Abington Memorial Hospital Should Not Kneel to Church Dogma

— by Ken Myers, Esq.

On its Facebook page, the Abington Memorial Hospital identifies itself as a not for profit institution, as follows:

Abington Health is a not-for-profit, regional healthcare provider serving residents of Montgomery, Bucks & parts of Philadelphia counties, comprised of Abington Memorial Hospital, Lansdale Hospital, two outpatient campuses & Abington Health Physicians.

Mission: Abington Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all by fostering healing, easing suffering, and promoting wellness in a culture of safety, learning and respect.

Abington Health will be the most trusted health care partner, consistently exceeding expectations for care, comfort and communication.”


Presumably because “Abington Health” is regulated by the state as a hospital, it is not listed in the Pennsylvania Department of State charitable registration system. But it has received any number of public benefits typical of non-profits:

  • Property tax exemption — Abington and Lower Moreland, to name just two of the townships in which it operates, have allowed the hospital to remove large parcels of land from the tax base to enlarge its operations.
  • Municipal services beyond those extended to others, such as vacating streets and changing traffic patterns to accommodate the hospital.
  • Volunteer workers without pay — community people provide untold hours of volunteer services to the hospital, greeting and helping to move and handle patients.
  • Abington Day — a fund raising event supported by the community every year.

Over the ninety years that this modest local hospital transformed — with these public benefits — into a large institution, the public has bestowed its gifts on the assumption that this is a non-sectarian institution.

The strength of Abington Memorial Hospital contrasts with the smaller nearby Catholic hospital, Holy Redeemer, that it now seeks to attach to its health system. Certainly no small part of the development of Abington Memorial is attributable to its appeal as a non-sectarian institution rendering community service based on medical and ethical principles, not religious dogma.

By accepting religious dogma as a limit on its medical service, Abington Health breaks a covenant with all  those donors and public officials who have supported it and its non-sectarian mission.

By imposing its religious dogma on Abington health as a condition of a commercial transaction, the Church violates a key principle of American law and practice. Religions are free here to promote their beliefs and practices by virtually every means but not by coercion.

Governments — federal, state and local — are barred by the Constitution from coercing religious practice. Non-governmental enterprises including charities are barred by statute from coercing their employees to follow religious dogma. Non-governmental enterprises that accommodate the public — including hospitals — are barred by statute from discriminating against people on the basis of their religion. This includes refusal or unwillingness to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures, consistent with competent medical care.

In this case, the Catholic Church is coercing Abington Health to discriminate against all women who do not share the church dogma regarding their reproductive rights.

Seeking to add more “catchment area” to its substantial geographic influence, Abington Health is agreeing to impose this coercion on those who are caught!
Ken Myers is a member of the board of JSPAN.

Issue Oriented Seders: On Passover Hunger Is Not A Game

Let all who are hungry come and eat.

With 1 in 6 Americans struggling to put nutritious food on the table every day, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger hosted Members of Congress, Administration officials, and national faith and anti-poverty leaders at the National Hunger Seder at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. Seder participants made the case for protecting and strengthening funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) as legislators begin to negotiate the 2012 Farm Bill Reauthorization.

SNAP and MAZON have also developed a version of the 2012 Hunger Seder you can using in your own home to promote “hunger awareness and activism.

Similarly, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network develops issue oriented material each year you can use to enrich your seder. Supplements to the traditional Haggadah relate the biblical story of the Exodus to current events and issues.

  • The 2012 Freedom Supplement, comprised of 16 pages with illustrations, is now available without charge. The Freedom Seder Supplement celebrates emerging freedom movements around the world with poems, texts and prayers. Editors Stephen C. Sussman Esq. and Kenneth R. Myers Esq. have drawn from far-ranging sources, from Lord Byron to Tibet. Each of the readings includes suggestions keying it into the traditional Seder service.
  • In 2010 JSPAN released its first Supplement, entitled We were strangers, on the theme of immigration in history and in the United States.
  • In 2011 the JSPAN Supplement, This is the bread of poverty, brought the focus to hunger here and around the world. The 2012 “Freedom Seder” takes up the human longing for freedom that is spreading around the globe, and concludes with four resolutions that we as American Jews can meaningfully adopt.

More about the National Hunger Seder after the jump.
“Jewish people all over the world begin their Passover Seders by inviting ‘all who are hungry [to] come and eat,'” said Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO. “While we know we cannot include 50 million Americans in our individual Seders, these words remind us that, as a society, we are responsible for them – a powerful and timely message as Congress considers the Farm Bill and the fate of our nutrition safety net.”

The National Hunger Seder adapts the traditional Passover Seder, telling the story of the Exodus with an emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. The National Hunger Seder is part of the 4th annual MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder mobilization, which includes more than 45 Hunger Seder events taking place in communities across the country around the Passover holiday.

“At a time of such startlingly high food insecurity, it is unconscionable to consider limiting access to a program like SNAP that not only keeps millions out of hunger and poverty, but does so with incredible efficiency and success,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The enormity of hunger in our country belies our wealth and abundance, but can be stemmed. That will be the message in communities across the country as part of this unique mobilization. Over the past four years, Hunger Seders have brought together not only Jews, but hunger advocates, faith and political leaders to build awareness and support for the tools available to end hunger in America.”  

Participants in the National Hunger Seder included USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), as well as representatives from the White House. Also attending were delegates from Bread for the World, Half in Ten, Alliance to End Hunger, National Council of Churches, American Jewish World Service, Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, JCPA, MAZON, Jewish Primary Day School and others.

In addition to the National Hunger Seder and Hunger Seder mobilization led by the JCPA and MAZON, other Jewish social justice organizations are hosting Passover Seders to raise awareness about food and justice issues, including a Food and Justice Seder being hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice and in cooperation with JCPA and MAZON.

Fracking Comes Closer to Home

— by Hannah Lee

This weekend, I showed the 2010 documentary film, Gasland, to members of my shul. It was planned as a Tu B’Shevat educational event before the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a natural-gas drilling policy last week and before Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill last night. Pennsylvania now joins more than 25 states in imposing a levy on natural gas drillers.

More after the jump.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves new technology, using horizontal drilling/high volume hydraulic fracturing that is different from conventional drilling and is much riskier. In horizontal drilling, the drill bit is turned sideways to penetrate long distances from the vertical well. Massive amounts of water are pumped into the ground at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock According to Dr. Mirele Goldsmith of Jews Against Hydrofracking, the industry is resorting to this type of drilling because deposits accessible by conventional drilling have been used up. This method uses benzene, diesel, and formaldehyde as some of the hundreds of chemicals that are extremely hazardous to human health.

In 2009, the filmmaker, Josh Fox, learned that his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that exists across Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a method of drilling developed by Halliburton and he soon discovered that this was part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. More than 3,000 such wells have already been drilled in Pennsylvania.

Fox traveled to communities where the contamination of their drinking water has caused illnesses from headaches to asthma to the loss of hair in their animals. In Dimock, PA, the residents are able to light their tap water on fire. Contaminated water from fracking has been identified in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio as well as Pennsylvania.

The State House voted 101-90 for the bill on Wednesday, February 8, after a 31-19 vote in the State Senate on Tuesday. As signed by Governor Corbett, the bill exacts a new fee on natural-gas drillers. The bill also: establishes a 500-foot setback between wells and buildings; requires a 300-foot setback between wells and waterways; and prohibits local governments from using zoning ordinances to ban gas drilling, and allows drilling in all zones.

Pennsylvania is the largest natural-gas-producing state that had not imposed a levy on drilling. The new bill will add a tax, beginning with a per-well fee between $40,000 and $60,000 in the first year after a well is drilled, which will decline to between $5,000 and $10,000 per well by the 15th and final year. The fee will vary with the cost of gas per year and will be set by the Public Utility Commission, which regulates utility companies.

The Forward  reported last summer that of the 30 Jewish summer camps that sit above the Marcellus Shale, four camps in Wayne County, PA, had signed leases with Hess Corporation. The New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps received $400,000 for a lease on property that houses two summer camps. The B’nai B’rith Henry Monsky Foundation received a bonus of $115, 248 upon signing. In Pennsylvania, there are already wells within 2 miles to 320 daycare facilities, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals, cites Dr. Goldsmith from state documents. She reports that more than 50 rabbis have signed a letter, sent to the Delaware River Basin Commission, about their concerns about fracking.

The Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the Marcellus Shale “local impact fee” measure were:

  • Philadelphia: John Taylor (R)
  • Bucks County: Paul I. Clymer (R), Gene DiGirolamo (R), Frank Farry (R), Bernie O’Neill (R), Scott Petri (R), Margaret Quinn (R), Katherine M. Watson (R)
  • Chester County: Warren Kampf (R), Tim Hennessey (R), John Lawrence (R), Duane Milne (R), Chris Ross (R), Dan Truitt (R)
  • Delaware County: Bill Adolph (R), Steve Barrar (R), Joe Hackett (R), Tom Killion (R), Nick Miccarelli III (R), Nick Micozzie (R.)
  • Montgomery County: Bob Godshall (R), Kate Harper (R), Thomas Murt (R), Tom Quigley (R), Todd Stephens (R), Marcy Toepel (R), Mike Vereb (R)

Voting against the bill were:

  • Philadelphia: Louise Williams Bishop (D), Brendan Boyle (D), Kevin Boyle (D), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D), Michelle Brownlee (D), Mark Cohen (D), Angel Cruz (D), Maria Donatucci (D), Dwight Evans (D), Babette Josephs (D), Bill Keller (D.), Michael P. McGeehan (D), John Myers (D.), Michael O’Brien (D), Cherelle L. Parker (D), Tony Payton (D), James Roebuck (D), John Sabatina Jr. (D), W. Curtis Thomas (D), Ron Waters (D), Rosita Youngblood (D),
  • Bucks: Tina M. Davis (D), John Galloway (D.), Steven J. Santarsiero (D.)
  • Chester: Margo Davidson (D.), Thaddeus Kirkland (D.), Greg Vitali (D.)
  • Montgomery: Matt Bradford (D.), Tim Briggs (D.), Lawrence H. Curry (D.), Pam DeLissio (D.), Mike Gerber (D.)

Not voting:

  • Chester: Curt Schroder (R.)

JSPAN Visits Occupy Philadelphia: Interview with Nathan Kleinman

JSPAN Board Member Nathan Kleinman has participated in Occupy Philadelphia, the experiment in pure democracy happening on Dilworth Square alongside the Philadelphia City Hall, since its earliest days. Newsletter Editor Ken Myers visited OP and interviewed Kleinman on October 22. Ed.

Ken Myers: We are together to discuss Occupy Philadelphia which is happening right here. Is this a political event with a capital P, or is it something else?

Nate Kleinman: I would say at this stage it is the beginning of a social and possibly political movement. It is impossible to predict where it is going to go. Nobody has the power to decide where it is going to go on their own. The group makes decisions through, as much as possible, consensus. When we vote on things if we cannot come to consensus we decide with a supermajority. And so it really requires a long process of consensus building.

Myers: You mentioned that in the evening, typically at seven 0′ clock you have what you call the General Assembly. So everybody gets out and shares ideas?

More after the jump.
Kleinman: Everybody who lives here and people from elsewhere all come together. We make announcements about things that are coming up. Various working groups, of which at this point there are probably 20 or 25, report back to the full Assembly. They talk about what they are doing, what ideas they are having, what they are planning, they say when they meet and reiterate that everyone is invited. Every working group is open to all, and anyone can start one.

The General Assembly and that whole process was started on Occupied Wall Street and this is modeled after it. There are General Assemblies happening all over the country. There is one meeting today in York, Pennsylvania. There is going to be one in Stroudsburg, there is one in Norristown today, not to mention of course the bigger cities in every state across the country.

Myers: Do you see a tendency within this group to try to create a fourth political party (I say that because I give the Tea Party credit for being one)?

Kleinman: I am not sure. I think how this movement exercises its power in the political arena is still very much up in the air. But I have heard a lot of ideas, there was a lot of talk about it, and I think eventually we will come to consensus on a way forward . It seems likely to me that it will attempt to influence the political process. Some people want to run candidates for Congress next year in every single district in the country. That would certainly be something I would support because I think it’s not just Republicans that need to be asked, there are plenty of Democrats who could use a good challenge.

Myers: The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a comment today, talked about the potential for anti- Semitism in this movement. Do you see that as a serious problem?

Kleinman: No. No, I have not seen that at all. There is a huge number of Jews participating in this, and, to the extent that there may be anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments they are from individuals. I have not seen it and it is not representative of the whole group if it does exist.

Myers: You are chairing a human rights program in a few minutes. What is your hope for this effort?

Kleinman: This is just another working group that we announced yesterday to talk about human rights, broadly defined to encompass poverty, racism, discrimination, oppression, violence, and hopefully come to some statement of principles that we in the working group can agree upon and bring to the General Assembly for their agreement. If it passes then maybe it can be sent to other General Assemblies around the country and around the world for their consideration, debate, discussion and possibly agreement. That is the only way we can come to consensus on a national and international level and be united moving forward together

Myers: A few days ago the Philadelphia Inquirer, writing up Occupy Philadelphia, seemed to summarize this movement under the flag “99 and one”. Is that a good solid summarization of the movement?

Kleinman: It is a characterization that came from some individuals in New York, and a lot of people like it because they think it dramatizes well what we are up to, that we do stand for: that we are representative of the 99% of the people who do not have 40% of the wealth

Myers: One more question. For our readers and members, if they want to follow what is happening, what is the best way for them to do that?

Kleinman: There are a lot of different places they can look. They should get on Facebook and check out our Facebook page. There is a page called Occupied Together that is bringing a lot of information from all the movements around here. But here in Philly I would say our Facebook page is the best one, with over 20,000 people following it. Look under Occupied Philly. Our media task force is doing a great job 24-7 to get the message out, and to make sure that we tell our story and the media do not have a monopoly on that.

Myers: Thanks very much for your comments.

Reprinted courtesy of JSPAN.

Nathan Kleinman is a graduate of Abington Friends School and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is a human rights activist, a community organizer, and a veteran of several political campaigns in Pennsylvania.

235 Years of Independence – An Occasion to Celebrate American Jewish Heroes

— by Ken Myers

How many Jewish heroes of the Revolutionary War (or earlier) can you identify? You probably know that Haym Salomon was a key figure in financing the Revolution. Did you know that Francis Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution, on August 1, 1776, following the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You might know that Philadelphian Rebecca Gratz founded the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society and other relief organizations. Did you know that her family was prominent among revolutionaries here?

It is well known that Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938), was a member of the United States Supreme Court. His family already had a glorious record in America: David Nunez Cardozo (1752- ?) was a hero of the Revolution. He led the assault on British-held Savannah, Georgia, in which Count Pulaski was killed. Cardozo was taken prisoner by the British while defending Savannah, but was released at the end of the British stay in that area.

Forty-seven Jewish heroes of the Revolution and other major events in American history are listed and their achievements memorialized on the web site of the Florida Atlantic University Libraries, with credit to
Seymour Brody.

But his major opus is the book, Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, by Seymour Brody with illustrations by Art Seiden. Spend some time during the Independence Day weekend examining the lives of Jewish heroes during and since our War of Independence.

This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon


— Kenneth Myers, Vice-President of JSPAN

The season of reflection is here, and it has to weigh heavily on those of us who ponder larger questions.

Our economy stumbles along, with unemployment far too high and too wide among a broad cross-section of the old, the young, blue collar folk and new college grads. The large financial prizes handed out to those in power in a few industries seem totally out of place in a society with pockets of 20% unemployment.

Peace in the Middle East seems no closer, and each year that it fails to materialize gives credence to a number of very wrong answers to the open question. As we depart Iraq and struggle in Afghanistan, American hegemony in world affairs seems only a dream of the distant past.

In this country we Jews have long enjoyed a golden age like few others in our history. We are empowered as never before to reach for the goals of Torah, Tikkun Olam, striving for the perfection of the world.

America is also striving, and our brilliance is that we do prevail in time. We are the most powerful, most respected and admired nation on earth. We will restore full employment, expand the reach of health insurance, continue to do good works around the globe, and stand by Israel while we work for peace in the Middle East. We will respond unselfishly to all the challenges, as the richest nation on earth should.

We wish you the best of New Years.

This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon

Many Jews eat apples and honey together during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year. Tashlich is another Rosh Hashanah custom, in which we symbolically cast away our sins by tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water, such as a river, ocean or stream. After the ritual observance, add a gift of food to the hungry or a gift of money to Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.

To donate, click here.