly deposited on Martha’s Vineyard without any advance notice or concern for their basic human needs and dignity.

It is easy to sow fear, to tell people who to be afraid of, to treat human beings as an “other”, or to hide behind masks and internet anonymity to spread conspiracies, lies and antisemitism. It is more work, but work worth doing, to build the bridges and partnerships to resist fear, and to act with kindness.

We’ve known that kindness, as well, since our ancestors first arrived in Manhattan. Then, others helped them, creating the space for them to find refuge and to build a better future. We saw kindness, and Jews living without fear, this week when leaders gathered in Saugus – thanks to leadership from Chabad of the North Shore – to stand together against antisemitism and fear-mongering. And we are seeing kindness as the community on Martha’s Vineyard and across the Commonwealth is coming together.

I was reminded on Thursday of something that former-Governor Deval Patrick likes to say:

“We have learned to shout our anger and whisper our kindness, and it's completely upside down.”

This week, and every week, we’re shouting our kindness. Mobilizing to build bridges and partnerships - holding the fears of others and in-turn being held and supported by them in response to rising antisemitism and bigotry. Coming together with hundreds of volunteers across dozens of synagogues, human service agencies, and interfaith partners – who have already welcomed Syrians and Afghans and Ukrainians and other refugees – and will now do what is needed to support our newest arrivals.

Not long after those first Jews arrived in 1654, their descendants in Newport, Rhode Island received a promise from our first President. George Washington assured them that this newborn nation “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

This idea is, for us, the greatness of America. And while it is a promise still being fully realized for many Americans, it is one that inspires us and that we remain committed to every day, along with our partners and allies.

If you would like to be part of fulfilling this promise for the people who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard this week, for those migrants who have arrived secondarily from New York and Washington, DC, and for those who might be sent here in the future, please contact Rachie Lewis, our director of synagogue organizing, at .

I thank you for your partnership and for sharing our values and our vision for our great nation. 

Shabbat shalom,


What happened to ICE detainees at Bristol?

This week, a message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Synagogue Organizing Rachie Lewis:

You may have heard the disconcerting reports emerging from the Bristol County House of Corrections regarding events on Friday night, May 1st. Testimony from immigrant detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention there reports that inmates were assaulted and pepper sprayed, endangering their lives and furthering their vulnerability to COVID-19. Inmates report being told they were going to be tested for COVID-19 and instructed to pack their bags, leading them to fear that they would be thrown in solitary confinement. In this virtual press conference, you can hear the voices of people who have been detained at Bristol and were contacted by family and friends on the night of the violence.

Through our work with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN – created by JCRC together with our partners), we have been connected with those detained or previously detained in Bristol and have heard first-hand their stories of ill treatment. Fortunately, our Commonwealth has an active congressional delegation and the MA Senate, members of whom have spoken out about the reports (and our Attorney General, who has started investigating). We add our voices to theirs by calling for an immediate and independent investigation with appropriate consequences.

We have heard Sheriff Hodgson’s side of the story (included in the press clip above), where he has blamed those detained for the violence. Our sources and our consistent contact with people inside detention (and, specifically in Bristol) have reported to us that they are regularly mistreated by ICE. Unfortunately, we continue to hear reports of retaliation from inside the walls of Bristol as detainees try to have their voices heard.

We invite you to join us in adding our names to the list of people amplifying the stories of those detained, who have told us about the many challenges they face in in having their voices heard – from sky-high phone call costs, to high barriers around whom one can call, to threats of retaliation of being put in solitary confinement for advocating for their safety.

We are asking Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Congressman Kennedy to take the next step and visiting the Bristol County house of Corrections to observe and report on the conditions for themselves. Please call their offices! You can find their contact info here. Here is a sample script: “Thank you _____ for your leadership in calling for an immediate and independent investigation. Through our connections to people under ICE detention at the Bristol House of Corrections, we have heard accounts of cruel behavior by ICE before. We add our voices in support of those detained advocating for their own health and the health of the collective, and we ask that you go visit Bristol to see the conditions for yourselves.”

This moment of urgency is not happening in a vacuum. A recent joint study with research from Brown University's School of Public Health, Brandeis' Heller School, and others showed that based on modeling of transmission rates for people in immigration detention:

72% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under the optimistic scenario, while nearly 100% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under a more pessimistic scenario. The study also determined that, in the most optimistic scenario, coronavirus outbreaks among a minimum of 58 ICE facilities (52%) would overwhelm ICU beds within a 10- mile radius, and outbreaks among a minimum of 3 ICE facilities (3%) would overwhelm local ICU beds within a 50-mile radius over a 90-day period, provided every ICU bed were made available for sick detainees.

For many, detention at this time could become a death sentence. We continue to work toward the release of those detained and jailed through fundraising and paying bonds, through advocating for humanitarian parole, and supporting efforts by others calling for the release of many.

Grateful to be in this work with you, especially in this chaotic time,

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy and Rachie