2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge Continues

— by Benjamin Suarato

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.”

More after the jump.
“The involvement of rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism, in every region of the country is a testament to the centrality of ending hunger to the work we do as Jewish leaders and the unity of our community in elevating the conversation on poverty,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This will be my third Food Stamp Challenge and each time, I am reawakened to the true struggle faced each day by those who depend on SNAP to put food on the table. It is a lesson that is now being brought to communities across the country through this committed involvement of religious leaders.”

SNAP participation has been functioning as intended, steadily increasing with the needs of those still struggling during the slow economic recovery, yet the program, one of the key instruments to addressing hunger in America, has been facing proposals of severe cuts to funding.

“On a budget of only $1.50 per meal, many SNAP recipients must settle for unsatisfying meals that lack the necessary nutrition and energy to meet the demands of work and family,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “By trying to understand, even in a very small way, the challenge these families face, we will be better armed to protect SNAP from the threat of cuts.”

The 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge is being led by a unique partnership of organizations spanning the religious spectrum, including:

    the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger,
  • the Rabbinical Assembly,
  • the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,
  • the Union for Reform Judaism,
  • the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
  • the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,
  • Uri L’Tzedek,
  • American Conference of Cantors, and
  • the Cantors Assembly.  

Resources created for this mobilization, include sample sermons, advocacy opportunities, programming ideas, and other tools for engaging congregations and communities. The Food Stamp Challenge is open for others besides clergy who are interested in participating in this experience.  More information and registration can be found online.  

The Steering Committee that is providing leadership for the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge includes:

  • Chaired by Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)
  • Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ and Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL  (both represent the Rabbinical Assembly)
  • Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Senior Rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, MN (representing the committee as Chair of the Board of Directors of MAZON:  A Jewish Response to Hunger)
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO; Rabbi Neil Borovitz of Congregation Avodat Shalom in River Edge, NJ; Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Judith Siegal of Tempe Judea in Coral Gables, FL (representing the Union for Reform Judaism/Central Conference of American Rabbis)
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit, who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI (representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)
  • Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek
  • Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, CA
  • Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio (representing the Cantors Assembly)
  • Cantor Shannon McGrady-Bane, co-chair of the ACC Social Action and Justice Committee (representing the American Conference of Cantors); and
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

For more information about the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, please contact Robin Rosenbaum, JCPA Poverty Campaign Coordinator, at: [email protected] or (202) 212-6037.

Jewish clergy in all communities have been weighing in about how the goals of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge have resonated with their varied experiences:

“I am taking the Food Stamp Challenge along with my family because it is important to not only talk about the fact that so many people in America are in need of food assistance, but also that we take action. When I take the Food Stamp Challenge I will have a better understanding as to what people who receive food stamps are feeling each and every day. By encouraging the members of my congregation to join me in this endeavor we will be making a statement that we must continue this important work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and advocate on behalf of those who are in need. This is what Judaism asks of us and what we must do.”

— Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ

“With so much at stake in terms of how we are providing healthy, accessible and affordable sustenance in our country, inaction was not an option for me, challenged by my preparation for High Holy Days as visiting rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation T’Chiyah in Detroit, to do more than only utter words and offer prayers for those in need. I have been spurred on by the wonderful response from friends, family, and clergy and members of faith communities everywhere. Let’s collect food for those in need this Yom Kippur and Thanksgiving and invite those who live with food insecurity to our sukkot, AND let’s work for systemic change for the millions who live on Food Stamps every day in our own communities, congregations and nation.”

— Rabbi Shawn Zevit who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI

“In my congregation, publicizing the Food Stamp Challenge has galvanized the community’s youth and social action leadership to make this a year to focus on hunger and food insecurity locally and in Israel.  Our students have adopted the slogan “Hunger is no Game” as the theme for the year (basing themselves on the recent movie, The Hunger Games”).  At a time when the social safety net is shredding and the alienation of rich and poor from their common humanity is increasing, taking the Food Stamp Challenge reminds us, in a small way, of our interconnectedness.”

— Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism,  Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)

“We move about our communities like ships on non-intersecting courses across a vast ocean, not realizing how many among us are really struggling to feed themselves and their families on a daily basis.  The maze of public assistance in food and other resources is unknown to many of us — but is becoming known to more and more of us, even as powerful forces in our society seek to decrease the resources available to the growing number in greater need.  

“I hope that our involvement with this project will enable people to see and feel more clearly — and to remove the stigma attached to those who receive help.  I have long suspected that there are more needy among us than we know — that people internalize the idea that if they are Jewish they can’t be needy, so if they are needy, they mustn’t be Jewish — or full members of our Jewish community.  A project like this may shed some light and some heat.”

— Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio

“Our society is short on empathy for those in need. The Food Stamp Challenge is a tool to channel us away from indifference towards empathy for the food insecure. I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge as a personal reminder to avoid indifference and to work with others to fight food insecurity.”

— Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL

“The 18th century Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said, ‘If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.’

“As Jews we know that it is not enough to make sure that others have enough to eat. We need to challenge ourselves to experience what those in need actually experience- the anxiety, the pain, and even the humiliation- so that we always remain motivated to fight for economic justice for all. At this time, when more children in this nation are food insecure than ever before, I feel compelled to motivate myself to find solutions in every way I possibly can. The Food Stamp Challenge is one path I am taking to motivate and inspire me to do my part to bring more light and wholeness into this New Year.”

— Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

Reaction to Supreme Court Decision Upholding Obamacare

Several organizations issued statements following today’s Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

As we study today’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, we are struck by the seriousness and thoughtfulness of the Court’s process and deliberations. The rule of law is central to the American legal system, the protection of civil and human rights, and the viability of democracy.  The ACA is the law of the land and universal, affordable, and accessible healthcare coverage for all Americans remains a compelling policy goal and moral imperative.  Over the next few months, as the Court’s decision is parsed and the ACA is implemented, we will work with Congress and the Administration continually to improve our healthcare system and governance. We are particularly focused on the implications for Medicaid, a vital program that ensures healthcare for the most vulnerable among us.  Today, we are reminded of the genius of American system of laws and government.

Repubican Jewish Coalition

The Supreme Court has rendered judgement on the constitutionality of Obamacare. It remains up to Congress and the American people to judge whether it is good policy. The serious negative effects this law will have on the economy, on jobs, on medical research and development, and on the quality of health care in America, are very troubling. The American people will have the opportunity to express their opinion on the wisdom of Obamacare in this election year.

National Jewish Democratic Council

The National Jewish Democratic Council — indeed so much of the American Jewish community — is deeply gratified by today’s ruling. We are thankful that the Court affirmed the core constitutionality of this landmark legislation that will bring health care to tens of millions more Americans. The Court confirmed today what liberal and conservative legal scholars have said all along — that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is constitutional and well within Congress’ jurisdiction to regulate. Now is the time for conservative critics of the President — especially the godfather of core components of the bill, Mitt Romney — to accept Obamacare and its provisions as the constitutional law of the land. We look forward to the continuing implementation of Obamacare in the months and years to come.

President’s remarks follow the jump.
Remarks by President Barack Obama on the Supreme Court Ruling on the Affordable Care Act

Good afternoon.  Earlier today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — the name of the health care reform we passed two years ago.  In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on Earth – no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.

I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost.  That’s how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington.  But that discussion completely misses the point.  Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.

And because this law has a direct impact on so many Americans, I want to take this opportunity to talk about exactly what it means for you.

First, if you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance — this law will only make it more secure and more affordable.  Insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on the amount of care you receive.  They can no longer discriminate against children with preexisting conditions.  They can no longer drop your coverage if you get sick.  They can no longer jack up your premiums without reason.  They are required to provide free preventive care like check-ups and mammograms — a provision that’s already helped 54 million Americans with private insurance.  And by this August, nearly 13 million of you will receive a rebate from your insurance company because it spent too much on things like administrative costs and CEO bonuses, and not enough on your health care.

There’s more.  Because of the Affordable Care Act, young adults under the age of 26 are able to stay on their parent’s health care plans — a provision that’s already helped 6 million young Americans.  And because of the Affordable Care Act, seniors receive a discount on their prescription drugs — a discount that’s already saved more than 5 million seniors on Medicare about $600 each.

All of this is happening because of the Affordable Care Act. These provisions provide common-sense protections for middle class families, and they enjoy broad popular support.  And thanks to today’s decision, all of these benefits and protections will continue for Americans who already have health insurance.  

Now, if you’re one of the 30 million Americans who don’t yet have health insurance, starting in 2014 this law will offer you an array of quality, affordable, private health insurance plans to choose from.  Each state will take the lead in designing their own menu of options, and if states can come up with even better ways of covering more people at the same quality and cost, this law allows them to do that, too.  And I’ve asked Congress to help speed up that process, and give states this flexibility in year one.

Once states set up these health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against any American with a preexisting health condition.  They won’t be able to charge you more just because you’re a woman.  They won’t be able to bill you into bankruptcy. If you’re sick, you’ll finally have the same chance to get quality, affordable health care as everyone else.  And if you can’t afford the premiums, you’ll receive a credit that helps pay for it.

Today, the Supreme Court also upheld the principle that people who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance.  This is important for two reasons.

First, when uninsured people who can afford coverage get sick, and show up at the emergency room for care, the rest of us end up paying for their care in the form of higher premiums.

And second, if you ask insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions, but don’t require people who can afford it to buy their own insurance, some folks might wait until they’re sick to buy the care they need — which would also drive up everybody else’s premiums.

That’s why, even though I knew it wouldn’t be politically popular, and resisted the idea when I ran for this office, we ultimately included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that people who can afford to buy health insurance should take the responsibility to do so.  In fact, this idea has enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for President.

Still, I know the debate over this law has been divisive.  I respect the very real concerns that millions of Americans have shared.  And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically.

Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics.  I did it because I believed it was good for the country.  I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.

There’s a framed letter that hangs in my office right now.  It was sent to me during the health care debate by a woman named Natoma Canfield.  For years and years, Natoma did everything right.  She bought health insurance.  She paid her premiums on time.  But 18 years ago, Natoma was diagnosed with cancer.  And even though she’d been cancer-free for more than a decade, her insurance company kept jacking up her rates, year after year.  And despite her desire to keep her coverage — despite her fears that she would get sick again — she had to surrender her health insurance, and was forced to hang her fortunes on chance.

I carried Natoma’s story with me every day of the fight to pass this law.  It reminded me of all the Americans, all across the country, who have had to worry not only about getting sick, but about the cost of getting well.

Natoma is well today.  And because of this law, there are other Americans — other sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers — who will not have to hang their fortunes on chance.  These are the Americans for whom we passed this law.

The highest Court in the land has now spoken.  We will continue to implement this law.  And we’ll work together to improve on it where we can.  But what we won’t do — what the country can’t afford to do — is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.

With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward — to implement and, where necessary, improve on this law.  And now is the time to keep our focus on the most urgent challenge of our time:  putting people back to work, paying down our debt, and building an economy where people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.

But today, I’m as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now, or 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, we’ll be better off because we had the courage to pass this law and keep moving forward.

Thank you.  God bless you, and God bless America.