American Jews Support Gun Law Reform

Since last week’s massacre in Connecticut, Jewish politicians and organizations have showed their support of reform in gun laws.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition. Following the event the coalition has launched the Demand A Plan campaign:

Our efforts cannot bring back the 20 innocent children murdered in Newtown, CT — or the 34 people murdered with guns every day in America. But we can prevent future tragedies by passing common sense legislation that will:

  1. Require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America.
  2. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for “straw purchasers.”

Demand that your members of Congress and the president support these legislative priorities.

More after the jump.

Over 300,000 Americans have already signed the campaign’s petition, and the coalition itself has over 750 mayors as members.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has announced on her website that she will introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the first day of the new congress.

“Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition-feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer — they’re for hunting people”.

Additionally, over 10,000 Americans have signed a Jewish Council for Public Affairs petition to make access to guns and mental health care a national priority.

“There has been an immediate emotional reaction across the entire country of shock, horror, and deep sadness. But this was not an isolated event. In the past few months, we have seen shootings at malls, theaters, and places of workshop; each one followed by a return to complacency and status quo,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The grotesque shooting at Newtown and the massive outpouring of support for this petition mark a tonal shift in our country where the need for a comprehensive approach to guns and mental health care are urgent priorities we can no continue to ignore. The thousands of signers are the beginning of a national and sustained effort to make sure future tragedies like this are unimaginable.”

The Jewish Women International organization applauded yesterday president Barack Obama’s announcement of gun violence task force:

“JWI strongly supports the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden in reforming our nation’s gun laws in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. We applaud the creation of an interagency task force to address gun violence and urge Members of Congress to enact tough restrictions on guns, most urgently banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. JWI also believes that Congress must improve the quality and accessibility of our nation’s mental health services. As an organization that has worked to address the devastating effects of gun violence and domestic violence for decades, we applaud the Administration’s efforts and urge thoughtful and decisive action from all levels of government.”

In a speech in the House of Representatives, Rep. Alysson Schwartz (D-PA) stated:

We have seen far too many moments of violence and loss. This loss is too devastating to ignore. I believe that even in this time of deep sadness and grief, we must resolve to end such violence. We must do better to understand and treat mental illness. And we must come together to move our nation towards common sense, responsible gun laws. Laws that recognize the responsibility of gun-ownership, and ensure safety and security in our homes, schools, communities, and public spaces.

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.

Jewish Community Adopts Consensus Policies

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ 14 national member agencies and 125 Community Relations Councils debated and adopted five resolutions expressing the consensus view of the American Jewish community at the JCPA’s annual Plenum in Detroit. The resolutions deal with anti-Semitism on campuses, collective bargaining, education equity, gender segregation in Israel, and hydrofracking for natural gas and oil.

  • Countering Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Activity on Campus
    This resolution calls for education about and support for the “important remedy” that is now available under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and calls on campus leaders to do more to make students safe. It embraces a range of responses to hostile campus atmospheres including dialogue, education, and legal remedies.
  • Collective Bargaining
    This resolution continues longstanding support for collective bargaining for public employees and opposes efforts to narrow or eliminate it.
  • Equal Education Opportunity
    This resolution addresses inequity in educational opportunity in public schools. This resolution calls for research, education, and community attention directed to closing the achievement gap in our nation’s public schools and heightening awareness of this issue on the national Jewish agenda.  
  • Gender Segregation in Public Spaces in Israel
    This resolution was ultimately supported by the National Council of Jewish Women along with the Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Orthodox Jewish movements.   It states that enforced gender segregation in secular public spaces is inconsistent with Israel’s founding principles of equality and, at the same time, that there may be circumstances where accommodation of gender segregation may be appropriate such as the consideration of religious and cultural sensitivities in the delivery of municipal services
  • Hydrofracking
    This resolution addresses natural gas and oil extraction by the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as hydrofracking.  The resolution calls for studies, disclosure, safeguards, and oversight.

Senator Stabenow Touts Food Aid in Bipartisan Farm Bill with Eye Towards Deficit Reduction

At a time of partisanship and gridlock, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, discussed her Committee’s bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Farm Bill and ensure aid goes to struggling families in Michigan and throughout the country without waste or abuse. The remarks were made to Jewish community relations leaders and professionals in Detroit for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ annual Plenum.

“This has been a moment of pride and bipartisanship,” said Stabenow of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s 5-hour debate on the Farm Bill. On the nutrition assistance component of the bill, Stabenow said the “challenge is to address our greatest deficits in history while staying true to our values.” Regarding efforts to increase program accountability, Stabenow said “in this economy, every single dollar we spend must go to families in need.”

Ensuring robust funding for the nutrition title of the Farm Bill, which covers vital programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), has been a legislative priority for the JCPA. The JCPA’s advocacy efforts include the community-based Hunger Seder Mobilization and national leadership in the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group.   The JCPA has been actively involved in preventing deep cuts to programs that have kept millions out of poverty and alleviated hunger.  

Jewish Organizations Push To Protect Women

— by Max Samis

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — which has been passed and reauthorized with bipartisan support several times since it’s inception in 1994 — prominent Democrats marked April 17 as “Equal Pay Day,” recognizing the importance of continuing to fight for gender equality in the workplace. Several leading Democrats issued statements and penned op-eds in order to raise awareness of the issue, as well as the larger fight for women’s rights.

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:

President Obama and Democrats understand that equal pay is so important for women and their families that one of the first pieces of legislation Democrats passed in 2009 and the first bill the President signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ensures that women can fight for equal pay for equal work, and on National Equal Pay Day we celebrate our continued fight for economic equality, regardless of gender.

The President’s commitment to women is in stark contrast to Mitt Romney and the GOP’s attitude toward equal pay for women. While Democrats and the President were making equal pay for equal work a priority, nearly every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who Mitt Romney has called a ‘hero,’ recently repealed that state’s fair pay law; and Mitt Romney refuses to say if he would have signed Lilly Ledbetter had he been president at the time. His campaign on a conference call last week couldn’t even articulate a response when asked his position on the law….

On Equal Pay Day women can rest assured that Democrats and President Obama will continue the fight for equal pay for equal work and will fight for their right to make health care choices for themselves and their families. It’s a shame that Mitt Romney and Republicans can’t say the same thing.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — the first female speaker in American history — also said:

I’m proud of the accomplishments of the Democratic-led Congress on behalf of equal pay and fairness. The Lilly Ledbetter Act-the first bill President Obama signed into law-restored the right of women and other workers to challenge unfair pay in court. Further, under the Affordable Care Act, soon women will no longer be charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage and no longer will being a woman be treated as a pre-existing condition.  

On Equal Pay Day, we honor all of our nation’s women, who through their labor – at home and in the workplace – have made our country strong. And we recommit to opening the doors of opportunity for the next generation of women.

Graph of pay gap by profession, a map of pay gap by state, and op/eds by Senators Gillibrand and Boxer follow the jump.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post, discussing the importance of pay equity not just to women, but to the national economy as a whole. Gillibrand wrote:

…[T]he issue of pay equity is not merely one of fairness. Equal pay for equal work is vital for our economic growth and middle class financial security. With more and more women contributing to household incomes, the lack of equal pay for women hurts all middle class working families-men and children included. In New York alone, women head more than 1,000,000 households. It’s estimated that because of the wage gap, New York families are deprived of $8600 a year. Nationwide, it’s been estimated that if women were paid a dollar on the dollar for equal work, the U.S. GDP could grow up to 9 percent.

Gillibrand also discussed pay equity in regards to women’s health. She wrote:

In addition to being an economic security issue, the failure to pay women a salary that’s equal to men for equal work is also a women’s health issue. The fact is that the salary women are paid directly impacts the type of health care services they are able to access for both themselves and their families. For example, if we closed the wage gap, a working woman in New York would be able to afford more than 2 years worth of additional family health insurance premiums. At a time when women’s health services are increasingly vulnerable to budget cuts, it’s more important than ever that women have financial security to maintain access to basic care for them and their families.

In Politico, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote an op-ed asserting that contrary to what Republicans may have you believe, the “war on women” is very real:

Suppose it’s the championship basketball game and one player is committing foul after foul. Each time, he denies he’s committed any offense.

Eventually, he fouls out. But even as he heads to the bench, he’s protesting that he did nothing wrong.

That’s what we’re seeing today from Republicans who claim there is no ‘war on women.’ The Republican National Committee chairman likened it to a ‘war on caterpillars.’ The Senate Republican leader claims it’s all manufactured – even as female members of his caucus warn about the growing backlash against the GOP from women.

House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive health care. Those same Republicans, who decry an all-too-powerful government, have no problem deciding what health care is right for our daughters, or sisters or mothers….

Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of ‘personhood’ legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health. … It could even bar doctors from providing life-saving care to women with dangerous ectopic pregnancies.

It doesn’t end there. Republicans in Congress blocked an international treaty – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – even though the only other nations refusing to ratify it are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga.

They also oppose increasing the minimum wage – when women make up about two-thirds of all workers now earning minimum wage or less. Not one Republican is a cosponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Republicans voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which helps protect women from domestic violence, when the bill was in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They voted to repeal the health care law – including the part that says no more gender discrimination in the pricing of health insurance policies and the part that offers free preventive services like mammograms, STD screening, well-woman visits and birth control.

The facts are the facts. The Republicans have launched a war on women. Despite all the denials, women get it – and so do the men who care about them.

In addition to the fight for pay equality, Democrats have pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Led by Vice President Joe Biden – who originally wrote and sponsored the bill as a Senator from Delaware in 1994 – a group of lawmakers and private citizens spoke today about the importance of passing the bill with bipartisan support. Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown wrote:

‘The idea we’re still fighting about this in Congress, that this is even a debatable issue, is truly sad,’ Biden said during remarks at the Eisenhower Office Building. ‘It’s not a reflection on the law. It is a reflection on our inability in this town to deal with something that by now should just be over in terms of debate about it.’

‘No one should question whether this is needed,’ Biden said at the end of his remarks. ‘It would have been bad if the law had never been passed. But imagine now, the message it sends if it is not reauthorized. Just ask what message it would send to every one of our daughters, every woman imprisoned in their home.’

Several prominent Jewish organizations have also spoken out in favor of VAWA’s reauthorization. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Hadassah have all urged their supporters to contact their local Congressional delegations and urge that they vote to pass the reauthorization of VAWA immediately. This is too important to wait.

  • Click here to read Senator Gillibrand’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read Senator Boxer’s entire op-ed.
  • Click here to read about how President Barack Obama’s actions have reflected Jewish values, including his accomplishments on women’s rights.

US Gender Pay Gap By State

Presbyterian Church (USA) Divests From Israel

— Benjamin Suarato

In advance of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s biennial General Assembly this summer, church leaders made the disappointing decision to approve a report that calls for divestment from three companies for their sales to Israel. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, together with the Israel Action Network, an initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the JCPA, called on Presbyterians to return to their commitment to positive outcomes and abandon the path to divestment which will not foster reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians will poison the well for positive interfaith relations between the Jewish and Presbyterian communities.

More after the jump.
“We are profoundly disappointed by the General Assembly Mission Council’s decision to recommend this report,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Neither peace nor the long friendship between our two communities is served by this action.  It is tragic that national Presbyterian leaders are making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church. Once again, we turn to our friends who will gather in the church’s General Assembly this summer to find a path towards peace rather than dissension.  The proposed resolution drives a wedge between our two communities, frustrates interfaith cooperation and undermines our joint efforts to pursue social justice.”  

Rabbi Gutow continued, “The JCPA and the IAN encourage communities to work together to foster peace through efforts of reconciliation.  The parties know enough conflict.  Why add to the division?”

“The Presbyterian and Jewish communities should work together to build support for goals everyone should share – a two-state solution with peace and security as the only means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “Divestment does not achieve this goal. It ignores the complexity of the conflict by singling out one party.  It weakens relationships that are already fragile.   It misuses American companies as a proxy for parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The JCPA has worked closely with the Israel Action Network, which is chaired by David Sherman of Chicago, key JCPA national member agencies, Jewish Community Relations Councils throughout the country, and local rabbis to build relationships with local church leaders to foster dialogue and programs that support peace and reconciliation and reject delegitimization and divestment.

New Sanctions Create Clear Lines For Isolating Iran

— by Benjamin Suarato

President Obama issued an executive order yesterday, which was released today, extending sanctions against Iran to include the Iranian Central Bank, a move welcomed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for its far reaching impact in isolating the Iranian regime. The sanctions were originally passed by Congress as part of the Department of Defense Reauthorization.

“We thank President Obama and Congress for their commitment to using powerful economic tools in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Iran has continually threatened the United States and our allies in the region – especially Israel,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The escalating intensity of the U.S. sanctions regime, which now includes all who do business with Iran’s Central Bank, is a signal of our seriousness in stopping their dangerous nuclear weapons program.”

“With these sanctions, the US has drawn a clear line. You cannot continue to benefit from the prosperity and security of access to our markets and friendships while contributing to Iran’s ability to undermine our fundamental security interests,” said JCPA chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “This Congressional legislation and the White House’s prompt implementation of it should send a message to Iran and the rest of the international community that when the President says an Iranian nuclear weapon is ‘unacceptable,’ he means it.”

GOP Budget Cuts Off Bubbie and Zadie

— David Harris

This week, GOP House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed 2012 budget will become the basis for negotiations between Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama. Ryan’s budget effectively cuts off bubbie, zadie, and the neediest among us from the social safety net that enables America’s seniors – along with women, children, and working families – to live dignified and secure lives.

Ryan’s GOP budget contains deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital social safety net programs including food stamps, Pell grants, and housing aid. It even contains a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act – Obama’s health care reform package – which is on track to help millions of Americans receive better health care while cutting the deficit.

A budget is more than just a fiscal spreadsheet – it’s a statement of our values. And we need your help to defend our Jewish values! Take a look at what leaders from the American Jewish community have said about this GOP budget and then take action! (You can click each name to read more about Ryan’s GOP budget and its negative consequences.)

“Anyone can cut the budget by arbitrarily capping programs. The real challenge we face is to reduce the deficit without decimating help for the neediest among us, or making retirement impossible for the next generation.” – B’nai B’rith interim President Alan J. Jacobs

“If a budget is a reflection of our national priorities and morals, then we cannot ignore the reality of hungry families and high unemployment.” – Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Dr. Conrad Giles

“Everyone would suffer under Chairman Ryan’s proposals, but women would suffer more.” – National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) President Linda Slucker and NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman

“Ryan’s budget resolution prioritizes the wealthy over the needy, and, therefore, does not reflect the values to which we aspire as … Americans.” – Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Associate Director Mark J. Pelavin


JTA also reported Representative Howard Berman‘s (D-CA) reaction to the impact that Ryan’s proposed budget cuts would have on foreign aid — which could pose significant risks for Israel. Berman “said the proposal, which would slash the international affairs budget by 40 percent, sets ‘a new standard for recklessness and irresponsibility.'” Berman also dubbed the plan “a slap in the face” to military leaders, who have “long argued time and again that diplomacy and development are key pillars of U.S. national security.”

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett at JCPA Conference

Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement Valerie Jarrett addressed the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ (JCPA) annual conference and affirmed President Barack Obama’s commitment to the Jewish communal legislative agenda.

Video available at C-SPAN

She spoke about her Jewish roots: Her African-American parents (James Bowman, a renowned pathologist, and Barbara Taylor Bowman, an early childhood expert) once hosted a Seder for a a group of their Jewish friends. At this seder, her father told her that her great-grandfather was Jewish.

Jarrett underlined Obama’s “unshakeable support for Israel’s security, his opposition to any effort to de-legitimize Israel, or single her out for criticism; and his commitment to achieve a peace that will secure the future for Arabs and Israelis alike.” She also spoke about the Obama administration’s commitment to other Jewish priorities such as innovation, education, infrastructure and civil discourse.

Full transcript follows the jump.
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. Thank you [JCPA Vice-Chair and Maryland State Democratic Party Chair] Susie Turnbull and [JCPA At-Large Board Member and NJDC Chair] Marc Stanley for your warm introduction. I’d also like to thank Conrad Giles and Rabbi Steve Gutow for their phenomenal leadership of the JCPA. And thank you as well to Josh Protas and the entire JCPA team for all your hard work on yet another successful conference. I’m honored to be here, to stand with you here, because you have stood with President Obama time and again, even at the most challenging times.

Your hard work helped the President successfully repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The policy that deprived patriotic Americans of the right to serve the country they love because of who they love.

You have brought much-needed attention to the issue of child nutrition, hosting forty child nutrition Seders in thirty-four communities last year. At a time when 30 percent of our children are overweight, and children in more than half a million American families went without the food they need, you’ve brought to life a Jewish value dating back to Leviticus, when farmers were encouraged to leave the edges of their field un-harvested so the hungry would have the food they need.

President Obama shares this value as well, and with your help, last December he signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which includes significant improvements to help provide children with healthier and more nutritious food options; educate children about making healthy food choices; and teach children healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

This issue is also close to the heart of our First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her Let’s Move initiative has set the goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation. And working with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, we have also reaffirmed our commitment to end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

As many of you know, this is Women’s History Month. Just last week, the Obama Administration released a new report called “Women in America.” It is the first comprehensive federal report on women since the Commission on the Status of Women, established by President Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, released a report in 1963.

The President understands that the issues facing women today are not just women’s issues, but issues for the entire family. President Obama’s commitment to women was shaped by growing up watching his single Mom struggle to make ends meet, while trying to balance the demands of her career with the needs of her children. His grandmother, who helped raise him, hit a glass ceiling while working at a bank. The President has always supported the First Lady throughout her career, and he is determined that his daughters will grow up and be able to compete with men on an even playing field.

Now that two-thirds of all families depend on two working parents, when women make less than men for the same work, or when women go into low paying jobs, it affects the entire family. When employers do not offer family leave, or flexible work hours, it affects the entire family. When families do not have access to affordable child care, children may wind up in second-rate care, or spend afternoons alone in front of the television set. And as every parent knows, we cannot be productive at work if we are worried about our children’s well being, so poor childcare affects the entire family.

Our report on Women in America shows us how the lives of American women have changed over time, and gives us the evidence based data required to adopt policies and programs that will improve the quality of life for women and girls. Going forward, I encourage everyone to review our report, and look forward to working with you on these issues over the months and years to come.

Civil Discourse

I’d also like to thank you for highlighting the need for civility in our public discourse. The JCPA’s civility statement, signed by more than 1,500 lay and religious leaders representing over 1,000 different Jewish community organizations, is part of a long tradition of Jewish leadership on this issue, from Louis Brandeis to Elie Wiesel. And as the President so memorably said in Tucson after the tragic shootings, “at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” We look forward to your continued advocacy for civil discourse.


It is clear from the partnerships we have forged to tackle so many important challenges, that our relationship is expansive, and rooted in common values. These values extend to our steadfast support for the nation of Israel – which I know is of particular concern during this period of upheaval throughout the Middle East.

Just last week, I attended a meeting between President Obama and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. I had the pleasure of sitting just a seat away from Rabbi Steve Gutow, who asked the President a very thoughtful question about our efforts to help bring democracy to the region.

At the meeting, the President made clear that throughout this period of unrest, we have been consistent in rejecting violence; calling for respect for universal rights; and advocating on behalf of a process of meaningful reform that is responsive to the needs of the people. These are universal values, and the President will uphold them everywhere, as he has done from Egypt to Bahrain to Libya. As he does so, he will also work closely with the international community to ensure that the process of transition is orderly and stable, and that the region evolves in a way that advances American interests, including peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

The President also made clear that while the region will evolve, some things will never change. Among them is his unshakable support for Israel’s security; his opposition to any effort to de-legitimize Israel, or single her out for criticism; and his commitment to achieve a peace that will secure the future for Arabs and Israelis alike.

We know that as the status quo in the Arab world is not sustainable, and neither is the status quo in the search for Middle East peace. We need to find a way to ensure direct negotiations have credibility and purpose, because that is the only way to resolve the conflict. The JCPA has been an important partner with us on these efforts, and we will need your continued support in the weeks ahead, as the United States continues to explore how to move forward with our Israeli, Palestinian, and other partners in the region. So let us continue to work together closely, so we can help ensure a future for Israel that is secure, prosperous, and peaceful.

On a whole range of topics, it’s clear that we share common values, and through those values we also share common goals. One of the most important is the Jewish notion of L’dor, v’dor, or “from generation to generation,” the idea that each generation has an obligation to make life better for the next generation.

The President describes this as “Winning the future” for our children. And to do this, he has explained how we need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. These three goals are essential to growing the economy over the next several years, and keeping our country competitive in the global marketplace. I’d like to take some time to discuss each of these key pillars:

  • Innovation,
  • education, and
  • infrastructure.

1. Innovation.

To ensure growth, we must continue to innovate, so that we create the jobs and industries of the future by doing what America has always done best – investing in the creativity and imagination of our people to create the jobs and industries of the future. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment, and the President is calling for the highest level of investment for research and development since President Kennedy launched the space race.

One of the most exciting areas of innovation is in clean technology. You’ve been a leader on this issue for some time now. Thousands of you worked to engage Members of Congress on energy reform. President Obama has set a goal that eighty percent of our electricity will come from clean energy sources by 2035. The President is also challenging America’s scientists and engineers to invent technologies that will ensure the United States is the first country to put 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, and make solar power as cheap as electricity by the end of the decade.

2. Education

I know education is a core Jewish value, and we’ll need your help to make sure we give our children the best possible chance to succeed. This is an essential part of sustained economic growth, because we know that over the next 5 years, nearly ninety percent of new jobs will require more than a high school degree, yet a quarter of our nation’s children aren’t even finishing high school. To win the race to educate our children, the President wants to expand “Race to the Top;” recruit 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; and expand college affordability by making permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth $10,000 for four years of college. We also know there is bipartisan support for our approach. Last Friday, the President visited Miami Central High School in Florida, accompanied by former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), where they highlighted the benefits that investments in education can make, not just for one school, or one community, but for the nation as a whole.

And tomorrow, the President will be traveling to Boston to visit the TechBoston Academy, where he will be joined by Melinda Gates to discuss the importance of fostering partnerships between the public and private sectors in preparing the next generation of young people to compete globally. Particularly as it relates to fostering a college-going culture for students; promoting teacher effectiveness and reforms; and delivering a twenty-first century curriculum that integrates technology across all subjects.

3. Infrastructure

So it’s clear that innovation and education are essential for our future growth, but we also know that attracting new investments by business depends on whether we have the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information – from roads and airports to high-speed internet. So we must also put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges and transit – and we need to do it by encouraging competition and leveraging private resources, instead of the traditional earmarks process. And we need to deploy the next generation of wireless coverage to ninety-eight percent of all Americans, an exciting new initiative the President recently announced in Michigan.

The President is committed to getting the federal deficit under control, and to do so we must cut spending, cuts that will be very painful in these challenging times. This is why he has proposed a freeze on domestic spending for the next five years, and a freeze on federal pay for the next two years, allowing us to reduce the deficit by over $400 billion over ten years. These changes alone will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of the economy since the Eisenhower Administration.

But while it’s important for the government to live within its means, what we cannot do is sacrifice our economic recovery, or jeopardize the future for our children, by gutting the innovation, education, or infrastructure investments necessary to keep America competitive in a global age. We need to remember what’s most important, and prioritize. As the President has said, this is something families across America understand from their own experience. When times are tough, families try to cut back and do more with less; we don’t eat out as much, maybe we take fewer vacations, but we must avoid cutting into college savings accounts for our children. It’s the same for government.

The President is thankful for all your hard work these last several years, and as we reflect on the important things we’ve achieved together, let’s also look forward, as we work together to ensure our nation’s future remains bright.
But partnership in developing sound public policy is not the only way we’re reminded of the important work left for us to complete. Next month, Jewish families across the country will gather around dinner tables to mark Passover, a period when we reflect on the Jewish peoples’ exodus from Egypt. Families will gather with loved ones and read those stirring lines from the Haggadah, explaining how each generation should feel as though we, ourselves, were slaves in the land of Egypt.

Her Jewish Roots

As an African-American, this lesson is particularly meaningful to me. And the Passover Seder has a unique lore in my own family. Many, many years ago, my parents hosted a Seder for a group of our Jewish friends, and it was here that my father first told me that my great-grandfather was Jewish. What a wonderful surprise for our friends, and for me! So Passover has always been a special holiday for me.

It is a holiday that is important to the President as well. One of my favorite stories from the Presidential campaign took place in the spring of 2008. A group of young aides traveling with then-Senator Obama organized a small Seder in the basement of a hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Away from home, some for the first time, they marked the holiday as best they could, with borrowed haggadahs and makeshift Seder plates.

When then-Senator Obama learned of the gathering, he decided to participate, and I joined as well. He too had attended many Seders before, back home in Chicago, and was very familiar with the Passover story.

Even though we were all exhausted and wondered if the campaign would ever end, the evening turned out to be so much fun. We sang, had some wine, and took a momentary respite from the strains of the campaign. The President invited his staff to share stories about their family traditions. We formed a special bond that evening.

There was also a very serious lesson underlying that Seder, the same lesson each of you celebrate with your own families – the idea that a better tomorrow awaits, a belief that the future can be better if we work for it. Whether it’s the Israelites fleeing Egypt, a young person in Israel praying for peace, or a family struggling to make ends meet after the worst recession since the Great Depression.

At the end of our little Seder on the campaign trail, as we all raised our wine glasses to proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem!,” Senator Obama raised his glass a second time, promising if he won the election, “Next year in the White House!” We all laughed.

The following year, just a few months after the President’s Inauguration, true to his word, the President invited each of us who had attended the Seder on the road, to the first White House Seder in American history. Of course, the President included the First Lady and their daughters, so that he could share the tradition with his family.

We have now enjoyed two Seders in the White House, and we all look forward to this year’s. It remains one of my most cherished evenings.

So as all of us gather around Seder tables next month, let’s remember to keep the teachings of Exodus close to heart. Let us reflect on all the important challenges that we’ve tackled together, and commit ourselves to win the future for the next generation.

Thank you for inviting me here today. And let’s get to work!