Many of us were closely following two news stories this week. I know I was, as both are near and dear to my heart, but on only one has JCRC has spoken out, while on the other, we’ve been silent. Let me explain…
By now you know that on Wednesday the Massachusetts House of Representatives cast a historic vote to adopt a bill addressing public accommodations for members of the transgender community. A day earlier Governor Baker said that he would sign this version of the bill and we have every reason to believe that final adoption of this legislation into Massachusetts law will happen in the coming weeks. JCRC has vigorously supported passage of this legislation.
Meanwhile American Reform and Conservative leaders, along with the CEWO of the Federation system, made an urgent trip to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu as it appears that an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (the Western Wall) is unraveling. Many of our leaders are passionate and vocal advocates in this area, but we at JCRC have remained silent.
It will likely not surprise you that I have a great deal of passion in both these areas. The march toward full LGBTQ equality in this country has personally benefited me. The Jewish community’s commitment to this work has inspired me since my earliest professional years when I experienced the leadership of the ADL in New York as they worked for hate crime legislation protecting the lesbian and gay community. Similarly, before I moved to Boston, the minyan (prayer community) that I and friends spent a decade building in New York prioritized the breaking down of barriers to participation based on gender within the context of traditionally observant Jewish space.
But at JCRC, it’s not about me and my own personal passions.
What matters is the will of the organized Jewish community, how we reflect the priorities and the consensus of leaders from across forty-two organizations and dozens of communities.
Four years ago, the JCRC Council took up a resolution on issues of gender discrimination in Israel. The representative body considered carefully what issues they wanted to address and they decided that we should speak out vociferously about gender discrimination in public spaces both at home and in Israel. During the same debate, the consensus was that as an entity that brings a Jewish voice specifically into public spaces the Council would not address gender discrimination in religious space in Israel.
On multiple occasions, dating back to the debate on marriage equality, the Council used the same process to find consensus amongst its members, when it affirmed that the Jewish community has always been best served when our nation delivers on the promise of equality for all people. The Council has reaffirmed this commitment to work without hesitation for the continued expansion and vigorous protection of the rights and freedoms of all.
JCRC approached these two issues, informed by our values and committed to the integrity of our process. The result was a resounding decision to support transgender public accommodations along with a determination to remain silent on the question of the inclusion at the Kotel - a religious space, (rather than a public space) in Israel.
As for me, I come to both of these matters with one overarching passion that guides my decision to work here – which is to authentically represent and fight for the values and interests that bring our community together. I truly believe that despite all the bickering we see and the toxicity in our discourse, the attacks waged, and the difficulty in listening to each other, that there is value and power in finding and articulating our collective voice. We have something vital to say as Jews and as Americans that adds to our civic discourse. I, and we at JCRC, believe that as leaders we must work together to build consensus and speak with that voice and that by doing so we achieve something far more powerful than when speaking from the lonely place of “I.”