The JCRC of Greater Boston welcomes this last week’s announcement that Israel and the United Arab Emirates will move to normalize diplomatic relations. We offer our congratulations and thanks to President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahlan. We hope that this development can serve as a launchpad for further progress toward peace for Israel, the surrounding Arab States, and the Palestinians. We urge Congress and the American people to invest the necessary capital for peacebuilding between Israel and its neighbors, support efforts to reinforce progress toward peaceful coexistence in the region, and encourage similar diplomatic actions in the future.
Last night, the Massachusetts House and Senate enacted House Bill 4606 “An Act Relative to the Penalties for the crime of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)”. Governor Baker will have 10 days to sign the bill.
FGM is defined by the World Health Organization as removal of all or part of a girls’ healthy sex organs and surrounding tissue for non-medical reasons, often resulting in serious health consequences, the risk of death in childbirth, and lifelong trauma. There are no health benefits to this practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half a million women and girls living in the United States have been cut or are at risk of FGM. Over fourteen thousand such women and girls reside in Massachusetts, which ranks our state as 12th in the nation for at-risk populations.
“We are grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and bill sponsors Senator Joe Boncore, Senator Harriette Chandler, House Minority Leader Brad Jones, Representative Natalie Higgins and Representative Jay Livingstone for their leadership on this bill,” said Stacey Bloom, President of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “This new law will protect countless at-risk women and girls from this dangerous practice.”
Earlier today, the Massachusetts State Senate voted unanimously to pass a Genocide Education Bill that if passed, will provide all students in Massachusetts public schools the opportunity to learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides throughout human history, as well as the factors which led to their being committed. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston recognizes lead sponsor Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Education Committee Chair Jason Lewis and their Senate colleagues for their leadership in passing this bill.
As stewards of the New England Holocaust Memorial, JCRC honors the sacred obligation to lift up the experiences of those who survived the Holocaust in our own Greater Boston community, using their stories as a lesson to future generations about the consequences of unchecked hatred and intolerance. Together with ADL New England, the Armenian National Committee, and over 60 coalition members, JCRC advocated for this legislation, filed by Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Jeff Roy, which will give students in the Commonwealth the tools to identify and stand up against hateful, oppressive acts and to speak up in the face of bigotry.
“We congratulate Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and our partners in government for coming together to ensure that students in our state will learn invaluable lessons about the consequences of hate and bigotry, from the most painful parts of our history.” said Aaron Agulnek, Director of Government Affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We cannot simply say ‘Never Again’ if we do not also commit to educating the next generation by giving them the resources they need to recognize and stand up to injustice before it takes root.”
“We appreciate the leadership of Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and their legislative colleagues for taking a critical step toward ensuring that Massachusetts public school students receive Holocaust and genocide education prior to high school graduation,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director. “The need for Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools could not be more urgent. Massachusetts now has an opportunity to use the power of education to address hate through this essential initiative for Holocaust and genocide education in the Commonwealth.”
“75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp, we, as a society, continue to grapple with the root causes of hatred and discrimination. With the passage of this bill today, we take a critically important step to ensuring our students are educated on the Holocaust, the grave mistakes of the past, and stand ready to root out the injustices of the future,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “As the forces of fake news, division, and ignorance continue to march on, I applaud Senate President Spilka and my colleagues in the Senate for standing up to say that we will never forget the lessons of the past, and I thank my constituent, Dr. Ron Weisberger, and the advocates for their urgent efforts to ensure we use the power of education to address hate, broaden public awareness, and shape our collective future.”
An Act Concerning Genocide Education now moves to the House of Representatives, where a bipartisan group of over 70 members cosponsors signed on in support of the legislation.
We’re turning this week’s blog over to our staff—we asked them to create a Summer Reading List full of books and podcasts they love. Here are their recommendations:
Bakari Seller’s new memoir chronicles his life growing up “country” in Denmark South Carolina, where he made history by defeating an incumbent State Representative to become the youngest member of the state legislature and the youngest African American elected official in the country. The book’s most moving sections feature Bakari’s insights on his relationship with his father, and the impact of his father’s life experience on his own formation. Bakari’s father Cleveland (“Cleve”) a key Civil Rights Leader, survived the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968, an under-reported tragedy in which three Black students were killed by state troopers (two years prior to the more widely covered shooting at Kent State). Cleve Sellers was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for involvement in the killings, and carried the burden of having a criminal record, until receiving a full pardon 25 years later. Bakari reflects on what it was like to live up to his father’s courageous leadership in the fight for equality, and shares how he continues to deal with his rage at the harm done to his father by a white supremacist justice system.
History that doesn’t suck is a bi-weekly podcast, delivering a legit, seriously researched, hard-hitting survey of American history through entertaining stories. Think of this as covering the basics of what an American should but possibly doesn’t know (or has forgotten) about history.
The Vanishing Half is a page-turner that spans nearly half a century, from the 1940s to the 1990s, following twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes, who were raised in a small town conceived of by their great-great-great grandfather — after being freed — as an exclusive place for light-skinned Black people like him. The twins run away from the town at age sixteen. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. This is a book that I couldn’t put down – it features so many interesting, rich, and varied characters.
Based on real events, The Nickel Boys tells the story of a Florida reform school in the 1960s through the eyes of its Black residents. It provides a small but powerful window on race and racism in the Jim Crow south, and the emotional legacy of the abuse that the boys carry with them into adulthood. Whitehead won his second Nobel Prize for Nickel Boys, cementing his place as one of our greatest writers.
Girl at War begins in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991. Ana Jurić is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia’s capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana’s idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world. In 2001, Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she’s tried to move on from her past, she can’t escape her memories of war—secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country’s difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before. Moving back and forth through time, Girl at War is an honest, generous, brilliantly written novel that illuminates how history shapes the individual. Sara Nović fearlessly shows the impact of war on one young girl—and its legacy on all of us. It’s a debut by a writer who has stared into recent history to find a story that continues to resonate today.
Lisa Kessel Freedman
Guy Raz dives into the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies. How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists—and the movements they built. Especially fun when it’s a brand or company that we are patrons of!
Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore is one of the most informative and moving books I’ve read about the real human impact of climate change and rising sea levels. Rush’s writing is poetic and incredibly informative all at once, delving into the policies and moral and amoral underpinnings that have already led to destruction of communities that can be too easy to ignore.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous really drives home the importance of sharing one’s own story and understanding the far reaching impact of family history. This beautifully written book, at its core, is about the complicated relationship between a mother and son who are refugees to this country from post-war Vietnam, living in Hartford, CT. It is an in-depth exploration of race, class, sexuality, addiction, and trauma through the experiences of a young man now in his 20’s, reflecting on his own life and the lives of his mother and family. Through intricate storytelling, he shines a light on some of the most complex and important issues of our day, providing a prospective we do not often take the time to listen to and understand.
In the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy community, we are sharing book lists that cover topics of anti-racism for children. The Children’s Literacy initiative shares lists for pre-schoolers and school aged children. Another great resource is the application Caribu that offers picture book reading remotely. Caribu’s section on anti-racism includes a wonderful book called Flowers Only (no weeds allowed) by Mimi Mazzarella, illustrated by Barry Goldberg. The book is about “Iris” who is excited to go to the Flower Festival for the first time. When she invites “Dan DeLion” to join her, they are told he is not welcome. The book articulates the triumphs that can be achieved when we stand up for what we believe in to influence the negative perception of others.
My autographed copy of John Lewis’ memoir
This week, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich:
Though I knew that Congressman John Lewis was suffering from pancreatic cancer, I still reacted to the news of his death with surprised tears. Given all that he had endured through his blessedly long life and the countless times he subjected himself to state sanctioned violence in pursuit of equality for his people, I thought of him as invincible and perhaps, even, superhuman. As one of the few Civil Rights leaders granted the gift of longevity, his legacy was that much richer, filled with decades of insights and lessons about public leadership, not only as a young activist, but also as a member of Congress for over three decades. The moving and beautiful tributes we’ve watched and read this week have provided many invaluable lessons from the Congressman’s life about strategic and effective organizing for systemic change.
But the question that’s been confounding me this week is: how did this young firebrand, impatient to see change that was unconscionably overdue, mature into a public leader with such unflagging energy and determination? How did Lewis, who experienced not only the joy of seeing the first Black president elected, but also the horrifying backlash that followed, sustain his will to keep fighting and making “good trouble”? How was he able to witness the pernicious endurance of white supremacy and the continued dehumanization of Black people and the violence threatening their bodies, without losing his faith in the promise of America one day being realized?
As I’ve listened to Lewis’ wisdom in clips of interviews shared this week, I’m struck by the profound power of his commitment to nonviolence as a life-giving force and a source of moral clarity. His understanding of nonviolence wasn’t only as a strategic approach to movement building, but also as a guiding philosophy in relating to all human beings, including his opponents and even his enemies. This man, whose skull was fractured by state agents of white supremacy (none of whom has ever been held accountable for their brutality), cautioned us never to demean our enemies.
“To reconcile ourselves with one another, we must release our judgments and make peace with the fact that we are one. This country was founded on the ideal that we are all created equal. If we truly believe in the equality of all humankind, how can we put down and belittle one another? How can we disrespect and prejudge one another? How can we come to the point where we malign and hate one another?”
The words of this American hero ring so very true as I think about the degradation of our public discourse, and the speed with which we condemn those with whom we disagree. Rather than debate ideas and arguments on their merit, our default is to impugn motives and assassinate the character of those promoting the ideas. Throughout his life, Lewis was intent on building a “beloved community” (one that would not be “unkind”, “polarized” or “adversarial”), a core concept in the philosophy of nonviolence. What a profound vision to guide us at JCRC, as we seek to represent the organized Jewish community, a community with deeply shared values and commitments, co-existing with passionately held and often loudly diverse views across the ideological spectrum.
But the young activist, whose planned address at the March on Washington was toned down to avoid inflaming political leaders, also had a fire burning within him that was never extinguished. He understood that there was a time and place for battle. He advised, “Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice” in his book Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America.
One such time for him was at the 1995 Million Man March, which he chose not to join, eliciting much criticism at the time. In his own words,
“I did not march because I could not overlook the presence and central role of Louis Farrakhan, and so I refused to participate. I believe in freedom of speech but I also believe that we have an obligation to condemn speech that is racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic or hateful…The means by which we struggle must be consistent with the end we seek, and that includes the words we use to pursue those ends”.
John Lewis, Walking With the Wind
Among the many lessons this moral giant left us was this one; to refrain from gratuitous attacks against your opponents, but to discern those times when you must stand firm against clear expressions of hatred and bigotry, and that which must never be tolerated. And when you go to battle, do so with moral clarity and integrity.
The notion of relating charitably to our fellow human beings echoes the lesson we learn in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) to “…appoint yourself a teacher, and acquire yourself a companion, and judge all people with the scale weighted in their favor”. As we remember the remarkable legacy of John Lewis, the “Conscience of the Congress”, we give thanks for the gift of this teacher, heed his sage advice to treat each other kindly, and draw inspiration to build our own Beloved Community.
I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months discussing rapidly unfolding events in meetings with JCRC partners as well as with other local and national networks and coalitions JCRC is a part of. In many such meetings there often comes a point where the issue is raised of whether JCRC will make a statement – either as a representative of the organized Jewish community, or as a part of other local and national networks and coalitions we sit in. This discussion has occurred for issues as varied as the efforts in Washington to restrict immigration; Jewish solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and of course, the anticipation of actions that Israel’s government may (or may not) take in the coming weeks.
In these moments I always ask myself: Who is our statement attempting to reach?
It is an important question because it informs not just what we say, but how we say it and where.
For JCRC, the answer to this question, almost always, will be that our statement is communicating to Greater Boston’s civic leadership in the public square. This answer means that JCRC’s statements will almost always be very different from what some other organizations might say in the same moment. Our statements are certainly different from organizations that have different missions—such as those who seek to influence the Israeli conversation and their government’s decision making, or of those who strive to help members of our Jewish community make sense of events or find personal meaning in challenging times.
At JCRC we’re not striving (principally) to help the Jewish community make sense of current events – although this is often a byproduct of our work when community members read our statements. JCRC is also not in the business of telling the Israeli government, for example, what we think about Israel’s policies – although we certainly advise their representatives about conversations and concerns in our community.
JCRC’s mission is to communicate the interests and values of the local organized Jewish community to civic leaders in greater Boston and make sure that these concerns are part of the broader public discourse. This mission drives our statements which come from one of three starting points:
- We have deeply held values and priorities as a community that we want our civic partners to hear, understand and be responsive to.
- Our allies are asking us to make our voices heard in solidarity and partnership with them.
- Civic leaders are asking us how our community understands certain issues and concerns that are being debated and discussed in the broader public square.
While our responses always reflect the internal work we do with our Council and network of agencies to define our values, the first example often leads to decisions where we want to be heard collectively; often resulting in JCRC speaking on these issues with a clear and resonant voice – like our support for our immigrant neighbors. When we are responsive to our partners seeking our solidarity, we also speak with a strong voice as we either stand with them or we don’t – and we strive to demonstrate our commitment to this solidarity. It is in the third category – when JCRC is asked how the Jewish community understands an issue – that JCRC may lift up disagreements and a diversity of views of the Jewish community, despite our community’s shared values. That diversity of views and disagreements is never more present than in our discussions of Israel.
A blog post couldn’t possibly begin to discuss all of the complexity about why Israel engenders such diversity of opinions, but if you review JCRC’s statements made during the debate over the “Iran Deal” or when President Trump moved the embassy and compare them to our communal statement in solidarity with our immigrant neighbors in 2017, or the statement we signed last month with Jewish institutions across New England (organized by ADL) in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, you will see how the different criteria that we consider result in very different statements.
As events unfold nationally and internationally in the weeks and months ahead, JCRC will make statements about various developments. As you read them, I hope that you will appreciate who JCRC is speaking to and why, and how these statements were crafted. (by the way, these Friday posts are not first and foremost for that civic audience – they are intended as a way to share our work and our approach with our stakeholders).
Also know that JCRC’s statements are a framing device for how we understand a moment or topic and that our programmatic work is the true action we take in alignment with these values and partnerships. Actions like the legislative agenda we’ve endorsed and mobilized on in recent weeks regarding racial justice and criminal justice reform; the 70 of our immigrant neighbors released from detention during this pandemic because of our efforts raising $100K in bail money; and our continued work through Boston Partners for Peace to support Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to honor and recognize one another’s dignity and narratives as a step toward building a better future for both peoples.
Words matter, and we have an obligation to you to explain how and when we use words. But actions matter as much, if not more. With your continued support and partnership, JCRC will continue to speak for and advance the organized Jewish community’s interests and values in Boston’s civic space, for whatever new issues or conversations that may arise.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Shira Burns
July 8, 2020
(Boston, MA) – The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston applauds Governor Charlie Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Elections Committee Chairs Senator Barry Finegold and John Lawn, and the Massachusetts legislature for standing together and adopting a sweeping new Elections law, ensuring safe and accessible elections for voters in 2020 across Massachusetts.
JCRC is committed to upholding a robust democratic process and ensuring elections in the Commonwealth reflect the diversity of voices in our community. Together with Common Cause, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Election Modernization Coalition and 80+ organizations, JCRC advocated for legislation to address the challenges facing the electoral process during the COVID-19 pandemic and this new law is the culmination of a several months long advocacy campaign.
“We congratulate Governor Baker, Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo and our partners in government and the advocacy community for coming together to quickly address the threat and fallout that COVID-19 has on our electoral process,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “No one should fear for their health and safety while exercising their right to vote, and this law is an important step in that direction. We urge swift implementation.”
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.
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This Friday, a message from Deputy Director Nahma Nadich.
This week has been painful for us at JCRC. Due to the COVID-related economic crisis, we made the excruciating decision to suspend programs we value, and to lay off staff we cherish. Afterward, we gathered together as a team to reflect and to mourn. One of the staff members who will be leaving us asked if he could speak briefly to his peers. What he said astonished us.
He cited a teaching from the Jewish ethical practice of Mussar about the trait of hakarat hatov—recognition of and gratitude for what is good in the world. Our beloved colleague went on to express his profound appreciation for his years at JCRC; the opportunity to put his Jewish values into practice and to be part of an organization whose mission was so central to his identity. We listened to our open-hearted friend and were moved to tears.
I’ve been thinking about that astonishing moment ever since. What would it mean if each of us were able to summon that kind of gratitude, even in the darkest moments we face? And what might we find to be thankful for at a moment like this one—in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, an economic recession, and a country erupting over centuries of injustice and brutality?
We might look around us and marvel at the ways in which people are rising to the moment, exhibiting courage and creativity that buoy us and expand our imagination. Synagogues and other houses of worship have expanded beyond the four walls of their currently empty buildings, meeting the needs of their newly expanded community, and welcoming the participation of double and triple the number of people they once engaged.
Against all odds, this is a time when many of us have not only resisted isolation but managed to deepen our connection to friends and family – sometimes on screens, sometimes outdoors, yelling across distances to be heard. We’ve discovered new ways to envision family get-togethers and holiday celebrations. Some of us have become reacquainted with the adults our children have become, as we find ourselves living in close quarters after years of separation, discussing and debating the pressing issues of the day.
On our daily walks, we may be more attuned to the miracles of nature unfolding around us; sights that perhaps went unnoticed in our previously packed lives. On our infrequent trips to the grocery store, we may now be expressing our (shamefully) newfound appreciation for the workers who sustain us through their service, even at potential risk to their own health.
If we were to acknowledge the good as a collective, we would celebrate the impulse of our community members to serve others and reach out to those whose world has been most upended by this pandemic. We would be heartened by the myriad ways in which they have chosen to roll up their sleeves to deliver food, donate funds, and offer companionship, whether virtually or in person.
And we would be in awe of the sustained and determined action of so many across our country and across the globe, taking to the streets to insist that this country treat all its residents with the full humanity they deserve. We might even see glimmers of hope that change is coming, perhaps even setting this country on a path toward achieving its still unrealized ideals.
Acknowledging the good cannot diminish the very real suffering of this moment, and it must not minimize the profound brokenness of this country and this world. But being mired in the pain of this moment can crush us with despair—and obscure our vision from seeing the yetzer hatov, the universal human impulse for good, that can renew our spirit and our belief in the promise of a better future.
Thanks to a wise and gracious colleague, I’m ending a very sad week with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for blessings that too often go unnoticed. I invite us all to heed his sage words, and to take stock of all that is good and hopeful in a world we seek to repair.
We stand with our partners in taking action to:
- To Pass Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution condemning police brutality, racial profiling, and the excessive use of force
- Resolve to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a statewide Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system that certifies police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. (H2146 by Rep. Holmes and Vieira)
- Pass H2292 by Rep. Holmes that establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies, establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers.
- Pass H1440 by Rep. Holmes that Establishes a commission to study how the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts.
- Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences, require independent investigation of officer-related deaths, and require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department. (Bill to be filed by Rep Liz Miranda soon)
We at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston are heartbroken and angered by the murder – as charged by the Hennepin County prosecutor – of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis last week. We stand with the African-American community and all communities in mourning the deaths of Mr. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others who have lost their lives simply because of the persistent racism that afflicts our nation. Here in Boston, the organized Jewish community is in deep partnership and relationship with leaders in the Black community. We are reaching out to these friends, members of the clergy, and other civic leaders to express to them our solidarity and support and to ask them what they require of us in these difficult days.
In 2017, the JCRC Council embraced a series of principles regarding criminal justice reform, including support for policies that address and confront the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Today and every day we reaffirm our commitment to those principles and to the urgent work of advancing justice in our country.
We will continue to update here in the coming hours and days regarding events and activities that our partners are requesting our participation and solidarity in.
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