Tag Archives: MLK Day

On being a force for good

"Stars of Hope" painted by teens on JCRC's MLK Day of Service

On Monday I had the honor of joining Governor Baker as he signed legislation releasing an additional $1 million in funding for non-profit security grants; a budget item that we at JCRC have prioritized. Afterward, a member of the press asked me if I was “happy” to be at the State House for this solemn occasion. “No,” I replied, “I’d much rather be here for other reasons, to advocate for the values and issues that we work on every day.”

I never imagined that confronting antisemitism would become a significant part of my daily reality in 2020. I came to this work over 20 years ago informed by a sense of my own purpose; to build Jewish communities that inspired engagement and activism for future generations, rooted in the same values, culture and traditions that enriched my own Jewish identity.

As violent Jew-hatred comes roaring back into our domestic American reality, I worry that as we fight against antisemitism, we’re going to lose our focus on the meaning and purpose of Jewish community. “Because, antisemitism” is not enough of a reason to evoke a commitment to living proudly and Jewishly in the world. “Because, they hate us” is not the foundation on which thousands of years of enriching Jewish culture is built.

Rather, I find meaning in the notion that our mission ought to be - as individuals, as Jewish organizations and as communities - in the words of Avraham Infeld: “to advance the continued renaissance of the Jewish people as a force for good in the world.”

So yes, I’m proud of the work that we at JCRC do every day, building relationships beyond the Jewish community, resulting in the support of allies who are with us as we confront this new reality. I’m proud and grateful that our Christian friends and partners, many of whom have played significant leadership roles in the work of JCRC, took it upon themselves to write a powerful statement on antisemitism last week, which has now garnered upward of 1,000 signatures. And I’m proud of the partnership we’ve forged with legislative leaders to fund non-profit security grants and anti-bias training in schools.

I’m also proud that we are a Jewish community in Boston that is committed to living our values in the broader civic space, affirming our interconnectedness and responsibility to our neighbors; a commitment we’ll be honoring in just over one week when we come together for JCRC’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

This year, JCRC is offering a record 13 partner sites with the capacity for 900 volunteers. Members of our community will be painting and making interior upgrades to the Catholic Charities/Haitian Multiservice Center in Dorchester. This facility serves a crucial role in the Dorchester community and is in desperate need of repairs that Catholic Charities cannot do on their own. This Center provides a multitude of services to local residents, including food and housing assistance, English language classes, teen enrichment, and afterschool programming.

We will also be at St. Stephen's Youth Programs at the Blackstone Elementary School, a longtime partner of our ReachOut! program. Volunteers of all ages will be working on beautification and revitalization projects throughout the elementary school. After volunteering, there will be a lunch and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and why this day has become a day of volunteering.

I’m looking forward to being back at the State House on January 24th for the Safe Communities Act legislative hearing. We, along with many of our member agencies, are deeply committed members of the coalition working to pass this bill to protect the rights of our immigrant neighbors and create standards for law enforcement interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And our team will be back at the State House to lobby on January 28th for Election Day Registration, a basic reform that would expand the franchise to more eligible voters, thus strengthening our democracy at a time when it is under assault.

I hope that you’ll join me for any or all of these activities. I also hope that the Governor’s actions this week will, as I said to him on Monday, help “give us the resiliency to continue to gather, to continue to meet, continue to celebrate our culture and our faith as a community.”

Because, as I concluded to that reporter at Monday’s bill signing, “these times are what they are.”

So yes, we’re grateful to our partners, including to the Governor for prioritizing our safety and including us in this week’s ceremony. And, I hope that because of our efforts to confront antisemitism and work for our community’s security, we will thereby strengthen our continued ability to be a force for good in the world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“A Day On”

I will admit that I was slow moving getting out of the house on Monday morning. It was a federal holiday after a challenging work week. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in having difficulty getting to sleep on Sunday after the adrenaline rush of that amazing Patriots overtime. And my driveway needed to be shoveled.

But while some of us here were deeply focused on our Council meeting last week, much of our staff had been hard at work planning our fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and I wasn’t going to miss that. So at 9am, I happily joined a team of volunteers – mostly parents with teens – at the Haitian Church of the Nazarene in Waltham to help refurbish and revitalize their space. 43 volunteers painted and helped with other much-needed repairs to several areas of the church, which is preparing for its Annual Celebration ‪on January 27th. And then I went to Temple Beth Am in Framingham, where 120 teens and adults had gathered to bake lasagnas and banana bread for soup kitchens in the MetroWest area that are supported by our partners at Jewish Family Service (JFS).

Before these teens – many of whom do service on other service initiatives through Jewish Teen Initiative and JCRC’s TELEM program – began their work, they gathered around for an overview of poverty and food insecurity issues, and to frame the day through the prism of Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, or Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue – the familiar (to many of us) words from the Torah that call and inspire us to action.

Over the course of a bitterly cold day, over 300 volunteers joined JCRC at 10 project sites around greater Boston. Families sorted through donations of clothing and toys in the Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory— enough to help 210 low-income and homeless children. Volunteers and Hebrew Senior Life residents wrote 24 letters to Congress in an effort to keep the Temporary Protected Status program alive (TPS is a designation for people who could not return safely to their countries). We did refurbishment work at a public school in the South End and, in partnership with Rebuilding Together Boston, helped make repairs to homes in Mattapan and Dorchester that will make it easier for senior citizens to age in place in the communities where they’ve lived for many decades.

One important part of JCRC’s work is responding to Rabbi Hillel’s charge: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But Monday, and every day of our program year, JCRC places service at the center of our work in response to Hillel’s second question: “If I am only for myself, who am I?”

And if our enduring commitment to service is our way of connecting Boston’s Jewish community to the broader civic space as partners, then Monday was also a day for embracing the teaching of the Rev. Dr. King, who, in part echoing the words of Hillel, challenged us: “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'” 

When I came home Monday evening, I was re-energized from our “day on.” Renewed in my enthusiasm for a JCRC that responds to all aspects of the teachings of Hillel, including his third question, a charge to urgency: “If not now, when?”

Those are the words that get me going this – and every – morning, in service to our values and the common good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

 

What are you doing for others?

Cam Campbell, 18 years old of Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, has been a passionate participant in community service since elementary school, when he started a food donation program called "Mac and Cheese for Those in Need." In high school, he joined efforts to repair homes damaged by natural disasters in New York and New Jersey on five different TELEM teen service trips. Now, Cam is lending the skills he honed as a youth on these trips to local repair efforts as part of JCRC’s Third Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Monday, January 15th. This time he’ll be bringing his mother, Angel, and his younger brother, Ian, along, as they work to refurbish the interior of the Second Church Enrichment Center with Rebuilding Together Boston.

Rebecca Sweder joined JCRC as a young professional in 2004 to oversee the development of an innovative new teen service learning program. Under her leadership, JCRC partnered with a dozen synagogues and schools, created a curriculum, and crafted quality service experiences at community-based non-profits throughout Greater Boston. Thirteen years later, TELEM has engaged over 8,000 Jewish teens and continues to thrive as a vibrant service program. Rebecca Sweder Platt now works as a school psychologist, and she and her husband, Charlie, have three children of their own. And though their children are only aged four, six, and eight, Rebecca knows that it’s not too early establish a habit of service, to guide and inspire her children throughout their lives. So on MLK Day this year, she and Charlie will be joining us too, bringing Jordan, Simon, and Stella with them to the Blackstone Elementary School to beautify and revitalize this Boston Public School.

Throughout the year, our service programs – The Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for LiteracyReachOut!, and TELEM – reflect our deep commitment to connecting our Jewish community to ongoing service and creating a more just and compassionate world. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service provides a unique opportunity for all to participate – children, adults, and families – whether by painting and repairing community spaces, providing a hot meal to homeless individuals, offering companionship and conversation with seniors, or spreading the word about adult education and vocational services through Jewish Vocational Service (JVS).

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?” As we heed his call on the day that honors his life and legacy, we invite you to join us in service to our community – and to his dream.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy