Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:
Nearly four decades ago, in 1975, the Union for Reform Judaism recognized the need for legislation that would limit and control the sale and use of firearms. Since the adoption of that resolution, the URJ's first calling for the regulation of firearms, more than one million Americans have been killed as a result of gun violence. The URJ has spoken out repeatedly and passionately on gun violence and continues to insist that gun regulation is a vital necessity.
The Union for Reform Judaism is proud to announce new directors for its two specialty camps. Eric Lightman will direct the new URJ 6 Points Science and Technology Academy and Alan Friedman will oversee the already highly successful URJ 6 Points Sports Academy.
In response to Israel's military efforts to stop the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza, and the subsequent escalation in violence, the arms of the Reform Movement, representing 1.5 million Jews in North America, as well as numerous professional organizations and affiliates, are joining together, calling for spiritual, political, and financial support for Israel.
Rabbis and cantors in communities across the country representing all four major denominations are committing to living for one week on a food budget of $31.50, the average allotment for individuals on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly SNAP), as part of the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, running from the lead-up to the High Holy Days starting September 7 and continuing through Thanksgiving. Participating clergy will take the challenge in order to educate congregations and communities about the realities of hunger and raise a loud collective Jewish voice about this crisis.
"Hunger and food insecurity touch every one of our communities, but it is rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood," said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a member of the JCPA board. "The Food Stamp Challenge is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community's deep commitment to help those in need. This includes education about the programs and assistance available."
Israel's Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein office announced yesterday that 15 Reform and Conservative rabbis will be recognized as rabbis of non-Orthodox communities and put on the state payroll for the first time — on a par with Orthodox community leaders. This out-of-court settlement brings to a close the 2005 petition before Israel's Supreme Court by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and Reform Rabbi Miri Cohen of Kibbutz Gezer. The decision allows for equal financing of non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities throughout the country, but so far does not extend to the larger cities.
Rabbi Gold, who first heard the news on the radio said, "This is a big step for religious pluralism and democracy in Israel. Israeli Jews want religious alternatives and with this decision the State is starting to recognize this reality. There is more than one way to be Jewish, even in Israel."
The ruling in this case follows other successes by the Israel Religious Action Center including the placement of a Reform Rabbi in Mevasseret on the Religious Council there, the finding that forced gender segregation on public transportation is discrimination and prohibited, and the allocation of pre-fab units to non-Orthodox congregations for synagogue buildings.
According to DEBKA, "they have a long way to go before their authority is accepted for performing marriages, conversions and other religious matters along with Orthodox and Haredi rabbis." However, this decision has hailed as an important milestone by the Conservative and Reform movements.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front. Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Last month, the Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed employers to deny women coverage for birth control and any "objectionable" medical service, possibly even flu shots. Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio's amendment would have allowed any employer — not religious institutions, because they are already exempt — to make this call on behalf of their female employees. That means a woman's boss at a restaurant, retail store, law firm or anywhere would have control over what health care she could receive. After an hour during which he was on the record opposed to it, Mitt Romney said, in typical flip flop fashion, "Of course I support that amendment." Of course he does. And we can thank him for paving the way — he also said he would have supported a "personhood" amendment in Massachusetts, which could have banned abortion in any circumstance, some contraception, and even fertility treatments like IVF.
In the video on the right, Dr. Mildred Hanson explains how she and other U.S. doctors worked around the law to provide abortions before the procedure was legalized in 1973 through Roe v. Wade. We don't want to have to go back to this.
From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has worked to ensure that women are paid fairly for their work. The President is committed to securing equal pay for equal work because it's a matter of fair play, and because American families and the health of our nation's economy depends on it. April 17 was Equal Pay Day, which marks the fact that, nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the average woman still has to work well into the calendar year to earn what the average man earned last year.
In conjunction with Equal Pay Day:
The White House released the Equal Pay Task Force Accomplishments Report: Fighting for Fair Pay in the Workplace. The Equal Pay Task Force brings together the best expertise of professionals at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management, who work daily to combat pay discrimination in the workplace. The report details the significant progress that the Task Force has made to fight pay discrimination - including improving inter-agency coordination and collaboration to ensure that the full weight of the federal government is focused on closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced the winners of the Equal Pay App Challenge. In January of this year, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Equal Pay Task Force, launched this challenge, inviting software developers to use publicly available data and resources to create applications that accomplish at least one of the following goals: provide greater access to pay data organized by gender, race, and ethnicity; provide interactive tools for early career coaching or online mentoring or to help inform negotiations. A solution to the pay gap has been elusive, in part because access to basic information — e.g., typical salary ranges and skill level requirements for particular positions, advice on how to negotiate appropriate pay — is limited. Because of the enthusiastic response to the Equal Pay App Challenge and the creative apps that were developed, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can access answers to these basic, but important, questions. This challenge represents just one more way that women can empower themselves with the tools they need to make sure they get equal pay for equal work.
Finally, in an ongoing effort to educate employees and employers about their rights and responsibilities under our nation's equal pay laws, the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau today published two brochures that will help educate employees regarding their rights under the existing equal pay laws and enable employers to understand their obligations.
From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to creating the National Equal Pay Task Force, to proposing minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers - 90% of whom are women - President Obama has made clear his belief that there should be no second class citizens in our workplaces and that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.
If only women had a coupon like this, they wouldn't suffer from the wage gap!
On April 26, the United States Senate passed S. 1925, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), by a vote of 68 to 31. S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), ensures a continued federal government response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking while making significant improvements to the law. To celebrate the passage of this critical legislation, Jewish Women International (JWI) Executive Director Lori Weinstein released the following statement:
The Violence Against Women Act is a historic law that has benefited millions of women across the country. Today, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan reauthorization bill and sent a strong message to victims of violence throughout the country: You are not forgotten. This bill not only continues VAWA's successful programs and services for another five years but also improves access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and immigrant victims, and gives American Indian women equal access to justice.
For the last two years, JWI has worked closely with our colleagues on the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and our allies on Capitol Hill to pass a reauthorization bill that strengthens and improves VAWA. After today's victory, we turn our attention to the House of Representatives and call on them to renew and strengthen this lifesaving legislation in a bipartisan manner.
Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been an invaluable tool for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting violent crimes targeting women. Studies have shown that incidents of domestic violence have decreased as more women report attacks and law enforcement has improved its investigation and prosecution of the crimes.
The bipartisan Senate vote reauthorizing VAWA will help continue this trend, providing better tools to train law enforcement and victim service providers, focus attention on addressing the high rate of violence in the tribal and LGBT communities, and redirect funds to the most effective programs.
Even as Maimonides reminded men of the imperative to treat women with honor and respect (Sefer Nashim 15:19), our Jewish sages recognized that violence comes in forms that are both physical and emotional. The Violence Against Women Act helps prevent and respond to such tragedies when they occur and is worthy of reauthorization. We call on the House to follow the Senate's lead and swiftly pass the Violence Against Women Act.
Viral Music Video That Every Women (and Man) Should Watch
The video Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage is Soomo Publishing's moving music video parody of Lady Gaga. The video pays homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920. (See Lyrics)
This Sunday is Mother's Day when we honor the women in our lives.
However, in politics, the place of women can not be taken for granted. Just as our matriarchs fought for Women's suffrage a hundred years ago, we must continue to fight to ensure the women in our lives the same rights that men enjoy.
Today, the gender war is being fought at a fevered pitch. As I see it there is action on at least three fronts:
Women made gains on the front for pay equality.
Women held off an assault on the Violence Against Women Act.
Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front.
Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).
Over the days leading up to Mother's Day, we will publish a series of report showing the progress women are achieving and the setbacks women are contending with on each front.
The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) recently denied the Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston's request to reschedule semi-final basketball playoff game start times, which conflict with the Jewish Sabbath. In response, the URJ's Rabbi Rick Jacobs sent TAPPS the following letter:
On behalf of the more than 900 congregations of the Union for Reform Judaism and 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America, I write to strongly encourage the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) to allow the Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school located in Houston, to compete in the semi-finals of the statewide boys' basketball tournament for private and parochial schools.
As you are well aware, the accomplishment of winning their regional game gives the Beren Academy basketball team the right to compete in the semi-finals, which are currently scheduled for Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3. These games are to be played during the Jewish Sabbath, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.
The TAPPS Athletic Regulations concerning playoffs states that the date and time of regional, semi-final and final games can be changed only by the action of the TAPPS Executive Board. Asking the Beren Academy team to choose between observing their faith and participating in a game which they have rightfully qualified for sends the message that TAPPS values the religious convictions of Beren Academy less than other member schools.
Mr. Burleson, I hope you understand the principle at stake here. What message would be sent to these scholar/athletes if they were forced to choose between their faith and their athletic goals? And what a powerful message TAPPS could send by finding an accommodation which would allow Beren to compete. Only the later choice would be true to our shared American heritage of religious freedom.
— Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Jonathan Stein, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
We commend the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. While the decision is narrow, it is nonetheless an important step forward in the achievement of marriage equality. As the purveyor of civil marriage, government should embrace an inclusive definition of marriage that establishes equality for all couples, regardless of the sex of the people involved.
Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b'tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who can still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, including the opportunity to marry, because of their identity.
We welcome today's ruling and move forward with renewed resolve as we work toward the day when all Americans will be able to marry the person that they love.
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.
I've started to notice a particular sentiment return to the Jewish community in the past few months. Maybe you remember its last iteration from 2008, when fear mongers tried to convince us that Barack Obama wouldn't support Israel as president. Today, we're hearing that President Obama is soft on Iran, that he doesn't have Israel's true interests at heart or that he wants Israel to give up too much at too great a cost.
But that doesn't bother me as much as that these allegations are just plain wrong.
Some Jewish leaders have opposed a political division within the Jewish community about something both parties agree upon. Maybe they aren't wrong; we do neither Israel nor ourselves any favor when we politicize the action of an administration that stands with Israel. Nor do we do much good when we play on the fears of our own community.
We, as Jews and lovers of Zion, must recognize how blessed we are to have a leader who shares our values and commitment to the State of Israel. Our country and the President's administration have a lasting, unshakable and undeniable commitment to Israel and its security. We shouldn't let anyone try to tell us otherwise.
Just look at military co-operation between our two countries - it's never been better than it is today. The President strongly believes that the Israeli Defense Forces should maintain a qualitative military edge over those who seek to destroy it. That's why he made sure Israel got the vital security funding it needed to build the Iron Dome system to shoot down rockets from Gaza.
And the President has done much more. When others tried to isolate Israel in September, President Obama strongly declared to the United Nations that he, and the United States, would always have Israel's back. Then he did what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a "badge of honor": He blocked Palestinian attempts to get around direct negotiation with Israel and pursue statehood unilaterally.
President Obama has always opposed attempts to delegitimize Israel. He has repeatedly supported Israel's right to negotiate with a Palestinian government that recognizes Israel's right to exist and pledges to forgo violence and honor previous agreements.
The President understands that a nuclear Iran constitutes an existential threat to Israel and has forcefully stated so in public and private discussions with our allies. Then he backed up those words with action, signing the toughest sanctions against Iran to date, while encouraging our allies around the world to implement tougher sanctions as well.
So next time you hear someone questioning President Obama's commitment to Israel, tell them to look at the facts. We can't forget how lucky we are to live in a country that institutionally shares our commitment to Israel's safety, welfare and survival. That commitment has stayed true for decades. Today, because of President Obama, it is stronger than ever.
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."
Twelve adorable stuffed bears departed from the Union for Reform Judaism's (URJ) New York offices on a journey to over 100 early childhood centers in Reform congregations throughout the United States and Canada.
Izzy is looking at the Torah with some Ganon Gil Preschool friends while we were learning about Simchat Torah (Beachwood, Ohio).
Each of the bears — Bernie, Benny, Goldie, Hannah, Herbie, Izzy, Lily, Moishe, Rose, Sadie, Saul and Sylvia — will visit these centers over the 2011-2012 school year to teach young children about the importance of doing mitzvot (good deeds) and the value of hachnasat orchim (hospitality/welcoming the guest.) Each bear comes with a journal, the book Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale and ideas about what to do with the bears.
Saturday morning in Itamar terrorists killed five members of an Israeli family, including three children, in their sleep. We collected responses from the White House, Ameinu, the Union for Reform Judaism, Agudath Israel of America, and B'nai Brith International.
Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of five Israelis in a terrorist attack in the northern West Bank, and we offer our condolences to their loved ones and to the Israeli people. There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home. We call on the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack and for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be held accountable.
"Beck's sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.
Speaking on his Tuesday radio show, Fox News host Glenn Beck brought up the recent letter that more than 400 rabbis signed and placed as an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal criticizing him for repeatedly comparing his ideological foes to Nazis. He claimed that this letter, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, was dominated by Reform rabbis, and dismissed the Movement as akin to "radicalized Islam." Reform rabbis, he said, "are generally political in nature. It's almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way." His comparison was "not about terror," he stressed, but "about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith."
In response to these remarks, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism issued the following statement:
We are deeply distressed by Glenn Beck's profoundly offensive remarks about Reform Judaism and Reform rabbis. Beck's sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.
Reform Judaism, a proud and venerable religious tradition, does not accept Mr. Beck as the arbiter of what is spiritual and what is not, of who has faith and who does not, of what constitutes real religion and what does not. We respect his faith and demand that he respect ours. Our members, who -- like others in North America -- apply their religious values to the problems of the broader society, are happy to have Mr. Beck disagree with us on any position that one or more of us may take, but not to make pronouncements and sweeping condemnations that he has neither the right nor the knowledge to make.
We are particularly incensed that Mr. Beck chose to compare Reform Judaism with "radicalized Islam." While noting that Reform Judaism is not about "terror," he implied the opposite -- or, at the very least, that the religious faith of the largest segment of North American Jewry is extremist and fanatic.
Mr. Beck's comments are offensive to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Speaking in sweeping generalizations about other religious traditions is offensive. Imputing radicalism and fanaticism to large religious groups is offensive. Dismissing the heartfelt religious beliefs of millions of North Americans is offensive. Mr. Beck should be ashamed of his comments, and we hope that he will have the good sense never to repeat them.
-- 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.
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