RAC Social Action Blog
As a woman who looks to the Torah for guidance and for lessons, I very often struggle with the portrayal of women in our Biblical texts. Having been named for one of the Imahot, the matriarchs, I look more carefully at the women of Genesis for clues into what it could mean to be a Jewish woman. It’s an interesting challenge, from Parashat Bereishit onwards.
Until we get to Parashat Vayishlach, this week’s Torah portion, when it comes a serious struggle. This parsha has many great teaching moments, particularly the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau (Genesis 33:1-20). However, this parsha also contains one of the most difficult moments in the Torah I can think of: the rape of Dinah.
Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, “went out to visit the daughters of the land. Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force…Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah; but since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home.” The parsha then continues with an angry encounter between Jacob and his sons (Dinah’s brothers) and Shechem’s father, Hamor, “because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter – a thing not to be done” (Genesis 34:1-7).
I cannot read this without frustration, confusion and a sense of deflation. Clearly the details of the encounter between Shechem and Dinah are omitted, as are how Jacob found out what happened to his daughter. But what is most striking to me is that Dinah does not have a voice; she does not speak. She initiates one action, “going out,” after that, actions are done to her, around her, because of something that happened to her. Dinah has no agency.
Whether her agency is taken from her in the act of sexual violence, or whether she never a strong sense of it to begin with it, I still look to this story for direction. My first reaction of, “look at how women in the Bible are mostly secondary characters, who are known in the context of their sexuality or the fact of their womanhood” changed when I dug a little deeper. I cannot deny that Dinah has very limited ability to do any kind of self-advocacy.
We don’t know if Dinah consented to having sex with Shechem. We don’t know how she felt about what happened, or how her family reacted. Whether her voice was omitted because it did not matter, or because Dinah, the person, could not or would not speak, I think we learn from this story how important it is for women to have a voice.
I learn from Dinah how important women’s empowerment truly is and how sexual violence is destructive for women and their communities.
Silence is not consent. Silence is not endorsement. Silence is the voices of women being ignored. Silence is women feeling like their voices will not be heard. Learn from Dinah, and lift your voice.
Unemployed at the Holidays
During these stubbornly harsh economic times, finding a job has been extremely difficult. Even the high unemployment numbers don’t entirely reflect the situation, as they don’t include those who have given up looking for a job altogether or who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment–and the numbers from October are staggering. The unemployment rate is currently 7.3% or approximately 11.3 million Americans. But if we include “discouraged workers” or those who looked for work in the last year but not in October because “they believe there are no jobs available or there are none for which they would qualify,” the rate is 7.8% (an additional 815,000 Americans). Further, if we include all those who looked for work in the last year, but not in October for any reason and those who are employed part-time because they cannot find full time work, the unemployment rate nearly doubles to 14% (an additional 10.3 million Americans).
These numbers have hardly changed much since the beginning of the recession; in response Congress passed an extension of state unemployment insurance known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) in 2008. This program extends state unemployment insurance benefits up to an extra 14 weeks depending on the state. Since it was created in 2008, EUC has been extended multiple times, but it will expire on January 1, 2014 unless Congress acts to extend it.
EUC helps millions of Americans stay afloat after losing their jobs but if Congress does not act to extend it before January 1st, over 2 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits by March 2014, including 1.3 million in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Further, failure to renew the program through 2014 would result in an estimated 310,000 jobs lost throughout the year, an ironic byproduct. The unemployed are a large and vulnerable part of our nation.
Doron Almog, Director of the Headquarters for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin, talks at the Religious Action Center
This morning, the RAC had the privilege of hosting Maj. Gen. (Res) Doron Almog, the Director of the Headquarters for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Bedouin. Maj. Gen. Almog is in charge of implementing the national policy of development and societal integration of the Negev Bedouin.
There are approximately 210,000 Bedouin in the Negev, out of a total local population of 640,000. There are currently seven Bedouin urban centers and eleven recognized villages. 90,000 Bedouins live in poor conditions, often without regular access to electricity or clean water. The Government of Israel is in the process of adopting a comprehensive policy that seeks to improve the living conditions of Bedouins, including providing electricity and plumbing to communities, and to find a long-term solution to enable planning and regulation of existing communities that lack zoning plans.
The legislation, known as the “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev,” is based on a plan written by former Likud minister Benny Begin. Maj. Gen.. Almog outlined key parts of the plan, including compensation and relocation, and made a strong moral and practical case for it. 120,000 Negev Bedouins live in one of the seven urban centers or eleven recognized villages. Of the remaining 90,000 that live in communities that are not zoned, 30,000 would need to move under the plan. According to the government, most will only need to move a few kilometers. (15,000 of those 30,000 Bedouins have settled illegally within the zone of the Ramat Hovav Toxic Waste Disposal Facility; Israel considers living in this area a threat to health and safety). The other 60,000 will have their homes legalized under this plan. The government also notes that “all the Bedouin claimants will receive compensation in land and money equivalent to the full value of the land claimed.”
At the same time, concerns remain, including those raised by groups like T’ruah, that have called for ensuring the Bedouin are consulted throughout the process and addressing the impact of requiring people to move from the places they live. We will continue to stay involved in addressing these and other issues with the goal of achieving a just solution to these challenges.
Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced The Pain Capable Unborn Child Act (S. 1670), which would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, with very few exceptions for life of the mother and rape or incest when reported to legal authorities. An identical bill, The Pain Capable Unborn Child Act (H.R. 1797), introduced by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ-8), passed the House of Representatives on June 18, 2013. The Senate bill, like the House bill, severely limits a woman’s autonomy over her own body, and refuses her the ability to make decisions according to her own beliefs and conscience.
Since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, anti-choice advocates have worked to restrict access to abortion, including laws on the use of public funds and restrictions on access to abortion services. First passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment set the dangerous precedent of prohibiting federal dollars from going to abortion services. Until now, this has mostly affected women who rely on Medicare and Medicaid for health care, as well as women in the armed forces. However, under Affordable Care Act, millions more women will be impacted by this law.
Many states also have laws that restrict access: parental consent laws for minors, waiting period requirements and prohibitions on the type of procedure available These laws reduce choice and ignore the rights women have as independent moral agents to decide what family planning services are right for them. Moreover, these limitations are heightened by the fact that in 88% of counties in the United States, there are no abortion providers.
Our tradition teaches that all life is sacred. Although an unborn fetus is precious and to be protected, Judaism looks on the life and well-being of the mother as central; women are required to care for their own health above all else, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. There are many examples in which our tradition teaches that abortion is to be condoned, but in some cases, it is mandated.
The Pain Capable Unborn Child Act, which has 38 Senate cosponsors, is an extreme bill that will infringe on a woman’s right to choose by restricting nearly all abortions after 20 weeks. The Supreme Court has held that states may regulate abortion after viability of the fetus, but at twenty weeks, this is not the case.
Informed by a deep dedication to women’s equality and the teachings of our faith, we are opposed to these stringent restrictions to access to abortion. Take action now and urge your Senators to oppose this bill!
Tomorrow, President George W. Bush is expected to be the keynote speaker at an annual fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI), a Texas-based organization identified with the belief that all Jews should be converted to Christianity and the deceptive assertion that one can be authentically Jewish and hold core Christian theological beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. Just weeks ago, President Bush addressed an event for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella organization of 51 national Jewish organizations. Sarah Posner first reported on President Bush’s upcoming speech last week in Mother Jones; since then, many Jewish leaders have spoken out against his decision to address the MJBI. Rabbi David Wolpe, named Newsweek’s most influential rabbi, published an op-ed in The Forward on Monday and Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, issued a press statement.
Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, was a guest on the Rachel Maddow Show expressing keen disappointment with President Bush’s decision to confer legitimacy on this group with his address.
When faced with catastrophe and war, we are quick to recall Leviticus 19: “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.” This Jewish teaching led us to rally for stronger laws to prevent gun violence after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school and called us to demand justice after the Boston Marathon bombing. Yet, with no guns, bombs or weapons, there remains an ongoing battle faced by our global community that often goes unaddressed. Undoubtedly, climate change has led to some of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory and has contributed to millions of deaths. It is our responsibility to respond.
Last Friday, a monstrous Category 5 typhoon named Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. The current death toll is estimated to be more than 10,000 people and the resulting devastation of the area has affected over 9 million people. Geographically, the Philippines’ low altitude and position in the warm Pacific Ocean puts the country at a high risk of typhoons. Additionally, as a rather economically disparate country, the Philippines has a large and quite vulnerable population. While the world’s wealthiest nations are most responsible for climate change, poor communities and nations are most severely impacted and least able to adapt.
We can no longer ignore the fact that climate change has significantly contributed to increasingly severe weather events. Meteorologists have determined Typhoon Haiyan was one of the most damaging storms in world history, attributing its formation to minor rises in water temperature and other weather conditions. More than 600,000 people have been displaced by the storm and many have little to no access to food, water or medicine.
We must respond to this tragedy as we would any other.
The URJ General Disaster Relief Fund is now collecting donations that will be distributed to aid groups working in the affected areas. Donate now to join in these efforts.
In President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, he indicated our country’s need to reduce carbon pollution, to prepare for the dire effects of natural disasters as a result of climate change and to lead international efforts in addressing how climate change affects our global community. The URJ supports President Obama’s commitment to protecting our environment and the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan is our call to action.
Picture Courtesy of NYDailyNews.com
As we enter the holiday season, Congress continues to work in conference committees to find a compromise in funding levels for numerous government programs in the Farm Bill and the FY2014 budget . This post is the first in a series highlighting the effects of sequestration cuts and potential funding cuts that could come out of conference.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefit millions of American women and their children. Funding cuts to these programs would leave these mothers and those they support especially vulnerable during these harsh economic times.
SNAP is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, supporting nearly 48 million Americans and bringing 4.7 million Americans above the poverty line in 2011. It acts as a buffer between millions of women and hunger. However, the Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives would slash $39 billion from this vital program. Women make up over 60% of SNAP recipients, but the cuts proposed in the House bill are structured in a way that would have an even more detrimental effect on women with young children.. One of the provisions in the House’s Farm Bill entirely eliminates SNAP benefits for adults who do not work, volunteer or participate in a job training program for at least 20 hours each week, even if those adults have young children.
As part of the sequester cuts that went into effect March 1, 2013, WIC, another national anti-hunger program that supports pregnant women, new mothers, and young children, is already seeing reductions in program funds. In 2013 alone, WIC funding has already been cut by nearly half a billion dollars and healthcare clinics specifically for WIC beneficiaries have been shuttered or had hours cut and staff reduced, making it harder for women to access their WIC benefits.
Funding cuts to these two programs are potentially devastating and to add even more insult to injury, women are further affected by sequester cuts to housing assistance programs, programs for children such as Head Start and Medicaid. Please urge your Members of Congress to protect women by ending the sequester and preserving SNAP funding.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the implementation of new rules requiring insurers to provide equal benefits and coverage for mental health treatment. The rules mandate “parity,” requiring most health insurance plans to offer the same level of coverage for mental health and substance abuse claims as medical and surgical claims. These new rules represent a major step forward for those who suffer from mental illness.
These long-overdue rules will fully implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed by Congress in 2008 but was not considered operational prior to the implementation of these new rules. These rules will require insurers to charge similar co-payments for mental health treatments as they would for other treatments. These rules also represent the last of 23 executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence, which the Administration recommended in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre last year.
Mental health is a serious issue: One-in-four Americans suffer from some form of mental illness over the course of their lives. The issue of mental health is likewise entangled with many other issues the Reform Movement is concerned about, including economic justice, homelessness and criminal justice. Mental health issues are ones we cannot afford to ignore.
These new rules clearly reflect our Jewish teachings, which recognize the equal importance of spiritual and physical health. As we pray for recovery in the mi she-beirach prayer for the sick, we pray for a refuah sheleimah—a complete recovery—and further specify refuat ha-nefesh u’refuat haguf, a healing of the soul and of the body.
The impact of mental illness in our communities and across the country is undeniable, and the parity policy, which the Union for Reform Judaism has long supported, represents an important step towards reducing stigma and ensuring that those suffering from mental illness receive the resources and necessary treatment that they deserve.
Have you ever heard of Asher Levy? Solomon Bush? David Urbansky? Abraham Krotoshinsky? Or Mark Evnin? How about Jerry Wolf? Or David B Meyers?
All of these men served in the American armed forces. All of these men are Jewish. And, all of these men have added to the honorable legacy of Jewish contributions to American military history.
Asher Levy was among the group of Jews that petitioned Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam in 1654 for the right to serve in the city’s defense forces. Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Bush was the highest ranking Jewish soldier in the revolutionary war. Francis Salvador, nicknamed the “Paul Revere of the South,” warned colonists of an impending attack by Cherokee Indians, incited by the British. He was the first Jewish soldier to be killed in the Revolutionary War. David Urbansky served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and received the Medal of Honor for bravery in the Battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg. Private Abraham Krotoshinsky was a soldier in the First World War and saved his battalion – known as the “Lost Battalion” – when they were surrounded by German forces. Krotoshinsky was able to sneak through the German lines to report to his division and save the battalion. Corporal Mark Evnin was the first Jewish soldier to be killed in action in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Jerry Wolf served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, and flew 25 missions over Germany. On June 6, 1944, “D-Day,” Sergeant Wolf was shot down over Germany and was captured by the Luftwaffe. He spent a year in Stalag IV before being liberated in 1945. David B. Meyers served five years as a Marine pilot in Vietnam and four years as a reservist, retiring a First Lieutenant.
The RAC was honored to be joined by Sergeant Wolf and Lieutenant Meyers on Monday for a Veterans Day lunch and discussion. Lieutenant Meyers founded Post 95 of the Jewish War Veterans nine months ago and serves as the post commander; Sergeant Wolf is also a member.
Both JWV Post Commander Meyers and Sergeant Wolf shared stories of their experiences as Jewish members of the armed forces. Sergeant Wolf highlighted the fact that WWII was a watershed moment for equal rights in the military: women, minorities and Jews (as well as other religious minorities) were treated equally for what seemed like the first time. The need was so great for men and women to support the military, and the necessity of collective action was so deeply felt and understood that victory against the Axis Powers outweighed internal divisions.
They also touched on what it felt like to be not just another soldier, but constantly reminded that their behavior might reflect on other Jews. Reticence to participate in some missions might help foster stereotypes of Jews as cowards.
After lunch, RAC staff and our guests were taken on a guided tour of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. We were able to glean greater insight into the role that Jews have played in the military throughout American history.
For those of us who have grown up in times of war without a draft, our connection to veterans’ issues is often from a grandparent or older relative who served in WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or during other conflicts in contemporary history. We shared stories of our family members who served, all recognizing that in honoring Jewish veterans, we are honoring our families, as well as an important legacy of heroes, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who have stood on the front lines of freedom and fought for American values.
Jewish tradition teaches “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:6). On Veterans Day, we are reminded not to separate others from the community. Regardless of personal feelings about the wars in which these brave men and women serve, respect and pride in their courage and resolve comes naturally. Too often the veteran population is ignored, or their needs are not addressed properly; connecting with our guests on Veterans Day reminds us at the RAC of our connection to Jewish veterans and all veterans. We all have a responsibility to each other, and to making this world a better, safer place for ourselves and the generations to come.
The headlines these days are full of stories about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act—the good, the bad and the ugly. The Union for Reform Judaism has consistently called for universal health care and the Religious Action Center has worked tirelessly in support of the ACA. So, let’s take stock of where we are on the road to affordable health care for all Americans.
We don’t have enrollment numbers yet—they should be released later this week—but the government has set a goal of having 800,000 people enrolled in the online marketplaces by the end of November. (Recall that the open enrollment period extends through the end of March, with most customers expected to purchase insurance closer to the end of the period.) As the news media has made clear, there has been no shortage of problems with www.healthcare.gov. As Jeffrey Zients and others work to repair the flawed site, the government is simultaneously working to ensure that the other methods of obtaining the new plans—by paper, on the phone and with assistance from a Navigator—remain available. In fact, to highlight the vital work of these navigators, President Obama visited Temple Emanu El in Dallas on Wednesday, where congregants are working with Dallas Area Interfaith to assist in the enrollment process. While the ACA is more than just a website, it is nonetheless important for the website to be fully functional. In addition to the states relying solely on the federal marketplace for enrollment, seventeen states are operating their own marketplaces and seven states are working in partnership with the federal government.
Individual Plan Cancellations
Last week, reports surfaced that many Americans will lose their current health insurance plan as a result of the ACA. The reasons are complex, but are a result of a popular provision in the law requiring plans to cover ten essential services. While insurance plans that existed prior to the signing of the ACA (March 23, 2010) were grandfathered in, those from the period in between the signing of the law and last month—a two-and-a-half year window—were not.
The issue of cancellations is certainly a valid concern. Still, the issue is one limited to a small corner of the health insurance market: the individual market. Moreover, those whose plans were changed or cancelled have the opportunity to buy new insurance from the Marketplace. Although stability in the healthcare market is important, these old plans did not meet basic standards required by the ACA. And since the majority of Americans are eligible for subsidies and tax credits on the exchanges, many are finding superior health plans with lower premiums.
Implementation of the Medicaid expansion, a cornerstone of the ACA until the Supreme Court ruling last year, has been a mixed bag. Intended to cover all Americans making up to 133% of the poverty line, the Court’s ruling allowed individual states to opt out of the expansion. As a result of the ruling and the actions of many governors and state legislators, some five million Americans who would have otherwise been covered will no longer have access to affordable insurance. Some states have been slow to begin the process of Medicaid expansion and just last month, Ohio announced that it would become the 25th state to expand the program. Meanwhile, other states are exploring innovative ways of expanding Medicaid–for instance, last week Michigan submitted a request for its own unique form of Medicaid expansion. Nonetheless, no Americans should be left out of the opportunity to obtain health care coverage. Advocate for the Medicaid expansion in your state.
All things considered, the implementation of the ACA thus far has been a mixed bag. As new insurance plans and requirements take effect in January, it will continue to be important to monitor the effects of the law and how they are affecting Americans around the country. Meanwhile, amidst the hubbub of news coverage, let’s remember that despite imperfect implementation of the law, the status quo was unsustainably bad. New and affordable coverage options will doubtless represent a significant improvement for our nation’s healthcare system.
The Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish Movements announced a partnership today called “Hineinu”–an innovative collaboration of the disability professionals from each denomination sharing resources, support and direction in order to increase disability inclusion in our synagogues for people of all abilities. As a part of Hineinu, the four Movements produced a comprehensive Jewish guide to creating inclusive communities.
The word hineinu means “we are here” and is the plural form of the Hebrew word hineni. We hear the word hineni several times throughout our Torah readings. When God calls out to Abraham just before he is about to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham responds with “Hineni”, or “here I am” (Genesis, 22:11). When Moses first sees the burning bush and God speaks to him, Moses answers, “Hineni” (Exodus 3:4). Both Abraham and Moses declare their presence by saying hineni.
The Hineinu initiative will help us make our synagogues more inclusive so that people of all abilities can say “I am here.” For more information, browse the Hineinu guide and read the full press release.
Image courtesy of National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability
This was originally posted on RJblog on November 11, 2013.
In the early morning hours of November 9, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines. The equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, the storm displaced hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the region’s Pacific Islands. Initial accounts indicate that as many as 10,000 lives have been lost, and authorities and aid groups from all over the world, including North America and Israel, are struggling to deliver safe drinking water, food, and life-saving supplies to disaster zones.
The URJ General Disaster Relief Fund is collecting donations that will be distributed to aid groups working in affected areas. Donate now to join in these efforts.
When disaster strikes, Reform Jews trust the Union for Reform Judaism to distribute donated funds to agencies that are most effectively helping those in need. The Union retains no funds from relief efforts, with the exception of direct costs, such as credit card fees. Recent relief efforts have included hurricanes, storms and wildfires in North America, Haiti, Israel Emergency and Sudan. The URJ’s General Disaster Relief Fund enables the URJ to respond quickly and swiftly to all types of disasters as needed.
Please join us in praying for the healing of the survivors during this difficult time.
For more information, visit our Disaster Relief Page.
In the Jewish communal service world, we all too often confront a sense of entitlement that can ruffle our feathers and rain upon our most selfless actions. For some, these interactions come so frequently that they are almost expected. For those among us who are looking for something different, for an interaction devoid of entitlement and overflowing with appreciation, I encourage you to volunteer with the U.S.O.
At Temple Sinai in Atlanta, we deploy dozens of volunteers to welcome the troops through Hartsfield-Jackson airport several times each year. While the volunteers find the work meaningful and inspiring, there is nothing that can describe the look of appreciation on the faces of our soldiers as they return home. They are greeted with smiles and hand-shakes and words of appreciation, and to say that they are appreciative is truly an understatement. They are grateful, they are thankful, and they are effusive. And it makes sense, for we are a slice of home, a representation of all for which they are serving and to which they are returning. It is indeed heartwarming work, and to call it volunteer work is a misnomer; it truly is a mitzvah.
Besides the work with the U.S.O., there are other things that we can all do to show our appreciation to the troops this Veteran’s Day. Anecdotally, I can attest that a service of recognition, either Shabbat evening or Shabbat morning, is a wonderful way to commemorate both Shabbat and the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Of particular significance in our community is the start of the service, where the flags of each of the branches of our armed services are paraded into the sanctuary and placed on the bima. Our cantorial soloist, Julie Naturman, leads the community in singing each of the official songs of the branches of armed services, and veterans (and active duty personnel) from each branch stand when their song begins. In addition to a sermon relating to service in our armed forces, we close our service by inviting all veterans and active duty personnel to the bima for a final benediction.
It matters not whether you thank our veterans in liturgical fashion or by volunteering with the U.S.O.; whether you have written a letter or made a donation in honor – or in memory – of someone who has served or is serving our country. On 364 days of the year, our soldiers understand our sense of entitlement for their sacrifice. But on this day – on Veteran’s Day – we can express gratitude to those who have never asked for a “thank you.” May we do so often, and without reservation. It really is the least that we can do.
Rabbi Brad Levenberg is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Sinai in Atlanta, GA.
We’ve got big news coming from our partnership with Nothing But Nets! Together with the United Nations Foundation, we are launching a new Malaria Fellowship program for the most engaged, social justice-minded college students.
The Fellowship will run from January 2014 through April 2014. Fellows will learn about the plague of malaria in Africa, help build strong support for Nothing But Nets on campus, and become advocates in their own communities. Fellows will strengthen their leadership skills, network with UN Foundation and RAC staff and help save more lives by fighting malaria. Each Fellow will receive a stipend to offset activity costs on campus and an all-expense paid trip to DC for training Feb. 1st-3rd.
The Fellowship breaks down the semester in order to offer students comprehensize training in grassroots organizing, fundraising and advocacy. In January, Fellows will organize and build relationships on campus while beginning to build awareness and create a core of student activists at their schools. February kicks off with a trip to DC, where we’ll train students on legislative efforts relating to malaria, teach effective techniques for lobbying Congress, then finish the trip with a visit to Capitol Hill! In March, Fellows continue to build on their advocacy skills and meet with their members of Congress in their districts, and we’ll finish the semester with campus-wide events leading up to World Malaria Day (April 25).
Sounds pretty exciting, right? Head on over to our fellowship page to learn more and apply. We’re taking applications until December 4th. Not a college student? Not a problem, help share this opportunity with your friends and family members, who may know a college student, or be one themselves! Here’s a sample Facebook post:
Big news: The United Nations Foundation & the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are launching a Malaria Fellowship with Nothing But Nets! This semester-long program aims to increase awareness about malaria among college students & empower them to act in support of malaria prevention, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Applications close December 4th.
As always, if you haven’t had a chance to ask your members of Congress to continue supporting anti-malaria initiatives, our action alerts make it quick and easy for you. And of course consider sending a net to a family in Camp Nyarugusu in Tanzania!
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel
This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” a violent two night attack perpetrated against Jews throughout Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia on November 9-10, 1938. During Kristallnacht, brutal mobs assaulted Jews on the streets, in their homes, at their places of work and in their synagogues, vandalizing and destroying 7,000 businesses, synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and schools and murdering close to 100 individuals. An additional 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. It was after Kristallnacht that the Nazi regime began to formulate a systematic plan of exterminating the Jews – in the following months and years, six million Jews were victims of this plan.
On this, as with every anniversary of Kristallnacht, we have a responsibility as the American Jewish community to reflect on the Holocaust. Unfortunately, according to a recent survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights that gathered information from nearly 6,000 Jews in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Sweden, Jews across Europe still face discrimination, and at times, physical violence. Instances of anti-Semitism have caused many European Jews to feel unsafe in their home countries and prompted to emigrate.
For many of us who have grown up in the United States, anti-Semitism seems like something of the past and the horrors of Kirstallnacht are ones we cannot fathom. When we take the time to turn our attention to the persecution still faced by global Jewish populations, we realize how crucial it is that we are mindful of the promise of ”never again.”
From its founding to present day, the United States has deeply valued religious liberty: the right of every individual to practice their religion as they interpret it – or to not be religious – without involvement or oversight from the government. The Reform Jewish Movement has been particularly outspoken on this issue, understanding deeply that religious liberty has allowed our faith to flourish in America.
On Thursday, advocates, religious leaders, scholars, and people passionate about this topic gathered at the Newseum for “Restored or Endangered? The State of Free Exercise of Religion in America,” a symposium celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the RAC and a critical player in the passage of RFRA, participated in the first panel of the day on the necessity of RFRA and what has happened in the subsequent years on the judicial and legislative levels. The other panelists, all of whom were deeply involved in the passage of RFRA in 1993, included Oliver Thomas, a religious liberty attorney and chair of the coalition that helped draft and enact RFRA; Mark Chopko, Chair of the Nonprofit and Religious Organizations practice group at Stradley Ronon Stevens and Young; and Steve McFarland, vice president and chief legal officer at World Vision.
Not only was the panel interesting and informative, but it was inspiring to be reminded that an extraordinarily broad coalition of religious groups and civil rights organizations came together to pass RFRA. It was a clear reminder that we can work to find common ground and that mutual respect can lead to great success.
The symposium was brimming with exemplary speakers and panels, highlighting and contextualizing the crucial contemporary questions on free exercise of religion. Panelists at the “Religious Liberty and the Contraceptive Mandate in the Affordable Care Act,” discussion laid out the arguments on both sides of the many for-profit and non-profit cases, at least one of which will be heard during this Supreme Court term (the most well-known is Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius). The Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism signed an amicus brief when the case was being argued in the 10th Circuit Court.
The final panel covered pressing questions about religious liberty and how we talk about it in the context of political polarization, Islamophobia, media bias and sensationalism, and religious exemptions in legislation, particularly contraception and LBGT equality. The RAC co-sponsored the symposium with the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Christian Legal Society, the American Jewish Committee, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The day was a celebration of the work of many people in the room and around the country who have dedicated their lives and work to protecting the cherished freedom of religious liberty.
In response to yesterday’s passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:
“Yesterday’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is an overdue and historic accomplishment in our nation’s effort to end workplace discrimination for the LGBT community. ENDA will extend federal workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, who deserve to be judged on the merits of their work, not on whom they love.
Such legislation reflects our Jewish teachings, which emphasize the dignity and equality of all including workers. ‘It is our pride and our glory that we are kind to those who work for us’ (Sefer HaChinukh).
We commend the Senate on passage of this landmark legislation, and we strongly urge Speaker John Boehner to bring ENDA swiftly to a vote in the House of Representatives. ENDA is a matter of civil rights. LGBT families and individuals must no longer be at risk of being denied equal opportunities in the workplace and the right to earn a living because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We will continue to proudly join our voice with others in the faith community, business community and more in calling for the enactment of ENDA and equality for all Americans.”
Today, the EPA is holding a listening session to gather comments to inform the development of carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. Barbara Weinstein, Associate Director of the RAC, will be giving testimony in support of stringent carbon standards for existing power plants.
Jewish tradition teaches that God implored, “Take care, lest you spoil and destroy my world, because if you do, there is no one after you to make it right again” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13). At today’s session, Barbara will express the deep commitment of the Jewish community to protecting the earth and all of its inhabitants by creating strict and logical rules for the existing power plants in our country.
Barbara Weinstein previously testified in front of the EPA in May of 2012.
This post by Connie Dufner originally appeared at the Temple Emanu-El Blog on November 6, 2013. On November 6, President Obama spoke on health care reform and the Affordable Care Act at Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, highlighting the important work done by Dallas area interfaith and faith-based organizations on health insurance education and enrollment.
The day dawned like many for Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El, with thoughts focused on his popular Wednesday morning Talmud class as he pulled into the parking lot. Six on-camera appearances on morning television and one radio interview later, he made it to class. On time.
Because not even a surprise visit by President Obama later that day would interfere with Talmud class. And that fact is perhaps the most important thing about today, this exciting day in our 141-year history: the way we conduct our day here is rooted in the lessons of Torah and Talmud, whether it is in antiquity, or in 2013 against a backdrop of morning television news shows on a slow news day.
With Texas having the highest percentage of uninsured people in the nation, at 23 percent, and Dallas being one of the most uninsured in Texas, the efforts of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith coalition called Dallas Area Interfaith caught the eye of the President. The visit was organized through the office of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and invitations were delivered by the White House.
The group of more than 90,000 members in 40 congregations and nonprofit organizations, of which Temple Emanu-El is actively involved, has been immersed in educating the public about the Affordable Care Act. On Oct. 17, Temple had held an organizing event that drew more than 300 people to learn about education and access to the legislation. The group is working throughout the city to train and ultimately help enroll people for insurance by the December 15 deadline and beyond.
Throughout the day, all staff members were involved with the visit, from working with the White House advance team to temporary relocations to fielding calls to welcoming the fleet of news trucks that descended upon the building. (Rabbis Asher Knight and David Stern ultimately did 15 advance interviews with newspapers, radio and television.)
The question repeatedly asked by news media to Temple rabbis was: “Is Temple excited?”
“Yes, of course it is. But it’s just another day in the sacred work we’ve been doing day in and day out with our partners,” said Rabbi Asher Knight. “We recognize that the world as it is, is not how it ought to be, that we have a sacred responsibility to work hand in hand across faiths, across neighborhoods, to really help educate ourselves about what’s possible in terms of making our society a healthier place to live.”
For Temple, Wednesday didn’t just happen. It was the latest in a legacy of social justice that began in the late 19th century. From helping to lower infant mortality rates to growing vegetables for a food pantry to creating a clearinghouse for durable medical equipment to guiding people to accessible health care, Temple has never let up in its imperative to make the world a better place.
And that feels pretty darn good.
Connie Dufner is the Communications Director of Temple Emanu-El of Dallas. You can watch a video of President Obama’s remarks at Temple Emanu-El here.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the first case in thirty years in which the Court will rule on legislative prayer. The central question in the case is whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause, even if there is no discrimination in the selection of people to give the prayer.
The town council in Greece, NY (near Rochester) opens its public sessions with a prayer; a majority of the time it is led by a member of the Christian clergy. The case was brought by two women from Greece, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, who believe the explicitly Christian prayers in the town council meetings reflect a violation of the separation of church and state, and an infringement upon the religious liberty of the individuals present.
During oral argument, Marsh v. Chambers, a previous decision on legislative prayer, was discussed as precedence for the justices’ review. In Marsh, the Supreme Court held that legislative prayer was constitutional because it holds a special place in American tradition, including an opening prayer at the first meeting of Congress. One question stemming from Marsh precedence is on the role of history and the topic of religion in public life: should we as a society continue to do certain things because we have always done them so?
One of the most important issues in this case is whether a branch of government should be deciding what is or is not religiously sectarian when it comes to prayer. This New York Times editorial writes in favor of a moment of silence in place of legislative prayer, as it would allow each individual to pray or not pray according to his or her own beliefs.
The Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism signed onto an amicus brief on the side of the respondents. As Reform Jews, we understand that only in America have Jews been so free to pursue our faith and to organize our communal lives, equal under law and in practice, without government interference. The Constitution ensures a system of religious liberty that has been generally fair and effective: a system that we wish to maintain. Throughout history, we have learned that religion and the state flourish best when the wall between them is upheld.
Read more about on the questions presented and the arguments made in this case:
“Justices Weigh Constitutionality of New York Town’s Prayers,” Adam Liptak, The New York Times
“Say a Prayer for the Supreme Court,” Dahlia Lithwick, Slate