When Our Community Comes Together

With the start of summer this week, I find myself looking back at what we’ve achieved together in the past six months.

I’m particularly proud of one aspect of our work, specifically at JCRC and across many institutions of Boston’s organized Jewish community as a whole. Work that has engaged a broad swath of our community, people whose commitment has only deepened as time goes on.

In the cold days of January, following the first round of Presidential orders regarding immigrants and refugees, we were the first local Jewish community in the country to speak forcefully with one voice. JCRC reached out to our community’s religious, philanthropic, civic and human service organizations – more than 40 Boston Jewish organizations – to say as one that these actions were unjust, and would inevitably cause anxiety, pain and anguish throughout immigrant communities and our nation. We stood together on the side of empathy and religious tolerance and we urged compassion for those seeking safety, regardless of their faith or country of origin.

Of course, the commitment to this work didn’t start in January. This statement amplified years of powerful work, rooted in the Jewish experience and our values. Jewish Vocational Service was already serving some five hundred refugee clients in Boston. Jewish Family Service of Metrowest was already leading a collaboration with many of our area synagogues to resettle refugee families. Several of our member agencies are active in the Mass Immigrants and Refugees Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. We at JCRC were proud to draft a resolution, together with HIAS, on welcoming refugees that was adopted as national policy for the Jewish community relations field in 2015.

This spring, 98 years and one day after my own – then four- year-old -- grandfather, Jose Casillas Sandoval, immigrated by crossing the Rio Grande River with his parents, I was honored to stand in front of the State House with our partners at MIRA and hundreds of Jewish community members to rally in support of the Safe Communities Act; legislation to protect the civil rights, safety and well-being of all Massachusetts residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety. I was proud to tell my grandfather’s story, and also to talk about CJP’s partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston which established the CJP Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants, to address the urgent needs of local immigrants, including some who have lived in our area for decades.

The bill continues to attract significant support, particularly from much of the Jewish community – including our members and partners at the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Jewish Vocational Service and the Workmen’s Circle – who packed a hearing on June 9th amidst stiff political opposition (you can read my testimony here).

In addition to our continued advocacy for passage of the Safe Communities Act, we’ve immersed ourselves in organizing a network of our Jewish communities – synagogues and young adult groups – to stand with families at risk of deportation. In partnership with organizations like the MA Communities Action Network (MCAN), JCRC has been organizing multi-faith clusters of congregations around Eastern Massachusetts to respond to the urgent needs of these families – families desperate to stay safe from threat, families in our local congregations, families connected to leaders inside our congregations, families searching wherever they can for a lifeline.

Together we have established five geographic clusters, each with a minimum of six congregations. More than a dozen synagogue communities with over 250 trained volunteers have committed to offering a variety of forms of support – including in some cases supporting sanctuary churches responding rapidly to a diverse set of needs of immigrant families and participating in broader state-wide legislative advocacy. We have had the privilege to create new partnerships and work with people like Gaby Chavez and Nestor Pimienta – two phenomenal organizers and recent graduates of Harvard Divinity School, who you can read about in a Boston Globe article this week.

All of this work is a reflection of the very best of our community: Acting together on long and deeply held values; each of our institutions bringing our unique capacities and institutional roles; working in authentic partnerships beyond the Jewish community; and being willing to act boldly in the face of a uniquely challenging moment.

As we begin our summer at JCRC and our planning for the coming years, I know that there are many challenges ahead. But I draw strength and resiliency by looking back and knowing what we are capable of when we are at our best. And I am grateful to be part of this organization and this community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy