Surrogate John Sununu: Romney’s No-No In The Jewish Community

John H. Sununu, right, with Mitt Romney. — by David Streeter

The Forward‘s J.J. Goldberg wrote about the problems posed for leading Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by his use of former New Hampshire Governor and President George H.W. Bush’s Chief of Staff John Sununu as a major surrogate. Goldberg wrote:

In the end, of course, it’s presidents that make foreign policy. A Romney White House would reflect the personal convictions of Mitt Romney. Whatever those turn out to be.

This is what made primary night television coverage so unsettling: the reminders that we don’t really know what Romney believes, and he may have no intention of telling us until he’s inaugurated.

Of all those reminders, the most chilling was the appearance of former New Hampshire governor John Sununu as a Romney spokesman. For those with long memories, it harkened back to the 1988 election, when Sununu was Republican candidate George H.W. Bush’s national campaign manager.

…  Sununu was also the only one of the 50 governors who refused to sign a 1987 proclamation saluting the 90th anniversary of Zionism and calling on the United Nations to rescind its Zionism-racism resolution. His reasoning was that governors shouldn’t dabble in foreign affairs – though he’d issued proclamations honoring Bastille Day and saluting Polish freedom on Pulaski Day. In 1988 he issued a proclamation honoring the veterans of the U.S.S. Liberty, an American naval vessel mistakenly attacked by Israeli jets in June 1967, causing 34 deaths. Sununu called the attack ‘vicious and unprovoked.’

Bush’s Jewish supporters insisted Sununu’s views didn’t reflect Bush’s. When word came out that Sununu was to be White House chief of staff, they said he wouldn’t be involved in Middle East policy. They said Bush was a devoted friend of Israel. Then we found out he wasn’t.

We hadn’t seen much of Sununu lately, until Romney went and found him. Or they found each other.

Four Jewish Summer Camps Sell “Fracking Rights”


Camps Endanger Drinking Water, Food, Health & Climate

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Forward reported that the following four Jewish summer camps in Pennsylvania have signed leases with gas exploration companies to allow “fracking” —  the hydro-fracturing method of pouring tons of highly chemicalized water to smash shale rocks into releasing natural gas.

  • Starlight’s Perlman Camp, which is owned and operated by B’nai B’rith;
  • Camps Nesher and Shoshanim, which share a property in Lakewood and are owned and operated by the New Jersey Federation of YMHA and YWHA; and
  • Camp Morasha, an independent camp in Lakewood.

The Forward reports that

Fracking of a single well creates more than one million gallons of wastewater awash in pollutants, including some radioactive materials.  According to a February report in The New York Times, state and federal documents show that the waste water is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.

The Shalom Center views it as a profound violation of Jewish wisdom and values for summer camps or other Jewish institutions to sell the rights to use their land in ways that will poison  God’s and humanity’s earth, air, food, and water.

More on actions you can take to halt this after the jump.
Normal Federal protections for drinking water and clean air have been thwarted by the Halliburton Loophole pushed through Congress by former Vice-President Dick Cheney. It prevents application of these protective rules to drilling by the gas and oil industries. As a result, no one knows what chemicals are causing the dangers to water, food, and health that are appearing in fracking areas.

Fracking has turned the drinking water of farmers near well-heads into “water” that turns to flame when a match is lit at the kitchen faucets.

Fracking threatens the drinking water supply of the Philadelphia and New York  City metropolitan areas, and has been charged with raising cancer rates in communities near fracking sites.

Fracking is also a planetary threat. Scientists at Cornell University have analyzed fracking and report that it leaks methane, a planet-heating gas much more  powerful than CO2, at such a rate that  “if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, [fracking] shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil.”

On September 7-8, the national commercial association of companies that are  fracking shale rock regions will gather for a national convention in Philadelphia.

So environmental organizations are planning to face the “Fracking Association” with major demonstrations on September 7-8. The goal is at least 2500 demonstrators, with a rally, a march, a counter-conference, and a “Blessing of the Waters.”

The Shalom Center has taken the lead in bringing together an interfaith planning committee to put together a “Blessing of the Waters” as part of the Sept 7-8 arrangements.

We invite religious folk, clergy and lay, who want to take part in these events to get in touch with us by writing Rabbi Arthur Waskow with “Interfaith Blessing Waters” in the subject line.

The two-day anti-fracking event will include: a large rally near the Philadelphia Convention Center from  noon to 2 pm, Wednesday September 7; a march through Philadelphia to Gov Corbett’s office that day; an interfaith “Blessing of the Waters” at Penn’s Treaty Park on the Delaware River at 5:30 pm;  and on Thursday, an all-day conference to plan strategy to stop fracking, to be held at Rodeph Shalom Congregation in down-town Philadelphia.

Fracking is currently under a moratorium in parts of New York State. New Jersey has just outlawed it. Wells have been drilled in parts of Pennsylvania. The Delaware River Port Authority has imposed a moratorium that may expire in September.

What you can do to stop fracking:

  • Call your child’s summer camp to urge they reject any leases or plans that might allow fracking.
  • Call  Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith International, at (888) 388-4224 (toll-free) or 202-857-6600, about Camp Perlman, and Leonard Robinson, exec of the New Jersey Y Camps, who has decision-making power over those camps,  at (570) 296-8596..
  • Sign the petition for a national ban on fracking.
  • If you live in New York State, call Governor Cuomo at 518/474-8390 and urge him to ban fracking throughout New York State. In Pennsylvania, call Governor Corbett at 717/787-2500 with the same demand.
  • Call your members of Congress and tell them to pass the FRAC Act to repeal the “Cheney-Halliburton” exemption for hydrofracking from environmental laws.
  • Show the documentary film Gasland in your community. It documents the dangers of fracking. DVD’s are available on the Gasland website.
  • Save the dates of September 7-8 to attend the interfaith events on fracking in Philadelphia.  Click here for more information.
  • See our article for background.
  • Prepare to use Shabbat Noach, October 28-29, when Jews read the biblical story of the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow, as a time to address fracking and other threats to our planet, and act to heal our Earth in the spirit of the Rainbow.

I talked with Leonard Robinson, director of the New Jersey YH-YWHA summer camps (which are located in Pennsylvania). He gave four arguments for the leases:

  1. The issue is “bigger than we are,” he said. This meant that whether the Delaware Bay and River authorities clamp down on fracking will make a difference, and the camp is essentially helpless.
  2. Moreover, the camp’s neighbors were leasing their land and since the gas drilling/fracking may do damage beneath the earth’s surface horizontally across ownership lines, better they should make their own deal that might protect the camp’s land better than not leasing.
  3. The camp made a lot of money from the lease.
  4. The lease was agreed to two years ago, when the camp had much less information than it does now about the dangers of fracking. “Now, we can’t just cancel the lease.”

I responded thus:

Of course the issue is bigger than the camp. When big institutions are attacking Jewish values, the question is whether to surrender because they are more powerful or organize to stop them —  including, in this case, to reach out to the neighbors and work with them against the fracking companies.

I mentioned the San Francisco case where some people are organizing a referendum to outlaw circumcision of children. The official Jewish community could have decided the issue was “bigger” than they were – too big to fight – and surrender (even maybe having mohelim make a deal for a buy-off to replace their lost income) or instead, choose to fight. They chose to fight, because circumcision was seen as a core Jewish value. Are clean water, air, and food, and the healing of our climate crisis, the protection of God’s Creation, a core Jewish value or not? In “Jewish identity-building” of campers, what are they taught about Jewish values and the Earth?

As for the inviolability of leases agreed to two years ago, I pointed out to Mr. Robinson that it MIGHT be argued that if the fracking companies withheld information they had two years ago about the poisonous chemicals they are adding to the fracking water, and in other ways misled the camps and other lessees, that the leases might be voidable.

So I encourage you to call Mr. Robinson at (570) 296-8596, and urge him to take all necessary steps to void the existing leases, to make no new ones, to make protection of the Earth and of human health a clear Jewish value taught in his camps, and to join with The Shalom Center and others in the Jewish and  broader American communities to convince state governments to outlaw fracking, as the State of New Jersey has just done.

My conversation with Mr.Robinson makes clear that this issue goes beyond the four camps that have already leased land for fracking. It raises the basic question whether Jewish camping, which is widely  said to be intended to strengthen Jewish knowledge, practice, and values among young people, can actually enhance – instead of betraying –   its unusual opportunity of making connections between Jewish values and the healing of relationships between adam and adamah, the earthy human race and the Earth itself.

There are hundreds of such camps, sponsored by the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and various Orthodox denominations, by Habonim Labor Zionists and by Young Judea, by many Federations and other Jewish organizations.   There is even a Foundation for Jewish Camp, 15 West 36th Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10018 ; Phone: 646-278-4500, whose CEO is  Jeremy J. Fingerman, 646-278-4505.

Among these many camps, there is at least one,  Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, NY (877) 397-EDEN (3336);  which was founded explicitly to renew the Jewish connection with the Earth. Its program to do this is both extraordinary and exemplary.

The Shalom Center intends to pursue both our efforts to end any practices that subvert the Jewish value of healing God’s creation, and our efforts to strengthen those program that support that value as a core commitment of Judaism and the Jewish people.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center; newest book, co-authored with R. Phyllis Berman, is Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness across Millennia.

Hazon Goes to the White House: Food Justice and the Farm Bill

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, addresses the group.

— by Liz Kohn

Last week 12 excited Hazon representatives and 160 other Jewish participants gathered in Washington D.C. as part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJRT), a collection of 21 nonprofits supporting social justice as an essential component of Jewish life. The two-day affair began on Thursday, July 28th with congressional meetings and culminated the following day with the White House Community Leaders Briefing Series, a unique summer-long opportunity for grassroots leaders to engage White House officials and voice issues close to our hearts.

Jon Carson, deputy assistant to the President and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, succinctly articulated the purpose of the series: “I’m not here to talk,” he said. “I’m here to listen about what you’re seeing across the country.” For many in Hazon’s cohort and millions of American Jews, this issue is food justice.

Early Friday, after a lively opening session at the National Press Club, the large group split four ways for agency briefings about housing, healthcare, education and food justice. I joined the food justice cohort for an overview of food accessibility, policy and budgeting by three key members of the White House staff.

More after the jump.
American Jewish World Service Director of Advocacy, Timi Gerson, first introduced JSJRT and the session’s storytellers: Rabbi Andy Kastner, American Jewish World Service Neta Fellow and campus rabbi at Washington University and David Napell, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger Board Member, shared short, telling stories of food injustice and insecurities, setting the stage for the briefing from agency staff. USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Acting Deputy Director Julie Curti was the first staff member to share her insights.

It was a pleasure hearing Curti mention the USDA’s first Food and Justice Passover Seder and stress the importance of nonprofit partnerships in actually executing the communal work. She painted a troubling landscape of hunger and food access in America, revealing that 50.2 million Americans were food insecure at some point in 2009. She said a recent study also found that 23.5 million Americans live in low income areas that are more than 1 mile from a food store, a trouble with food access on the retail side often described as “food deserts” or “food swamps.” The third theme she discussed was obesity, saying it has become clear that simply “too few fruits and vegetables consumed, sometimes by choice, but many times not. ” She then detailed various ways the government is combating these issues; from their 18 different agencies addressing producer and consumer components of accessibility and 15 partnerships around nutrition assistance programs.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most important with approximately 44 million Americans enrolled, up from 28 million in 2008. This number, Curti added, still only reaches 68% of eligible participants, which she called “an issue of reach, not funding.” She highlighted several programs, such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which gives food to nonprofits to distribute to kids. Others such as the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program relate to urban farms and gardens and address the supply side of food access. There is also the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) which helps to increase the availability of nutritious food in grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets.

Curti finished her presentation by praising who in the bigger picture is the greatest champion of healthy food access: the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her Let’s Move! initiative to build healthier communities has recently received commitments from private retailers like Wal Mart and Walgreens as well as public support from a variety of individuals and venues. Curti acknowledged the government’s many food justice oriented Jewish nonprofit partners (including Hazon!) and thanked us for our presence and dedication to the cause.

Brandon Willis, Senior Adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke next, and Jennifer Yezak, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the USDA chimed in during the question and answer session. Willis overviewed the Farm Bill and said that while it is difficult to know its timing or breakdown, funding cuts are inevitable. The Farm Bill is incredibly complex, with approximately 70% of its funding going to nutrition programs, followed by conservation and commodity programs. This complexity leads to health, economic, and environmental issues and as with any complex and broad legislation, straightforward answers were difficult to come by.

Yezak shared that recent discussions about regulatory reform provided the Administration with some ideas that need to, and will, get on the table: “there are efforts and discussions about this in the USDA. Rural Development State Directors are looking at ways to make their loans and grant programs more accessible and easier to apply for.” She encouraged us to continue our involvement as these conversations progress and said she will be on hand as a resource and source of support.

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service echoed this sentiment: “We must not underestimate the power of letting our government know that global food justice, equitable healthcare, education reform, and affordable housing are authentic expressions of Jewish values. They are issues that Jewish leaders care about deeply and will work on intensively.” This collective commitment to advance social justice in the food realm has the potential to drive change in a big and powerful way. Moments like last week’s symbolize that we are doing so across communities and around the country, in the Jewish community and beyond.

Liz Kohn, originally from Evergreen, Colorado, is a Masters in Social Work 2012 candidate in the University of Michigan’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program and is Hazon’s Social Work Intern. Her professional and volunteer work and travels have deepened her desire to develop skills in meeting both individual needs and communal challenges related to accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy food.

Reprinted courtesy of The Jew and the Carrot.

Four Questions About Our Budget Debate

Why is this year’s budget agreement different from all other budget agreements.

In the spirit of Passover, Mark Pelavin and Jonathan Backer of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism ask “Four Question” on the op/ed pages of the Forward:

  • Why during past budget debates did we succeed in reducing poverty, but this year, proposed cuts would increase poverty?
  • Why during all other budget debates did we discuss revenue and spending, but this year we discuss only spending?
  • Why during all other budget debates were programs that served low-income families exempted from spending cuts, but this year they are not?
  • Why during this budget debate do we discuss only non-defense discretionary spending?