Modern Marriage: DOMA Elimination Raises Many Questions


Daylin Leach officiates the marriage between Sarah and Marcia Martinez-Helfman at the Talamore Golf Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the parallel provision on the Marriage Law in Pennsylvania expand gay rights and bestow important benefits on GLBTQ communities. These include the ceremonial and symbolic element of traditional marriage, and the reduction or elimination of economic discrimination in favor of traditional marriage that continues to exist in some public laws and programs.  

But in addition, this line of cases has broadened the circumstances in which discrimination will be inferred in facially “neutral” governmental action, and has broadened the application of the doctrine of equal protection of the laws, all to the good.  

More after the jump.
Family law, the body of common law principles and statutes controlling marriage, adoption, divorce, support and custody issues, has been a subject of state law. Moreover, the states have been permitted to experiment and apply highly individual approaches in this area.

Until late in the last century, battles over divorce laws arose primarily in state legislatures. For decades, trips to Reno or Mexico had been common parts of a divorce “package.” These days, lawyers fight cases over the question of jurisdiction: If one of two married people travels to a place far from the marital home, is the divorce decree obtained there really binding?

The questions of how marriages formed, on the other hand, had received much less attention. Now with the advent of gay marriage, inevitable adjustments will be made in related norms and practices. Any assumptions about relationships will be revisited.

The traditional polite seating at the meal table — boy, girl, boy, girl — is surely adaptable. Other institutions will take longer to adapt.

As a formal matter, the two paths to marriage — a civil or a religious ceremony — will remain unchanged. Nonetheless, organized religions will face pressure to decide whether they too will broaden their viewpoint and grant sacramental support to gay marriage.

This revolution is surely going to pour over into heterosexual families and relationships. When a marriage — or union — breaks up, many assumptions about custody and support will no longer seem applicable.

Who is responsible for bringing up a baby? The traditional assumption that there will be a breadwinner, and that this role will survive separation and divorce, will seem antiquated. Why should the breadwinner, or the homemaker before divorce continue in that role afterward? If those roles are purely personal elections, need they be permanently binding?  

Collegeville Camp Offers 3-Week Overnight Program for $300

Camp Gan Israel Philly near Collegeville, Pennsylvania offers fourth- to eighth-grade girls a three-week overnight camp program between June 29 and July 17 for $300 instead of $1230, after receiving a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

This pricing is open to girls from the entire spectrum of the Jewish community who have never been to overnight camp and are not currently enrolled in a Jewish school. Space is limited.

More after the jump.
The wooded campus on the Perkiomen Creek offers canoeing, swimming, arts and craft, drama, archery, cooking, sports and more. The camp’s music program will launch this summer. Girls have the opportunity to create their own schedules by selecting activities from a list of options each week.

Anyone interested can find more information at the camp’s website, 215-852-0276 or [email protected]

This Tuesday, Vote “Yes” for Higher Minimum Wages


Rally for a “living wage” in Philadelphia, May 8.

— by Rabbi George Stern

“Living wages” make it possible for workers to raise families and enter the middle class without relying on public funds, enhancing worker self-esteem and productivity.

Allowing businesses to pay low wages essentially subsidizes corporate profits: Corporate executives make outsized salaries, shareholders get larger dividends, and we all pay taxes to support food stamps and other crucial benefits for the underpaid workers.

Many myths surround low-wage workers, including that they are mainly teenagers seeking a little pocket money, or that they are uneducated and therefore unskilled (i.e., that the low wages are “their fault”). The speakers at a rally for a “living wage” in Pennsylvania, which I attended as the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) representative, demonstrated clearly how inaccurate these myths are.

One after another, adults raising children, some of which trying to find the funds to complete college degrees, testified to the hardships they endure as they bring home between $7.25 and $8.00 an hour, at establishments like the Philadelphia International Airport and fast food restaurants. The workers of the latter are planning strikes in Pennsylvania and across the country to highlight their plight.

More after the jump.
Last year, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that:

  • The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
  • 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
  • 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
  • 56 percent are women;
  • 28 percent have children;
  • 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
  • 44 percent have at least some college experience.

On May 4, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order raising the wages of city subcontractors to 150% of the federal minimum wage, which would currently mean a minimum of $10.88 an hour. Next Tuesday, May 20, city voters will have a chance to codify that order into law by voting “yes” in support of ballot issue #1.

While we at JSPAN do not consider that to be a living wage, it is a good move in the right direction. We also urge support for the $10.10 minimum “living wage” for Pennsylvania, the subject of the recent rally.

Open Letter to the Perelman Jewish Day School Board of Directors

Dear Board members,

As the proud father of four children who have all graduated from or currently attend the Perelman Jewish Day School, I am writing to you to ask you to reconsider your unilateral decision to no longer recognize the union which has represented your teachers since 1976.

You assert that the relevant labor laws would otherwise impair your freedom of religion. I am not a lawyer, so I will not argue the legal basis for such a claim. However, I have serious reservations about the halachic, moral and social basis for your action.

This claim that union-busting is part and parcel of our exercise of religion sadly plays into the hands of those anti-Semites to whom the word “Jew” is a verb with a negative connotation.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true; our religion deplores strong arm tactics in employer-employee relations. The Perelman Jewish Day School is affiliated with the Conservative Movement whose Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (legal position) on Jewish labor law: Conservative day schools and other institutions must pay a living wage to their workers and “may not interfere in any way with organizing drives.”

More after the jump.
Historically, the Babylonian Talmud gives citizens the right to intervene between a employer and employee to insure the fairness of wages. More recently, orthodox Rabbis such as Eliezer Waldenberg and Moshe Feinstein have recognized the right of workers and even religious school teachers to bargain collectively.

The Jewish people is called upon to be “a light unto the nations”. We should be an example to others and impose a higher standard for ourselves. We should never seize our Jewish identity as a carte blanche to ignore community norms which even Walmart and McDonald are required to follow.

Your lawyers can might advise you about how far you can push the envelope of labor law, but they cannot advise you about derekh eretz.

The board has valid concerns about many issues (such as salary and tenure), but these issues should be addressed with respect at the negotiating table. The teachers do not have the right to get whatever they want in those negotiations, but they should have the right to sit at the table and be heard. If secular law perhaps does not require a religious organization to give unions a voice, then halakhah (Jewish law) and derekh eretz (common decency) does.

Please reconsider your decision and sit down to talk with the union before their contract runs out in August.

Yours, Daniel Loeb

PS: Tomorrow, you are holding your annual fundraiser. However, instead I will be making my donation to the Jack H. Barrack Hebrew Academy (even though I have no child who attends school there). By recognizing their teachers’ union, they show the kind of kavod (respect) which we hope our children will model.  

Senator Casey to Speak at Gratz College Commencement

Gratz College’s 114th commencement ceremony on May 18 will honor a particularly high-profile degree recipient: Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

In addition to receiving an honorary degree from Gratz, Senator Casey will be presenting the commencement address during the graduation ceremony.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Members of the public interested in attending should contact Dodi Klimoff in email or at 215-635-7300 x 133 regarding seat availability.

More after the jump.
Casey is among the cosponsors of the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, which is on the Senate’s legislative calendar. Among its many provisions, the act includes a bill introduced by Casey to address the serious and prevalent problem of school bullying.

Casey is also a member of the National Security Working Group and a co-chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Caucus.

Why I Sent My Kids to a Jewish School


Purim at the Gratz Jewish Community High School.

— by Shelley Szwalbenest

A first grader’s major school project is a leprechaun trap, while the hallways in his school are a sea of St. Patrick green. Meanwhile, his kindergartner sibling is learning that St. Patrick cured Ireland of its snakes, their second-grade sibling is receiving only Christmas homework, and the only seventh-grade trip of their other sibling is to see A Christmas Carol, which the principal defends as part of the school’s “culture,” and the Superintendent of Schools insists is not Christian.  

All of these happened to my children in the Bucks County public school system.

We are proud to be Americans. We thrive in our multicultural society. Our challenge is raising caring, committed and connected Jews.

More after the jump.
Now my children are all teens. Their bar and bat mitzvahs have passed. All of the memorizing and necessary, though not necessarily inspiring, learning of religious school is over.

Now, their education at the Gratz Jewish Community High School provides them with the gift of discussion, arguing a point, tackling the thorny moral issues of the day, and learning how to think.

Recently, one of my children received applause from his classmates while discussing a point in The Pit and the Pendulum. He has honed this skill not in a public school, which is busy getting through the curriculum preparing for standardized tests, but through his experiences at Gratz, where spirited discussion is encouraged and nurtured.

Though youth group activities are fine, is it not better to have your children meet other Jewish kids in a learning environment, that both expands their skills and is fun?

Yes, I hope that colleges will look upon my children’s Gratz experience favorably, but that is not the reason I have sent them there.

We are Jewish parents, raising children in a world where they may experience being the only Jew in their class or camp group, or at a social event. It is our job to empower them, to make them feel good about themselves, and to give them the tools to navigate the world. For me, their Gratz experience is doing just that.  

Remember to Vote in the Primary Election

Pennsylvania’s primary election day is Tuesday, May 20, and the polls will be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

You understand the importance of turnout if you have seen the “ground game” that candidates run in elections these days.  

The vote that is assured, including people tied to the government and other reliable votes, are “pulled” by a team working for a particular candidate. Independents, and centrists in general, are not urged to come out. And so when turnout drops too low, a lazy electorate can result in an unwanted result.

According to statistics assembled in the election project at the George Mason University, only about 40% of Pennsylvanians eligible to vote came out for the gubernatorial general election in 2010. The turnout in primaries is usually even lower; in 2012, only 20% of the electorate bothered to vote in the primary.

For a representative government to be truly representative, we all need to vote and to get others to vote.

Information on absentee ballots and the most important races after the jump.

Absentee Ballots

If you cannot be at the polls on election day, you may vote absentee ballot.

The completed application form must be received by your county’s election board by 5 p.m. on May 13; having it postmarked by May 13 does not count. In addition, only an original of your completed application can be submitted; do not submit a copy of your form.

For example, people in Montgomery County can mail their applications to: Election Board, Montgomery County Court House, P.O. Box 311, Norristown, PA 19404-0311.

To file in person or through UPS or FedEx, the address would be: Election Board, One Montgomery Plaza, Suite 602, 425 Swede Street, Norristown, PA 19401.

Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the same office by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 16. If the ballot is to be delivered by hand, then it may only be returned by the actual voter. And again, having a completed ballot postmarked by May 16 does not count.

People serving in the military can also vote through absentee ballot. However, different deadlines apply.

Also, certain people may qualify for emergency absentee ballots before or even after May 13.

Among the many contests, four important races to be decided have created real excitement.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is seeking a second term. Seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose him in the Fall general election are four candidates:

  • State Treasurer Rob McCord;
  • Kathleen McGinty, previously state environmental protection secretary;
  • Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; and
  • Tom Wolfe, previously state revenue secretary.  

Also running are Paul Glover for the Green Party, and Ken Krawchuk for the Libertarian Party.

In the race to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 13th District, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies is battling State Sen. Daylin Leach, State Rep. Brendan Boyle and medical professor Valerie Arkoosh.

Lining up to oppose incumbent Republican Mike Fitzpatrick in the 8th District are two Democrats: publisher Shaughnessy Naughton, and Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran Kevin Strouse.

Long-time Democratic State Senator LeAnna Washington represents the 4th District, spanning portions of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County. Challengers in this race are nonprofit social services officer Brian Gralnick, and Cheltenham Township Commissioner Art Haywood. The race is considered competitive because the incumbent is under indictment for misuse of public funds and staff.

Other congressional races will be decided, along with local races for state legislature that add to the interest and importance of this primary.  

Immigrants From Around The World Join The IDF

— by Rebecca Modell

Thirty new newcomers to Israel from North America arrived last week at Ben Gurion Airport, and 60 others already in Israel became new citizens through Nefesh B’Nefesh, in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA.

At the same time, at the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Tel Hashomer base in the country’s central region, 104 “lone soldiers” — those who immigrate to Israel without family and enlist — officially became IDF soldiers as part of the Friends of the IDF/Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program.

More after the jump.
Among those who became citizens was London native Josh Steele, a finalist from Israel’s “Master Chef” TV cooking competition, who was the show’s first Anglo participant. He and the other 59 new Israeli citizens made Aliyah as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Guided Aliyah program.

The 104 lone soldiers that enlisted came from more than 20 countries, including Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Italy, India, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, the U.S., U.K., Ukraine and Venezuela.

Nefesh B’Nefesh’s founder and executive director, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, said, “The fulfillment of the Zionistic aspirations of these 194 Olim while Israel gears up for its 66th Independence Day highlights the integral role of Aliyah in strengthening the State of Israel.”

With 90 new olim, and 104 new young IDF Lone Soldier olim coming from over 20 countries from around the world, I couldn’t think of a better gift the State of Israel can receive for its 66th birthday.

The Guided Aliyah program allows citizens of the U.S., Canada, and the UK currently residing in Israel the opportunity to make Aliyah through Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, while receiving the full array of Nefesh B’Nefesh services. These services include assisted government processing, financial aid and post Aliyah assistance.

Not Alone – Protecting Students From Sexual Assault

by The White House Press Office

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.

The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That’s why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.  
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts. It will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.

These steps build on the Administration’s previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country — via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Helping Schools Identify the Problem: Climate Surveys

Campus sexual assault is chronically underreported – so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can. So, today:

The Task Force will provide schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting a climate survey. This survey has evidence-based sample questions that schools can use to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and craft solutions. The administration will call on schools to voluntarily conduct the climate survey next year and, based on what it learns, it will further refine the survey methodology. This process will culminate in a survey for all schools to use.

The Task Force will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey in 2016. A mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic: with a better picture of what’s really happening on campus, schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts.  

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Bringing in the Bystander

The college years are formative for many students. If the task force implements effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a systematic review of primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence, and is releasing an advance summary of its findings. This review summarizes some of the best available research in the area, and highlights evidence-based prevention strategies that work, some that are promising, and those that don’t work. The report points to steps colleges can take now to prevent sexual assault on their campuses.

The CDC and the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies on college campuses. This work will build on the CDC’s systematic review, and will identify and fill gaps in the research on sexual violence prevention.

Getting Bystanders to Step In and Help Is a Promising Practice.  Bystander intervention programs work to change social norms, and teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted. These programs are among those the CDC found most promising.

Helping Schools Respond Effectively When A Student is Sexually Assaulted: Confidentiality, Training, Better Investigations, and Community Partnerships

By law, schools that receive federal funds are obliged to protect students from sexual assault. It is the Task Force’s mission to help schools meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of that obligation. And that can mean a number of things – from giving a victim a confidential place to turn for advice and support, to providing specialized training for school officials, to effectively investigating and finding out what happened, to sanctioning the perpetrator, to doing everything it can to help a survivor recover.

Many survivors need someone to talk to in confidence. While many survivors of sexual assault are ready to press forward with a formal complaint right away, others aren’t so sure. For some, having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent. Today, the Department of Education is releasing new guidance clarifying that on-campus counselors and advocates can talk to a survivor in confidence.  This support can help victims come forward, get help, and make a formal report if they choose to.

The Task Force is providing a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. Even victims who make a formal report may still request that the information be held in confidence, and that the school not investigate or take action against the perpetrator.  Schools, however, also have an obligation to keep the larger community safe. To help them strike this balance, the Task Force is providing schools with a sample reporting and confidentiality policy, which recommends factors a school should consider in making this decision.

The Task Force is providing specialized training for school officials. School officials and first responders need to understand how sexual assault occurs, the tactics used by perpetrators, and the common reactions of victims. The Justice Department will help by developing new training programs for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases and by launching a technical assistance project for campus officials. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff to improve services to victims.

The Task Force will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative and adjudicative protocols. It needs to know more about what investigative and adjudicative systems work best on campus. The Justice Department will undertake this work, and will begin evaluating different models this year with the goal of identifying the most promising practices. The Department of Education’s new guidance also urges some important improvements to the disciplinary process.

The Task Force is helping schools forge partnerships with community resources. Community partnerships are critical to getting survivors the help they need: while some schools can provide comprehensive services on campus, others may need to partner with community-based organizations. Rape crisis centers in particular can help schools better serve their students. The Task Force is releasing a sample agreement between schools and rape crisis centers, so survivors have a full network of services in place.

Improving and Making More Transparent Federal Enforcement Efforts

To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, the federal government needs to both strengthen its enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible agencies.  Importantly, it also needs to improve communication with survivors, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making its efforts more transparent.

On Tuesday, the Task Force is launching a dedicated website – www.NotAlone.gov – to make enforcement data public and to make other resources accessible to students and schools. On the website, students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data, and read about how to file a complaint. The website will also help schools and advocates: it will make available federal guidance on legal obligations, best available evidence and research, and relevant legislation. Finally, the website will have trustworthy resources from outside the federal government, such as hotline numbers and mental health services locatable by simply typing in a zip code.

The Department of Education is providing more clarity on schools’ legal obligations. The Department of Education is releasing answers to frequently asked questions about schools’ legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.  Among many other topics, the new guidance makes clear that federal law protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear questions about a survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator shouldn’t be permitted during a judicial hearing, and also that a previous sexual relationship doesn’t imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence. And that schools should take steps to protect and assist a survivor pending an investigation.

The Departments of Justice and Education have entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role. Both agencies have a critical role to play in enforcing the laws that require schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. The agencies have entered into a formal agreement to increase coordination and strengthen enforcement.

Next Steps

The action steps highlighted in this report are the initial phase of an ongoing plan and commitment to putting an end to this violence on campuses. The Task Force will continue to work toward solutions, clarity, and better coordination. It will review the legal frameworks surrounding sexual assault for possible regulatory or statutory improvements, and seek new resources to enhance enforcement. Campus law enforcement agencies have special expertise- and they, too, should be tapped to play a more central role. And it will also consider how its recommendations apply to public elementary and secondary schools – and what more we can do to help there.