I’m proud because this is the first time in seven years that I’m not traveling with JCRC’s winter study tour and my absence is a reflection of our success in implementing our strategic vision. We’ve developed a cadre of professionals – led by our Director of Israel Engagement, Eli Cohn-Postell – that allows us to reach more civic leaders and connect them with Israel. The fact that this work is no longer dependent on the presence of the executive director is an indication of our enhanced capacity to deliver these vital programs.
And I’m envious, because this past week, I’ve been reminded of how enriching I find these trips, with their ongoing discussion of complex and complicated issues: conversations which are all too absent from our daily political discourse.
Two events in particular have drawn my attention. The first is the controversy over Airbnb’s decision to delist properties in Jewish communities in the West Bank beyond the 1948 armistice line between Israel and Jordan – aka the “Green Line,” though not in East Jerusalem. The second involves aspects of the commemoration of the life of President George H.W. Bush.
In the reaction to Airbnb’s decision, there has been a fair amount of hyperbole for partisan purposes: Anti-Israel activists have wrongly claimed that a boycott narrowly targeting homes in “settlements” is a victory for their movement, equating this with boycotts of Israel “proper.” In fact, many people, including us at JCRC, differentiate between these actions. We oppose boycotts of Israel, and, while we don’t support boycotts of West Bank products, we do not believe that they inherently constitute a form of anti-Semitism.
This level of hyperbole indicates a lack of complexity: Supporters of Israel were right to be angry that Airbnb adopted, for now, a policy about one conflict zone that they chose not to not adopt equally for all conflict zones. At the same time, it’s important to note that in effect, Airbnb merely made the same differentiation that Israel’s own government makes; distinguishing in practice between Israel “proper” (i.e. areas under Israeli sovereignty since 1948 and those areas in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that have been formally annexed by Israel and live under Israeli civil authority) and Jewish communities in Area C of the Oslo Accords that have a temporary status until a final peace agreement is reached.
And then, regarding our public mourning for President Bush, I experienced several moments when people expressed flattering thoughts about Bush and his legacy – “decent,” “dignified,” “a statesman,” – and were then hammered for these expressions. Once again, there was a failure to acknowledge complexity, or to hold multiple and potentially competing truths at once. President Bush was both an ally and sometimes an opponent of various Jewish concerns, a transformational advocate for the disabled and yet also seemingly indifferent to the impact of the AIDS epidemic, a decent man whose campaign in 1988 was one of the nastiest in memory (at least at that time).
Complexity and nuance. Too often lost in our hurried and overblown rhetoric, our outrage-of-the-day, our tribalist “with me or against me” politics in 280 characters or less world. Lost is the nuance and complexity, like the kind we offer on our study tours when we slow down and spend time over the course of a week hearing multiple and conflicting narratives from as many corners of Israeli, and Palestinian, society as we can expose ourselves to. We seldom make the space for the kind of interesting discourse that happens when we actually sit with someone and get to see them as a person with a life and experiences different from our own.
It’s in that space that generative ideas can emerge and real learning can take place, all of which I am envious to miss this week.
Or, as Frank Bruni rightly observed while reflecting on the discourse about Bush (I encourage you to read his whole piece):
“We do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders, and at understanding that it’s not a sign of softness to summon some respect for someone with a contrary viewpoint and a history of mistakes. It’s a sign of maturity. And it just might be a path back to a better place.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2018
Contact: Shira Burns *protected email*
JCRC to Lead MA Municipal Leaders on Study Tour of Israel
Massachusetts Community Leaders to Explore Economic Ties to Region
(BOSTON) – The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston continues its long history of leading Massachusetts community leaders on a study tour of Israel, this month providing MA municipal leaders with an in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society.
From December 7-15, Massachusetts municipal leaders will travel throughout Israel, learning from government officials and religious, academic, media, and business leaders.
“This trip will allow Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel's politics and culture, and examine some of the economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC of Greater Boston. “The best way to deepen the MA/Israel connection is through a mutual understanding of our common interests—participants will gain firsthand knowledge about how they can strengthen relationships with their Israeli counterparts."
The Massachusetts municipal leaders will:
Meet with government officials, municipal leaders, and other influential leaders from all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society, developing city to city connections and sharing best practices in addressing current municipal issues
Visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, border regions, and the Palestinian Areas.
Discover the growing economic and cultural ties between Israel and Massachusetts
Gain new perspectives on modern day Israel
Develop a nuanced understanding of the complex political and security challenges facing Israel
Encounter Israel’s innovative economy, including its booming research, development, and tech sector.
The trip is being paid with a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Participants pay a registration fee for the trip from their own funds.
Following are the participants in the 2018 Municipal Study Tour of Israel:
Councilor Andrea Campbell (Trip Chair), Boston
Councilor Kim Janey, Boston
Councilor Mark Ciommo, Boston
Fredie Kay, JCRC Board Member
Marjorie Ross Decter – JCRC Board Member
Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, Easthampton
Councilor Edward Flynn, Boston
Councilor Nina Liang, Quincy
Select Board Member Heather Hamilton, Brookline
Chief of Staff Elizabeth Pimentel, Office of Andrea Campbell
Councilor Katrina Huff-Larmond, Randolph
Alderman Mike Zwirko, Melrose
Councilor Justin Hurst, Springfield
About the Jewish Community Relations Council
JCRC defines and advances the values, interests, and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.
Your gift to JCRC ensures that the Jewish community’s voice is heard loud and clear as we make an impact on Beacon Hill. We are the organization that builds broad coalitions, advocates for social justice, and protects the social safety net by advocating for a compassionate and forward-thinking state budget.
With increased gun violence, unjust incarceration and high rates of recidivism, and rising hate crimes, JCRC has been working closely with our allies to lobby the Massachusetts state legislature and the Governor to take action on our community values and priorities.
Through our advocacy, we’ve taken steps to protect democracy by passing and signing into law the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Bill, and upholding justice by advocating for passage of the comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill. And we’ve advocated with our partners for successful passage of the Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) Bill, which allows loved ones to remove weapons temporarily from people who pose a risk to themselves and others. We also worked closely with our partners to support the ballot initiative to protect human rights for transgender individuals.
This year, in a time of limited resources and in some cases declining budgets, JCRC also has secured government funding for the community and our partners in excess of our organizational budget.
We have achieved an unprecedented level of success in advancing the priorities of our community in the 2019 state budget, securing a total of $3,842,000 in state funding for a broad range of human services. More than $2 million of this funding will support the work of our partner agencies to create pathways to economic opportunity for disadvantaged residents (including job training for immigrants), enable elderly individuals and families to remain in their homes, and ensure safety for our most vulnerable.
When you support JCRC, you’re not only advancing the Jewish community’s shared values, but also ensuring that we can protect our neighbors and increasingly vulnerable populations across MA. Please partner with us to make an even greater impact in the year to come!
Thank you for helping us go from strength to strength,
Margie Ross Decter
Chair, JCRC Public Policy Committee
This week we marked the shloshim for those murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by white supremacist gunman Robert Bowers; the 30 days following burial in which mourners refrain from some everyday practices and communities engage in performance of mitzvot to honor the dead.
This past Friday night the Jewish community experienced another attack on a congregation, this time in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mohamed Abdi attempted to run down two visibly Orthodox men leaving Friday night services while yelling anti-Semitic epithets. Thankfully no one was injured.
These and many other incidents of rising acts of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes have our communities wrestling with new challenges. Wherever I traveled this past month, leaders in institutions – synagogues, JCCs, and others – are grappling with the unenviable task of navigating the balance among competing core values and priorities of Jewish communal spaces: between being safe and being inclusive and welcoming. How much security is necessary? What are the best practices? What measures are “too much,” either because cost outweighs the benefit, or because they exacerbate the problematic experiences for Jews of Color, or otherwise limit the ways in which we aspire to welcome people into Abraham’s four-fold open space?
This is, to say the least, an evolving conversation. And it is one we’ve been having with our own leaders and member agencies here at JCRC. I don’t presume to have “the” answer for every congregation or community, beyond encouraging each of them to have these conversations, to explore their own values, and to ask how they will hold multiple values in a dynamic tension that feels appropriate for them.
Our responsibility at JCRC is to do everything we can to ensure that our governments, at all levels, are doing everything in their capacity to ensure the security of our community and its institutions.
Last year we worked with the New England ADL and the Mass. Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF, which is run by JCRC) to seek Governor Baker’s commitment to reconstitute the state’s Hate Crime Task Force, which he readily did. We’ve been appreciative of the Governor’s support after Pittsburgh and have been pleased in recent days to see him leading on working with the Task Force to encourage all law enforcement agencies to fully report hate crimes and to take other measures to ensure that there is a “zero tolerance” for hate in Massachusetts. Our joint commitment to the vitality of this task force remains strong.
MAJF and JCRC also worked last year with our partners in the state legislature to establish a $75,000 pilot for non-profit security grant funding, complementing the federal grants which we advocate for in partnership with the Jewish Federations of North America. This year, the state doubled the funding to $150,000 and we will be working with the governor and the legislature to increase the pool and streamline the application process to expand eligibility.
And the Jewish Emergency Management System (JEMS), a partnership of CJP, JCRC, ADL, and the Synagogue Council, is helping our network of agencies access a series of trainings and briefings on the issues they are grappling with in this time.
We’re also continuing to work on the range of public policy matters that were important to our community before Pittsburgh, which have taken on increased urgency in its aftermath. We are more committed than ever to ensuring that the United States remains a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees from around the world, including supporting our noble legacy institutions like HIAS, supporting our network of synagogues here in Massachusetts working in concert with interfaith partners to pass gun-violence prevention laws, and challenging those at the very highest levels of public life who are validating and amplifying the kinds of bigotry and hatred that lead to these attacks.
A month after Pittsburgh, the Jewish community has been changed. We don’t know yet fully how. But we do know that we all have a role to play in facing that change responsibly, while also remaining constant in our purpose and our values about who we are in the world.
We have a choice: To react passively to unfolding events, or act with agency, to protect both our community and its most deeply held values. I, for one, choose the latter option.
This week: a message from JCRC's Emily Reichman, Director of Service Initiatives (R), and Shira Burns, JCRC Communications Staff.
On Monday, in an auditorium full of high school students visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust survivor Esther Starobin asked: “Is there anything specific you’re hoping to see here today?” Sherley Maximin’s hand shot up.
Sherley is this year’s first place winner of JCRC’s annual Israel Arbiter Essay Contest for high school students, and one of over 200 who submitted essays on themes related to the Holocaust. This Monday, she and three other student winners from schools across Greater Boston joined JCRC to spend the day at the museum in Washington, D.C.
In her essay, Sherley, who moved to Boston from Haiti two years ago, reflected on the life-changing encounter she had with local Holocaust survivors during a visit to the New England Holocaust Memorial last summer after it was vandalized by a student from her school. The students came together to let the Jewish community of Boston know that this student from their school did not represent them:
“That experience went beyond all the things that I could ever read in textbooks. I had such a meaningful conversation with Dr. Ornstein, a survivor. Nothing is comparable to listening to a survivor share their experience. I realized that there is much more to pay attention to. Way too often, we forget the causes of historical events like the Holocaust and I think we must commit to point to the signs when they arise. The lessons that one can learn from the history of the Holocaust are endless. This experience definitely strengthened my desire to learn more.”
Sherely (L) and a fellow Malden High School student at the NEHM.
This past week, days before Sherley’s visit to Washington, we marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “The Night of Broken Glass” ushered in a time of unparalleled hatred and devastation that led to the loss of six million Jewish lives.
In 1938, we were isolated and alone. Today, the strength of our community is demonstrated through our relationships and our alliances, and through our neighbors’ determined refusal to remain silent in the face of hatred and bigotry.
And in Boston this Tuesday, under a heavy downpour, we gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial (NEHM) to acknowledge a significant gift made to the Memorial by the Glaziers Union, part of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35. The Glaziers have been involved in the Memorial from the beginning, building and installing the original Memorial in 1995, made up of six iconic glass towers with 132 glass panels.
After the Memorial was vandalized last year, the union felt compelled to stand with the Jewish community and to uphold the integrity of this space that is sacred to so many. “It is our moral obligation to stand up and to speak up,” said Wayne Murphy, Director of Government and Public Affairs for the union. In his remarks, Murphy also noted that his union responded to last year’s vandalism by stepping in to repair the damage, offering to perform the work pro bono.
We were also joined by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been steadfast in his commitment to the Jewish community, showing up at event after event as we find ourselves under assault. He reflected on the “acts of anti-Semitism happening all over our country,” including the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre of October 27, in which 11 Jewish worshippers were murdered.
At JCRC we don’t take those relationships and alliances, nor the lessons of the Holocaust, for granted. That is why we provide education and engagement, connected with the Memorial, in Boston’s broader civic space beyond the Jewish community.
Displayed on the wall of the United States Holocaust Museum is a quote from Elie Wiesel’s remarks at the Dedication Ceremonies for the Museum on April 22, 1993: “This museum is not an answer. It is a question.” The museum, and the Holocaust itself, is not finite, but rather a living, breathing history that informs our collective responsibility. An enduring communal memory of the Holocaust is crucial.
And what was Sherley Maximin’s answer to that question on Monday about her hopes for the day?
“I’m hoping to see aspects of the exhibit that inspire me to recommit to resilience and hope.”
We hope that we met Sherley’s hopes this week. And her hopes were met for us as well – when we saw Sherley and her high school community, and the Glaziers Union, stand up in the face of acts of hatred this past year. Their actions, and the actions of so many others, remind us of what is good in our city. They inspire us to recommit, with resilience and hope, to ensuring that future generations of Bostonians will do so for years to come.
This has been among the darkest weeks we’ve endured as a community. The Jewish community of Pittsburgh buried 11 loved ones, murdered in the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. We are all reeling.
With the unleashing of this violent hatred on our community came reverberations of too many moments throughout our history when we’ve been targeted; when we’ve had to withstand the onslaught on our own, isolated and marginalized. But on Shabbat, just moments after we all learned of the massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogues, messages of consolation, of solidarity, and of support came pouring out from elected officials and interfaith leadership with whom we at JCRC have nurtured and cultivated relationships over the years. We knew we were not alone. In the last week, I’ve been thanked by many of you who attended the vigil we planned within 24 hours of the news. You’ve told me that the moving display of support from so many allies was a powerful reassurance that we are part of a collective, one that understands and shares our grief in this moment and that will be with us for the long haul.
The urgent work of community relations has never been more essential; building bonds so deep and trusting, that the support you need in your darkest moment is there without your ever having to ask; uniting us at a time of rancor and division, and celebrating all that binds us together.
It’s a bit of a “bad joke” amongst certain political and interfaith partners of ours that if we are gathered more than twice in one week it has been a bad week. This past week has been a really bad week.
Like all of you, I was shattered last Shabbat by the news out of Pittsburgh.
And, on Saturday night, I was struck by the immediate outpouring of love and support from partners and allies outside the Jewish community. The director of a mosque already reaching out to several rabbis before noon on Shabbat offering support “in any way.” The African Methodist Episcopal minister who, before we had even made Havdalah, emailed to tell us how our community’s solidarity with his following the church massacre in Charleston three years ago was seared in his memory; that what helped was to know that they “were not alone” and that “we will come at any time and in any way to support you.”
And there were texts and calls from public officials – some to me, many more to others who described them to me – the governor, the mayors, police commissioners, legislators, their aides; all offering help, all wanting to make sure we knew that they were ready with whatever our community needed in this moment.
Hearing these messages brought clarity; we needed to make sure that the experience of being held in love and support by the broader community would not be limited to a small circle of Jewish communal leaders. We needed to make sure that all of our community could be held by these folks; because our grief is not the private reality of rabbis and CEOs but of all of us, every single member of a community reeling in the aftermath of this unthinkable slaughter.
So we tapped into our network of member agencies, each with key relationships and unique competencies. Within hours, we had announced a vigil for Sunday afternoon on the Boston Common, and quickly had commitments from a broad array of the state’s leading public and faith figures. They stood wall to wall with us on Sunday. Their messages were heartfelt; understanding our pain, denouncing the hate motivating the attack and offering strength as we struggled to cope with the weight of events.
They invoked profound relationships: Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the partnership between our communities in supporting immigrants and refugees. They understood us and our fears: Shaykh Yasir Fahmy urged us to keep wearing our Judaism proudly and publicly, to “hold our yarmulkes tighter” just as he would tell his own youthful congregants to “hold their hijab closer” after an experience of Islamophobia. And with gentle and loving insistence, they challenged us to be with them as well, as Rev. Liz Walker did when she invited us to be in partnership with her community in Roxbury as it deals with ongoing and almost daily acts of violence.
Sunday was a beginning toward healing and also a reminder – we haven’t and won’t be facing violent anti-Semitism alone. And it was an invitation, made all the more resonant as we were reminded often this week – by the murder of a black couple in Kentucky last week, and then on Wednesday with the racist graffiti as Tynan School in South Boston – to be present in the struggles of our neighbors as well, as this country grapples with the toxin of hatreds targeting all of our communities.
The power of Sunday on the Common didn’t “just happen,” and it certainly didn’t happen in just a few hours on Saturday night. It was made possible through years of investment in relationships by the network of JCRC members. We have built deep and enduring ties with our interfaith partners on matters of common concern, while engaging in honest and challenging conversations about areas of tension and disagreement. We rolled up our sleeves to work with our friends in the state house over decades to advance our values and work together for the better good of the commonwealth. We heard “yes, of course I’ll be with you” from every partner we reached out to on Saturday night, because, for years, our community has invested in the urgent necessity of community relations.
And this morning I joined leaders from ADL New England and JALSA, along with many of those same faith and community leaders, at the Tynan School to show our support for our neighbors and to stand with them against hatred here in Boston. We stood together because we all need to be held and we all need to hold each other in these times if we are going to find a way forward as a nation.
L-R: Robert Trestan of ADL New England, Cindy Rowe of JALSA, and Jeremy Burton of JCRC
And as we enter this first Shabbat after Pittsburgh, we will again see many of those partners in shul this weekend. I am heading off to services tonight joined by so many of our friends who are joining Jews around the world to #ShowUpForShabbat.
The problem and the threat of violent anti-Semitism isn’t going to be solved overnight. And it is deeply intertwined with a larger challenge of violent and hateful extremism that threatens not only the Jewish community but all Americans – as members of threatened communities and as stakeholders in a nation being threatened by the normalization of hatreds.
So yes, seeing our partners so often means it has been a very bad week. But it has also been a week filled with hope – because they’ve shown up for us and we’ve shown up for them. Together we are finding the resiliency to move forward, stronger together and ready to do the work we do every day of holding community and communities in partnership.