Working Together to Confront Antisemitism

Before I discuss some local events this past week, allow me to express that – like so many of you – my heart and my mind are very much with Ukraine as I write this. Our Jewish community in Boston has deep connections there; I’ve been privileged to visit our sister Jewish community in Dnipro three times, including twice on solidarity missions after the Russian invasion of Crimea. Our partners at CJP continue to be engaged and supportive, making emergency grants in recent weeks. You can learn more about their work and the partnership here

Here in the Boston area, these have been disturbing and frightening days of a different sort. Last week we learned that the perpetrator of the 2019 arson attacks against Chabad centers in Arlington and Needham, and a Jewish owned business in Chelsea, was an actual Nazi from Quincy. The other night we watched as some 20 people, carrying a Nazi flag, disrupted a book reading in Providence. And, it seems like every other day there’s another swastika found at Curry College in Milton.  

All of this has me thinking about JCRC’s founding in the early 1940’s, as another wave of antisemitism was ripping through Boston. Our Jewish community came together to create this Council to provide a coordinated response for engaging with government, local media, and the faith community (particularly, then, the Catholic church). The JCRC was, quite literally, established to deal with an organized Nazi effort in our city (as documented most recently in Nazis of Copley Square by Professor Charles R. Gallagher, S.J. of Boston College). 

Some eighty years later, it can feel like we’ve come full circle, with a present and real threat from home grown Nazis in our region. 

Of course, there are things that are different about the challenges we face in confronting antisemitism here in Boston in 2022. For example, we must openly address – as I did a few weeks ago when we worked with CJP and ADL to convene the community after Colleyville – that not all violent attacks on our community are coming from white supremacists and neo-Nazis; as we saw in Brighton last summer, where the attacker was an Egyptian Muslim.  And not all challenges are violent, such as the effort last fall by some on the left to tarnish now-Mayor Michelle Wu by claiming she was being influenced by “sinister” “Zionist” donors. 

This multi-layered and multi-directional antisemitism is how I found myself talking to the Boston Globe twice this week. On Sunday, I talked to Linda K. Wertheimer about how some on the left, as we’ve seen in California, are obsessed with inserting a “Liberated Ethnic Studies” agenda into classroom curriculums. This agenda singles out Israel for excessive condemnation, and denies the Jewish historical experience as being one of an oppressed minority in Western Civilization 

Then, on Thursday, I spoke with Yvonne Abraham about white supremacy and these violent Nazi attacks on our community here in Boston, how we got here, and why we at JCRC take it personally.  

Of course, there are other ways in which the current crisis is different for us, here in Boston, than the one eighty years ago. Most particularly and obviously, we have allies – in government, local media, and the faith community.  

Allies like U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who as Suffolk DA pursued the Brighton case as a hate crime and promised to hold people accountable for antisemitic attacks; and then, this last week, arrested - in Stockholm, Sweden - the brother of the Quincy Nazi for his role in covering up what she characterized as an act of domestic terrorism.  

Allies like Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Galvin, who, last Friday, issued a proclamation formally endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism as “a clear, comprehensive, and non-legally binding definition.” JCRC has, for many years, supported and encouraged the use of this definition and we welcomed this leadership here in Massachusetts.  

Allies you’ve seen if you’ve been to any of our community gatherings in recent years – most recently in December when we gathered to “Shine a Light on Antisemitism”. You’ve experienced the powerful support and allyship of leaders in the faith community and amongst other elected officials.  

There’s a lot of work we need to do. The challenges are immense. But nearly eighty years later, we at JCRC remain committed to meeting the challenge as a community, to working together with these allies, and to forging others, as, together, we pursue a path forward. 

I hope you will be part of this work with us. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy