This article appeared in the September 4, 2015 Jewish Advocate
Using social networking for a cause
By Susie Davidson
According to its Meetup description, JIC is a “supportive group for all who stand behind Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.” The Meetups range from social gatherings and discussions to attending Israel-related events and lectures. “This group is designed to give people strength and support through education, connection and activism,” it reads. Founder Melisa Gerber of Brookline said that there is no home base. Rather, members meet at the events, and sometimes for dinner beforehand. “Members have also opened their homes at times for letter-writing and films,” she said.
There are typically fewer Meetups during the summer, but Gerber said that social events tend to increase around holidays, lectures proliferate during the academic calendar, and levels of activism can hinge on current events. “Music and film festivals are also busier periods,” she said.
Gerber, 53, started the group in 2011 after witnessing a lack of support for Israel within several synagogues following the 2010 flotilla incident. “I saw the need for a place of solidarity,” she said. “I also understood that when there is a cultural movement where Jews turn their backs on themselves, anti- Semitism has gotten into the water supply.”
While there is an online discussion thread for members, getting together in real life is the focal point. “Most events are in Greater Boston, but members in the North Shore post events in their area from time to time,” said Gerber, who added that while the age range varies, the most active members tend to be middle-aged. “The type and time of event also influences the ages attending,” she said.
A recent talk featured ADL New England regional chair Jeffrey Robbins as speaker. “We have had informal dinners with such experts on contemporary anti-Semitism,” said Gerber. “These allow members the opportunity to learn and ask questions.” The group’s dinner discussions have also featured Tammi Benjamin of the California-based AMCHA Initiative , Dr. Charles Small of the international Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), and Dr. Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT).
Gerber’s two main co-organizers are Eric Berke of Brookline, and another person who wished to remain anonymous, but who, when asked if those who are perhaps critical of Israel or Prime Minister Netanyahu are also invited to join in, gave this answer: “This group is for Israel supporters who want to connect with each other,” the JIC co-organizer stated. “We have more than enough criticism of Israel all around us in the media and elsewhere, which is often unfounded. And so, we seek the company of like-minded people who are wellinformed about Israel and understand its predicament.”
Berke, a 60-year old, divorced father of two and real estate developer, became a JIC Sabra about five years ago. “I joined to connect with others who love Israel,” he said. “It filled a hole.”
Berke was dismayed over criticism of Israel at his synagogue. “I felt that something was wrong in my Jewish community, that the attitude toward Israel, the criticism of Israel, and the embarrassment over Israel voiced and felt among my fellow congregants and clergy were just offbase,” he recalled. “The same dynamic was present in my own family, where my brothers are decidedly uncomfortable and ambivalent on the subject of Israel and the problems facing world Jewry,” he added.
“The members and leadership of JIC, however, are unabashed lovers and supporters of Israel and the Jewish people, and that’s why I feel at home here,” he said. “Here is a place I can be among people who feel like my closest kin, although we are perhaps only technically related going back thousands of years.”
“With fellow JIC members, I have attended many events that have exposed truths and lies hidden in mainstream media and the academic world coverage of the Arab war against the Jews, the rise of anti-Semitism and the many false narratives that are becoming a distorted conventional wisdom,” said Berke, who said that JIC has also exposed him to other organizations in which he has become involved, such as AJC and AIPAC. “Through the support of all these resources, I have become more knowledgeable about my heritage and of the ways I can contribute toward the flourishing of Israel,” he said.
“I think this group has helped people to feel a stronger sense of support in these changed times,” said Gerber.
To join the Jewish Israel Café Meetup group, please visit www.meetup.com/Jewish-Israel-Cafe.