Dr. Jeremy Schiller’s story

The COVID-19 pandemic was heavy enough.

As a practicing physician and the Chair of the Salem Board of Health, Dr. Jeremy Schiller was doing his utmost to protect community members from a virus scientists were racing to understand and navigate in real time.

“I had a good relationship with [then Mayor of Salem] Kim Driscoll, and we promoted COVID mitigation strategies that were rooted in science and were progressive and dynamic,” Dr. Schiller says. “Despite overwhelming support from the community, we received a lot of the typical negative responses — and I was ok with that. Science is hard and is always evolving and that is not easy for some to digest and understand.”

However, those responses became personal in December 2021. The Omicron variant was sweeping through Massachusetts and hospitals were dangerously nearing full capacity. The Salem Board of Health, at the urgence of local hospital leaders, instituted a vaccine mandate for local restaurants to help keep area hospitals from a possible catastrophic crisis.

“At that point, there was a real increase in number of those comparing what we were doing to the Holocaust,” Dr. Schiller remembers. “Multiple emails on a daily basis from various people in the community.” Dr. Schiller went out of his way to respond thoughtfully to the emails and educate community members on the actions the Board was taking. However, the correspondences were becoming increasingly antisemitic in nature. Salem’s Health Agent, whose surname sounds Jewish, shared that both he and Dr. Schiller had been the subject of voicemails citing them as “Jews controlling public health.” He also forwarded Dr. Schiller postcards the Board of Health had received that were addressed to “Un ‘Doctor’ Schiller” with a Star of David drawn on it and statements like “FREI” (German for “free”), “GENOCIDE,” and “Justice will come for you” scrawled across them. The Health Department even received a yellow Star of David — badges Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Around this time, a rally was held outside Dr. Schiller’s house (he wasn’t there), organized by Diana Ploss, an independent gubernatorial candidate who, later that week, livestreamed a simulcast of the Board of Health meeting, with hateful comments like, “Look at this Jew, always after money” and “Look at the smug Jew talking” posted on her website. Dr. Schiller, who volunteers in his position as Board Chair, was aghast and disgusted that his efforts to help guide the community safely through the pandemic evolved into an opportunity for antisemites to viciously attack him for the simple fact that he is Jewish.

“It was scary,” Dr. Schiller says. “I contacted Mayor Driscoll and there was no political calculus whatsoever on her part. She immediately released a letter along with the ADL condemning what was going on.” Dr. Schiller also applauds the swift response of Chief Lucas Miller of Salem Police Department in coming to his defense, as well as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Beth Israel Lahey Health, Dr. Kevin Tabb, for reaching out and supporting him.

“To me, there’s a role for condemnation and outrage, but it can’t end there. Education and understanding are critical components to combating antisemitism and hate,” Dr. Schiller says. “That’s why the idea of allyship is so important to me. We can only imagine how many other groups of people feel marginalized. I have a very close family and amazing friends. I can’t imagine how deeply undercutting and painful this would be to someone who doesn’t have that kind of support — because even with that support I can still feel the pain of it today.”


Rabbi Shlomo Noginski’s story

On July 1, 2021, while standing near the entrance to Shaloh House Jewish Day School in Brighton, Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was approached by a man with a gun who demanded that he give him the keys to his vehicle and then instructed him to get inside the car. Rabbi Noginski, fearing for the lives of the school-aged children attending summer camp within the building, ran from the assailant and, in the ensuing struggle that followed on Brighton Commons, was stabbed a total of eight times in broad daylight.

But for every stab wound, for every ache, pain, and hardship that followed in his slow recovery, Rabbi Noginski is only keeping a tally of all the miracles, including — defying comprehension — being in the right place at the right time.

“I have seen G-d’s hand throughout my life,” Rabbi Noginski says.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, Rabbi Noginski’s family was targeted for being Jewish. His mother, a celebrated composer and pianist who had won a national competition and performed in the Kremlin, attracted the attention of antisemites disgusted that a Jew — and a woman — received the award.

The family received multiple death threats and Rabbi Noginski was often physically and verbally attacked. They made aliyah (immigration to Israel) to escape antisemitism in the early 90s and Rabbi Noginski’s mother encouraged him to take up martial arts to defend himself.

Rabbi Noginski believes his black belt in judo played a small role in defending himself from the dozens of relentless stabbing attempts made by his attacker over the course of their struggle that lasted more than 10 minutes. However, he is quick to point to a series of divine interventions for his ability to stave off more serious or even fatal injuries, rather than his “physical prowess.”

“It is G-d’s protection that is the real assistance,” he says. “But the real miracle is that I was outside of the school accidentally. If I came out earlier or later, this young man would have had unhindered access to the school and the camp, and it could’ve been much worse.”

Rabbi Noginski sustained six stab wounds to his left arm and hand and two to his abdomen. The attacker, who was discovered to have a history of using antisemitic slurs, was charged with hate crimes, as well as assault with intent to murder and attempted armed robbery, and the investigation is ongoing.

“In the short term, I simply could not perform any manual physical labor with my left hand or bear any weight, and one of the deeper wounds in my left shoulder affects my ability to do heavy lifting with my left arm,” Rabbi Noginski says. “In terms of emotional rehabilitation, that’s another story.”

Rabbi Noginski sees this attack as “a second birthday,” a blessing, and proof of G-d’s presence in his life. He’s using this incident to infuse the community with “more light and positivity” and has already opened a new Rabbinic Studies program at the school.

“Going forward, I feel I’ve been charged with a mission of doing more than I was before,” he says. “Anything that happens is directed by G-d, and this only strengthens my Jewish pride and identity.”


Chanie Krinsky’s story

On a May evening four years ago, Chanie Krinsky had just put her three youngest children to bed when she heard rustling outside of her home, the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.

Thinking it was an expected visitor, she asked her son to greet them at the door, but he reported seeing no one there. Right afterward, her husband, Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, returned home with groceries and Chanie smelled smoke.

“I’m very sensitive to it because I had been in a serious house fire when I was younger,” Chanie explains. Mendy searched inside for the source of the smell and couldn’t find anything when Chanie remembered that the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont, the home of Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, had been set on fire just days earlier. She urged Mendy to look outside.

When Mendy opened the door, their son peeked his head out and immediately noticed small flames licking at the side of the house, near the entrance to the synagogue. Because of the rain, because of their access to a fire extinguisher, or, as Mendy and Chanie believe, because of divine intervention, they were able to contain the damage to the exterior and put out the fire before the fire department arrived on the scene.

“As soon as I heard that there was a fire, I woke up the kids who were already in bed, carrying them, half-awake, out of the house and into the car,” Chanie says. From there, Chanie sent out a message to other Chabad residents in their network, explaining what had happened. “I said, we’re safe, be careful out there, you know, in case this person was going around doing this to other places,” she recalls.

Through her chat group, she learned that the Bukiets, once again, had their Chabad set on fire that very evening, just 40 minutes earlier.

“It was hard for us to sleep that night, knowing this person was still out there, knowing that someone was trying to burn our house down,” Chanie says.

The next day — Shabbat — brought hope.

“The number of flowers and gifts and messages of support that we received from the community was so touching,” Chanie says. “Two women from the community suggested holding the Havdalah ceremony outside our house after the sabbath ended, and they told the local temples and churches. We came out of the house on Saturday night and there were more than 400 people there — the police blocked the street. We prayed, we sang songs, it was so moving.”

At the time, people were saying, “Maybe take down the menorah in front of your house, maybe you should hide it, or remove your address online,” Chanie says. “We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to hide.’ On the contrary, we believe this event and similar ones should be an impetus for growth. The best way to combat antisemitism is to be stronger and prouder Jews.”

“Until the indictment, there was no way to know for sure that it was antisemitism, but we knew even then,” Chanie says. “We’ll never know why he chose ours and the Bukiet’s — but they were both the homes of the Chabad rabbis and their families.”

The man accused of the Chabad arson died before justice could be served, but the mark from the fire remains on the house and, since then, one of her sons was targeted for being Jewish and physically assaulted in Manhattan.

“Sometimes the world can feel scary, but you need to move on, you can’t live with that heaviness,” Chanie says. “We have to be aware, but we trust in G-d and move on. We can’t let this stop us.”


Sam’s* story

Imagine you’re a sophomore in high school, living in a small, picturesque New England town. You come home from school one day before break, ready to relax, and open your Snapchat to see what your friends are up to. And just like that, you’re confronted with a picture of a swastika made of pennies taken in one of the classrooms of your high school. Sam* doesn’t have to imagine. She and her friend lived it.

Back when Sam and her friend experienced this incident in high school, they had already endured years of cutting comments about their Jewish heritage from their classmates and friends, saying things like “Do you live in little Israel?“ or “I didn’t know Jews were allowed to go trick or treating.” And they shrugged them off because they didn’t want to make waves with people who clearly didn’t understand how offensive they were being.

But when that swastika was posted, it was a step too far to ignore anymore. Enough was enough. “This was posted on social media, so a broad amount of people were seeing it compared to when someone just says a comment to you. You don’t have proof per se, but this was posted, and however many friends he had on Snapchat were however many people were seeing the post,” Sam says.

Sam and her friend decided it was time to make a change. At first, they kept it a secret because they didn’t know if people would understand. When their friends approached them, Sam said, “I’m a minority here. None of you are Jewish and I didn’t know how you were going to react because I was doing something against one of our friends.” They needed help. After talking with their parents, they boldly reached out to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The ADL answered the girls’ call and introduced them to a program called A World of Difference Institute that educates and trains faculty and students on how to deal with issues of discrimination of all types. But there was a slight problem. They needed funding to get the program off the ground in their school. To their relief and delight, the community stepped up. Parents, local businesses, and their high school PCO worked together to raise over $7,000 in just a few short weeks.

To this day, Sam and her friend’s courage to ask for help continues to better their hometown. “My youngest brother who’s seven years younger than me is at my high school now, and he’s being taught these things [by A World of Difference Institute] […] It’s really important to me to know that they are still doing it and they are still educating the teachers and the kids.”

Sam knows that the work isn’t done. “It’s so weird to me because I just graduated college and I feel like I’m still actively doing things for this, and I was 16 years old when I first started. I did not think that six or seven years later this would be staying with me.” Even though antisemitic incidents are up all over America and “it’s a really scary time to be a Jewish woman,” Sam keeps moving forward. “I like to help out as much as I can. People still reach out to me asking if I can help and I try and do that in the best way possible.”

By sharing her and her friend’s story again, Sam has given hope to the next generation one more time.

* Name changed upon request due to safety concerns. 


Andie’s story

It all started with a “harmless” joke.

Andie, just beginning their conversion to Judaism, was simply trying to connect with their family at the movies. On any given day, Andie is generally guarded around their family, and with good cause. “A lot of members of my family of origin are pretty homophobic and say a lot of really insensitive or offensive things — before and after I came out.” Ready to endure and respond to this kind of behavior, they set off to hopefully make the best of an evening together.

But their cousin had other ideas. Andie was extremely close with this cousin and his sister, “they were basically two extra members of my family.” But “as we grew up, he really started saying and doing things that were not ok — being really sexist, being really homophobic.” And Andie tried to avoid him and stay in a space that made them feel safe, but he caught them off guard.

While waiting in line for popcorn, their cousin decided now was his moment. He said, “Why are the rabbis running down the street? They were chasing a penny.” Andie was stunned. They were ready to hear offensive comments, but not about their newly found religion. Andie’s safe space was torn apart.

No one thought there was anything wrong with Andie’s cousin’s casual antisemitism, not even their mother, who as a devout Christian that believes Christians are persecuted in American society, might be the one person to truly get it. But she simply dismissed Andie’s concern with, “Don’t pay attention to it.”

Andie’s family has a history of not understanding where they’re coming from. “I’m neurodivergent, I do and say weird things and I have a very funky sense of humor, and I kind of feel like that puts a target on me a little bit with my family.” And on top of that, they grew up in a far-right-leaning, religious household where they were told their whole lives that being gay was bad — “It’s sinful.”

They were taught that religion was not a welcoming place for all, until they discovered there was more out there than what their family believed. “When I explored more about other religions I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s not all bad, it can even be a really positive thing in somebody’s life.’”

They’ve since become more devoutly Jewish and find it healing, Shabbat in particular. “It’s an anticapitalistic practice that’s very important to me in my life, and also, as somebody with a lot of chronic illnesses, I need time where I am basically just doing nothing to heal my body and rest my neshama (soul) after a long week of working.”

Still, when they go to visit their family, they aren’t being respected or accepted, so they try and find ways to work around their family’s expectations, like dressing in ways that will be approved of — shorts and a t-shirt instead of long sleeves and a long skirt — or trying to keep kosher in their own quiet way even though their grandmother insists on offering them shrimp in a manner that feels to Andie like it’s a “power play.”

Fortunately, Andie has found their chosen family — people who make them feel seen — throughout their conversion to Judaism while at college and beyond into their new life. “I live 3,000 miles away now and I’ve cultivated a really good group of people who understand my quirks, and I feel very loved.”

And so, it didn’t all start with a joke, but maybe that’s where it all ends.


Addie’s story

“Don’t mind him, he’s just being cheap like a Jew.”

When Addie, working as a cashier in Foxborough in 2021, heard those words from a customer watching her companion fumble through his wallet, she felt an immediate physical reaction.

But this wasn’t Addie’s first time experiencing antisemitism.

Growing up in a small town southwest of Boston, Addie remembers being one of a handful of Jewish kids in her graduating class of 360 students. From the cliques that formed around church groups to being singled out during her history class unit on Judaism, pervasive feelings and messages of otherness were omnipresent throughout her formative years.

During a lecture on dictators in her freshman year, a classmate turned to her and said, “Addie, you need to go hide because the Nazis are going to come for you.”

“I didn’t think too much of it when it happened,” Addie recalls. “I was a shy kid. I went through the day, didn’t say anything to my teachers, didn’t say anything to anyone else, but I came home and was telling my mom about school, and I said, ‘Oh, this kid said this to me,’ and she sort of just stopped in her tracks and was like, ‘What? Can you repeat that?’ She said, ‘You know that’s not ok, right?’ I told her that I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do.”

Her father called the school, and Addie remembers feeling embarrassed, fearing reprisal and not wanting to draw additional attention to herself. After she met with the principal and told him what happened, the boy was moved across the room away from her, but he never apologized. “I think I kind of knew that nothing was going to be done,” Addie says.

Her mom and dad, however, insisted that calling it out was necessary. “Even if I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m glad they did it, it was a learning and growing moment for me to realize that things like this happen and they happen often.”

During her senior year, a teacher told Addie that her congestion from a cold made her sound like “an old Jewish woman from New York.”

“I had to hold myself back — she was an adult and an authority figure,” Addie says. “Now, looking back, I know I should’ve done or said something. That was another moment.”

Addie believes that these “moments” helped shape her into the person she is today and gave her the courage and confidence to speak up that day in Foxborough.  

Noticing that the man was looking at her and toward Addie with embarrassment, the woman continued, “Oh don’t worry, she’s not Jewish.”

Heart racing, Addie says that she “put the customer service part of [herself] aside” and said, “Actually, yes I am, and you shouldn’t say things like that.” She says that the woman seemed ashamed of what she said but didn’t offer an apology, and Addie’s manager gave her the time to step away and calm down after she explained what occurred.

While she knows antisemitism is never going to completely go away, Addie isn’t hiding, and these experiences have only strengthened her Jewish identity. “I hate that it happened, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it,” Addie says, noting that she shares these incidents as often as she can to encourage others to fight back. “I define it as a source of pride. It’s a badge of honor.”


Strengthening Our Community Through Inclusion

By Melissa Garlick, Senior Director of Combating Antisemitism and Building Civic Engagement

This time of year brings so much joy and rejuvenation with the end of school, graduations, and family gatherings. Pride and Juneteenth bring celebrations of freedom and progress.

At the end of a particularly challenging year, this summer also brings with it the time for reflections of how far we have left to go to truly achieve freedom and equality for all in the Jewish community. I am contemplating the poignant words of Mimi Lemay: “I am thinking of the spaces that no longer feel welcoming to LGBTQ+ Jews of Color, who it seems, with a swipe of poster board paint, have been blotted from the narrative of Jewish history […] how do these Jews that live at the crossroads of multiple ‘otherings’ experience this moment?”

As the current strain of antisemitism intensifies, and we respond this summer, it is incumbent on all of us in the community to think about how Jews hold multiple marginalized identities, particularly in this moment. How can their experiences shape our responses to ensure that they are most impactful and inclusive? When spaces no longer feel welcome, how do we not only advocate and train leaders to push back on Jews getting cleaved from society, but also ensure we are supportive of our diverse community?

CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) is proud to sponsor these conversation of intersections — especially this month. These conversations are critical in our community as part of our collective effort to address antisemitism. As CCA prepares this summer to advocate on Beacon Hill, expand students’ education on the Holocaust and contemporary antisemitism, and put together resources to better equip our community in responding to antisemitism in schools for the next year, we must also understand lived experiences in our community in order to truly address how antisemitism threatens all. In honor of Pride and Juneteenth, I hope this month’s newsletter allows for this important reflection and also celebration of how far we’ve come.


Transforming Remembrance Into Education and Action

On June 14, 70 sophomores and juniors from Boston Latin School visited the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” Melissa Garlick, CJP’s senior director of combating antisemitism and building civic engagement, shares why it’s so important that they visited in this moment of rising antisemitism. This visit marks 7,000 student exhibit tickets sponsored by CJP’s CCA

Given the rise of antisemitism in the Greater Boston area and beyond (incidents of Jewish hate increased 189% in Massachusetts between 2022 and 2023 alone), the importance of remembering the Holocaust is more relevant than ever. In our efforts to educate the next generation on the severity of this tragic, not-so-distant history, these students explored the critical need to create a more equitable and inclusive future. 

My classmates and I were very moved by the experience, and it caused deep reflection and a new level of understanding surrounding the Holocaust.

– Ben J., student at Boston Latin School

The exhibit allowed me to reflect upon the Holocaust through the victims’ stories and share the events of the time in a way that all people could understand.

– Vivien P., student at Boston Latin School

The Auschwitz exhibit allowed for a lot of reflection about the past and gave human stories to help connect to. By connecting with the stories, it allowed me and my friends to understand my past and how fast hatred can turn into murder.

– Zev, student at Boston Latin School
Read remarks from Melissa Garlick, CJP’s senior director of combating antisemitism and building civic engagement, to the Boston Latin School students:

I’m Melissa Garlick. I’m really excited to welcome you here from CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism, and we were really honored to sponsor 7,000 student tickets to this exhibit. I understand this is also the day of your junior prom this evening — so, quite a day to be here. I overheard someone say, “Should we be smiling?” And yes, this is a very heavy day, but I’m really smiling because you guys bring me so much hope today. So, thank you so much.  

You’re going to be experiencing a lot of heaviness today, but what I really want you to do is to listen and experience the stories, with the voices and objects that you’re going to be hearing and seeing today. 

Commit to retelling one of their stories to somebody else. Going forward, you are the voices of these stories that you’re going to be seeing and hearing today. This is not [something that happened] hundreds of years ago, this happened in my grandparents’ and their parents’ lifetime. So, this is really part of our story.  

You’ll also be seeing that this is not just a Jewish story. We’re here during Pride Month, where we commemorate the LGBTQIA+ community that was similarly persecuted. This is a story, ultimately, of the fragility of democracy and what happens when a group is targeted and blamed for the perceived “ills” of society. 

So, I hope that you’ll take these stories here today and bring them to your peers and loved ones and pass them along. Thank you so much again from the bottom of my heart.

CJP serves as a presenting sponsor for the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” throughout its stay in Boston.

(Photos: Ilene Perlman)


A Foot in Two Worlds: Celebrating Pride Month After 10/7

By Mimi Lemay

“What can I say?” my mother would shrug, on the occasions that I would let down my guard and empathize with the fact that my life choices had made hers more complicated: “What can I say? I have a foot in two worlds. I love them both.” 

Sometimes these ruminations would conclude with a query to the Almighty: “I don’t know why Hashem (God) has asked this of me, and sometimes I ask Him, ‘Why?’ But, this is my reality. I have a foot in two worlds.” 

The two worlds to which my mother referred were not demarcated by the 3,000 odd miles from the house she shared with my stepfather in Gateshead, England, and my home with her three grandchildren in small-town Massachusetts. The far wider gulf was the one between her world of stringent Torah observance and values, and my world, secular or frei (free) of these rituals and regulations.  

In crossing the chasm for each visit to our home, she emerged from the plane a striking figure in her long, dark skirts, buttoned-up shirts and a wig or kerchief covering her hair, even in the sweltering heat of summer. Her kosher cookware and dishes rose from their boxes in our basement and, for the next few weeks, replaced our “treif” items, her aromatic cooking bringing in the neighbors, who loved her. Her Hebrew and religious texts sat astride our secular volumes. Two worlds, two very different lives and one diminutive woman stepping back and forth, in apparent disregard for the inviolable lines. 

The crossing was far from seamless. At times we tussled, hurling recriminations at each other: I was accused of rejecting her world; she was accused of imposing hers on mine. It is only with age and maturity that I have come to appreciate how rare an act of love it was for her to cross this divide as wholeheartedly as she did, not only making peace with my secular existence, but expressing support for first one, then another of our family who came out as LGBTQ+. 

The world to which she returned at the end of each visit made no bones in its rejection of Jews who dared to love someone of the same sex, or try to live authentically as the gender they knew themselves to be. My mother, however, had managed to boil down the circumstances in which she found herself to these essentials: God gave her these two worlds, and therefore she must find a way to live in both. 

Mimi (far left), her kids and Bubby (center) on Mother’s Day 2024 (Photo courtesy Mimi Lemay)

My own world-straddling endeavors began nearly a decade ago, though at the time, I was unaware of occupying a liminal space. Realizing the lack of secure rights afforded to the LGBTQ+ community and the horrific discrimination to which they were subjected, I began my work as an advocate, writing and speaking in support of important equality legislation, walking the halls of our State House, even appearing occasionally on television. My focus soon widened to the national movement for LGBTQ+ rights, and I began to devote my time and efforts at larger, national civil rights organizations, linking hands with many of this country’s well-known activists.    

In the earliest years of my advocacy, I rarely brought up my Jewish heritage, something that still prompted complicated feelings in me, given the ultra-Orthodox upbringing that I had rejected. Instead, I steered conversations toward universally relatable themes: the desire to have my children grow up in a world where one’s authentic self was accepted, free of harmful and often violent bias. 

As I matured in my advocacy, I learned to be deliberately intersectional in my approach. “Intersectionality” meant accounting for the fact that individuals holding more than one marginalized identity often experienced the compounding effect of multiple discriminations and, therefore, lived in greater vulnerability. Accounting for intersectionality yielded several benefits. Considering factors other than LGBTQ+ status in our work enabled us to hone in on the specific needs of different communities. It also enabled triaging. Those who experienced the greatest multiplicity of vulnerabilities would require the most immediate effort and attention. Finally, it encouraged coalition-building with other social justice movements, expanding our reach and harnessing the power of intercommunal action. We were, inarguably, stronger together

I myself began to “lean in” to my Jewish identity as an advocate, realizing that my own personal journey as a formerly ultra-Orthodox woman, far from being irrelevant to my work, was a helpful tool for modeling how understanding about gender and sexuality can evolve. During my hours speaking and writing about my previous Jewish identity, I found myself, to my surprise, in the process of creating a new one, distinct from the one I had discarded in my early 20s. I discovered that not only did I no longer feel compelled to choose between my Jewishness and my acceptance of my LGBTQ+ children, but punkt fakhert, as the Yiddish saying goes—quite the opposite was true. It was the core Jewish values I had carried over from my youth, and perhaps the collective Jewish consciousness of being a permanent “other” across human history, that informed and fueled my advocacy. 

By the time the pandemic broke in 2020, I was engaging regularly with Jewish audiences from international to local organizations, large institutions like Hadassah and community synagogues and JCCs across the U.S. It was as the “Jewish era” of my advocacy was growing that I began to notice the absence of targeted messaging and support to Jews from what I considered my “home base”—large, national civil rights organizations. I began to suggest ways we could fill in these gaps and build these bridges. The tepid responses I received were disappointing, but I also realized that, in the here and now, American Jews did not experience the acute levels of systemic discrimination that other groups did. I counseled myself to have patience. There were bigger “fires” to put out (the triaging rubric under which we operated was: “Whose house is currently on fire?”). These were the days of the George Floyd murder and protests and the growing national outcry against the systemic inequalities and exponential violence under which people of color labored. Barreling toward us were the disastrous repeal of Roe v. Wade, multiple threats to voting rights, as well as an explosion of attacks on trans youth in Republican-controlled state legislatures. So many fires, so little time. 

It was only in 2022 that my two worlds, that of my Jewishness and my progressive activism, became distinctly uncomfortable to occupy in tandem. One such interaction happened at an annual gathering of fellow advocates: A casual remark was made to the effect that a particular person, being Jewish, could not appreciate the burden of discrimination experienced by the speaker.

I struggled for a moment in the decision of whether to speak up. I intuited that the remark was not malicious in intent; rather, it came from an absence of understanding of the prevalence and extent of antisemitism, past and present. However, the absence of knowledge itself was problematic. I settled on a gentle reminder that Jews, as a people, have long experienced “othering,” and a Jewish person might well be equipped to empathize with another’s experience of discrimination.  

I did not think my remark to be extraordinary or controversial in the least. However, the group moderator swiftly delivered what felt like a rebuke: “It [antisemitism] is not the same!” was said with some force. 

I was surprised and dismayed. The unique lived experiences of different historically marginalized communities were typically a welcome conversation in our group. Furthermore, my comment was not comparative in nature. “Of course it’s not the same,” I retorted, flustered, “but it exists.” I listed a few personal examples, as well as those of the wider Jewish community, uncomfortably aware that the “temperature” in the room had dropped. I wondered how my addition of antisemitism as a catalyst for shared empathy could have been taken, prima facie, as reductive of the harm experienced by others. It felt like I had clumsily stumbled into a conversation already in progress, one that I was not privy to and was therefore ill-prepared for. Something had been decided about the Jewish experience that had excluded this experience from all others in the category. 

After the session, a few of my fellows continued to try to “educate me,” all well-intended, I assumed, on the disparate natures of different oppressions. One advocate alone seemed to understand my statement. She approached me in a quiet moment. “When you first started talking,” she admitted, “I felt myself go,” here she drew back in a gesture of recoil, “…but then, as you went on, I began to understand. You taught me something new. Thank you for sharing your truth. Keep doing that.” Impulsively, I embraced her, grateful for the acknowledgment that what I had brought into the room was not intended to harm or reduce. It took me hours of mulling over the day’s events to discover the inadvertent clue she had provided for me; a reference to the wider conversation that had excluded Jews, evidenced by her initial recoil at my words. 

Since that experience, I have searched for answers across large organizations dedicated to fighting for civil rights, hoping to find evidence that I was mistaken, that antisemitism was included among other forms of hate to be combated. That this subject was not just the purview of the ADL and Jewish organizations. I read books on this subject, from David Nirenberg’s “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition” to Dara Horn’s “People Love Dead Jews” and comedian David Baddiel’s not-so-funny “Jews Don’t Count.” The shadow conversation I was searching for began to take shape.  

I also found allies within these LGBTQ+ advocacy spaces, Jews and non-Jews, eager to begin the conversation about the world’s longest-standing hatred. Measurable change, however, was slow and halting, with many fires springing up around the country. 

In the meantime, I continued to straddle my two worlds, my Jewishness and my LGBTQ+ advocacy, carving out spaces where I could do one, or be the other. I joined the board at Keshet, a national LGBTQ+ Jewish organization, and found a place where I could be and do both. Often, I was reminded of my mother’s dilemma: “God gave me two worlds, and I love them both.” I had to find a way, with patience, to cross this divide. 

Mimi Lemay, far left, at a Keshet board meeting in May 2024 (Photo courtesy Mimi Lemay)

It was then, on an early Saturday morning in October, that my Jewish world caught fire. 

The first weeks after the horrific Oct. 7 passed in a partial haze. Some things, my everyday schedules and interactions, seemed to happen without much deliberate participation on my part. The kids were fed; they made it to school. I kept most of my meetings. I guess I was there? Other moments remain sharp and indelible: The panicky texts and calls to my siblings in Israel, starting with my brother in Jerusalem, father to a toddler with another baby on the way. The moment my sister, who had been in Sinai on vacation, made first contact. The interminable wait until Motzei Shabbat when my religious sister, living in Beitar with her two children, was heard from. The feelings too are indelible: Confusion about what had happened, and what was still happening. The growing horror as confusion turned into certainty, and the numbers of the dead and captured climbed. 

These feelings will be familiar to many Diaspora Jews, especially Israeli-born Jews like myself, along with other confounding experiences: The indescribable loneliness of intimate tragedy, while the world outside your window dances by as if nothing has happened. The growing calls, before we had finished burying our dead, for Israel to show restraint in its response. The things that were intimated, or spoken out loud: “What did you expect? Oppression breeds violence.” Later, as the half-hearted or ambivalent acknowledgements turned into vociferous accusations, searching acquaintances’ social media posts for incriminating evidence from that black day. Did anyone cheer for the monsters? Fleeting days of newscasters’ empathy—familiar, formerly comforting faces—now cold and condemning. All the while, the profound ache for the innocent: the massacred dead, the terrified hostages, the Gazans being used as pawns and human shields in a game of their leaders’ devising. 

As 2023 came to a close, I could no longer linger in this liminal space. I jumped at the chance to join a Boston Jewish women’s mission to Israel, my feelings for the land and my people no longer complicated by my past. Such is the warped blessing of catastrophe; it brings instant clarification and realignment. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Rahat, our little group met with our Israeli counterparts, human rights activists, civil society entrepreneurs and peacemakers; Jewish, Palestinian and Bedouin. These impassioned women clearly knew the stakes. They knew, and had known for a while, that Israel’s survival as a pluralistic, ethnic democracy hinged on the twin prongs of secure borders and secure human rights, an end to occupation and an end to terrorism. I departed Israel carrying with me precious words of hope spoken by Sally Abed, a Palestinian-Israeli peace activist and leader in the organization Standing Together: “It is often in the darkest times that come the clearest visions.” 

On my return to America, I was once again bombarded with voices calling for an expansion of the conflict: “Globalize the intifada!” I realized that, over here, voices of change like that of Sally Abed have been drowned out by the cacophony of crowds. Over here in the Diaspora, some vicious and ancient force was metastasizing. It was my Tel Aviv sister who told me that after Oct. 7, many peacenikim were met with the taunt: “Hitpakachtem?” Have you sobered up? I think about my own recent sobriety on the subject of antisemitism. What were its implications for my advocacy? I have found no satisfying answers yet. 

The two worlds I am straddling continue to sap from my spirit in my attempts to reconcile them. There are few places left where I can fully be both a passionate Zionist Jew and a mother who passionately advocates for LGBTQ+ rights. I am also deeply aware that the rift I experience is nothing compared to that which LGBTQ+ Jews themselves are enduring. It seems that they have been presented with an impossible choice: Be the “right kind of Jew” and reject the “white colonialist Zionist oppressor” or the “wrong kind of Jew” whose heart is bound to the survival of the only Jewish state. Jews are familiar with this Damoclean sword, and there is no path that comes without heavy loss. I think of the words of a friend and fellow Jewish advocate: “For the first time in my life, I feel more Jewish than gay.” I hear words of abandonment all around me. 

Pride Month has found me, this year, heavy in thought and mired in complexity. I am thinking of all the celebrations to which queer Jews cannot give themselves fully, if at all. I am thinking of the spaces that no longer feel welcoming to LGBTQ+ Jews of color, who, it seems, with a swipe of poster board paint, have been blotted from the narrative of Jewish history. If I am drained in the effort, how do these Jews who live at the crossroads of multiple “otherings” experience this moment?  

I still believe deeply in the mission I set out to do nearly a decade ago when I began to advocate for LGBTQ+ equality, and I believe the progressive movement can correct its misconceptions and biases regarding Jews and the Land of Israel. I also believe that the wider Jewish experience is founded on tenets that fully align with LGBTQ+ equality, and that Jews must remain in these and other fights. As a Jewish mother, I cannot abandon either pursuit. I live with a foot in two worlds. And I love them both.

Mimi Lemay is an author and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Since 2015, Mimi and her family have fought for passage of equal protections for transgender individuals in Massachusetts and across the U.S., appearing on television and print media with their message of inclusion. In 2017, Mimi joined the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council at Human Rights Campaign, where she remains an alumnus member. In 2019, her critically acclaimed memoir was released: “What We Will Become: A Mother, A Son and A Journey of Transformation,” and was recognized as a 2020 Massachusetts Book Awards finalist. Also in 2020, Mimi was named a Commonwealth Heroine, an award granted by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. In 2023, after several years of advocating on behalf of LGBTQ+ equality in the Jewish community, Mimi joined the board of Keshet, a national Jewish LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. She also volunteers with the Anti-Defamation League in Massachusetts. Mimi received a master’s in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University in 2004 and an undergraduate degree in Iran and U.S. foreign policy from Boston University in 2002. She was born in Jerusalem in 1976 and emigrated to the U.S. as a young girl. She now lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her three children and a quirky puppy, Penny. Her three siblings all live in the Holy Land with their families.


What You Need to Know About Jewish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Jewish employees searching for a welcoming and inclusive space at work might want to consider forming or joining an employee resource group (ERG). 

Antisemitism is a bigger problem than any one person, one organization, or one sector of society. We need a whole-of-society approach to effectively address it, including in the workplace. Jewish employee resource groups are more important than ever. 

This is why CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism launched the first-ever local workplace antisemitism strategy, focused on bringing resources and tools to businesses and workplaces in Greater Boston to address antisemitism. Are you interested in joining an informal network of Jewish ERG leaders across Boston? Please email AS-info@cjp.org for more information. This network’s goal is for members to learn from each other, connect, and share timely resources. 

Leaders of businesses, educational institutions, and civic spaces need the tools and the resources to respond so we can reverse the disturbing trend of antisemitism and strengthen our civic and communal institutions. 


An employee resource group (ERG) is a voluntary, employee-led group within an organization that is formed based on shared characteristics, interests, or life experiences among its members, according to Indeed. ERGs are typically focused on fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organization’s mission, values, and goals. The aim is to amplify underrepresented voices at work, often under the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) department.  

Key features of an ERG:
  • Purpose: Support, advocacy, career development, networking, and promoting cultural awareness. 
  • Activities: Workshops, networking events, community outreach, and advocacy. 
  • Benefits to organization: Improves talent retention, employee engagement, innovation, and corporate image. 
  • Examples: Women’s network, LGBTQ+ group, veterans’ group, Jewish group. 

ERGs enhance workplace diversity and inclusion while supporting members’ personal and professional growth. 


According to the Academy to Innovate HR, affinity groups and employee resource groups are both formed around shared identities or interests, but ERGs are typically formalized within an organization, often with a focus on professional development, networking, and influencing company policies. Affinity groups, on the other hand, are usually less formal and more focused on social support and community-building among members with common interests or backgrounds, without necessarily having an organizational mandate or influence. 


Some Jewish employees have felt left behind in the creation of ERGs. They attribute this, at least in part, to the complex status of Jews in society. People can be Jewish in many ways, from religiously to culturally. As such, employers might be unsure about the role of a Jewish ERG. 

“While some Jews are religious, others may be atheists,” the organization Project Shema wrote. “All of us are still part of the Jewish people.” 


Amidst a staggering 189% increase in antisemitic incidents from 2022 in Massachusetts alone, it’s more important than ever that we work to encourage workplaces to create Jewish ERGs. 

Project Shema states that “attacks on Jews today aren’t usually about how Jews pray, but rather are about what people accuse Jews, as a people, of doing.” 

In some cases, Jewish employees have either faced physical harm or felt unsafe outside their place of employment. An eJewish Philanthropy article cited a kippah-wearing Jewish employee of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who was attacked near his office. A PwC Jewish ERG encouraged management to acknowledge antisemitism as a motivation for the attack. In a Psychology Today article, author Deborah Grayson Riegel recalled giving a presentation to a Fortune 500 company’s employees, one of whom reminded her colleague to hide her Star of David necklace when taking mass transit home. 

“With so much of the Jewish workforce feeling at risk,” Grayson Riegel wrote, “organizations need to find ways to help Jewish employees feel safe, included, protected, respected, and heard. A Jewish employee resource group can do just that.” 


Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) is responding to antisemitism in Greater Boston and bringing local and national partners’ work together. 

By building and leveraging relationships with business and nonprofit leaders, we can mobilize and engage them in our work to ensure that their institutions are safe and supportive places and spaces for all Jews. 

This is long-term work, and we’re proud to partner with organizations like Project Shema to incorporate antisemitism education and training into diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. 

“No robust DEI program is complete without incorporating Jewish identity and countering antisemitism appropriately in their work,” says April Powers, vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Project Shema


There are many resources available online to help you learn about and form your own Jewish ERG. The list below includes information, resources, toolkits, and links to individual Massachusetts Jewish ERGs and affinity groups. 

Learn more about employee resource groups in general 
Learn how affinity groups are different from employee resource groups 
Find out how to create and support Jewish employee resource groups 
Massachusetts ERGs and affinity groups 

CJP’s Communal Security Initiative Meets the moment 

By Jeremy Yamin, Vice President, Security and Operations at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

We’re living in a challenging environment with increased antisemitism. As CJP’s Vice President of Security and Operations for eight years, I’ve seen many changes within our community and in the larger ecosystem. The Communal Security Initiative (CSI) team I lead provides professional security advice to the Jewish community. We are privileged to be able to provide trainings, assessments, and consultations to our partner organizations at no cost. In fact, we have been able to offer an average of $750,000 in direct CJP grants per year and helped our partners access $3 million to $4 million a year in government security grants.  

At CSI, we employ a holistic approach, helping our partners balance being open and welcoming while creating a more safe and secure environment. But we always want to do more than we already are, looking for moments to increase our support when we’re able—and now we are in the midst of one of these moments.  

Antisemitic incidents increased by 140% in 2023, nationally, and by 205% in 2023 in New England, according to Anti-Defamation League data. CSI has been working proactively and continually to address this increase in and around Greater Boston while searching for a way to offer our services to more organizations and people within our community and beyond.  

CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) recently provided CSI with $1 million in security funding to address these urgent needs. CCA and CJP Development have partnered with CSI to access additional funding streams through Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Secure Community Network (SCN) LiveSecure program. With a CJP match, this will support a $750,000 annual investment for three years in the CJP catchment area. At the request of JFNA and SCN, CJP’s CSI will also be fully funded to provide support in our expanded services area, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.   

Your support enables CSI to offer our nationally recognized security programs to the broader Jewish community in New England. We look forward to working together to empower and care for our community.  


Clergy, Staff and Lay Leaders Kick Off SEA Change Program

By Molly Kazan, Fighting Antisemitism Manager at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

On Sunday, May 5, clergy, staff and lay leaders across three local congregations came together to kick off the JOIN for Justice SEA Change (Study, Engage, Act) program to organize and tackle racial injustice within and beyond their communities. In partnership with CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA), the program is the first of its kind in the Boston area.

Forty people from among Temple Isaiah of Lexington, Temple Aliyah of Needham and Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley came together to begin a seven-month-long learning process that includes specialized training, coaching and campaigns targeted specifically at issues of racial justice and leadership development. Woven throughout SEA Change is a clear analysis about antisemitism, the importance of addressing it particularly through building cross-community relationships of solidarity, and space to explore how issues of antisemitism and racism intersect, complicate each other and should be addressed together and separately.

Rabbi Jordi Battis, associate rabbi of Temple Isaiah of Lexington, shared her gratitude in saying that “this program is so exciting to us as a way to engage within our community, and as a way to get to meet folks across other communities who are engaged in the work of pursuing justice.”

CJP’s CCA is proud to support this cross-communal effort toward increased allyship and inclusivity within and beyond the participating congregations.


Open Letter to Newton Mayor Fuller

Below is an open letter from CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) CEO Jeremy Burton to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller regarding a May exhibit at the Newton Free Library, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba.   

We encourage Newton residents to elevate the following asks in their own communications and advocacy as well: 

  • We ask that Mayor Fuller and the Newton Free Library director take responsibility for the hurtful decision of choosing this exhibit especially now and make clear to the community that they will make every effort to improve the process in the future 
  • We also ask that Mayor Fuller and the library director honor the requests they have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history 
  • We further ask Mayor Fuller and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit  
  • Finally, we ask Mayor Fuller and the city to reaffirm their commitment to combating antisemitism as defined by the IHRA working definition and make clear that the hosting of the exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the IHRA working definition  

May 7, 2024 

Dear Mayor Fuller, 

Thank you for reaching out to each of us, along with several rabbis and Jewish community leaders, last week. We understand that you have met with other concerned Newton residents and members of the Jewish and Israeli communities.  

We appreciate that, when informed of the plans for the Newton Free Library to host a photography display this month entitled, The Ongoing & Relentless Nakba, you “immediately had deep concerns” for the impact on the community and for your stated belief that this exhibit will be “quite hurtful and divisive.” We share your commitment to protecting free expression, even as we may disagree about the obligation of a public institution to give voice to every expression. We also appreciate the steps that you have taken, along with library director Jill Mercurio, based on the feedback from these conversations, to mitigate the hurtful programming by providing a series of other arts and educational programs during the period in which this display would be exhibited. 

Still, we are compelled to share our thoughts regarding the unproductive nature of this exhibit, and how this could have been handled with greater care for the mission of the library, the safety and well-being of the Jewish community, and the social fabric of Newton.  

  • We believe that this exhibit fails to advance the interests of the city of Newton.  These interests include fostering productive community conversations and providing quality resources to engage in learning about Israelis, Palestinians, and the ongoing conflict.  
  • We value the importance of teaching and promoting the shared humanity of Israelis and Palestinians, illuminating multiple narratives, and encouraging critical thinking and dialogue – all of which could be advanced through civic and educational organizations like the Newton Free Library. 

Unfortunately, the exhibit does not accomplish any of these. 

Instead, this is a political act by an activist who – through the title of the exhibit, the exhibit description on the Library site, and through his own site – makes clear that he has an agenda, and this agenda is the delegitimization of the state of the Jewish people. The title employs pejorative terminology designed to create tension and push people into ideological opposition of one another. The exhibit description presents numbers and narratives about the events of 1948 that are designed to place Jews and the nascent state of Israel in the worst possible light and delegitimize the Jewish State while failing to illuminate the complexities and nuances of that time of war. The artist’s website goes even further, and even seems to anticipate the controversy that he will ignite by displaying his work in a city with “a sizeable number of supporters of the Israeli government” (itself a flattening of Jewish American attachment to the State of Israel which is, for many – if not most of us – distinct from support for any particular government). 

In short, this exhibit, by intent, seeks to discourage discourse, polarize people, and diminish rather than illuminate – understanding for one of the most intractable and painful conflicts on earth.   

This would be objectionable at any time, and the fact that the selection committee chose the exhibit a year ago does not allay our concerns. However, the fact that the library chose this month of May, which contains Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), and the fact that we are still in the midst of a devastating and complicated war, makes this decision offensive to us and to many Jewish residents of Newton.  

It is hard to see how the library sees this as a fulfillment of its mission to serve its community and bring people together.  

What all our communities – in Newton and across the region – need and deserve at this time are strong leadership voices that will articulate these values and truths without hesitation.  We need leaders who will defend free expression while also calling out divisive and polarizing efforts with equal clarity and strength.   

We are asking you, Madame Mayor, to be this leader, for your Jewish residents and for all your residents.  We ask that you and the library director take responsibility for this hurtful decision and make clear to the community that, while you will not at this point censor the art and cancel the exhibit, you will make every effort to improve the process in the future. We also ask that you honor the requests you have received to add other exhibits and educational materials that provide a more well-rounded picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its history. We further encourage you and the library to minimize further harm and to not “celebrate” this exhibit. 

We also want to note that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – already formally embraced by the City of Newton – offers examples of its manifestations including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”  Given that many of us are interpreting this incident as an example of the ways in which an eliminationist agenda targeting the State of Israel is being normalized in our civic spaces, we ask that you and the city reaffirm your commitment to and make clear that the hosting of this exhibit does not indicate in any way a change in the city’s position of support for the use of the IHRA working definition.  

We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that the Jewish community of Newton is safe and can continue to thrive in your city.  


Jeremy Burton and Marc Baker  


Meeting the Moment: CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism

By Melissa Garlick, Senior Director of Combating Antisemitism and Building Civic Engagement

Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) is a growing hub for Boston’s work in responding to antisemitism and bringing local and national partners’ work together strategically and in coordination with each other toward a vision where antisemitism becomes socially and politically unacceptable in Greater Boston. 

As ADL’s recently released annual audit confirmed, our community has been experiencing a staggering 189% rise of antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts. And this has also been coupled with the lack of preparedness by many civic leaders to adequately understand or respond to Jewish trauma. 

Leaders of businesses, educational institutions, and civic spaces in Boston need the tools and the resources to respond so that ultimately, we can reverse this disturbing trend and strengthen our civic and communal institutions.

Expanding infrastructure

This is long-term work. CJP, with our partners, are already growing our relationships with civic leaders across the city, bringing antisemitism training and education to businesses and other non-Jewish civic spaces. We’re educating our Jewish teens and their educators about antisemitism. And through our Communal Security Initiative, we are responding to the increased needs of our Jewish communal institutions for security preparedness.

CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism is building out its capacity to: 

  • Mobilize civic and business leaders and engage them in our work to ensure that their institutions are safe and supportive places and spaces for all Jews.
  • Educate the next generation — and the academic institutions that serve them — about antisemitism, Jewish history, and Jewish life to ensure that they both can confidently respond to acts of hate.
  • Ensure that our Jewish community remains strong, safe, and vibrant by expanding CJP’s successful Communal Security Initiative.

We know that the latest report from the ADL comes amidst already rising incidents, grief, and trauma, and at a time where our community has been experiencing deep levels of anxiety and fear. We cannot let the fear throw us into despair. Instead, we must come together to use this information as power to educate our families, our networks, and our colleagues.

There’s more you can do

We’re quickly ramping up and expanding so we can effectively meet this moment, but we need your help — each of us plays a role in this work.

We’re all in this fight together and will continue to work every day to ensure that Jews can live loudly, proudly, and safely in our community.


Boston teens visited the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism headquarters

By Molly Kazan, Fighting Antisemitism Manager at Combined Jewish Philanthropies

On Sunday, April 7, 18 teen leaders from CJP’s Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) Peer Leadership Fellowship visited the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (FCAS) headquartered at Gillette Stadium. Fellows explored how FCAS’ work connects to CJP’s Center for Combating Antisemitism, and how they themselves can become better change agents in local efforts to fight Jewish hate.   

The visit was planned in response to a February 2024 study the Fellows conducted amongst their peers citing growing concerns in antisemitism among Boston-area Jewish teens. The Peer Leadership Fellowship is a signature program of JTI at CJP that trains and empowers teens in grades 10 through 12 to become communal connectors through monthly gatherings.