The collective and deliberative will of our community

 As happens every year when summer turns to fall, we recently had our orientation for new Council members. I was excited to welcome the newest members of our 117-person Council; half of whom are charged with representing organizations from our member network, and the rest serving as representatives of the community at large.

As we prepared them for their service to the community – walking through the processes of our Council for addressing whatever issues come their way this year – I was reminded of how grateful I am for their service, knowing how their work will strengthen our community. Because while process may be boring (to some) I believe it leads to better outcomes.  Knowing that JCRC’s public agenda is determined by our network of organizations, rather than by any one individual, underscores the legitimacy of our decisions and the integrity of our actions

Some stories I often tell:

A few years ago, the student arm of one of our members was publicly and privately lobbying me to speak out and criticize Israel’s government on a specific matter. Instead of me telling them yes or no, we invited them to present to the Israel and Global Jewry committee of our Council. The students made their case and then our leaders discussed it. These leaders, representing the fullest diversity of our Council (including representatives from the New Israel Fund, CAMERA, J Street, the Israeli-American Council, AIPAC and AJC) decided not to speak publicly on this issue. They did instruct me to convey their shared concerns to Israel’s Consul General, to let the students know what we were communicating, and to commit to elevating the public discussion on this issue without JCRC taking a public stance.

On another occasion, a leader on the JCRC board was pressing me to speak publicly on a specific controversy in Israel. They would ask me to do this every few weeks, and they were clearly frustrated by JCRC not taking a public stance. My repeated response – reminding them that they were in the room when our Council debated a set of issues related to this matter and explicitly tabled a specific principle on this, for lack of a consensus – wasn’t satisfying them. After several conversations, as it became clear that they thought I was personally opposed to the position they advocated, I asked them what they thought my opinion was on this issue. To hilarious effect, I pointed out my long pre-JCRC track-record on this particular issue, which clearly ran counter to the view that they assumed I had. As Executive Director, my public silence was then – and will always be – reflective of our Council’s will, despite my own views, no matter how deeply felt.

This comes up all the time in domestic matters as well.

A few years ago, at the request of some legislators, our Council took up a discussion on principles related to a bill being considered on Beacon Hill. Now, I will admit it was not an issue I’d given much thought to, nor did I think that weighing in on that particular bill was essential to JCRC’s identity. Also, the Chair of the legislative committee reviewing the bill is a friend and told me that they thought it was a poorly considered piece of legislation. But many of our allies wanted the bill to pass, and many members of our Public Policy Committee cared passionately about it, so the committee endorsed it. After the vote, our Director of Government Affairs jokingly told me that I’d need to find a clever way to inform the Chair about our new position and just accept that I may have to brace myself for this legislator’s displeasure. Well, JCRC submitted testimony, the bill has been adopted into law, and our relationship with the Chair is as strong as ever.

Of course, I and the staff bring many issues to the Council and its committees for consideration. But we do not initiate our own agenda. Rather, we come to them when we’re hearing from members, allies, and local partners who are asking us to weigh in and when we have no clear guidance from the Council on how to respond (we have a complex chart that outlines this process and every Council member gets a copy – as I said, we’re fans of good process).

The result is that sometimes, we, JCRC, are silent on certain debates and issues until the Council takes action. During that time, I and our staff guide the Council and its committees in their study of those issues. I help our leaders – from across our 40-agency network – to weigh the costs and implications of various outcomes. That sometimes comes at a cost – as we let the debate play out, others misinterpret our silence as inaction.

But once the Council has made its decision, I am also proud to represent the “we,” all of us, this network that makes up the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston, in actively advancing our values, interests and priorities. Our stances: in support of our immigrant neighbors; to preserve and strengthen our democracy; to address and confront the racial disparities in our criminal justice system; to fight antisemitism and to combat the BDS movement’s demonization of Israel, all come from the power of the collective and deliberative will of our community.

It is the power of our network and the strength of a consensus that drives JCRC. I’m proud to be a part of that, and grateful to those of you who are committed to doing this work with us.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Jeremy