Tag Archives: U.S. Elections

Our Concerns for 2020

With election 2018 (not quite) behind us, and election 2020 squarely in the headlights, we’re sitting in the brief moment between cycles of hyperbolic conversations about how non-profits engage on the great challenges facing our nation.

In the most simple sense, there is long standing legal guidance that allows 501(c)(3)s (the IRS designation for federal tax exempt nonprofit organizations) to address public issues – as we do in our advocacy for legislation and public policies – provided that we do so without expressing a preference for a party or candidate in an election, endorsing a candidate, or releasing a voter guide that is implicitly single issue or preferences one party.

More can be said on this (don’t consider the above paragraph as legal counsel to your organization!) but candidly, that’s a technical answer about what the law allows and what magic words one can or cannot say.

Of more interest to us is – what do we care about? What matters to us in the arena of government and policy? And how do we galvanize our attention on these matters?

It bears repeating that we at JCRC – a network of Jewish organizations coming together in shared purpose around the collective agenda of the Jewish community in the public arena – see ourselves as fundamentally invested in two core principles (as stated in our mission): advocacy for a safe, secure, democratic state of Israel; and promoting an American society which is democratic, pluralistic, and just.

To those ends, we intend to educate 2020 candidates about our views on the policy issues that stem from those principles, such as our support for the U.S. as an engaged leader on the international stage, including support for our ally Israel and efforts to achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. It means informing candidates about the Jewish community’s commitment to civil rights for all Americans, the importance of addressing anti-Semitism and bigotry, fair and just immigration policies, and a strong social safety net. And we’ll also be listening to candidates, hearing their views, and sharing with our community about how they think about these policy concerns.

But frankly, there are concerns in 2020 that are both broader and potentially more urgent than these longstanding communal priorities.

It would have been naïve to think that this week’s election would resolve a much larger existential challenge facing our nation – our fractured and tribal culture, the fraying of our democratic norms and the institutions of our civic space, and the breakdown of our ability to work with each other across specific policy disagreements in service to a common notion of the American idea. Naïve because these challenges didn’t start in the past few years, though they’ve been greatly exacerbated; these challenges have been growing, albeit ignored by many, long before 2016.

A challenge that’s been festering over the past two decades isn’t going away tomorrow or in 2020. It’s going to take leadership over the next decades – and not just from those seeking high national office, but from all of us in positions of influence over the civic space and our public discourse.

So yes, heading into 2020, and 2022, and 2024, we’ll need to be educating candidates and ourselves about the policy issues we hold dear. We’ll also need to be asking them what their vision and strategy is for healing the divides that are fracturing our nation, challenging them to show leadership to that end – regardless of what others in public life might do – and challenging ourselves as leaders to model a better future for what ails our nation.

I invite your thoughts and insights on the specific things we can do to influence this conversation and model it.

Shabbat Shalom,


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,


A Prayer for Our Nation

Last July, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York accepted an invitation to deliver the invocation at the Republican National Convention. Under pressure from some members of the Jewish community, he withdrew from the event. We share with you the invocation that Rabbi Lookstein had planned to deliver last summer, and we invite you to join us today in reflection on his words, their meaning, and the call therein to us and our nation.


Click to enlarge


Shabbat Shalom,


Also on the Ballot…

The debates are finally over and Election Day is less than three weeks away (at last!). But with all the attention devoted, rightly, to the presidential race - to the nastiness of our national discourse, and to the existential question of whether we will be able to come together on November 9th to face our shared challenges as one nation – there are also plenty of other important items on the ballot next month.

In addition to down-ballot races, we in Massachusetts will be voting on four statewide questions, regarding slot casinos, charter schools, animal welfare, and access to marijuana. And while JCRC has not taken a position on any of these questions – as we sometimes do – the outcomes of all these votes are important and merit your investigation (and to learn more about all the candidates and questions in communities across the country, check out BallotReady.Org, co-founded by Aviva Rosman, daughter of JCRC council members Brian Rosman and Rabbi Barbara Penzner).

There is one ballot question this year that we at JCRC have invested in; by supporting and collaborating with synagogue leaders who organize side by side with Christian and Muslim neighbors to pass Boston’s Question 5, the Community Preservation Act (CPA).

As a member of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), JCRC has been working to address the affordable housing crisis in Boston. Our community organizers have heard stories from synagogue leaders whose grown children still live with them because they can’t afford rent in Boston. We’ve heard stories from our neighbors in Boston churches who have lived here for decades, contributing to their local employers, churches and neighborhoods who can’t afford a mortgage and worry constantly about being evicted from their homes when they can longer afford skyrocketing rents.

CPA is a progressive surcharge on property tax that would cost the average Boston homeowner just $24 per year, but would generate approximately $20 million each year for affordable housing, parks and recreation, and preserving historic sites.  160 cities and towns across MA have already adopted CPA as a flexible funding source. Newton, Lexington, Somerville and many others have been beneficiaries of CPA for years, restoring neglected parks, preserving historical community centers and building new affordable rental and homeownership units. In Cambridge, CPA money has been used to subsidize down payments for first time homebuyers. It is an empowering extra source of income for municipalities to do things they might not otherwise be able to.

Nine area synagogues have developed teams of leaders doing get-out-the-vote work, reaching out to Boston voters through their social networks. To date, they have secured over 600 Yes votes for CPA. And that number is growing.

With rare exception, JCRC does not endorse or oppose municipal referendums, and we are not formally endorsing Question 5. We do, however, invest in leaders in our community working in partnership with their neighbors for the betterment of their communities. This model of synagogue organizing is one of our approaches to advocacy that effects policy change. It is also a critical component of how we do community relations, premised in the belief that we have one shared future, as Americans and as residents of our Commonwealth.

We all benefit from healthy, vibrant communities that are accessible and affordable for long-term residents and newcomers. For JCRC and GBIO, the campaign for affordable housing is a key aspect of building our shared society. For our members in Boston, CPA is but one step on a path of actualizing our commitment to being better together.

Shabbat Shalom,


The Credibility of Our Democracy

Like many of you, I’ve been frustrated, angered, and even dismayed as our election has unfolded this year. I’ve been pained by rhetoric that demeans individuals and communities, and worried about our future as a nation when the core values of our democracy are under attack.

As the director of a 501(c)(3) with an advocacy identity, I won’t make public endorsements of candidates. As an American I take pride in my ability to make the most sacred endorsement of all – by casting my vote. But on November 8th, when millions of Americans will head to the polls, many will be deliberately disenfranchised and denied their right to make that most important endorsement.

Since our nation’s founding, there has and continues to be an ebb and flow between those who seek to extend access to the ballot and those seeking to erect barriers to participation. As initially conceived, voting was a privilege of and for the advantaged. Slowly, access was broadened, with Constitutional amendments barring discrimination based on race (the 13th Amendment) and gender (the 19th Amendment). These guarantees barred explicitly racist or gender-based voting prohibitions, but outwardly discriminatory laws were rapidly replaced by provisions and practices that were ambiguous in their words but clear in their intent. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the federal government extended meaningful safeguards to all citizens.

But despite the progress that has been made, there have been persistent attempts to chip away at the right to vote, relying on more innovative, but no less discriminatory justifications. Make no mistake; we are now witnessing a struggle for the soul of our democracy, as full access to voting is still very much under threat.

For the first time since 1965, in the wake of the recent Shelby Supreme Court decision, potential voters will not have access to the full protection of the Voting Rights ActFourteen states have enacted new voting restrictions for the 2016 elections.  One common restriction is the use of voter ID cards, enacted ostensibly to prevent fraud in elections. Getting an ID seems pretty easy: show your driver’s license or your passport – but, for millions of citizens across the country, this requirement operates as a bar to participation, disproportionately impacting seniors, immigrants, people of color and others who may not have the acceptable forms of identification readily available.

Study after study have shown that the pervasive myth of voter fraud is just that, and that voter ID laws wouldn’t even prevent the few documented and verified cases over the past several decades.  A recent study found that out of a pool of more than 1 billion ballots cast  in all federal, state and municipal elections between 2000-2014, there were only 31 instances in which issues could have been resolved by such a voter ID. Do we even need voter ID laws if fraud creates an imperceptible impact on any election? The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, striking down part of North Carolina’s harshest voter ID laws offered a striking, yet unsurprising analysis: “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision….” This is unacceptable, and, with our national network of JCRCs the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA) in Washington, we have joined with a bipartisan coalition of faith based and other partners to pass a new Voting Rights Act.

It is not merely discriminatory laws or policies that stand in the way of full participation in the electoral process. For many people with disabilities, it is a casual inaction that has left an estimated 3 million voters home during the last election.  A white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 73% of polling places had some potential barrier to voting. The study identified five recurring obstacles: (1) insufficient poll worker training; (2) access barriers to polls; (3) access barriers to registration or election materials; (4) stigma; and (5) limitations on information available to election officials. With the identification of these and other impediments, we are armed with the information and tools to solve these problems.

For the Jewish community, the struggle for voter rights has been a defining part of our social contract with this nation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences.

In a year in which much noise has been made by some about the fairness of our election, it is the disenfranchisement of so many that raises the greatest threat to the credibility of our democracy. This season, and in the year to come, I hope you’ll join me in casting your lot with those leaders and organizations who reject these efforts and who are working together to repeal discriminatory laws and ensure access. By doing so, we will recommit ourselves to the path of expanding democracy that has made our nation ever greater since the days of our founders.

Shabbat Shalom,


Resisting Silence

Politics has been an exhausting and ugly endeavor this year, and we’ve still got six full weeks to go until Election Day. I’m sure most of us have seen stories about or heard people say that, dissatisfied by the choices before them, they intend to sit this year out. And you don’t need me to make the case for why staying home is not an option: That it is our civic duty and in our civic interest to vote, and, to own and embrace the rights of a democracy that so many have fought and died for, and that so many still seek.

What I would like to address, not for the first time, is the importance of not shying away from the online discourse about politics.

You are, no doubt, aware of the vile state of online ‘discourse.’ Maybe you’ve even experienced being a target of the anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying, racist and sexist images, memes and comments being posted on news media sights and in twitter storms. Frankly, this stuff isn’t new, much of it has deep roots in hate movements going back generations. But it has been amplified and brought out of the dark corners and into our online town square during this very political year.

I get why, right now, giving up on social media seems to be all the rage. But we can’t afford to withdraw and disengage – especially not now. Our silence in the virtual public square is not the answer.

Our response – to distortions of fact, to vilification of others and to vile discourse needs to be a wider engagement in responsible conversations about the great challenges of our time with our friends, coworkers and others; in person and on social media.

The Jewish approach to addressing difficult questions throughout our history has been to engage in more discourse. The Talmud offers the idea that when making hard decisions, Sh’tikah Ke’Hoda’a, or, “Silence = Consent.”  We cannot afford to be silent about our nation’s future.  Leaving the public square at this critical moment would not end the hateful online discourse; it would only cede the space to others, who do not share our interests, our values, and our commitment to the common good.

What Can You Do?

Do not shy away from addressing critical questions you see on social media. Comment on sites and articles about issues of concern, offering your own informed insights. Send letters to editors of local papers. Share articles on social media that reflect the complexity of the challenges we face and which offer thoughtful analysis and well-reasoned recommendations. Invite the feedback, expose the haters.

And then, come November 8th, as Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted the other day:


And if you haven't yet, register to vote.

Shabbat Shalom,


Conventions and Conversations

If you are like me you are probably a bit sleep deprived today, having stayed up far too late for most of the last two weeks watching the two party conventions, their speakers, floor drama, and subsequent analysis. Or, maybe you only watched one convention, or maybe some key moments, highlights, or possibly just followed some of the coverage without staying up for the speeches. Either way, most of us are alike in one aspect – by and large we watched with at least some pre-existing notions about who we’d be voting for in November, and by and large what we saw and heard reaffirmed our notions.

To be fair, national party conventions aren’t about the practice of speaking to those already affirmed in their loyalty across the partisan divide. They are intended to establish the candidates and their parties as clear alternatives to each other. The rhetoric is, quite naturally, a mix of inspiration to mobilize a political base and, when effective, to re-introduce candidates and make some headway with those who are on the fence. Frankly, in an election season, it is vitally important to articulate and make known the distinctions between the candidates. We must be clear about the consequences of the choices in front of us, and we must cast our votes with the solemnity of the power that is entrusted to us in doing so.

But we also need to have the conversations that bridge our divides – as a nation, and for that matter as a Jewish community; the conversations that enable us to understand those with whom we deeply disagree, to identify and define shared national aspirations, to dream as one people, and to determine how our leaders should govern for the whole nation. We haven’t been able to have those conversations in recent years when – as Pew has noted – our increasingly negative partisan feelings toward each other have pushed us further away from finding common ground with each other.

One might ask why we must (and even how we can possibly) make an effort to converse with people whose views are opposed to ours or perhaps deeply offensive to us? Reasons are abundant – including the importance of unity to counter the daunting challenges in these difficult times. It is worth evoking David Brooks’ proposition that in a deeply complex world, the better conversation is rooted in “a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process” which improves the mediocre idea or legislation. Brooks' writes that in this system, “others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.”

As smart, passionate, knowledgeable and experienced as each of us and any of our leaders may be, Brooks argues that people should be modest enough to acknowledge that “they are useless without the conversation.” That there is no greater wisdom than the one society acquires through a collective process of sharing, disputing and discussing ideas over time.

I’m reminded of a verse we’re all familiar with from Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are less familiar with the sentences leading up to this injunction:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

When read in full, the biblical text calls us not only to love our neighbor, and not only to rebuke them when necessary, but do both simultaneously, as equally important social duties. I read this text as a reminder that we need to disagree, and rebuke, but always with love. We can argue, but we must not have malice. We can debate, but we must not divide.

During the 2012 election cycle Rabbi Amy Eilberg, writing about polarized political communication, quoted Martin Buber:

“The human world is today, as never before, split into two camps, each of which understands the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth. . . . Each side has assumed monopoly of the sunlight and has plunged its antagonist into night, and each side demands that you decide between day and night. . . . ”

Noting that these words, written in 1952, could apply to our modern politics and to Jewish communal disputes, Rabbi Eilberg wrote:

“I can imagine how pained Buber would be to see the dynamics of polarization growing ever more violent with the passage of time, endangering the integrity and cohesiveness of Jewish communities and of democratic societies. But once we recognize the underlying dynamics of polarized communication, we may rediscover our ability to relate to others — even our ideological opponents — as persons created in the image of God, our neighbors and friends.”

Four years later, we are more polarized than ever.

As I head into the weekend ready to catch up on my sleep, I’m glad I watched both conventions. I like being an informed voter, knowing the messages of both parties and both candidates, and – frankly –I am thrilled at the experience of witnessing the historic breaking of a glass ceiling in real time. But I’m also yearning, maybe fantastically, for another convention; the one where we’ll all come together – every American - to listen respectfully and humbly, to rebuke with love, to find understanding, and to remind ourselves that all of us are created in the Divine image.

Shabbat Shalom,


Unity in Diversity | A Message from Our Associate Director

Last year, I visited the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa for the first time. As my family gazed down the seemingly endless staircase and around us at the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea, we were astounded by the beauty and comforted by the serenity of this majestic place. We stood amongst tourists from many lands and many backgrounds, and felt unity in our diversity. This concept stuck with me throughout our time in Haifa, a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians raise families; where many languages are spoken and many cultures intertwine; and, a place that gives hope to a reality of coexistence.

With a mantra in my head of unity in diversity, I took to my favorite source of information to research the concept. After Googling it, I learned that this concept has many ancient roots and many modern day applications; and, I learned that it is the backbone of the Baha’i faith. Aha! It was all coming together for me.

Fast forward one year, and we are in the midst of an historic Presidential campaign, watching members of our community tear each other down because of their differing views. We are certainly experiencing the extremes of political diversity, but we are far from finding unity within our debates.

With this on my mind as we worked to plan JCRC Celebrates, scheduled for two months before the general election, I set out to find a way to bring our community together. I began to explore whether this concept has a place in Jewish learning, and all roads led me to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. As a religion, Rabbi Sacks professes, “Judaism is the only [one] I know, all of whose canonical texts are anthologies of arguments: arguments between G-d and humans, humans and G-d, humans and one another.” “So,” he continues, “difference, argument, clashes of style and substance, are signs not of unhealthy division but of health.” We are essentially taught from a young age to develop an opinion and share it. But, we are also taught that regardless of that opinion, we are one Jewish community, with a shared history fighting to remain an “indivisible people.”

Just as we began to think about who in our Greater Boston community could best speak about this at JCRC Celebrates, an op-ed appeared in my inbox: The strength of a diverse community by Josh Kraft, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Boston. In it, Josh said, “…during a time when we should be focused on our unity as a people, we tend instead to fixate on our differences, oversimplifying them into narrow, reductive labels.” He reminded us that “differing opinions and disagreement can be constructive; when we do not allow them to cloud issues and segregate us completely, they can lead to positive change.”

So, we will gather in unity on September 15th, in a room full of diverse and strong political views, as one people. We will celebrate the strength of our community, we will hear words of inspiration from our friend Josh Kraft, and we will share the many things that bring us together, rather than tear us apart. And, we will have fun doing it! Please don’t miss the opportunity to support this event and be there to celebrate with us; after all, hinei ma tov u mah-nayim, shevet achim gam yachad – it is beautiful when people come together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

Shabbat Shalom,

Elana H. Margolis
Associate Director

With Thunderous Applause

I was reminded this week of a scene in one of the classic science-fiction Star Wars movies:

A craven politician has sown revolts and terror, and has encouraged fear in the populace. At the opportune moment, he comes before the senate and announces that in order to ensure continued security, the republic will be reorganized as a galactic empire. Amidst the applause, the camera pans to our heroine, Senator Amidala who, watching the vast crowd, says:

“So This Is How Liberty Dies, With Thunderous Applause.”

This week we also saw fear. Fear in the aftermath of the Brussels bombing on Tuesday; a fear that sadly and quickly - though no longer surprisingly – was exploited by an outrageous statement from a Presidential candidate calling for an expansion of powers for law enforcement officers to patrol “Muslim neighborhoods” in the U.S.

In trying to make sense of the various events this week another scene from Star Wars came to mind. Master Yoda, meeting the young Anakin Skywalker for the first time, offers him some Jedi wisdom: "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

This insight rings particularly true in this moment when in the wake of terrorism, opportunistic politicians offer rhetoric that plays on our deepest fears. We heard a call to hatred that would violate the bedrock freedoms of our nation, create suffering for the innocent, and that would, in all probability be counterproductive as our nation deals with the struggle against radical Islamist violence.

Too much of our political discourse in this election has been driven by fear - fear for our future and for our safety, for the quality of life our children will experience, and for the ability of our nation to face challenges in a changing world. Some candidates have manipulated these fears, played to them, capitalized on them to divide us and turn us against each other for political gain.

Fear and anger have already led to hate and suffering, including the beating in Boston of a Latino man by the supporters of one candidate last year.

In the Jewish community, we are all too familiar with fear, not only as a historical reality, but also as an organizing principle within our current politics. We fear for the future of Israel as a Jewish, secure, and democratic nation.  But rather than uniting us, our fear has deeply divided our community in recent years. Some of us fear more intensely for Israel’s democratic character while others prioritize Israel’s security issues. The alarming result has been that Jews passionately committed to Israel have turned against fellow Jews over the slightest nuance (from a global perspective) of what it means to be pro-Israel.

At this week’s AIPAC policy conference, a large and diverse community came together, united by our love for Israel and by our fear for her survival and security. Much of the content over three days spoke to our hope and aspirations for Israel. But as has happened so often in this political season, a candidate pandered directly to the fear in the room. We heard coarse and angry sentiments that, though taboo in our discourse, resonated with many listeners. We were invited to ignore any considerations beyond our own fears – including the fears carried by others outside that room - and to join in a raucous and dangerous movement.

Many American political leaders bear responsibility for cultivating the culture of fear that has ripened into this moment. So too, many of us – Jewish leaders and leaders of Israel – share the responsibility for this moment. In rallying support for Israel, we’ve too often called our community to action from Pachad (fear), rather than from Tikvah (hope).

So as leaders this is our time for soul searching as we determine what action to take for the sake of our nation. And for me, candidly, that action is still in part coming from fear; because experiencing that moment at AIPAC was terrifying. I didn’t fully appreciate how the political phenomenon of appealing to our basest instincts to salve our fears has taken root until now. I thought this election was a fantastical fiction. Now I see it is all too real.

And still I believe that we can renew our hope, and that by doing so we can overcome our current reality. This is the task before us.

Shabbat Shalom


Note: This post also appears on Times of Israel

Dilemmas in a Dark Moment

In 2012, when Barney Frank decided to leave Congress, JCRC organized a candidates’ forum with the Democratic and Republican candidates running to succeed him. We heard from a few people in our community who objected to our engagement with one of the candidates who held strong views on a range of issues in opposition to stances taken by JCRC.
We took that opportunity to remind our Council that as a 501 (c)(3) organization, the IRS code allows us to advocate for our priorities but bars us from showing preference to a particular candidate. And we pointed out that although the likelihood of this particular candidate being elected was low, it was still a possibility, so we had an obligation to our community to find a way to be in a relationship with him should he win.
I’m reminded of this exchange as we and many of our member organizations are facing the far more significant dilemmas posed by this year’s presidential election.
This weekend I will be at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where most major candidates are confirmed to speak and all have been invited. The inclusion of the Republican front-runner has brought reactions, including the Reform Movement’s vow to “engage” him, while there, “in a way that affirms our nation's democracy and our most cherished Jewish values.” ADL’s national director this week published an op-ed calling the candidate’s ideas “bigoted, revolting and simply un-American,” and expressing the hope that it is this behavior that “all people regardless of their political affiliation call out at every instance.”
Regardless of how troubling many of us find the rhetoric and behavior of this candidate, by inviting him to its conference, AIPAC is simply doing its job.
Those who tell you today that there is no way that this candidate could become President are the same people who were saying six months ago that he could not possibly come as far as he already has. As a focused, single-issue organization, AIPAC has a responsibility to engage the next President of the United States and clarify that person’s view on the U.S.-Israel relationship without indicating any bias or preference. We need to fully hear his views on this matter in more than debate one-liners.
It is also true that this is a profoundly troubling moment in our history.  Never have we seen such a degradation of this nation’s political discourse. The qualities that have made this country great for Jews and in fact, for all Americans – robust liberal democracy, constitutional freedom, a commitment to civil liberties and the protection of minority rights – are under direct challenge. Our nation without these qualities would become a more dangerous place for all of us. Beyond our shores, America would become further diminished in the world (including, for what it is worth, as an effective advocate for Israel in international arenas). Let’s not kid ourselves — those who said we could afford to ignore a candidate’s comments six months ago are no longer laughing at them.
It is within this context that I have profound admiration for leaders who are speaking to this political moment. I deeply appreciate those in our community who are not limited by their responsibility to particular institutional roles and who are giving voice to a robust critique of some candidates. I honor the way in which the URJ is approaching a moral calling without diminishing the importance of AIPAC’s obligation to the pro-Israel community.
I don’t know what will happen during this coming week or over the course of the campaign. I do know that when I show up at AIPAC on Sunday, I will be there as the director of this institution. As such, I will honor the responsibility placed on me by our community to steward our public voice in all its breadth and diversity without partisan bias or preference for any candidate. I’ll also honor being entrusted to articulate our values and interests with as much clarity as circumstances allow.
Even in this dark moment – when I’m continually asked, “What should we do? What can we do?” - I take some heart in the respectful ways in which our various member organizations are navigating a difficult dilemma without demeaning and denigrating each other and in the seriousness of thought with which our community is confronting the moment.
I draw strength in the unity of purpose that I see emerging. We are renewing our shared commitment to an American idea that has served us so well and that, if we fight to ensure its survival, will continue to renew our nation in the years to come. In that, and in the knowledge that we as a nation have faced dark political moments before and are today stronger for them, I have hope for a better future.

Shabbat Shalom,