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Gerrymandering is not a game… Except when it is

Board Game Invented by Austin Siblings Takes on the Supreme Court, 32 Governors, and 37 State Legislatures

Three Austin siblings, Josh, Louis, and Rebecca Lafair, invented a board game, Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, after growing up in a gerrymandered district (Texas Congressional District 10). They want to spread the word about gerrymandering in a fun, hands-on way. Moreover, they want to remind politicians that gerrymandering is not a game.

The Lafair siblings launched Mapmaker on Kickstarter on July 10th. They reached their funding goal in only 6 hours, with support from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lawrence Lessig, David Daley, and other big voices in the anti-gerrymandering movement. The Kickstarter runs until August 8th. As part of the campaign, backers can buy games for themselves; their state legislators, who draw maps in 37 states; their governors, who veto maps in 32 of these states; and Supreme Court Justices, who rule on maps. Inside every box, the siblings are including a “Gerrymandering is Not a Game” proclamation.

High school senior Josh Lafair explains,

The more I learned about gerrymandering, the more I realized how terrible it is for our country. Today’s partisan divide can be traced back to gerrymandering. Non-competitive districts take away the incentive to compromise, so politicians don’t need to reach across the aisle.

“We’ve noticed that halfway through their first game, players often comment, ‘I finally get how packing and cracking works.’ Then they have deeper conversations about gerrymandering afterwards,” reveals Louis Lafair, who graduated last month from Stanford University.

Rebecca Lafair, a senior at Northeastern University, says, “Before 2021 redistricting, which will affect elections for the next decade, we hope to add momentum to the anti-gerrymandering movement.”

Mapmaker is not just a teaching tool or political gimmick. It is also a really fun game. Like real gerrymandering, it is full of scheming and strategizing, maneuvers and outmaneuvers. Steve Jackson, inventor of Munchkin and founder of Steve Jackson Games, describes his experience playing as “engrossing.” Aaron Schimmoller, a Settlers of Catan addict, calls Mapmaker “better than Catan.” Over one hundred people have playtested and helped the Lafair siblings improve Mapmaker.

This is not their first game. At age 11, Louis invented his first board game, which was subsequently published by Go! Games. The Austin area publisher is partnering with them for their Kickstarter campaign to ensure high quality production and seamless fulfillment.

You can support Mapmaker on Kickstarter, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. For more information about the board game, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Jewish Labor Committee Comment on Janus Decision on “Fair Share” Fees

The Jewish Labor Committee spoke out against today’s decision in Janus v AFSCME Council 31. In that decision the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 40-year old unanimous decision (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) that held that union “fair share” fees are constitutional. In Janus the court ruled that anything that a union representing public employees does to improve working conditions – any effort to improve safety in the workplace, to restrict excessive overtime, to ensure fair wages or otherwise improve workers’ lives on the job – is political and that “fair share” payments to cover these union services are a violation of fee payers’ free speech.

The JLC states, “Unions are required by law to represent and negotiate on behalf of all public employees, members and nonmembers alike. So everyone who benefits should contribute to the cost of representational activities like contract negotiations and grievance representation. Before this case, no one was forced to be a union member or pay any fees that fund political activities. Fair share fees enabled employees who didn’t want to contribute in any way towards the union’s political and lobbying activities to pay a lower amount that excluded any dues money spent on such activities. Non-members will now be able to “free ride” on the dues paid by their coworkers and deprive unions of the resources needed to fight for worker rights in the workplace.”

Riding the Redistricting Reform Roller Coaster in the Pa. General Assembly

The national census will take place in 2020. And then, the process of redrawing congressional and state legislative maps will go on in states across the country in 2021. Redistricting reform advocates had hoped for some guidance in this process from the U.S. Supreme Court, but in two recent cases, the court failed to opine on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to benefit a particular political party — and instead, issued rulings on procedural grounds.

Just how the 2021 redistricting process will take place in Pennsylvania now depends on what happens in the state’s General Assembly within the next 10 days or so. In fact, advocates for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania have been riding a legislative roller coaster for months — and it continues to be a very bumpy ride. [Read more…]

Lower Merion Yeshivot March Together at the Celebrate Israel Parade

The Lower Merion Jewish schools at Celebrate Israel Parade in NYC. Photo: N. Aaron Troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler

Carrying their large banners and waving Israeli flags with pride, three local Orthodox Jewish Day Schools from the Greater Philadelphia area marched together up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sunday, June 3rd as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.

For the first time ever, Caskey Torah Academy in Wynnewood, Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station and The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd marched jointly under the banner of “The Yeshivot of Lower Merion, PA.” The three schools, which collectively educate over 600 students in the Greater Philadelphia area, traveled to Manhattan to take part in this exciting celebration marking 70 years since the founding of the modern State of Israel. Approximately 200 students, parents and grandparents from the three Lower Merion schools walked proudly, danced and sang Hebrew songs along the parade route.

[Read more…]

Did Bibi Call Overweight Israeli Eurovision Winner a Cow?

Netanyahu’s second tweet.

When overweight singer Netta Barzilai became the first Israeli to win the Eurovision contest in 20 years, Twitter users were shocked to read that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tweeted, “[Netta], you’re a cow!”

How did that happen? Netta is known for finishing her performances with the words, “Kappara aleichem!” (“Atonement for you all!”). When Natanyahu said “kappara alaich!” (“atonement for you!”), Microsoft Translator read kappara as keparah – “like a cow.” However, the translation was still wrong, as keparah alaich means “like a cow on you.”

Absurdly, after Netta was declared winner, the prime minister tweeted, “Netta, at kappara amitit,” using kappara as an adjective, which could be correctly read in Hebrew as “Netta, you’re like a real cow!”

However, Netta never seemed to question Netanyahu’s intentions, as the two met shortly after her return to Israel and performed Netta’s “chicken dance” together:

Microsoft has seemingly fixed Translator since the incident, as the word kappara is now translated as “sweetheart” when used as an adjective.

Held annually since 1956 with 63 countries participating over the years, the Eurovision is watched by about 200 million people worldwide each year. As Israel won the contest, it will host the Eurovision next year. Participating 41 times since 1973, it was Israel’s fourth win overall, after the wins in 1978, 1979 (in which the contest was held in Jerusalem for the same reason) and 1998.

Netta’s song, “Toy,” carried a feminist message, was sang almost entirely in English (The only Hebrew line was “Ani lo booba” – “I’m not a doll.”) and used internationally famous names such as Wonder Woman and Pikachu:

The Clock Is Ticking on Redistricting Reform in Pennsylvania

Current Pennsylvania congressional district map, handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

During the May 15 primary elections, Pennsylvania voters throughout the commonwealth will find themselves voting in different congressional districts than they have in the past. These new districts were created by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a historic decision that struck down Pennsylvania’s 2011 district map on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. The new Supreme Court map will be in effect for the 2018 elections and presumably the 2020 elections, but what happens after that? [Read more…]

Remembering Barbara Bush in “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”

On April 17, former First Lady Barbara Bush died at age 92. During her long and illustrious life, Mrs. Bush championed the cause of literacy — a passion that Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, had the privilege of witnessing in action. Squires covered the former first lady during a stop at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where Mrs. Bush was reading to a group of children. Squires specifically recalls the touching moment when the first lady put one of the children on her lap while she read. [Read more…]

Philly Jews “Pray With Their Feet” for Shabbat at March for Our Lives

Attorney General Josh Shapiro with his children Jonah and Sophia. Photo by Andrea Cantor

“The students and young people in this country, and here in Philadelphia, are inspiring the next generation of leaders, and their voices are lifting up the voices of so many on common sense laws in this country to prevent gun violence, and to keep our streets and our schools safe,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.) to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice at March For Our Lives Philadelphia. “I wanted to be here today really to support the young people, support their voices, and frankly, to be inspired by them.”

The March 24 event in Philly was a Sister March with Washington DC’s March for Our Lives, called for by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors of the February 14 mass shooting that left 17 people dead. As reported by The Times of Israel, among the victims, five Jews were killed: Jewish students Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, Jaime Guttenberg, 14, Meadow Pollock, 18, and Alex Schachter, 14, as well as geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35.

[Read more…]

On a Quest to End Gerrymandering and Make a “Good Map”

Anne Hanna.

They canvass. They lobby. They protest. Concerned citizens insert themselves into the political process on behalf of the public good in different ways. Anne Hanna, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, became politically active in the best way she knew how: by using her computational and data analysis skills in the fight against partisan gerrymandering — a fight that is front-and-center in Pennsylvania right now. [Read more…]

Unrigging Our Elections

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in League of Women Voters v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was just handed down. In its opinion, the court held that Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps violate the state constitution. The ruling also requires that the maps be redrawn in time for the May 2018 primaries.

People who are concerned that elections in the U.S. are “rigged” should be thrilled with the wave of new court cases on partisan gerrymandering, which voice this contention, and even better, propose remedies for the problem. [Read more…]