Allyson Schwartz Honored by JSPAN

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Rabbi George Stern, JSPAN executive director; Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, JSPAN president; JoAnne Fischer, executive director of Maternity Care Coalition; Allyson Schwartz; and event co-chairs and JSPAN vice presidents, Ruth Damsker and Jill Zipin.

Former Congresswoman and State Senator Allyson Schwartz was awarded the Jewish Social Policy Action Network’s (JSPAN) Social Justice Award at an event held at the Independence Visitor Center on May 12.

Schwartz had a leadership role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act in Congress, and her role as architect and steward of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Pennsylvania. Prior to holding elected office, she was commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, founder and director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women, and a founder of Women’s Way. [Read more…]

JSPAN Haggadah Supplement: The Immigration Crisis

supplementThe 2016 Jewish Social Policy Action Network Haggadah Supplement edited by Steven Sussman and Kenneth Myers is entitled “The Immigration Crisis: A Pesach Seder Reflection for 2016” and focuses on immigrants and refugees. Their plight calls to us at this season of the Jewish year when we remember that we were exiled from our homeland and enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, and then stateless nomads for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, at the mercy of the elements, often losing faith as danger surrounded us.

At your Seder, consider the crisis in Europe and what we can do to relieve the suffering of refugees.

The supplement is now available for download.

[Read more…]

Supreme Court Takes On Affordable Care Act Again

the PillSince its founding in 2003, Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) has been in the forefront of the Jewish community in supporting the right to reproductive freedom and protecting religious liberty. Sometimes we take the lead by filing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court, as we did in the Hobby Lobby case, arguing that private corporations should not be able to claim a religious right to deny their employees access to reproductive healthcare services. At other times we work in coalition with Jewish and non-Jewish groups.

Recently JSPAN joined with the ADL in asking the Supreme Court to uphold the provision in the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate that requires a religious institution opposed to contraception to sign a waiver stating such, after which employees can receive it through third parties.

In Zubik v Burwell, petitioners claim that merely signing a waiver violates the signers’ religious tenets, and is thus unconstitutional according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. JSPAN heartily agrees with the ADL that signing the waiver does not pass RFRA’s “substantial burden” test. Moreover, finding for the petitioners would prevent employees who favor the use of contraceptives from exercising their own freedom of religion. An ADL press release said, “Allowing one’s religious beliefs to be an effective veto of virtually any federal law or rule would undermine our country as a nation of laws.”

Joining JSPAN in recognizing this as an issue of great interest to Jews were Bend the Arc (of which JSPAN is an affiliate), Keshet, National Council of Jewish Women, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi George Stern, Executive Director
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, President

Take Action to End Gerrymandering

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Pennsylvania’s 177th Legislative District carves out a Republican stronghold in Philadelphia. Image: BallotPedia.

(JSPAN) Pennsylvania has some of the most gerrymandered political districts in the country. The Jewish Social Policy Action Network has long supported the creation of an independent redistricting system to restore competitive elections and government accountability and action to improve the Commonwealth’s process for reapportionment and redrawing of electoral districts.

Toward these goals, the JSPAN Board recently voted to join with the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and independent citizens across the Commonwealth in a coalition endorsing the efforts of Fair Districts PA to ensure fair districts and fair elections for voters in Pennsylvania. We believe that redistricting should be done in a manner that is transparent, impartial and fair. [Read more…]

Climate Change Advocacy 101 for Jews

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rear Adm. David W. Titley, Dr. Jalone L. White-Newsome and Dan Segal.

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Rear Adm. David W. Titley, Dr. Jalone L. White-Newsome and Dan Segal.

Often a failure in communication is not the message or the messenger, but how it is presented. I am not talking about a Madison Avenue campaign to convince people to buy something they don’t need, but an understanding of the audience.

Yesterday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council held a conference Protecting Creation: A Jewish Response to Climate Change. The speakers were clear and articulate representatives of their professional realm:

  • Rabbi Nina Cardin from the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network;
  • the Rear Admiral David Titley, retired from the United States Navy and currently Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State;
  • Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome, of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; and
  • Dan Segal, Chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

I learned that since 2010, Philadelphia has experienced: its snowiest winter, its two warmest summers; its two wettest years; two hurricanes; and derecho (a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. Derechos can cause hurricane force winds, tornadoes, heavy rains, and flash floods.) I learned that Pennsylvania is one of the dirtiest states, producing more pollution than the country of Chile. And I learned that the fact that the ice caps in Antarctica are increasing is a testament to the warming conditions elsewhere, bringing more water to the Antarctic.

It can be overwhelming to think about a global problem, but we can start with a personal or household exercise in calculating our carbon footprint. We can promote community-based resiliency planning, because the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has showed us that the most vulnerable were the elderly and handicapped who were without access to transportation out of their disaster area. So, a contact list of individuals who live alone or cannot drive in our neighborhood would result in faster response than relying on the National Guards.

Promoting our concerns for the environment means knowing how to speak to those who do not share our beliefs. It means advance preparation, so we are aware for example that a particular Congressional representative has a relative with asthma, which is exacerbated by air pollution. It means meeting our audience on their terms, incorporating their concerns.

Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom spoke from the audience about his inter-faith work, in which his fellow clergy face difficulty talking about climate change when their parishioners are facing unemployment and eviction from their homes. It is easily dismissed as a problem of white privilege. The Sierra Club found that by reaching out to disparate niche populations, they were effective in integrating their cause. They now work with veteran groups, a particularly effective ally in capturing the attention of Congress.

Rear Admiral David W. Titley

Rear Admiral David W. Titley

A few years ago, I was given a platform from my synagogue for environmental issues. So, each week I was able to present one environmental fact to the kehillah through our shul bulletin. This was well received until the week I wrote about meat consumption being a major hazard to the health of our Earth. In the flurry and fury of complaints to the rabbi from meat lovers, I lost my forum. (Rear Admiral Titley said, “We will not convince people with the scientific facts, because scientists have tried for 30 years and failed.”) I learned yesterday that the way to influence my shul peers is not to bludgeon them with the facts, I have to re-frame my approach to make it a religious value, a mitzvah.

Let us brainstorm together on ways to create a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable world for future generations. Time is running out, as the Arctic ice caps melt and coastal cities and island nations face flooding and contamination of their water tables (ruining their supply of drinking water). We all aspire to a good and meaningful life, we just have differences in how to meet our goals.

The Disappearing Middle Ground in US Politics

— by Bryan Schwartzman

A rare, borderline miraculous thing happened inside Congregation Rodeph Shalom: a Republican and a Democrat not only jointly identified a political problem, but also agreed upon a set of solutions. Perhaps the true miracle would be if any of their ideas are ever adopted by Congress.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Virginia) and Martin Frost (D-Texas) — former political adversaries — are co-authors of the recently released work The Partisan Divide: Congress in Crisis. The two former pols addressed an audience of roughly 50 people at the synagogue in a November 8 program sponsored by JSPAN. (A number of organizations and synagogues served as community partners in promoting the event.)

They presented a compelling case that the two parties are being driven further and further apart. Today’s high levels of partisanship, they argued, make it exceedingly difficult for Congress to complete its routine work — such as raising the debt ceiling and passing a budget — let alone reach meaningful compromise on pressing issues such as immigration reform. Hinted at, but never stated outright, was the fear that — if left unchecked — partisanship might threaten to tear the fabric of constitutional democracy.

In his introduction of the speaker, author and historian Dwight David Eisenhower II – grandson of President Eisenhower and son-in-law of President Nixon – called it “the number one constitutional and political issue facing our country today. Call it political dysfunction, call it hyperpartisianship, call it the breakdown of Congress.”

middle_ground_imageThe program was the first part of a two part series called “American Democracy Challenged.” On November 22, JSPAN is hosting another program at Rodeph Shalom focusing on gerrymandering. Speakers will include State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Upper Merion). The Philadelphia event came a week into the Speakership of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who is attempting to bring order to an unruly Republican caucus, and in the midst of an unruly presidential campaign that is defying expectations.

In his presentation, Davis attributed polarization and gridlock to three factors that have largely emerged over the past two decades: unfair redistricting, polarized media and out-of-control political financing.

“Although we have many philosophical differences, in terms of analyzing what went wrong, we share many of the same observations,” said Davis, referring to himself and Frost. “Basically, the middle has gone away.”

Davis, who served in Congress from 1994 to 2008, noted that in most congressional districts, “basically the only election that counts is the primary. The primary is what the members orient their time, rhetoric and voting records to. Primary voters represent an overly narrow slice of the electoral pie. They don’t reward compromise. They tend to punish it.”

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District

Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district.

Davis, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee between 1998 and 2002, argued that increasingly sophisticated data analytics have allowed state legislatures to make districts safer and less competitive than ever before. He cited Pennsylvania’s meandering 7th congressional district — held by Republican Pat Meehan — as an egregious example of a gerrymandered district. Davis also took aim at a popular target, partisan broadcast media and websites, claiming they proliferate a culture in which talking to the opposition is virtually unheard of. Then there is the series of events, from the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in 2002 to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, that has allowed wealthy individuals, unions and privately held corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to fund outside groups unconnected to candidates or political parties.

“The point in all this is that voters behave as if it were a parliamentary system, which it is not,” Davis said. “Instead of being the minority party, you are now the opposition party.”

Frost – only the second Jewish congressman in the history of the Lone Star State — presented a series of recommendations that the two have put forth in their book. Chief among them is the idea that Congress might mandate that non-partisan commissions, rather than state legislatures, control the congressional redistricting process. The goal would be to increase the number of competitive races and force candidates to pay attention to centrist voters who value pragmatism and compromise.

“We have a system now, where 80 percent of congressional districts are safe districts,” Frost said.

He also suggested several changes to current campaign finance laws that would require all groups that are spending money on elections to report that spending to the Federal Election Commission. He also suggested that all congressional primaries nationwide be held on the same date, to increase interest in House races and voter turnout. A higher turnout, Frost argued, would curb the influence of fringe groups.

heaven_sakeFollowing the formal presentation, the two former congressmen took a series of pointed questions from the audience. This reporter pointed out that, in the years following World War II, the parties were not necessarily aligned on ideological grounds and it was in fact a bipartisan alliance that for years blocked any advancement on the civil rights agenda. Is it such a bad thing for voters to know what parties stand for and base their vote upon it?

“There is nothing wrong with good, solid parties,” responded Davis:

The real problem today is that the fastest growing group of any electorate is independents. In some states, they are prohibited from participating in primaries, which is the only election that counts. The reality is, you have a system where independent voters are excluded from the process. It de-centers American politics.

In his response, Frost cited Master Of The Senate, the third volume in Robert Caro’s series about Lyndon Johnson. The book describes in great detail how LBJ, as Senate majority leader, wheeled and dealt with members of both parties to pass the first Federal Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. In the end, he managed to garner more Republican votes than Democratic votes.

“If Lyndon Johnson were in power today, could he do that?” said Frost. “Even as capable as he was, the answer is probably no, because the parties would not cooperate — even on something as important as civil rights.”

American Democracy Challenged: Political Gridlock and What We Can Do About It

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) is pleased to host two renowned former Congressmen, Tom Davis (R -Virginia) and Martin Frost (D- Texas) for an in-depth examination of how partisanship has led to Congressional gridlock and what can be done to reverse the trend.

The program will take place on Sunday, November 8, at 2 p.m., at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
Davis and Frost are the co-authors of the 2014 book, The Partisan Divided: Congress in Crisis which outlines a bipartisan approach to making Congress more responsive to the needs of the American people. Davis is the former chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Frost served as Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Joining forces in an effort “to save Congress from itself,” Frost and Davis argue that the legislative branch is incapable of reforming itself without “a good kick in the seat from the American public.” Together, the two retired lawmakers have developed a common sense, bipartisan plan for making our Congress function again.

The program comes at a time when the leadership of the House remains in doubt and the agenda for the remainder of the 114th Congress’ term is uncertain.

Two weeks later, on November 22, also at 2 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, JSPAN will sponsor panel discussions on campaign finance and redistricting/gerrymandering, two of the issues Davis and Frost cite as contributing to the gridlock and hyper partisanship. The panelists will explore how gerrymandering affects the value of each vote cast and therefore voter turnout, and the role money plays in politics, with special attention to local elections. Journalist and professor Dick Polman and State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) are among the panelists scheduled.
Founded in 2003, JSPAN strives to advance progressive social policies on the critical issues of our time. JSPAN focuses a range of domestic policy issues such as: voting rights and election law, economic justice, race relations, church/state separation, gun violence, reproductive rights, public education, and more—all of which are affected by access to the political process.
We invite coverage of the event as well pre-publicity. Please contact George Stern to arrange interviews with the congressmen.
Event registration is free and can be accessed on the JSPAN website, www.jspan.org.

New Year’s 3 Most Important Social Issues

— by Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, President of JSPAN

The new Jewish year is a time to focus our thoughts on weighty matters of society’s concerns. We are taught that as individuals and as nations, we are responsible for our decisions that enhance or impede human freedom and the cause of justice.

In a striking image, we are reminded of the importance of every deed. Life is pictured as a balance scale: The pans are evenly loaded, with good deeds in one, and evil deeds in the other. And the next decision we make, the next act we take, will tip the scale one way or the other. Will it be to good? Or to evil?

And so it is for nations as well. Our next act will impact not only our individual lives, but the life of the nation, too, for good, or for ill.

What does this quaint image of the balance scale say to us, living in these precarious times, filled with so much violence and the threat of violence, so much injustice and so many social problems that defy solution? Do we throw our hands up in despair? Or do we get involved, believing that our righteous deed, no matter how small, can make a difference?

I became involved in JSPAN because I believe that we each have the power to improve the world with our deeds. As Jews, it is an obligation, a mitzvah, a sacred responsibility. Together, our deeds are bundled together and become transformative in ways we cannot imagine.

Jewish tradition demands of us that we be activists for those whom society has abandoned. We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. We speak for those who are weak, shunned, and made invisible.

I believe there are three key issues we need to focus on, at this time, from the standpoint of social justice.

Michael_Brown_Jr

Michael Brown.

Black Lives Matter

Over the last year the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray became household words. Why did their deaths resonate so powerfully? Was it not because they were betrayed by the very law enforcement establishment that is supposed to protect all Americans?

Some ask, why is it not enough to say “All Lives Matter”? The reason is that not all lives are treated equally. The cry “Black Lives Matter” reminds us that 150 years after the Civil War ended, even with an African-American president of the United States, to be Black in America is to live, unavoidably, in fear of the authorities, based on the belief that there are two sets of rules, one for White Americans and another for Black. This is unacceptable.

Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are created equal. We are taught that a legal system must treat each person equally and judge each person on the merits of his or her case. We must work for a society that makes this ideal a reality, and ally ourselves with others who are in the forefront of this struggle. It is overdue.

Income Inequality

In the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2008 and 2009, the consolidation of wealth among the few is breathtaking. For many Americans, jobs today are harder, less secure and less lucrative. In contrast to the wealthiest, they have lost ground economically. Unions, once the engine that created equity and dignity for working men and women see their membership dwindling and their legal protections disappearing. Government leaders balk at the idea of raising the “minimum wage” to be a “minimum living wage.” Politicians fall over themselves in efforts to diminish the safety net that guarantees that the least able among us can live with dignity.

Our tradition teaches us that each person has the right to a fair wage, and that no one can be truly free without the social guarantee of economic stability for all.

Immigration

America is a nation of immigrants. It is immigration that has made this country great.

Instead of acknowledging our immigrant past, and honoring those who, today, like our ancestors, are desperate to escape oppression and eager to embrace a brighter economic future for their children, we hear fear-mongering demagogues demean not only “illegal immigrants” but whole nations and cultures. They are even ready to jettison the Constitution and its clear definition of American citizenship in their reckless diatribes against immigrants.

Even with the lessons of the Holocaust and the shuttered American Golden Door to victims of Nazi oppression, our leaders are not willing to be part of the solution to the greatest humanitarian refugee problem facing the world today in the Middle East.

The Bible reminds us many times that we were foreigners in a foreign land. We know the soul of the stranger, the alien, the “illegal.” We Jews would not be here in America but for a wise ancestor who chose the promise of the unknown over the resigned inertia of the familiar. If the gates of America had been open during World War II under the same terms as the pre-1924 golden era of immigration, who knows how many Jews might have been saved from annihilation by the Nazis?

Progressive liberalism is born not of political currency but of prophetic mandate. It is a passion for justice that is the soul of who we are.

We must work so that our individual and collective actions will tilt the scale of justice toward security and dignity for all Americans. In that way, we will continue to evolve into a nation worthy of our ideals.

New JSPAN Pres. Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom Fights For Fairer Society

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) has elected Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom — one of the region’s most respected religious leaders, and someone who rarely shies away from speaking his mind — as its new president.

“I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity,” Rosenbloom said, “to have an impact on causes that I believe in.”

Founded in 2003, JSPAN strives to advance progressive social policies on the critical issues of our time. JSPAN focuses on a range of domestic policy issues such as: church/state separation, gun violence, reproductive rights, public education and race relations.

Rosenbloom is the Distinguished Service Rabbi at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, a Conservative synagogue in Elkins Park. He retired from the pulpit in June 2014 after leading the congregation for 36 years. During that time, he served as a leader in the greater Philadelphia Jewish community, as well as the Conservative Movement nationally. He developed a reputation for voicing his opinion on difficult political and social issues and grounding his outlook in Jewish sources.

“The Torah and the Talmud are very clear about human equality,” said Rosenbloom, who officially became JAPAN’s president on May 1. “We are all equal. If we are equal, then everybody has to have equal opportunity. Everybody has to be treated with equal dignity and respect.”

Rosenbloom has a long history of leadership, both inside and outside the Jewish community. He is one of the founders of the Old York Road Community Organization, a unique group of the seven synagogues in the Old York Road Corridor, dedicated to improving the quality of life in this major center of Jewish life in the region. In 2011, he was honored by the Cheltenham NAACP.He currently is a member of the Human Relations Commission of Cheltenham Township.

Deborah Weinstein, JAPAN’s immediate past-president, said that “Rabbi Rosenbloom enjoys enormous stature within the Jewish community. As an organization, we are thrilled to have him working with us and leading us as we pursue critical agendas.”

Rabbi Rosenbloom sat down with JSPAN Board Member Bryan Schwartzman for a wide-ranging discussion about the organization and the issues on its agenda. What follows is an edited version of that interview.

You spent your whole career as a congregational rabbi. Why, in your retirement, have you decided to take on this leadership role with JSPAN?

I have been familiar with JSPAN almost from its inception. Some of my congregants (Ken and Sue Myers) were involved in its founding and they have talked to me about JSPAN through the years. In fact, I was on a JSPAN panel about the Iraq War in 2009. I have always respected it as an advocate of social policy from a liberal standpoint that emerges out of Jewish teaching. I decided that I would be able to make an impact on causes that I believe in. I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity.

Is it easier to be an advocate on social justice issues now that you are retired from the rabbinate?

Well, I have more time. When I was a congregational rabbi, being the rabbi of a large congregation is really limiting on your time.But I was never reticent in expressing my political or social ideas, values, or opinions. I never felt that I had to hold back on what I believed in because I was the rabbi of a congregation. Everybody knew where I stood. In fact I was invited to participate in the JSPAN program on the Iraq War because of a very controversial High Holiday sermon I gave opposing the war.

What issues are highest on your agenda?

JSPAN has a huge portfolio. Right now, the turbulence in Baltimore highlights the issue of police interaction with the community. This is an indicator of the way in which many in the African
American community feel they do not have the full respect of the larger American society and do not have the same opportunities that many of us take for granted. It is unbelievable and unfortunate that in 2015, there are citizens who feel substantively unequal, with little hope of getting out of the situation that they are in. That has to do with racial prejudice, lack of quality education, violence, and income inequality. We are living in a time in which the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And there are those who want to cut back on the safety net for the lowest earning members of society even further. Gun control is an issue I am immensely concerned about, as well as the quality of education.The fact that we have these problems in 21st century America, the richest country in the world and, arguably, the most advanced country in the world, should be a source of shame and embarrassment.

Much of the organized Jewish community has been primarily focused on confronting internal challenges. Should the community be more focused on issues impacting all of American society? Is there a balance that can be struck?

You can’t have a Jewish community that has become so insular that all we do is care about ourselves, issues that directly affect Jews and Israel. The Bible says, you know what it is like to be an outsider, you know the soul of an outsider, you know what it is like to be reviled and oppressed and enslaved. We can’t just hunker down and say, we are Jews and we only care about Jewish things. There was a late nineteenth, early twentieth century French journalist, Edmond Fleg, who was an assimilated Jew who rediscovered his Jewish roots. He wrote:

I am a Jew because Israel places humanity above nations and above Israel itself. I am a Jew because in every place where there are tears and suffering, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because, for Israel, the world is not yet completed, we must complete it.

To me, that is my credo. It is not to say that we don’t have to deal with the issues that affect us as Jews, but we can’t deal only with those issues and be true to who we are.

Does Judaism prescribe a liberal political philosophy? Should JAPAN’s approach be grounded in Jewish sources?

I don’t think you can always say that “the Jewish position is x,” and that leads to a specific JSPAN position. That is sort of like the strict constructionism of some of the conservatives on the Supreme Court. There are principles that Judaism teaches,and certain contemporary policies are either consistent with the tradition or inconsistent with the tradition. For instance, the Torah and the Talmud are very clear about human equality. The Talmud says that, whoever saves one person saves a whole world and whoever destroys one person destroys a whole world. We are all equal. If we are equal, then everybody has to have equal opportunity. Everybody has to be treated with equal dignity and respect.

In many ways, from the state of public education in Philadelphia to race relations, it seems like a bleak time in public life. How can activists and concerned citizens avoid giving in to despair or apathy?

Fleg, whom I mentioned earlier, says that “I am a Jew because, every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.” As long as people are willing to fight for a vision of society that is fairer for everyone, then there is no reason to despair. If people stop fighting for justice and equality, then there is every reason to despair.

Is it too early to ask what your goals are for JSPAN?

I am just learning the ins-and-outs of the organization. I think there is a sense that the organization is at a crossroads and needs to determine what it will be in the future. Up until now, JSPAN largely has focused on dealing with the issues of concern by trying to impact the courts and legislatures in judicious ways. We have not been mobilizing advocacy efforts on the part of men and women beyond the core group of the organization. There is now a significant group on the board that believes we must move beyond what we have done and create a greater advocacy presence within the community. We want to mobilize a larger number of people to work on behalf of our issues.

We want to generate community interest and passion around social justice issues — including economic inequality, education, election reform, gender equality, health care, immigration reform, mass incarceration, racism, separation of religion and state, and more—and to expand our advocacy role. We hope to create a broader constituency of the general Jewish population who feel that they can play a part in advancing social justice causes. Of course, we also want to continue what we have been doing well.For instance, we have filed many amicus briefs that have been cited because of their quality by judges who are hearing the cases. That needs to continue, as do testifying before legislative bodies, contacting legislators directly, and communicating through the media. But now we also want to develop more of a mass approach and find ways of getting more people involved.

All credit goes to JAPAN’s immediate past president, Deborah Weinstein and executive director, Rabbi George Stern, for steering the organization in this new direction.

What have you been up to since officially retiring last year?

My wife asks me the same question! What did you do today? I don’t know, I tell her, but I do know I was busy all day! I continue to be called on for life cycle events, funerals, weddings, baby namings. We have been doing more traveling. We just came back from a two-week trip to South Africa. My son got married in February. Between us, Cindy and I have five children. In the last year-and-a-half, we had three weddings! I cook a little bit. I finally learned to bake challah. And I do a lot of support work in the house, shall we say. I have more time. I see friends for breakfast and see friends for lunch. It is mostly unstructured. Now that I have become involved in JSPAN, I spend a lot of time answering emails and attending meetings! I don’t know when I had time to work.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Eyes of a Rabbi

(JSPAN) The day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, the president of the Memphis Ministers’ Association, Rabbi James A. Wax of Temple Israel, delivered an impassioned sermon, eulogizing King, placing King’s teachings in the arc of Jewish and Christian tradition and, denouncing the shame of white Memphis and America. Here is an excerpt from the sermon.

Photo by Robert Newman.

Martin Luther King helped to bring freedom to the oppressed people yet in this free nation. He fought to break the chains that have oppressed people; he sought to give men dignity; he sought to make this a better world in which to live.

Oh how the cynics sneered when they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize. They said, ‘what did he do to deserve it?’ How little can people be?

Here was a man in the tradition, the grandest traditions of Judaism and Christianity, bringing freedom to people, and we white hypocrites that speak about freedom for all people know full well that not many miles from here negroes could not vote. In this very city, called a place of good abode, because their skin was black, they had to sit in the back of the streetcar. They were not even given the dignity of their names.

Martin Luther King was one the greatest men of this century because he personified, because he personified the greatest teachings in Judaism and in Christianity, and he did it without violence. He sought to appeal to the heart and the conscience of men.