Tag Archives: synagogue organizing

Asking and Acting | A Millennial Message from Our Senior Synagogue Organizer

We have spent this summer at JCRC  - between crises – mapping out our goals for the coming year. Among our priorities, is a commitment to engaging young adults in our work, not only as participants in our programs, but as stakeholders in our mission, and ultimately as future leaders of our organization. To inform our efforts, we’ve turned to our own young staff members to share their perspectives. This week’s post comes from one member of this cohort; Rachie Lewis, Senior Synagogue Organizer. She reflects on the experience and aspirations of her peer group, through the lens of this past week’s turbulent events.

Nahma Nadich
Deputy Director

As a young, white Jew who grew up in a time, place, and economic class that allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin, the violence in Charlottesville and the resurgence of  blatant white-Supremacy and anti-Semitism – including two desecrations of the New England Holocaust Memorial in six weeks – are jarring. While we as a Jewish people have seen this before, I  have not, and neither have the majority of my peers.

Last weekend, we were all faced with hard decisions about how to respond to a rally here in Boston that many worried would mirror the hate and vitriol in Charlottesville. Some of us chose to attend the “Free Speech” rally in counter-protest – some marched with other faith and social justice communities, and some made our way there on our own. Some of us chose to attend a powerful interfaith service at Temple Israel on Friday evening, which JCRC helped organize, and some of us prayed for peace in our own synagogues on Saturday morning. And, some of us chose to stay home, concerned about wading into these troubled waters.

I chose to go to the counter-protest. Amidst the tens of thousands of protesters, I was struck by how many young Jews I knew – Jews, otherwise separated by institutional, religious, and cultural divides–who decided to show up on Saturday amidst all the confusion and uncertainty.

As we – Jewish, young adults – make these decisions, many of us are grappling with complex questions.

  • How do we understand the resurgence of anti-Semitism, which we know is a deep part of our ancestral narrative, yet has not been a lived experience for so many of us? How do we understand anti-Semitism as it relates to other prevalent forms of oppression, such as racism and xenophobia, which position communities of color differently?
  • What does it mean to be a Jew doing justice work in deep and respectful partnership with marginalized communities? How do we hold onto these relationships and this work in the face of discord?
  • How do we simultaneously recognize and affirm the diversity of the Jewish community, which is not all white, not all economically privileged, and not all descended from Eastern-Europe?
  • What can we learn from older generations? And, what new tools and approaches are needed in this era?

Amidst all these questions, as we recognize both our vulnerability and privilege, young Jews are making decisions about how and when to show up, and we’re developing tools and networks to gather on our own. We are programmed to act in the face of injustice. Engaging in social justice work is something we do out of a sense of urgency and chiyuv – obligation. If we, or people we love, are in danger of getting kicked off healthcare plans, Medicaid or disability benefits; if we, or our family and friends of color, feel more threatened because of the deepening racial rifts and racially motivated violence in our country, and; yes, if Nazi flags are once again being flown in public, we will act. Fighting for justice is a part of life for our generation, and thanks to the hard choices made by our parents and grandparents, many of us now feel safe to take the risks that this struggle asks of us.

This week, we welcomed the new month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, which encourages us to reflect on the passing year and prepare for the new one. Elul asks us to take a deep accounting of our actions: What have we done well? How have we grown? Where have we fallen short? What have we learned? How will we set ourselves up to be stronger and better versions of ourselves in the year ahead?

These questions feel especially crucial as we all make our way through the chaos. And, I hope that, in the coming year, younger Jews, older Jews, community leaders, and those on the periphery, can engage with one another in addressing the questions at the heart of these struggles, both in our country and in our Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie Lewis
Senior Synagogue Organizer

Moving Beyond the Chaos: Guidelines for Action | A Message from our Senior Synagogue Organizer

While Jeremy is in Israel for professional development opportunities, we offer some post-election reflections from our Senior Synagogue Organizer, Rachie Lewis.

Since the election, we at JCRC have been immersed in conversations across our community as we struggle to understand the meaning of this political moment. We have reached out to JCRC board members, rabbis, synagogue leaders long involved in the work of social justice, and young adults who have generally shied away from traditional, Jewish institutions, but now realize the power of doing so. We’ve listened to the concerns of our organizational partners as they address emerging threats on the ground. Together, we are writing a new chapter in the story of who we are as a community, and how we act in the world.

In this new chapter, we can sense that the stakes are higher and that, as Elliot Cohen - a former member of the George W. Bush administration - wrote, “it’s not getting better.” That means this work isn’t going to be comfortable, and it’s certainly not going to be easy. But these days, our community appears ready to do more than we have before. We are showing up in unprecedented numbers to participate. We are resisting the familiar need to know every answer and every outcome before we act. Our social media feeds simply announce a public gathering, and we spring into action.

But amidst the chaos, we know we need to focus. We cannot fight every battle. But how do we decide where to focus our energies? How, in this moment, can we as a Jewish Community Relations Council best represent our community’s values and interests, and meet our responsibilities to our partners in the broader community?

Here are some suggested values to guide our actions.

Many of us feel a deep kinship with today’s marginalized communities. Our instincts tell us that no matter where our ancestors came from, our histories are tied up with those of the Central American immigrants taking tremendous risks in search of a better life for themselves and their families; they are tied up with the histories of refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the hope of the protection and promise of the United States; they are tied up with the stories of those directly threatened by the erosion of civil rights. And, we must also acknowledge that, along with other minorities, we now share the experience of heightened vulnerability, as expressions and acts of hate spike, and as bomb threats to Jewish institutions have become a fact of daily life. So, any action we take must reflect the immediate and pressing needs of our own Jewish community and those of our partners.

We know, deep in our bones, that Jewish life depends on laws, it always has. Our history has shown that Jewish life thrives in a functioning democracy that extends freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of due process to all its residents. When these freedoms fail, we are at risk of going down with them.

The outrage that so many of us feel is not limited to isolated acts of injustice and discrimination; it is a reaction to the flurry of nails thrown into the machinery of our republic, threatening the whole system.  Our acts of kindness matter, we know we must be our most generous selves these days. But we also feel an urgent need for bolder and more ambitious action, with more far reaching results, when we sense our democracy being threatened.

Finally, we are drawn to action that will realize the potential to grow into a broader, and more diverse, Jewish communal base, that can act powerfully as one body, in pursuit of our common goals, especially when it matters most. This is a time to unite – a time to close generational gaps; for younger Jews to benefit from the resources, relationships and experience of our elders, and for more established leaders to learn new tools from the younger generation for the challenges we face.

We are writing a new story because, if we can unite across different interests and backgrounds, a bold and strategic Greater Boston Jewish Community will play a critical role in standing up to the threats of the moment. This work will not be easy, it will require some risk, but if we don’t do it, we know there are consequences to standing still.

Sign up for alerts about post-election engagement opportunities and join us in taking action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachie