The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action has published a list of "organizations, corporations, publications, and celebrities that have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations." It features a lot of Jews and Jewish groups:
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Jewish Labor Committee
National Council of Jewish Women
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Paul Menitaff
Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Actor Ed Asner
Actor and Producer Mel Brooks
Actor Hal Linden
Actor Leonard Nimoy
Actor Jerry Seinfeld
Actor Henry Winkler
Mayor Ed Koch z'l
They have also blacklisted medical groups such as the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the National Association of Public Hospitals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the National Association of Police Organizations.
Read the complete list. I think you will agree that this is the sort of "blacklist" any self-respecting organization would like to be on.
Statistics show that most of us have some family members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning where they fit in terms of gender. Loving and including our loved ones for all of who they are is what healthy families and communities do, IMHO. So it is good to learn that The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, released today its first-ever index of inclusion within a faith-based community. "The Jewish Organization Equality Index (JOEI) provides benchmarks for gauging, and resources for improving, LGBT inclusivity policies and practices of North American Jewish communal organizations. The entire report is available at online."
Rabbi David Saperstein: "The government has a compelling interest of the first order in ensuring that all individuals are able to access necessary services."
— Sean Thibault or Katharine Nasielski
Bishop William Lori, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Relations Hearing entitled, "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" In it, he analogized the government mandate that most employers must cover birth control, without co-pay, to a hypothetical situation in which a kosher restaurant would be mandated to include pork on the menu because of its health benefits. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement in response:
Today, an all male 'witness' panel was allowed to speak at the GOP's hearing examining the Obama administration's new regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage to employees. When Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke was presented to testify on behalf of the Minority, she was shown the door. She would have been the only female voice speaking on behalf of the millions of women who support access to birth control. Here is the basis of her testimony, had she been allowed to speak.
Bishop Lori chose to use a vivid and unusual analogy between religious employers providing comprehensive health care coverage to their employees and kosher delis being forced by government to sell pork on the grounds that pork is good for you. While I appreciate the humor and creativity of this analogy that sought to raise important issues of balancing free exercise of religion against other compelling government interests, picturesque analogies are not always the most effective or accurate. Unfortunately, this analogy is flawed in ways that obscure rather than illuminate the important moral, religious and legal issues involved.
First, the government's interests in the functioning of the health care system are manifestly far greater than mandating stores sell a particular healthy food, pork or otherwise, and the analogy unintentionally trivializes the need to ensure all Americans have access to quality healthcare in a manner that does not discriminate against women. Indeed, every individual partakes of the health care system at some point in his or her life - whether it is in the process of birth, death or points in-between. That care is paid for by the individual or the public; either directly or through some form of private or public insurance. As such, the government has a compelling interest of the first order in ensuring that all individuals are able to access necessary services. In contrast, no one needs to eat in a particular restaurant and no one needs to eat one particular form of (assumed) healthy food, pork or otherwise.
Leaders across the political and religious spectrum celebrate Tu B'shvat by setting goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.
— by Vicki Stearn
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) today announced that a diverse group of community leaders has joined its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign by signing the "Jewish Environment and Energy Imperative" declaration. Rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and Renewal movements and other communal leaders set the goal of significantly lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, advocating for energy independence and security, and reducing the Jewish community's energy consumption 14% by 2014. The official signing ceremony at Manhattan's 14th Street Y preceded Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees.
The declaration states:
The need to transform the world's energy economy while addressing global climate change is not only a religious and moral imperative, it is a strategy for security and survival.
Each of us — as Jews, people of faith and Americans — has a personal responsibility to work toward lowering greenhouse-gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, COEJL co-chair, and president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. "This responsibility starts in our hearts and from there we must care for our homes, places of worship and institutional buildings.
Though the Komen Foundation announced that it would award no new contracts to Planned Parenthood clinics, Brinker denied that Komen was actually "defunding" Planned Parenthood, a technical point based on the fact that a few grants have yet to expire.
This afternoon, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism, sent a letter to Ambassador Nancy Brinker, the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
We urge you to use your leadership in Komen for the Cure to reinstate funding to PPFA for breast cancer screening, to reconsider the standard by which the organization makes funding decisions, and to continue to fight for the health and lives of women everywhere.
Atlanta Jewish Times proposed assassination of the President of the United States of America.
— by Annette Powers
The leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) uniformly and vehemently denounces the column penned by Atlanta Jewish Times Publisher Andrew Adler. In a bizarre missive that referenced Alice in Wonderland, a Star Trek movie and fiction writer Tom Clancy, Adler laid out potential scenarios for Israel's leadership to avoid a multilateral war, including assassination of President Barack Obama.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ said:
That any publication in the United States would call for the assassination of the President is despicable. That a newspaper owner could even consider publishing this irresponsible and hateful column is beyond belief. Worse still, Adler used the platform of this respected Jewish community paper to espouse such disrespectful language and ideas that have, sadly, become far too common in today's political discourse.
URJ Chairman, Steve Sacks said
Aside from the monumental misjudgment by the publisher to print such inflammatory beliefs, Adler has furthermore embarrassed not only himself but his paper, his community and the larger Jewish community. His article marked a sad day for the Jewish community in Atlanta as their once vibrant newspaper has been tainted with rhetoric that serves neither Israel's interests nor those of Atlanta's Jews.
It is not enough for the American Jewish community to only condemn this editorial in the strongest possible terms. We must reclaim the public dialogue around Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship from those who launch attacks for partisan political gain.
Video interview of Andrew Adler on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV follows the jump.
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, with membership of more than 1800 Reform rabbis, I commend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres for speaking out against gender segregation in Israel. We oppose discrimination against any all individual, for the stamp of the Divine is imprinted on the souls of each and every one of us. For anyone to be discriminated against on the basis of one's gender, or to justify discrimination in the civil sphere based on one's interpretation of a religion's law is unacceptable.
Cartoon reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.
Proud of "hardest-hitting" sanctions on Iran expected to be signed into law soon
Obama says his administration has led fight against delegitimization
Before the speech, Obama met on the sidelines of the conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had already spoke at the convention, for about a half hour.
Transcript of Remarks by President Barack Obama
I am honored to be here because of the proud history and tradition of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing more than 900 congregations, around 1.5 million American Jews.
I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center. As Eric mentioned, When President Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memory is a bit hazy. But I am very familiar with the work that you've done ever since, and so is the rest of America.
And that's because you helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. You helped to liberate Soviet Jews. You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half-century. And without these efforts, I probably wouldn't be standing here today. So thank you. Thank you. You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.
Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there's always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs — (laughter) — do you guys have these conversations as well? (Laughter.) All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn't just me. (Laughter.) What time you get home.
As a consequence, she's become the family expert on Jewish tradition. And if there's one thing I've learned from her, it's that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion. It doesn't hurt.
So this week congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph. As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you, there is a lot going on in this reading. But many scholars have focused on a single word that Joseph uses when he replies to his father Jacob.
In Hebrew, that word is hineni. It translates to "Here I am." Hineni. It's the same word Abraham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac. It's the same word Moses uses when God summons him from the burning bush. Hineni. The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.
In this case, "hineni" leads Joseph to Egypt. It sets in motion a story of enslavement and exodus that would come to inspire leaders like Martin Luther King as they sought freedom. It's a story of persecution and perseverance that has repeated itself from Inquisition-era Spain to Tsarist Russia to Hitler's Germany.
And in that often-tragic history, this place, America, stands out. Now, we can't whitewash the past. Like so many ethnic groups, Jews faced prejudice, and sometimes violence, as they sought their piece of the American Dream. But here, Jews finally found a place where their faith was protected; where hard work and responsibility paid off; where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried. Here in America, you really could build a better life for your children.
I know how much that story means to many of you, because I know how much that story means to me. My father was from Kenya; my mother was from Kansas — not places with a large Jewish community. But when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection. I know what it's like to think, "Only in America is my story even possible."
This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of "Fighting Poverty with Faith's" initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.
We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget - and why we must do better as a nation.
Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:
When you are asked in the world to come, 'What was your work?' and you answer: 'I fed the hungry,' you will be told: 'This is the gate of God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.'
Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.
All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.
Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.
-- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We commend the Senate for standing up for women's health and rejecting a bill that would have denied all federal funds to Planned Parenthood, a vital health care service provider. Each year, Planned Parenthood's network of more than 800 clinics nationwide provides nearly one million cervical cancer screenings, 830,000 breast exams, affordable birth control for nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing. Revoking Planned Parenthood's federal funding would have disastrous consequences for all of these services and would not change a fact that has endured for decades: that no federal funds, received by Planned Parenthood or any other organization, can be used for abortion services.
The Senate's action was especially heartening given that the same bill passed the House of Representatives earlier in the day. We have repeatedly condemned such attempts in the House to undermine women's access to critical health care services, including abortion. These attempts violate the U.S. Constitution and core principles of Jewish tradition, which affirms society's obligations to ensure access to health care and the rights of women to make moral decisions about their own bodies and their own reproductive health. Women are commanded to care for their health and well-being above all else, and society is commanded to provide health care for its most vulnerable residents. These dual obligations compel us to advocate for broad access to affordable reproductive health care and support Planned Parenthood in its efforts to reach millions of under-served men and women.
We call on the House to stop its relentless attacks on reproductive choice and women's health, beginning with an end to the campaign to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Statement from Planned Parenthood follows the jump.
-- Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
We welcome yesterday's vote by the House of Representatives against reauthorizing provisions within the Patriot Act that weaken Americans' civil liberties. As the 2003 resolution titled Civil Liberties and National Security: Striking the Proper Balance, passed by the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees pointed out, the Patriot Act included provisions that did not serve our national security interests and were intrusions in our civil liberties. Among these are the provisions voted on yesterday that allow roving wiretaps on surveillance targets, give access to library records and other information, and permit wiretaps of targets not connected to a terrorist organization. Yesterday's bipartisan vote of opposition is hopefully the start of an essential conversation about how to best ensure the safety of our nation while preserving the core values that make America great.
This vote was held under a rules suspension that required a 2/3 vote for passage. While we recognize that the bill will likely be voted on again without a rules suspension, allowing for a simple majority to pass it, we urge the members of the 112th Congress to continue to oppose the reauthorization of these Patriot Act provisions and uphold the liberties that are the pride of our nation.
We commend the Supreme Court for unanimously reversing the Sixth Court of Appeals and upholding the intent of Title VII's anti-retaliation provisions. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, the Court found that Eric Thompson, who was fired in 2002 soon after his fiancée-who worked at the same company-filed a sex discrimination complaint, had the right to sue his employer for retaliation under Title VII. Writing for the Court, Justice Scalia made clear that a worker could reasonably be silenced by fear of retaliation in the form of firing against a fiancé and that such a situation violates essential civil rights protections.
Building on our strong legacy of civil rights advocacy, the Reform Movement was pleased to join an amicus brief coordinated by the National Women's Law Center, urging the Justices to decide the case in Mr. Thompson's favor and ensure the continued vitality of civil rights protections. We welcome the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was largely drafted in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's conference room.
The decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless is particularly heartening given its deviation from the recent trend of Supreme Court decisions prioritizing corporations over individuals.
We praise the justices for discontinuing this disturbing trend and hope to see more decisions recognizing individual rights in the future.
"There was a time when filibusters were symbolic of a principled stand...a David standing up to the Goliath. I think Strom Thurmond's filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 took the sheen of nobility off the filibuster, but what constitutes a filibuster these days is not at all recognizable from the Mr. Smith or the Sen. Thurmond version. And it's clear, looking at this graph that the Republicans have upended the intent of the filibuster rule to basically break down the Senate and launch the virtual rule of the minority." -- Nicole Belle
-- Eric Harris and Jonathan Backer
"When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened."
-- Rabbi David Saperstein
Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism today released a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to enact sensible filibuster reform when the Senate convenes for a new Session on tomorrow.
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Senator Reid and Senator McConnell,
On behalf of the 1,800 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national Reform rabbinical association, we write to advocate sensible filibuster reforms.
During the 111th Congress, a challenge to the smooth functioning of democracy, which had been growing evident for some time, came into stark relief. A minority of Senators invoked cloture 63 times-the most of any other Congress, indeed, more than the sum total of instances between the creation of the modern filibuster at the beginning of the 20th century and 1982. Rather than facilitate a cautious and deliberate legislative process, the filibuster in its current incarnation has created gridlock and has weakened the government's ability to respond to the needs of its citizens. In a Dec. 18 letter, 56 Democratic Senators called on you to take steps to curb this abuse of the filibuster. We are encouraged as well that a respected returning Republican Senator, Dan Coats, has also called for reform. We ask you to heed their call, and work together. Reform cannot succeed without bipartisan support.
Let us be clear: the filibuster is a vital and necessary tool of the minority. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has consistently opposed attempts to eliminate the right of a minority of Senators to block extreme legislation and nominees. The CCAR has also supported efforts to reduce misuse of the procedural tactic when it occurs. During the 1950s and 1960s, a minority of legislators used the filibuster to prevent civil rights legislation from receiving a vote before the U.S. Senate. For this reason, the CCAR supported successful reform of Senate rules in 1975 to lower the threshold for cloture from a two-thirds to a three-fifths majority.
During the 111th Congress, the filibuster denied the DREAM Act an up or down vote in the Senate. The chamber never even debated legislation addressing climate change because of the mere threat of the filibuster. While many factors were at play, the filibuster or threat thereof diminished the Senate's ability to respond to the needs of unemployed Americans struggling amid a prolonged jobs crisis, led to a health care reform law with fewer cost control mechanisms, and produced Wall Street reform with less ability to address the root causes of the financial meltdown. Dozens of other important issues never came before Congress over the past two years because filibusters consumed so much of the Senate calendar. When the Senate rules create a status quo where justice is so frequently deferred or denied, the people start to lose faith in our democratic institutions, apathy is engendered, and the health of our democracy is threatened.
The ability of a truly dedicated minority to oppose the most extreme instances of legislative excess or of judicial or executive appointments must be preserved. But the current rules have evolved to a point where a 60-vote threshold in the Senate is the norm on important issues, not the exception. Some simple changes currently being considered have the potential to more effectively accomplish the goals the CCAR has long advocated. That is, they could promote a more restrained and responsible use of the filibuster, while preserving minority rights in the Senate:
Continuous debate-a substantial number of senators should be required to sign a petition in order to initiate a filibuster and members should be forced to speak continuously in order to sustain it. The onus should also be on the minority to maintain a filibuster rather than just on the majority to break it.
Eliminating anonymous holds-the filibuster was designed to allow a minority to slow down the legislative process in order to make its case to the public. Anonymous holds accomplish only gridlock, allowing the minority to conceal itself behind a cloak of procedure without justifying its obstruction.
Fewer opportunities to filibuster-the minority currently has the ability to filibuster the initial motion to debate legislation, amendments, and the final vote. Duplicative filibusters clog the Senate calendar and prevent the legislative branch from doing the people's work. The minority should get one opportunity to block a piece of legislation through procedural tactics.
Strengthen the right of the minority to offer amendments-supporters of the filibuster argue that it is a necessary tactic when the majority offers insufficient opportunities to offer amendments. But, currently, more amendments offer more opportunities for filibuster. Allowing each side to offer amendments with a limited amount of time for debating each would circumvent this problem and provide more opportunities for minority input.
We urge you to consider these and other ideas to limit abuse of the filibuster. The cause of social justice depends on a legislative branch that is responsive to the will of the people while mindful of minority rights. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 202-387-2800.
Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Reactions to Senate's failure to end Republican filibuster to legislation to reform United States military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
-- Rabbi David Saperstein
Senators have failed to support the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have dedicated their professional lives to the defense of our nation. Refusing to repeal the misguided "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy rejects the views and entreaties of Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen. It also ignores the views of the overwhelming majority of service members whose opinions were solicited in the Pentagon's extensive study of the impact of repeal and who said such action would not negatively impact unit cohesion.
The military's code of honor is tarnished when service members are required to lie about their identity. And as people of faith, we are pained by this affront to the dignity of those in uniform, each of whom, gay or straight, embodies the spark of the Divine presence in every person, and each of whom should be a source of pride for all Americans.
No doubt the courts, which have already shown a willingness to challenge this policy, will soon overturn it in recognition that we cannot in good conscience continue to ask the members of our Armed Forces to fight on behalf of a country that refuses to recognize their basic dignity and rights.
Even as we are deeply disappointed by today's Senate vote, we know that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy's days are numbered. We look forward to the future when this policy will be a mere memory of a sad and discredited chapter in our nation's history.
Open Letter to Senator McCain from four Arizona Rabbis
Dear Senator McCain:
We, along with a delegation of retired military flag and general officers and retired military chaplains, recently requested a meeting with you in Washington DC to discuss the future of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. After multiple follow-up calls and an extended period without hearing any response, we were informed by your Chief of Staff, Mark Buse, that your office was "not able to accommodate [our] request as the Senator's schedule is full." Mr. Buse did, however, note in an email (attached) that he would ensure that you personally saw any information we wished to convey.
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