Tag Archives: Israel

Community Response to BDS Supported Mapping Project

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Under the guise of an interactive map, the innocuously named “Mapping Project” is promoting a list of Jewish communal organizations in Massachusetts that it contends are “responsible for colonization of Palestine or other harms such as policing, US Imperialism and displacement”. Virtually every Jewish organization in the Commonwealth, along with its leadership, is listed in this map along with the relationships of each to civic, governmental, university and other community organizations. Whether those relationships were cultivated by the Jewish institution or the community organization, the underlying messages are clear: Jews are responsible for the ills of our community and if you maintain your relationship with Jewish organizations, you will share that responsibility.

It is a list with names and organizations to be shunned, isolated and disenfranchised. And it draws on age-old antisemitic tropes that are all too clear to our community: Jewish wealth, control and conspiracies.

But we will not be intimidated and we will not be silent.

As a Jewish community, and one that has made allyship and outreach the cornerstones of our work, we condemn this demonization of the Boston Jewish community and attack on its relationship with others. This is no thinly veiled attempt to target the Jewish community – it is an explicit one that is keeping lists and naming names.

At a time when antisemitism, including antisemitic attacks on the legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel intensify, we in Boston will stand together and continue our work building bridges, supporting our allies and each other, and confronting antisemitism where we see it and when we experience it – as we do today. And we ask you to join us in helping our friends and community leaders and organizations recognize the antisemitism embedded in this hate-filled effort and ask them to join us in calling this out.

We have just marked the 20 year anniversary of the dedication of the Zakim Bridge – a visual reminder of the bridge-building led by Lenny Zakim. At this moment, let us take inspiration from his words as we join together:

We have the power to change things. It doesn’t take much to start a revolution of thought and spirit. It takes one person and then another. When it works, it’s a work of art.

JCRC Statement on Terror Attacks in Israel

Today, sadly, we witnessed yet another terror attack in Israel – the fourth in a series of escalating attacks over the past two weeks targeting the civilian population of Israel. We share the immense pain of the families and are heartbroken by the tragic loss of life. 

We stand with Israel in the face of this ongoing wave of terror, pray for the speedy recovery of the injured, and extend our deepest condolences to the victims’ loved ones.

We echo the comments of Issawi Frej, Minister of Regional Cooperation and an Arab citizen of Israel: “When these people attack, they don’t only attack Jews, they attack all human beings, they attack you and me and everyone who is looking for hope and for peace. We must not let these extreme people take us to a dark place.”

Extremists who oppose reconciliation and normalization can never silence those who work hard every day toward a vision of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security. This indiscriminate and senseless violence has taken the lives of Arabs, Druze, Christians, and Jews alike – including Ukrainian foreign workers. We call upon all those who wish for a better future for all of Israel’s citizens to join us in condemning these cowardly acts of terror.

Telling the True Story of a Place

Earlier this week I sat down with one of our beloved Israel educators, Yishay Shavit. Yishay used some of his time during the pandemic – and shut-down of Israel’s tourist industry – to co-edit a fascinating collection of pieces by his guide colleagues, titled Heartbeats: The Insider’s Guide to Israel. 

We had a great conversation about the publishing process, the stories in the book, and about some of his own experiences during the pandemic, as a parent at one of the seven Hand-in-Hand schools, a shared-society initiative that we are proud to feature through JCRC's Boston Partners for Peace initiative.  

I talked with Yishay about our experience working with him and some of the other educators in the anthology, and the deliberate effort he made to include a diverse set of voices from across the Israeli spectrum – right and left, secular and religious, Mizrahi, Russian, and Arab citizens of Israel. Knowing that he has Palestinian friends and colleagues who are not Israeli citizens and who guide under the Palestinian Authority tourism ministry, I asked him why those voices were not in the book. 

His response is one I’m continuing to sit with. 

Yishay said that the easy answer would be that this is a book about Israel. “But that would be a lie. You cannot understand Israel without the point of view of the Palestinians.” He went on to say that their plan had been to include at least one story from a Palestinian guide who was not an Israeli citizen. A Palestinian guide had in fact submitted an essay. But then, Yishay tells us, this guide withdrew from the project. 

His Palestinian colleague told Yishay: “To talk to a group on a bus, it is wonderful. But to have everything printed, in a book… Someone is not going to be happy with what I wrote, Israeli or Palestinian.  I could pay a heavy price for that and I simply don’t want to take the chance.”  

Yishay then approached four other Palestinian colleagues, who raised similar concerns. Regrettably, he and his co-editors concluded that “it simply wasn’t going to work.” 

Yishay called this a “tragedy.” “That people are too scared to write their own opinion, about the conflict… and print it in a book” (and to be fair, he notes, a book printed by Israelis) is why he and the other guides featured in this book are unable to capture the complete spectrum of the issues and nuances of the region.    

For me, this story really gets at the complexity of telling the story of what’s happening in a place, particularly in a place like Israel. There’s such a difference between reading an article in a newspaper or book in America and traveling there and actually engaging with people on the ground. There’s no replacement for having authentic conversations with people to learn about them, their lives, and their realities. There are things people choose to tell or not to tell a reporter. And there are things people choose to have or not have on the record, in print, forever. The best, most illuminating, and most real conversations are the ones that happen in people’s living rooms – or on the bus - where they can tell me their truths, ones I sometimes find challenging to hear, but whose authenticity I cannot question.   

I am, as always, grateful for Yishay’s wisdom, and for the stories that he and his colleagues share in this new book (and I encourage you to check it out). And I am grateful for the reminder that not all truths will be found in reading about a place. I’m yearning to get back to Israel as soon as I possibly can to continue these conversations. I’m excited for the pastors who will be traveling with us and Yishay next summer.  

And I’m encouraging everyone to remember that you can’t really know everything about any place, and certainly not somewhere as complicated as Israel and the Palestinian Areas, by reading an article or a book. You have to go and have the conversations with the people who live there; with as many and as a diverse a representation of them as possible. In doing so, we can truly begin to understand this place, in all of its complexity, that we care so deeply about – while at the same time acknowledging what we still have yet to understand.  

Shabbat Shalom, 

Jeremy 

Jeremy Burton 
Executive Director 

Statement from JCRCs on Congressional Funding of the Iron Dome Missile Defense System

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Statement from Jewish Community Relations Councils on Congressional
Funding of the Iron Dome Missile Defense System

September 23, 2021

As Jewish Community Relations Councils deeply committed to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we thank the 420 Members of Congress who voted to fully fund the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. This overwhelming bipartisan vote demonstrates the commitment of the United States to upholding the special relationship with Israel and reaffirming Israel’s right to defend itself. We are deeply disappointed with those Members from our own delegations who failed to support this uniquely bipartisan vote.

The Iron Dome determines which rockets are likely to hit civilian areas and attempts to destroy them mid-air, thus saving lives. Without the Iron Dome, rockets launched by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and other terror organizations would surely maim and murder countless additional Israeli Jews, Muslims, and Christians, as well as Palestinians. Simply put, Iron Dome limits severe escalation of the conflict on a near-daily basis.

Objecting to funding this purely defensive technology reveals an attempt to further isolate and delegitimize Israel. We are proud that the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans are committed to funding the Iron Dome.

Signed:

Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Indianapolis 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Louisville 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas 
Jewish Community Relations Council of New York 
Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis 
Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee of Detroit

Statement from JCRCs on Congressional Funding of the Iron Dome Missile Defense System

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Statement from Jewish Community Relations Councils on Congressional
Funding of the Iron Dome Missile Defense System

September 23, 2021

As Jewish Community Relations Councils deeply committed to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we thank the 420 Members of Congress who voted to fully fund the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. This overwhelming bipartisan vote demonstrates the commitment of the United States to upholding the special relationship with Israel and reaffirming Israel’s right to defend itself. We are deeply disappointed with those Members from our own delegations who failed to support this uniquely bipartisan vote.

The Iron Dome determines which rockets are likely to hit civilian areas and attempts to destroy them mid-air, thus saving lives. Without the Iron Dome, rockets launched by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and other terror organizations would surely maim and murder countless additional Israeli Jews, Muslims, and Christians, as well as Palestinians. Simply put, Iron Dome limits severe escalation of the conflict on a near-daily basis.

Objecting to funding this purely defensive technology reveals an attempt to further isolate and delegitimize Israel. We are proud that the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans are committed to funding the Iron Dome.

Signed:

Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Indianapolis 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Louisville 
Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas 
Jewish Community Relations Council of New York 
Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis 
Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee of Detroit

Wisdom from our partners in Israel

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With my friend and teacher Mohammad Darawshe, of the Givat Haviva Center for Equality and Shared Society.

Yesterday I returned from 10 days of travel in Israel, made possible thanks to a CJP solidarity mission last week. I was privileged to participate and grateful that I could extend my time – when so few are fortunate enough to be able to travel – visiting with many of our partners; the groups we work with through Boston Partners for Peace and our connection to the Alliance for Middle East Peace, our on-the-ground partners who we work with on Study Tours, and the many thinkers and doers who educate and inspire us.  

I came with a desire to support our friends and partners, and also to search for inspiration and wisdom to inform our own commitment to the challenging work of bridging differences and supporting the hard conversations and initiatives that build shared society and cross-border connections. I wanted to hear how they have navigated COVID, how they make sense of the events in May, what their perceptions are of Israel’s new coalition government, and perhaps most important, what they are thinking about the road ahead.  

Amidst numerous rich and informative conversations, some topics and themes came up repeatedly. Folks were eager to talk about the recent Jewish Electorate Institute poll indicating increasingly harsh criticism of Israel by growing numbers of Jewish Americans. The people I met with weren’t terribly interested in talking about regional issues, both positive (normalization with various states) or threats (e.g. Iran). What was most on their minds seemed to be the challenges to the social fabric of society here, whether that was – depending on the meeting – between Jewish Israelis, all Israeli citizens, or all the people living in Israel and the Palestinian Areas. 

I heard a degree of optimism about the new government from people we’ve been working with. For Hamutal Gouri – a leader in Women Wage Peace - there is inherent opportunity in the fact that folks who had not been in decision-making rooms until now, are newly "in the room where it happens” (to paraphrase her), including many of Gouri’s allies in the feminist movement. At the same time, leaders are grappling with the brokenness of political and civil discourse; Rachel Azaria – a former Member of Knesset and Jerusalem deputy mayor who has, for now, left electoral politics – is working to develop a new language of civic and political discourse; the rhetoric she experienced in her time in the Knesset (where half the country calls the other traitor, and, the other half call their opponents, fascist) wasn’t helping solve problems and is actually dangerous. I also met with leaders who are doing the hard work of being in conversation and relationship with religious extremists, including radical nationalists in the Jewish and Muslim communities, because it is, to their mind, the extremists who need to be reached in service to progress, not the liberals who already embrace openness and dialogue. 

Two voices are staying with me. The first is my friend and teacher Mohammad Darawshe, of the Givat Haviva Center for Equality and Shared Society, who met with the CJP group. He’s done a lot of thinking over the years about building a common society for all of Israel’s citizens, and about the role of diaspora Jews as a third stakeholder with Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the future of the country. One point he underscores repeatedly, is that productive intergroup dialogue and shared identity work is possible only when one first comes in with a strong sense of personal and group identity. In his work, Jews and Palestinians are encouraged to develop and strengthen their own narratives and identities in order to facilitate the work of hearing the stories of others, without being threatened by them. 

The second voice is Shivi Froman, a new relationship for me. The son of Rabbi Menachem Froman (of blessed memory), he lives in Tekoa, a Jewish community beyond the Green Line. As I sat with him in his living room, he told me about his work with Roots/Shorashim/Judur and with Syrian refugees (that led to him addressing the UN in New York a few years ago), but mostly about his ethos on extremists and moderates in his communities.  

Shivi tells me about a teaching his father liked to share, an idea from the kabbalistic tradition that asks why we need two ears, two eyes, and two arms. The teaching goes that the left side is to hold the personal space – he puts out a stiff-arm with a palm out like a stop sign – the space of protection and defense of self. The right side – and here he hugs himself with one arm – is to draw close, to see and hear the other and to embrace them fully as they are. Shivi embraces his father’s wisdom that one needs both sides in balance. He compares this to a bird flying with only one wing or someone paddling a boat only on one side.  The bird and the sailor would perceive themselves as moving forward when in fact they would be moving in circles and not making any progress. One has to do both – protect the self and embrace the other – in equal measures, or one isn’t achieving anything lasting. 

There is wisdom here from Mohammad, from Shivi, and from all the others I’ve been meeting with, about how to have courageous conversations and to challenge oneself to be in difficult relationships across differences. There is also wisdom here regarding the challenges we face as a Jewish community in America, in our own identities, in our conversations with each other, and in our work with others – including those who are extremists in their own ways. In order to do effective relationship work, we must first fully develop our own identities and narratives, and we also must ensure that we are balancing both our defense and willingness to be open.  

I come away, as always, from my time in this place I love, inspired and challenged by the people I meet and care about, committed even more so to their work, to our work supporting them, and to what we can learn from their leadership. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Statement from JCRC regarding MA State Senator Jamie Eldridge’s Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

It is utterly shocking that a member of the Massachusetts Senate would elevate Hamas as a legitimate actor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There can be absolutely no moral equivalence between the State of Israel - an American ally, whatever criticisms one may hold about that nation’s government - and Hamas, a designated foreign terror organization, by both the United States and European Union, that is funded and supported by the regime in Iran and whose charter explicitly calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.

The legitimization of a designated terrorist organization by an elected official is irresponsible  and should be a matter of grave concern to all residents of our Commonwealth and to his colleagues. We insist that Senator Eldridge clarify his views.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) actively supports efforts to achieve Palestinian national aspirations through peaceful means. We are wholly committed to realizing the full equality of all Israel’s citizens. Conversations about the relationship of “occupation” between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people are important and we embrace those challenging conversations.

JCRC has reached out to Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to request an opportunity to discuss our concerns regarding his statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite our long relationship with Senator Eldridge he has not, at this time, responded to our request, nor did he make any attempt to be in dialogue with us prior to issuing his statement.  

Update – June 10, 2021, 4pm

We welcome Senator Jamie Eldridge’s statement of clarification today, including, specifically, regarding his understanding of the terrorist organization Hamas. We thank the Senator for the discussion we had today, and we look forward to being in continued dialogue with him about how to advance our shared commitment to achieving a secure and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.

On the other side of the wall

This past week I sat down, separately, with two of our partners in Israel, Mohammad Darawshe and Raz Shmilovich. We had asked each of them to join us to share their experiences, as an Arab and a Jew, and as Israelis, during these recent, difficult weeks. How, we wondered, do they and their neighbors think about the tensions of recent events?

Mohammad Darawshe is the Director of Equality and Shared Society at Givat Haviva. We’ve met with him often over the years, both in Israel and here in Boston, to talk about his work, building a shared society for all of Israel’s citizens. In recent weeks he and his family have experienced harassment and danger, even to the point of Mohammad having to hide his Arab  identity from Jewish extremists in Afulah, and his children facing racist comments at school and work.

Raz Shmilovich lives in Moshav Netiv Ha’Asara. A farming community, this is the closest Israeli village to the Gaza strip, where we visit regularly to talk with him and his neighbors. Even during relative calm, their lives can be unimaginable to us. Bomb shelters are everywhere, but even during the best circumstances, residents only have 5 seconds to reach a shelter once a mortar is fired. We’ve seen where terrorists dug a tunnel under the wall and came out amidst their greenhouses, along with the ongoing efforts to protect the residents by building an anti-tunnel barrier outside their homes.

My conversations with them reminded me of a much-commented upon event in this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach. This portion tells the story of the spies, sent from the wilderness to scout the land of Canaan. Famously, when they return to the Israelite camp, they make a report:

“The people who inhabit the land are powerful, and the cities are fortified… more over we saw Anakites (giants) there.”  Numbers 13:28

Their report evokes fear in the Israelite camp. And yet, some forty years later, in the time of Joshua, in a story we also read this shabbat, we learn that the Canaanites of this story were afraid of the Israelites as well. In Jericho, a Canaanite woman, Rahab, tells a new generation of Israelite spies that “dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land are quaking.” (Joshua 2:9)

The medieval scholar Rashi, in his commentary on our Torah portion, looks at these two moments and explains that “the higher the walls, the more fearful the people.”

I asked Raz what he is telling his children right now. He said he tells them about the need for Palestinians and Israelis to actually live together “two or three generations living one by each other, next to the other, we would learn not to fear.” He grew up with open fields and roads, riding his bike in Gaza to markets and playing basketball with Palestinian friends, a human experience his children have never been able to share. Raz appreciates the full humanity of the parents on the other side of the wall. But this is not an experience his children have ever known. “When my kids come to me… happy for someone being killed, that’s a wake-up call for me. I don’t want anyone to die. But for them, Gaza is like an entity.” He tells them about a kid, Ahmed, on the other side of the wall, in Gaza, who goes to bed afraid. “He doesn’t have a bomb shelter to go to. He doesn’t have a school to go to.” And Raz hopes that Ahmed’s father is telling him the same story about Raz’s children, who also live in fear.

I asked Mohammad about the fear that he and his family have experienced and what he, as a long-time co-existence advocate, says to his own grown children right now. He tells them that people are living in the heat and anger of the moment, and trying to exercise power – even if they don’t have it – to cause damage. He tells his children to reach out to their friends, including their Jewish friends, just to say hello. He’s initiated 100 calls in the past week with Jewish friends to say that “just because there’s a meltdown out there, we don’t have to be part of it. It doesn’t mean we have to disconnect from our hope for partnership… The duty to get out of the problem, is for each individual to pick up the phone and say… lets have coffee, let’s sit and talk.”

Now, there are times when security needs require protective walls. Security barriers have successfully reduced violence, here and elsewhere. But the wisdom in Raz and Mohammad’s words, and their implicit response to Rashi’s message, is that when we build walls - literal and metaphorical – even for all the right reasons, they can also close off the social interactions that can reduce fears. Walls limit our ability to see and hear other people as human beings, with full lives, dreams and hopes, and fears.

What Raz, Mohammad, and so many of our friends on the ground are doing is refusing to be defined by their own fears and fears that others may have of them. They are teaching their children first-hand how to reach out and to connect. They may (or may not) see some walls as necessary at some times, but they also believe there must always be a door to the other side.

There are people on the ground who are doing the necessary work of peace, of creating and opening these doors, like so many of the organizations we support through our Boston Partners for Peace initiative. This week we have an opportunity to support their critical work. Please join me in signing this letter from the Alliance for Middle East Peace to the Biden Administration, encouraging them to support the International Fund for Peace at the upcoming G7. This funding will ensure that peacebuilding organizations such as Givat Haviva and the others featured on our Boston Partners for Peace platform will have the resources they need to transform their communities.

I look forward to seeing you at further conversations with our partner organizations, and I encourage you to read about them on the Boston Partners for Peace website.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Despair and Hope in Israel

Today, at a time when we’re desperately seeking glimmers of hope, and the possibility of a peaceful future, we’re bringing you on a virtual visit with a few special Israeli and Palestinian friends, part of the Boston Partners for Peace community in this blogpost by Eli Cohn-Postell, JCRC Director of Israel Engagement:

This was an excruciating week. We at JCRC have been heartbroken watching events in Israel, and we mourn the loss of innocent life. We stand by the people of Israel as they are terrorized by rockets launched by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many of us have not been able to travel to Israel during the pandemic, and we long to be closer to our friends and family during frightening times. While we cannot be there in person, it is all the more critical to take our cues from those most affected during times of crisis. We spent this week listening to our Israeli and Palestinian partners, re-engaging with their stories and our memories of being together.

Whenever rockets are fired from Gaza I immediately think of Netiv Ha’asarah. Netiv Ha’asarah is a Moshav just to the north of Gaza, even closer to the Strip than Ashkelon or Sderot. They were in the news this week, as Hamas rockets target the area and, tragically, because an IDF soldier was killed there on Wednesday. We visit Netiv Ha’asarah with our JCRC Study Tour groups, and we often meet with residents in a bomb shelter located underneath a playground. There, we usually speak with Raz or his mother, Smadar, who show us what is left of a Qassam rocket and a piece of an Iron Dome missile that landed in the village. They proudly share the history of the community, along with the sense of vulnerability they feel on a regular basis.

But the residents of Netiv Ha’asarah also recognize the vulnerability of the Palestinians living nearby. Many of the Jews living there had relationships with the Palestinians in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal and Hamas’ subsequent violent takeover. Some have even started a collective art project, using walls meant to defend against sniper fire as a canvas for a tile mosaic that sends a message of peace to the people in Gaza.

This week I am also thinking of our tour guides and their families. One of our guides, Yishay, posts a photograph every day on social media. Earlier this week he posted about preparing the bomb shelter in his Jerusalem home so that he and his family would be safe from the rockets. I am thinking of our guide Mike, who always brings complexity and helps me to see the gray areas. When I reached out to him, he told me a story about going to get an X-ray recently with a Muslim religious X-ray technician. He wished her a Ramadan Kareem, and he learned that she commutes to Modi’in from her home in Umm-al-Fahm, where she is also studying (via Zoom) at the American University in Ramallah. The reality is so much more complex than we can see from here.

And, of course, we are looking to the peacebuilding community and our Boston Partners for Peace partners. Unsurprisingly, they have been quick to call for an end to the violence and are mobilizing where possible. I was particularly inspired by Roots, a group of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. They held a joint fast and moment of prayer, and these communities and organizations continue to do the critical work of bringing people together, even during this fraught moment, despite their differences. Just yesterday, thousands of Jewish and Arabs citizens came together in cities all over the country to call for a cease fire and an end to violence.

There is no doubt that the current violence is a stress on the grassroots peacebuilding community. Violence perpetrated in the streets of mixed Arab-Jewish cities has been deplorable, and has been rightly condemned by both Arab and Jewish politicians. Some have wondered whether the fighting could have long-term impacts on co-existence efforts. But I know that the peacebuilders will remain steadfast. There has never been a question about whether this movement will be extinguished, the challenge has always been for these organizations to grow and spread their message of hope to more people. I am confident that they will continue to work for peace, and we will continue to support their efforts.

During such a challenging time, it is crucial for us to also share our hopes. I am hoping for a swift end to the violence in Israel. I am hoping that we can return soon to see our friends. I am hoping that people can feel safe in their homes. I am hoping that this can be a transformative moment, and a moment of growth for movements working toward mutual recognition and dignity for all people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

Eli Cohn-Postell
Director of Israel Engagement

The Science of Collaboration

This week, a message from
Director of Israel Engagement
Eli Cohn-Postell:

I always enjoyed school growing up, but science was never one of my strong subjects. I never had a handle on how science actually worked. When doing experiments in school, for example, I always had the impression that I was supposed to come up with a pre-determined answer rather than to test a new idea. I knew that a hypothesis was an informed guess about what might happen, but I could never find creativity in the scientific method. Only later did I realize that forming and testing a hypothesis are the fundamental steps to creation and innovation, with opportunities to experiment all around us.

We have been testing a simple hypothesis in recent weeks: that shared problems, even complex issues facing communities separated by thousands of miles, benefit from collaborative solutions. The initial results are positive. Over the past month, we have held two programs that brought together civic leaders in Boston, Israel, and San Francisco to discuss equity during the pandemic. It turns out we have a lot to learn from each other. Even through different circumstances, we face similar questions such as how to address education gaps during remote learning, how to overcome mistrust regarding vaccine distribution, and how to advance equitable solutions to address disparities in our communities

Before we could start this experiment we needed to find people who could address these issues directly. We first turned to City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Justin Hurst of Boston and Springfield, respectively. In addition to having traveled to Israel on our Study Tours, Councilors Campbell and Hurst are longstanding partners of ours, with years of experience building more equitable communities both inside and outside of politics. We partnered with our friends at the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab issues—a key resource for many of our Boston Partners for Peace organizations—and the San Francisco JCRC to identify the right leaders to engage in solution-centered conversations.

Our first program featured Councilor Campbell alongside Dr. Nasreen Hadad Haj’Yahya, Director of the Arab-Jewish Relations Program at the Israel Democracy Institute, discussing the impact of the pandemic on existing equity gaps in education. (You can watch the recording here). Councilor Campbell and Dr. Hadad Haj’Yahya talked about their experiences as female members of minority communities, sharing personal examples of how access to education and other resources shaped their own families and impacted their professional journeys. Then, earlier this week, we spoke to Councilor Hurst alongside Haifa District Commissioner Fayez Hanna and San Francisco Supervisor Myrna Melgar (recording here). Together, they discussed how COVID has exacerbated equity gaps in their communities but has also created new opportunities for trust-building between the government and minority populations.

The pandemic has provided us with both obstacles and opportunities to deepen our personal connections and advance our work. Before the pandemic, we might have held these meetings face to face, bringing leadership from Boston to Israel and vice versa. Instead, we are now embracing new opportunities to hold these critical conversations not only across the country and around the world, but with technology that enables hundreds of other people to participate and benefit as well.

Towards the end of our first session, someone asked if we really can learn from each other or if the contexts in Boston and Israel are simply too different for shared solutions. I appreciated Councilor Campbell’s response: despite the starkly different landscapes, she affirmed the value of learning best practices from one another and being in partnership across different settings. Her words rang true, reinforcing the importance of bringing our partners together for these conversations and shared learnings that help to build a more equitable world.

Another thing about science that I used to misunderstand is that you never prove a hypothesis. An experiment can give you evidence to either confirm or refute your guesses, but you never have proof. This month, we didn’t prove that political thinkers in Boston, Israel, and San Francisco can come together to solve the great problems of our day. Yet we did create something: the seed of a new community, dedicated to collaboration and with the potential for further growth and partnership.

If you would like to learn more about our upcoming programing, please click here.

Shabbat Shalom,

Eli

Eli Cohn-Postell
Director of Israel Engagement