Tag Archives: Jewish values

You Are Not Alone

One of the many beautiful characteristics that defines the Boston Jewish community is our commitment to be in partnership and solidarity with other Jewish communities around the world. Amidst very difficult times for too many communities, it bears repeating that a fundamental value that informs that commitment is the notion that, when it comes to the security and community safety needs of others, we don’t tell them what to do.

Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of opportunities to say this lately.

Last January, following the vicious attacks in Paris on Charlie Hedbo and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, there was much talk about what the future entails for the Jewish community of France. We did not have any right to tell French Jews what to do. Who are we to tell a mother that she must remain somewhere if she worries every day that she is endangering the lives of her children just by sending them to the market? Who are we to tell someone who has a job, treasured community and deep roots that they should give up on their country and leave it?

In Ukraine we have been committed for nearly a quarter century to a partnership with the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk. Together we have reinvigorated Jewish life in that city in ways that have enriched our own as well. As part of their country is under Russian occupation, as they live near the frontlines of the area of terrorist operations, and as they struggle with a downturn in the national economy, it’s still not our place to tell them what to do. Who are we to tell our friends, who made the commitment to stay after the fall of the Soviet Union, that they should now leave after all that they have built? And who are we to tell them to stay if they believe that this crisis is ‘one too many’ to endure?

In Sweden, where astoundingly Jews were excluded from participating in a Kristallnacht commemoration this week, we share their outrage. In Argentina, when the community expresses vulnerability after the death of Alberto Nisman and continues to seek answers regarding the AMIA bombing after 20 years, we share their concern and join them in their demands.

In all these relationships we come to the table with a commitment of solidarity. Our message to all these Jewish communities around the world is simple: Atem Lo L’vad. You are not alone. We will offer our advice and insight. We will tell you how your decisions impact us – as Jews and as Americans. But we will respect your decisions and we will stand with you when you make them, in any way we can. For Jews in these countries our message is clear: If you stay, we will bring our advocacy and resources to bear on your behalf. If you leave, you will do so with our support as you build new lives in Israel or elsewhere.

Part of understanding and supporting our brothers and sisters is to engage directly with them, to listen to them, and to understand theirs hopes and aspirations, along with their concerns, for their communities. That’s why I’m excited and honored that I’ll be spending the next week – together with a group of Jewish leaders from across North America - in Berlin and Munich as a guest of the German Foreign Office to learn about Jewish life in Germany today. Because only by being in relationship with our family around the world can we truly understand and be in solidarity with them. I look forward to telling you about my experience when we return.

Shabbat Shalom,


P.S. In related news, this coming week the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston will host a ‘Hot Buttons, Cool Conversations’ discussion “Anti-Semitism today in Europe - Is it safe for the Jews?” It’s a great lineup of thought leaders and JCRC is proud to co-sponsor. I encourage you to check it out.

Thousands of People are Waiting | A Message from our Director of Service Initiatives

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”  Most of us are familiar with this quote and similar expressions of the importance of volunteerism.  Words like this have inspired generations of people to participate in community service.  This notion of making the world a better place through individual acts is deeply rooted in American culture, dating back to the colonial era with the first volunteer fire departments, and groups of volunteers who supported the revolution.  The pursuit of justice is at the core of Judaism as well. 

Today, volunteerism is widespread and serves as a common link between the for-profit, government, and non-profit sectors. The national conversation on this was front and center last week when I attended the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service. The breadth of industries represented was extensive, from big name fashion corporations to municipal government groups to grassroots advocacy organizations, all with an investment in community service. It was clear that service is not only important in the non-profit world, but is crucial to the functioning of every sector. 

While there was a lot to take in from four days of conversation about all facets of the volunteer engagement world, a few lessons stood out. The United States is witnessing a unique and important moment in time for volunteerism. More than ever, millennials are looking for meaningful service work where they can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Bill Basl, Director of AmeriCorps, a featured speaker at the conference, cited that 70% of millennials have the desire to make a difference but only 3% volunteer. At the same time, the baby boomer generation is retiring and they want to use the skills they have cultivated over the years to serve a good cause. 

This is an exciting prospect for those of us thinking about how to include more people in volunteer service. There are thousands of people waiting for the right kind of opportunity. It was startling to learn that while 65 million Americans volunteer, 20 million do not return to serve again.  We clearly have our work cut out for us.

What are the implications for JCRC as a service organization and the Boston Jewish community?  We are extremely well positioned for this new pivot to community service. JCRC has a current portfolio of service programs that provides opportunities for people of all ages, millennials and baby boomers alike. Our hope for the future is to expand on these initiatives and provide a range of ways for the Jewish community to become involved in service. We are committed to recruiting, supporting and sustaining energetic groups of well trained volunteers who truly make a difference, by addressing needs identified and prioritized by our partners; community based organizations on the ground throughout Greater Boston.

Our volunteers are deeply passionate about the organizations with which they work. Our service sites drive the experience so the impact is real and meaningful. Sustained community service fosters genuine relationships between people that keep our volunteers coming back, sometimes for as much as eighteen years. 

Our sense of community derives from our shared Jewish values. A commitment to chessed and gimilut chasadim, acts of loving-kindness, is what keeps us grounded together in this work.  This winter, we will have another opportunity to come together, as representatives of the Jewish community, and in collaboration with volunteers throughout Greater Boston in the name of service. For the first time, JCRC will be organizing volunteers from the Jewish community to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr national day of service on January 18th, 2016. We will work together with our partners at City Mission to identify real community need, and engage our volunteers in a meaningful way. 

I invite you to join us in this movement, to learn more about our service programs, and to discover the right volunteer opportunity for you. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Emily Reichman
Director of Service Initiatives

On Israel Crisis Statements: Clarity and Complexity

When Israel is in crisis and violence flares, like many of you, my inbox is filled with messages from various organizations. I also hear a lot of questions from you about various organizations’ statements, including our own — Why does this one focus on this aspect of the violence? Why does that one only address A but not B?  Why did you choose to mention X but not Y?
My sense is that the elusive “perfect statement” is like the hunt for the great white whale; to effectively address every nuance, represent every concern of all members of our community, and say everything that should be said to every audience would require a massive novel every day. That’s not plausible and so, inevitably, no statement or comment is ever perfect.
What I’ve come to perceive is that we – the organized mainstream of the Jewish community - have a great deal of unity regarding our condemnation of the terrifying outbreak of violence against the Israeli people. However, we find it far more challenging to speak with one voice about the larger atmosphere in which the current crisis unfolds.
We have clarity about our solidarity with the Israeli people, our denunciation of acts of violence targeting civilians – and those who incite it, and our frustration with media bias.
We struggle however with the larger complexity — do we talk about how to manage this particular moment or do we speak about how to prevent future outbreaks of violence? We don’t agree amongst ourselves about what aspects of the larger environment are important to the narrative — continued Israeli control of Palestinians? Settlements (and which ones)? Arab rejection of a Jewish state, Jewish peoplehood, and even denial of any historical Jewish connection to the land? – to name just a few.
We are united in our resolve to ensure the future of a secure, democratic and Jewish state of Israel.  This is an integral piece of our shared vision of the Jewish people. When Israelis are under the threat of violence, we make our voice heard so that they do not experience this fear alone. Israel cannot be left isolated in the world.
As difficult and painful as this chapter is, the reality is that it is not an existential threat to the future of the Jewish state. Israel will, once again, find a way to protect its citizens, with or without international support. 
The far more serious threat to the future of Israel is isolation.  
It is infuriating that we need to wage this struggle against the isolation of Israel. I don’t need to reiterate for you the efforts of some, particularly but not limited to the global BDS movement, to demonize Israel.  But I will say that as violence flares and Israel grapples with dilemmas of response, what I worry about is that moment when people stop believing this: that the right of the Jewish people to a state of our own in our homeland is compatible with the right of the Palestinian people to their own national self-determination.  
These two national rights are and must remain compatible, if not necessarily easily achieved or even – for many of us – plausible in the near-term, given the current conditions. If we and, more importantly, others who are influential in this nation stop believing this to be true; if we and they begin to believe that Jewish and Palestinian rights are irreconcilable and incompatible, then Israel will truly be in a crisis as challenges to her legitimacy take root in more mainstream audiences.
So in moments like this, we will keep speaking with clarity about the immediate events, their proximate causes, and the justness of Israel’s response. But with equal urgency, we must keep engaging people with the larger complexity. We will continue to raise up the larger issues, the possibility of a better future, our belief in its necessity and our commitment to achieving it.  Without that, we will fail in our responsibility to the Israel we all love and care for.

Shabbat Shalom,


Stop Waiting for Congress on Gun Violence

"Clergy and Citizens to President Obama: Stop Whining, Start Working to Curb Gun Deaths.”

That was the message at a Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) press conference in Washington yesterday.

While last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon should have fully captured our nation’s attention, we have, in truth, become numb. A shooting of this nature happens on average once every two weeks and even the slaughter of 20 children in Sandy Hook, CT didn’t lead to immediate national change. While this alone is mind-boggling, it doesn’t begin to express the scope of the plague of gun violence that takes some thirty-three thousand American lives each year.
It is little consolation to us that Massachusetts, once again, is found to be leading the nation. In ranking done by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence we have the lowest rate of gun deaths and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws. This includes last year’s forward thinking legislation that JCRC, along with our member organization JALSA, and so many of our synagogues, took a leading role in working to enact.

In the wake of that victory, we have not been idle. We’ve been vigilant and persistent in ensuring that the new state law is fully implemented, an effort that is ongoing. But the prospect of enacting federal legislation is much more daunting, despite the support of our own delegation in Congress. The repetitive, nightmarish scenes of carnage we have both come to dread and expect, have yielded no new laws, or even the possibility of legislative action.
So it is important to know that amidst all the crass politics and cynical obstructionism, there is far more that can be done right now. 
We are participating in the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign - a national effort led by Metro IAF to leverage taxpayers’ purchasing power to compel gun manufacturers to adopt safer practices and invest in smart gun technology.
The public sector purchases 40 percent of all guns in the United States - 25% for military use and an additional 15% by law enforcement.  That’s a lot of leverage – enough to build demand for products and standards that promote safety and lawful, responsible gun use.
The campaign is building a Gun Buyers’ Research Group of public officials committed to purchasing guns from manufacturers who are accountable for the safety of their products. They are asking tough questions about their investment in smart gun technology and their vetting of the dealers with whom they work. Together we have built a sizable coalition of mayors, police chiefs and governors representing 77 jurisdictions, including MA Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.  
And this campaign led to yesterday’s press conference. Because we should expect and demand more of all our public officials, including the President, who – with his command authority over the largest single gun purchasing power in the nation - could be doing so much more right now.

Please read about this work and yesterday’s message in this excellent Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne.

The next major action will take place later this month at an international law enforcement gathering. JCRC will join faith leaders and police chiefs to demand answers from gun manufacturers, who will be in attendance, selling their products. In the wake of the constant mass shootings and unending epidemic of gun violence, the manufacturers’ continued silence is unacceptable.
Leviticus teaches us, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
We, and our partners, will not be idle so long as one life can be saved through our efforts. I hope you will join us in this effort.

Shabbat Shalom,


Note: At the time this message was posted, news was breaking of a shooting earlier today at North Arizona University that left 1 dead and 3 wounded in the latest eruption of gun violence. 

Zeresh, Hagar, & the Stories Not Told

Participation in the Jewish community is a very personal experience. For some, it involves regular attendance at Sabbath services. For others, it may be keeping up with Jewish news from online sources and weekly newspapers. But for Jews around the world, we are all conscious of a pattern of Jewish life as we go through the year – certain holidays, seasonal rituals and foods.

One way we mark the cycle of the Jewish year is through the selections from the Torah – the Five Books of Moses – that are read in synagogues every week.

This cycle is renewed each year on the holiday of Simchat Torah that we celebrate this coming week, when we will start selections from the book of Genesis anew.

In the middle of my fifth decade of life, I find myself challenged to keep the stories fresh in the retelling. How many times can one read about the expulsion from Eden, endless lists of names, Exodus and Sinai, the design of the sacred vessels in the Sanctuary, and so forth?

I recently finished, and highly recommend to you, a wonderful new collection of short stories, After Abel, by Michal Lemberger. Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the Torah too has ‘minor’ voices with their own stories to tell; people who probably didn’t think of themselves as minor at all. Lemberger builds on the perspective of women in the Bible, often overlooked and even at times unnamed, despite the major roles they play in some stories (like “Lot’s Wife,” she of the salty pillar).

These often stunning stories follow in the ancient tradition of midrash, non-textual elaborations on the written word of the Bible, offering insight and perspective, expanding our understanding and experience. Lemberger, in the tradition of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, serves up the canon with a twist as she brings these women center-stage, allowing us to see events as they might have.

To immerse oneself in these selections – Eve, who had no one else to guide her as the first mother in bearing and losing a child; Hagar, mother of Ishmael, who was separated from her people and abused by her mistress; Zeresh, widow of Haman, mother of ten executed sons - is to become aware that no matter how familiar we may be with any subject, our understanding is formed by our own perspective on the events. In lifting up these voices, we can attempt to see the old through their eyes, experiencing even the most familiar of events in new ways. It is refreshing to approach the experience of the cycle of Torah readings with a fresh layer of understanding. 

As we complete a season of Jewish renewal, our country enters a season of political renewal when we prepare to select our next President. This process easily becomes defined by the largest and loudest voices, those few – candidates, pundits, constituencies - that yell the loudest, amplify some challenges while ignoring others, and define the debate with limiting perspectives. As we approach this cycle, let us commit to seek out and lift up other stories from those voices that aren’t easily heard in our political discourse and who have different perspectives on familiar debates. It is in their stories that we might bring new understanding and fresh insight into the dilemmas we face together.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,


Our Wilderness Moment

With apologies to Bostonians… the great New York catcher/manager Yogi Berra, who passed away this week, used to say that “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

With regard to the debate on the Iran nuclear deal, I’d offer that, “It’s all but over, but the work has not even barely begun.”
I must admit that I was a bit naïve this summer.
I honestly thought that reasonable people with differing political perspectives could have a serious conversation about the flaws in the Iran nuclear deal, identify ways to address them, and together, take corrective action before Congress voted on the agreement. That’s why we at JCRC worked to convey our concerns about the deal, reflecting questions articulated by a range of bipartisan experts, some of whom ultimately came down on each side of the deal.
But that didn’t happen.
The debate became as much about the winning of the argument as the merits of the deal itself. Our political environment didn’t allow for a substantive negotiation about how to move beyond a binary choice between accepting and rejecting this deal.
So now it’s all but over. We have an agreement that will, with virtual certainty, become a reality of the international diplomatic realm come mid-October.
But it also isn’t over. Not by a long shot.
We’ve got to pick up the pieces in an American-Jewish community that is in some ways deeply fractured; not necessarily because of this debate, but rather because of existing rifts that this debate illuminated and exacerbated.  We’ve got to deal with a U.S.-Israel partnership that has been severely strained. And we’ve got the reality of this agreement, flaws and all.
As we head into the holiday of Sukkot, I’m reminded of the state of impermanence that defined our ancestors in the wilderness.  Their first formative generation as a free Israelite nation was experienced in tents of wandering. Their shared identity was not as much one nation as many tribes headed in a common direction. They experienced second-guessing, divisions, revolts. All the while – in this state of unrootedness– they were laying down a system of laws that could only be enacted in a future state of stability.
We too – I certainly hope – are in an impermanent moment. Many question whether we are ‘A’ Jewish community, with a common vision and purpose.  We are second guessing, we are focused on our divisions. We are acting in some ways as disparate tribes rather than as one People.
We have to make sure that this moment doesn’t lead to more such moments. We must focus our energies on efforts that unite us in our love and support of Israel even though we may not share the same aspirations for what her future holds. We can’t allow those who benefit from driving wedges among us to exacerbate our differences or act to foster a partisan divide in support for Israel.
And, we have to sustain our focus on the Iran deal; realizing the opportunity to rebuild our unity through this work. While fifteen years isn’t permanent, it is longer than the standard political attention span of our nation.  If it works as promised, this deal will come – in most parts - to a conclusion.  When it does, absent regime change in Iran, we’ll have challenging realities to confront.
Whether you were for it or against it, whether you had deep reservations or absolute certitude - all of us who share a deep held conviction that Iran can never be allowed to pose a nuclear threat now need to come together to ensure that this agreement works, and, if it doesn’t that there is room for an alternative approach to the threat. We’ve got to work together to support reasonable, bi-partisan efforts to strengthen effective implementation while building a consensus of support for the U.S.-Israel partnership in a shifting region.
We have the opportunity and the responsibility to make this moment impermanent. We can take steps now and in the years to come so that when we look back and remember this, we will think of it as our wilderness moment - when we once again began the hard work of forming a new and united People from our tribes, heading in the same direction, with common purpose. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,


Why Service?

Last night, JCRC was very proud to host JCRC Celebrates: Generations of Service, where we recognized JCRC’s community service programs and the generations of leaders who’ve made them possible. Through the generosity of our community, our inaugural live auction raised nearly $45,000 to benefit our service programs, and we are extremely appreciative to all.

Why, some have asked, do we put service programs at the heart of our work as a community relations agency along with our advocacy and interfaith agenda?

I’m certain that you will begin to understand why after you view our new video, Generations of Service, which we premiered last night. Please take a few minutes now to watch HERE. I hope you’ll be as inspired by our volunteers as I am.

JCRC exists so that we can express our Jewish community’s values in the broader public square of Boston. There is no clearer way of expressing our values than through action, through the doing of service. 

As I sat in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah I was reminded again that in our prayers this week we express contrition - not for our beliefs but for our actions; and we express contrition for these actions not in a singular “I,” but in the plural responsibility of “We.”

We do not live our Judaism through shared beliefs - though we do share a few of those - but rather by what we do.  And so much of what we do is to act upon our responsibility to others around us.

When we provide meals and share a conversation with those who are struggling; when we sit with children and help them learn to read; when we connect joyfully with seniors; we are acting on our respect for the dignity of others and demonstrating our responsibility for those around us.

In celebrating JCRC’s community service programs and the generations of leaders who’ve made them possible we honored three families – the Lynda and Jeff Bussgang family, Amanda and Campe Goodman, and Rachel and Joel Reck - who have, through their leadership, allowed us to build robust service opportunities in our community, and acted as role models for others.  We also honored my friend and mentor, Barry Shrage. I can think of no better way for us at JCRC to celebrate his legacy than to establish an award in his name and to carry forward the idea that he has consistently taught us for 30 years: To act on our values, to fulfill our responsibility to the people around us, and to relate to others with love and compassion.

This is what service is about. This is what JCRC is about. This is what our community is about.

I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read our new annual report to learn about opportunities to join us in service, organizing, and advocacy during the coming year.

I’m grateful to all of those who’ve worked so hard to bring us together last night, especially our fabulous event chair Mark Friedman and his co-chair Ben Pearlman along with the JCRC event team who together envisioned this evening and made it a labor of love.

Thank you all for being part of our community and our work.

Shabbat Shalom,


For This First Week of School, My Summer Book Report

Last week President Obama was in Alaska where he restored Mount McKinley to its earlier native name, Denali. Me? I was sitting on a beach devouring a pile of books.  Allow me a moment to recommend three of them. 

  • Sylvia Engdahl’s young adult science fiction novel This Star Shall Abide had a profound impact on me when I first read it in the mid 1970’s. I go back to it every few years. It is the story of a young man who challenges the restrictive religious practices of his world. In becoming a heretic, he discovers the origins of his people’s faith and traditions. In examining the truth of his people’s narratives, he comes to embrace his role and purpose in his society.
  • Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill tells the story of a small group of radicals who, before most American patriots were ready to break from their identity as loyal subjects of King George III, invited an armed conflict that would lead to revolution. It is also the story of how a slave owning Southerner, George Washington, came to Cambridge to start knitting these disparate militias into one shared national identity- leading up to the victory we in Boston celebrate as Evacuation Day.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is an incisive and challenging meditation on the American experience in the form of a letter to his teenage son. As he seeks to make sense of racial injustice in our country, he lays out a critique of “the dreamers.” Our national narrative of the American Dream, with all of its aspirations and hopes, is built on another national experience, the destruction of the black body. He tells his son that it is not his burden to solve racism, but rather that “the Dreamers will have to learn to struggle for themselves.” 

Naming places. Finding truths. Creating identity. Understanding narratives.
These aren’t fixed points in history. They are long arcs of evolving and complex experiences that we mold and nurture. To grapple with them is to understand there’s often a “truth” behind a story that evolves into a cherished memory, and in this truth an explanation - such as why we commemorate as such the battle in Charlestown that didn’t even happen on Bunker Hill, or why Alaskans embraced Denali while Ohioans – in an equally bipartisan response - were in uproar.
To understand the experience of others is not to reject our own experiences. To insist that others honor our narratives doesn’t mean we expect them to deny their own.  Long before there was a West Bank of Trans-Jordan in 1948, there was Roman Syria Palestina and, before that, a Judea and Samaria. We can say this without rejecting Palestinian national identity, and we can honor Palestinian identity without denying our formed identity as a Jewish People with a homeland, albeit shared.
We can embrace and celebrate our love of country, while also recognizing that the United States, like all nations, has deep flaws – some of which come from our inability to address the ways in which our national narrative was formed, or who has been left out of that formation and its retelling over centuries.
In examining our stories, our myths, and how we made them, we can better honor and celebrate our own identities and those of others. Only in doing so can we build relationships of mutual respect and understanding and thereby, together, address the challenges that face us all in a shared world.

Shabbat Shalom,


Our Labor Day Obligation | A Message from our Government Affairs Director

On June 28, 1894, the federal government enacted a law “Making Labor Day a Legal Holiday,” setting aside the first Monday of September to honor the social and economic achievements of organized American workers. For the casual observer, Labor Day typically marks the end of summer, the return to school and the end of the generally acceptable period to wear white (or the summer dress code at JCRC). But the true underpinning of the day is in recognition of the achievements of the labor movement and the creation of an infrastructure by our predecessors to address current workplace inequities.
The history of the labor movement runs concurrent with that of the American Jewish experience; from the fight for safer working conditions, hour and wage laws, and individual empowerment. This is not merely a recent development; our great sages have long maintained that we have an obligation to ensure that workers are compensated fairly with the opportunity to sustain their families. This proud tradition has continued from generation to generation, and across great economic and geographic divides.
It is almost unfathomable today to envision an American economy prior to the protections that came out of the early Labor movement, through the Progressive Era, and the New Deal including the elimination of sweatshops, the implementation of labor and wage laws, and occupational protections.  To envision a society where locked doors and unsanitary conditions could produce the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, killing 146 people (mostly recently immigrated Jewish women) is incomprehensible. Overall working conditions have improved drastically from the turn of the 20th Century, but the struggle for dignity and economic justice persists.
Today, JCRC, along with our communal partners, including the Jewish Labor Committee, the Boston Workmen’s Circle, and JVS, and many others are at the forefront of efforts to help people enter the workplace, with decent wages, workplace protections and the opportunity for economic mobility.  We are engaged in a multitude of efforts to support workers, including  increasing the state’s Minimum Wage, Earned Sick Time, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Regulating the Use of Credit Checks, Gender Pay Equity, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, and a Resolution Increasing Diversity on Corporate Boards.  We will continue to be vigilant, vocal and innovative partners with our friends on Beacon Hill and beyond to ensure that workers are protected and treated fairly.
So, this Monday, as you pack away your swim suits, put away your summer whites and go about your day, take a moment to peruse the Jewish Women’s Archive  or the Jewish Labor Committee and JALSA websites to take a deeper dive into the history of the movement; think about your neighbors with two full time jobs who still cannot meet the most basic needs of their families, consider the workers  who pick your vegetables and fruits, or toil in the underground economy without the dignity they deserve, remember the recent immigrants and refugees seeking the same dream of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents and then finally, think about what we can do together to fulfill our most basic Jewish values.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron Agulnek
Director of Government Affairs


Courage and Complexity | A Message from Our Associate Director

Among my responsibilities as JCRC Associate Director, I have the enviable job of accompanying Christian clergy on Israel Study Tours, experiences that never fail to be both fascinating and intense. I’d like to share a few reflections from this year’s trip.

(Also visit The Jewish Journal for an account of the trip in the 8/28/15 issue.)

The group we assembled were diverse in every respect; theologically, ethnically and socio-economically. We were Catholic, United Church of Christ (UCC), Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal and Pentecostal, urban and suburban, Latino and Haitian. Some had large churches, some smaller ones and a few functioned in academic settings. Most had never been to Israel before; a few had been on previous trips that left them unsatisfied. All came with open hearts and minds, eager to connect with each other as faith leaders and engage with every aspect of the land so holy to all of our traditions.

Throughout the trip, these faith leaders were inspired by the people they met and the unimaginable courage they displayed, not only in facing overwhelming and continuous challenge, but in persevering in their efforts to bring about a more hopeful future. One example was the 25 year old IDF soldier, commander of a unit that guards the Lebanese border. He was totally candid when asked whether his troop of young men ever wished for some action during their long and tedious hours of guarding a quiet border. “Yes we do,” he acknowledged, “but when there IS action, we’re all totally terrified.”

We experienced the violence and volatility of the region in a new and disturbingly immediate way when we arrived in Jerusalem just moments prior to the start of the annual Pride Parade. Our guide explained that unlike Tel Aviv, where Pride is a large outdoor party, in Jerusalem, it is a political statement. His practice each year was to participate as an expression of solidarity. Nine members of our group joined him. We enjoyed the exuberant and celebratory gathering in Independence Park, as a large crowd prepared to march together in an affirmation of love and equal rights.

The joy quickly turned to anguish as an ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six participants, one of whom, Shira Banki, z”l later died from her wounds. Several of us were in close proximity to the attack and ensuing chaos, and all of us were shaken. We remained on the scene as police and ambulances arrived and left – and then watched in disbelief as the crowd resumed marching, completing the parade route. We knew that we had just observed an essential reality of the Israeli experience - that regardless of the suffering and trauma endured, people persist and life goes on. The subsequent atrocity committed against a Palestinian family, presumably by Jewish terrorists, claiming the lives of a toddler and his father was a further reminder of the continuing and urgent challenges to be addressed. Both of these events will be commemorated at a Memorial and Solidarity gathering JCRC is co-sponsoring with CJP and Keshet, hosted by Temple Israel of Boston, on Wednesday, September 9 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm.  Our community will gather to mourn and express our grief and outrage. One of our trip participants, an eyewitness to the Pride attack, will offer brief remarks.

Despite the intensity of the week, the feedback from our participants confirms that this experience was exceptionally valuable to them. When we asked them about the lessons they learned, their responses echoed these themes — appreciation of the extraordinary complexity facing the region; admiration for the courage and resilience of the people we met; appreciation for the profound impact not only of past but present traumas for both Israelis and Palestinians and the glimmers of hope they felt upon encountering grassroots efforts to pursue peace and co-existence.

I hope to see many of you on September 9th as we gather together as a community to reaffirm those cherished values.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nahma Nadich
Associate Director