All People Deserve Respect


— by David Street

Yesterday, President Barack Obama joined with the sweeping majority of American Jews in supporting marriage equality for all Americans. Leading Jewish organizations including the NJDC lauded the President’s show of support.

“To put it plainly, the vast majority of American Jews are behind the President in support of marriage equality,” commented NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. “In recent decades, many of our community’s mainstream institutions have worked to welcome and include gays and lesbians-to the point where it is now a widely accepted norm, with certain Jewish clergy routinely performing same-sex marriages. But perhaps most notably, the recent poll released by the Public Religion Research institute found that at least 81% of American Jews support marriage equality — showing that grassroots American Jewry, our communal institutions, and now the President are united on this important civil rights issue.”

A roundup of their statements appears below.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We enthusiastically welcome President Obama’s endorsement today of marriage equality for all couples. History will regard his affirmation of this core right for the LGBT community as a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America. … Civil marriage has historically connoted social acceptance and the recognition of not just a legal relationship between two individuals, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, is ‘the most important relation in life’ (Maynard v. Hill); it is ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred’ (Griswold v. Connecticut). These rights are due no less to same sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the President’s comments today acknowledge….

The support of the President on this issue is particularly meaningful to us as Jews. Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who are still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

We are gratified to know that President Obama has said publicly what so many of us have known for some time — that civil marriage is a basic civil right. It should not be denied to anyone.  We stand firm in our belief that civil marriage, which is not bound by halacha [Jewish law] but conveys many civil rights and privileges, should be open to all. That comes from our belief that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image — and therefore have an inherent dignity.

Keshet, which works to “ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community” sent the tweet on the right.

More reactions after the jump.
Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said:

Hadassah commends President Obama for taking an important step today in showing his commitment to and respect for the LGBT community. Hadassah has long supported LGBT rights, and we firmly believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans are treated equally and have equal access to the same rights. Hadassah is committed to the preservation of rights for all people and vigorously condemns discrimination of any kind. As Zionists, Hadassah members understand the dangers of bigotry.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said:

NCJW hails President Obama’s decision to express his personal support for same-sex marriage. NCJW has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and we happily welcome the president to this fight for fundamental human rights at this important time. While setbacks such as the lamentable vote yesterday in North   Carolina are unfortunate, we firmly believe that supporters of marriage equality are on the right side of history. NCJW is proud to work with the President of the United States to ensure that gays and lesbians are protected equally under the law and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

The National Jewish Democratic Council‘s Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of NJDC’s board, staff, and membership, I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality. From working to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to ending the Federal Government’s defense of the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, this President has demonstrated an unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans. I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish community share my feelings.

Bend the Arc

: A Partnership for Justice’s Alan van Capelle said:

Tonight when I go home and look at my six month old son it will be the first time I will be able to tell him that our president believes we are a family. For many Americans, this is a political issue. For millions more, it’s deeply personal.

I applaud President Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality. Today, he showed himself as a leader who is in step with a majority of Americans, and millions of people of faith all over this country who support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, including 76 percent of American Jews.

Haaretz reported that Israeli LGBT leaders lauded the President’s statement of support:

Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the organization New Family, called the move extremely important. ‘It is a huge step for the enlightened world that the strongest leader publicly recognizes the new family. In doing so, he is obviously posing a challenge to the world’s religious public. I think that this is certainly a very brave act. He is creating the necessary world balance. At a time when it seems the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and conservative, this is a liberal point of light.’

According to New Family, there are currently some 18,000 same-sex families living in Israel. Some 4,500 children are being raising in same-sex families, and that number has risen significantly in recent years….

Itay Pinkas, chairman of Tel Aviv’s gay community center, also joined in praising Obama, Pinkas further criticized the situation of the LGBT community in Israel. ‘The only two leaders to bring up the rights of the community in a congressional speech were Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of the importance of equality during his inauguration speech…he is one of the heads of state most supportive of equality for all citizens.’

Jay Michaelson explained Three Reasons Obama’s Right on Gay Marriage in The Forward:

First is the ‘who.’ Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state. … If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Second is the ‘what.’ Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well….

Most American Jews …  know that the two obscure and unclear verses in Leviticus may be interpreted in any number of ways. And we know that the core values of our religious and social traditions are upheld, not undermined, by interpreting them narrowly, such that they apply to virtually no LGBT people today.

Which brings me to my third point, which is the religious nature of Obama’s statement itself. What the President said today means little as a statement of public policy since it has little impact ‘on the ground.’ It means more as an expression of personal conviction and conscience. What he said was that, over time, he has seen the truth of same-sex couples: that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity of opposite-sex ones; and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people. Those are religious values, expressed in a personal way. It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way….

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

Jewish Leaders Commit To Reduce Energy Use


Leaders across the political and religious spectrum celebrate Tu B’shvat by setting goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.

— by Vicki Stearn

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) today announced that a diverse group of community leaders has joined its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign by signing the “Jewish Environment and Energy Imperative” declaration. Rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and Renewal movements and other communal leaders set the goal of significantly lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, advocating for energy independence and security, and reducing the Jewish community’s energy consumption 14% by 2014.  The official signing ceremony at Manhattan’s 14th Street Y preceded Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees.

The declaration states:

The need to transform the world’s energy economy while addressing global climate change is not only a religious and moral imperative, it is a strategy for security and survival.

Each of us — as Jews, people of faith and Americans — has a personal responsibility to work toward lowering greenhouse-gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, COEJL co-chair, and president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This responsibility starts in our hearts and from there we must care for our homes, places of worship and institutional buildings.

More after the jump.
COEJL Director Sybil Sanchez said,

The Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign commits our leadership to take concrete action on climate change and energy security. Reducing our energy use by 14% by 2014 is our first step toward the national goal of an 83% reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

The year 2014 is the next ‘sabbatical’ or seventh year in the Jewish calendar, a traditional time to refrain from impacting the earth.

“Greening and sustainability are areas where the Jewish community has both an opportunity and an obligation to take a leadership role in the neighborhoods where Jewish institutions thrive,” said Stephen Hazan Arnoff, 14th Street Y executive director.  

Since participating in the Jewish Greening Fellowship program, the Y has reduced energy usage with new systems and equipment, and adopted sustainable practices to reduce and reuse materials, especially in the Y’s theater, where the ceremony took place.

Among the 50 signers of the declaration are:

  • Robert Barkin, president, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation;
  • Rabbi Yosef Blau, chair of Rabbinic Advisory Board, Canfei Nesharim;
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs;
  • Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Karen Rubinstein, executive director, American Zionist Movement;
  • Sybil Sanchez, director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life;
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism;
  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president, The Rabbinical Assembly;
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, executive director, the Shalom Center;
  • Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president, Orthodox Union; and,
  • Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

About COEJL
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life deepens and broadens the Jewish community’s commitment to the stewardship and protection of the earth.  Through a network of 27 national organizations and 125 community agencies, COEJL is mobilizing the Jewish community to address today’s energy and climate change crisis. COEJL is an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

About the 14th Street Y
The 14th Street Y builds community in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village.  The Jewish center embraces people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds, offering health and fitness, education, art and recreational programs for people and families of all ages. The 14th Street Y is part of a network of 44 programs at 27 sites provided by The Educational Alliance.

Food Stamp Challenge: The Week The Rabbis Went Hungry


— by Eric Harris

This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of “Fighting Poverty with Faith’s” initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.

We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget – and why we must do better as a nation.

Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:

When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.’

Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.

All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.

Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.

Who else is taking the challenge?

Ask your Member of Congress to take the challenge too.

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.”

Rep.-Elect Allen West (FL-22) appoints Racist Pundit as Chief-of-Staff

Republican candidate Allen West defeated Democratic incumbent Ron Klein to represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. He spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 20, 2010 and was endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. As one of 32 African-Americans who ran for Congress this year as Republicans, West said he supports the Tea Party movement and dismissed the notion of “racism” therein as having been made up by liberal critics and the news media.

— David A. Harris

Congressman-elect Allen West’s constituents – but especially his Jewish constituents – should be deeply concerned that he has selected incendiary talk radio host Joyce Kaufman to be his chief of staff. Kaufman’s declarations that President Barack Obama’s Jewish supporters ‘don’t embrace being Jews anymore’ and are ‘not serious about saving’ Israel because they’ve ‘stopped caring’ are not only offensive, they call into question whether West can effectively represent his Jewish constituents and his congressional district.

West demonstrated profoundly questionable judgment in choosing a radio host with no policy experience to be his Chief of Staff, and American Jews have every right to be outraged. Kaufman’s record is truly in a class of its own. In addition to her comments about the Jewish community, her remarks about immigration indicate that she does not intend to work seriously on achieving comprehensive immigration reform with her Democratic colleagues – or, for that matter, even with her Republican colleagues.

West’s decision to appoint Kaufman is a clear indication that he is not ready for prime
time. It is also in keeping with the wider trend in which today’s Republican Party is moving further and further to the right by the day, moving ever farther away from the vast majority of American Jews.

See Kaufman’s comments on Jews in the video above.

See below for Kaufman’s comments on immigration.
Kaufman warns that “invasion is crazy over the top,” so we should “shut down” border and deport “illegals”:

Joyce Kaufman on Illegal Immigration: