Perelman Jewish Day School Bars Teachers Union

— by Lynne Fox, Chairperson, Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee

The Perelman Jewish Day School board has unilaterally withdrawn its recognition of the union which has represented their teachers without interruption since 1976 and refuses to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

Philadelphia Jewish Labor Committee stands firmly with the teachers, their union and the parents and community leaders who have reached out to us as the board violates the rights of the school’s teachers to bargain collectively.

Although the school claims a religious exception to the relevant labor laws, it is the teachers’ concerns which are in alignment with tenets of Conservative Judaism. By dismantling the union and denying employees the power of collective bargaining, the Perelman Jewish Day School is acting in opposition both to major halakhic authorities and to the official position of the Conservative Movement. In 2008, the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards passed a teshuvah (legal position) which obliges institutions affiliated with the movement to comply with a series of Jewish labor laws. Among these, employers must pay a living wage and “may not interfere in any way with organizing drives.”

More after the jump.
This teshuvah draws upon a consistent line of rabbinic authority dating back to the Talmud. The third century Mishnah and Tosefta instructs employers to meet or exceed local custom in terms of wages and benefits, and the Babylonian Talmud gives town residents the right to intervene between a local employer and a worker to insure that wages are fair.

In 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, a leading Israeli Ashkanzi scholar and posek (authoritative adjudicator of questions related to Jewish law), recognized the right of workers to organize and to have their regulations and rules seen as binding. He also recognized, in certain conditions, their right to strike.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986), a Lithuanian Orthodox rabbi, scholar and posek, concurred in a series of Responsa that extended Rabbi Waldenberg’s holding to include the right of workers to prevent scabs from doing their jobs and to include the rights of religious school teachers to bargain collectively, even though community funds and the religious obligation to teach Torah were at stake.

The Perelman Jewish Day School has based its identity on a fidelity to halakhah (Jewish law) and derekh eretz (Jewish ethics). We call upon the school’s administration to bring this same dedication to its obligations as an employer of teachers who work hard every day to make the institution a center of Torah.

Jewish tradition has been clear and consistent — the treatment of workers and their right to organize are among the basic underpinnings of a just society. We therefore call upon the Perelman Jewish Day School to reverse their decision and begin to bargain with the teachers union over the terms of the next collective bargaining agreement.  

Discussion on Voter ID Laws in Pennsylvania

A panel discussion about voter ID laws in Pennsylvania took place at the Liberties Bar and Restaurant, in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties area. The discussion was sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish labor Committee (JLC) in collaboration with the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Referring to the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suspending provisions of the voter ID law, Hornstein said, “We’re going to pivot the energy from making sure everyone has the proper ID, which is of course what the right-wing wanted us to be focused on, to actually getting out the vote.

More after the jump.
“The Jewish Labor Committee,” added Hornstein, “is really about building bridges between the Labor community and the Jewish community. Back in my grandmother’s day, Jews and Labor were synonymous. Nowadays, except for teachers and some classifications of work, Jews are now highly represented in the Labor movement, except on staffs. We feel it’s important, because the Jewish community is generally a progressive community, and generally in tune with what the Labor movement does, if they knew what was going on.”

Hornstein introduced the panel: Laura Wentz, Executive Vice-President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and member of IATSE Local 8; Elizabeth McElroy, Secretary-Treasurer of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO; State Senator Daylin Leach; and Anne Gemmell, Political Director of Fight for Philly.

Fighting the voter ID bills was, as Dalyin Leach put it, “in the last few months my full-time job…One of my most recent experiences was debating (House Republican Leader) Mike Turzai on Fox News.” Leach described Turzai as “just out of it, reading notes and talking to people off camera during the debate.”

Judge Robert Simpson, added Leach, “was not considering the constitutionality of voter ID, as was often misrepresented in the press. Judge Simpson was considering the preliminary injunction, (and) to grant a preliminary injunction, you are not required to find that a law in unconstitutional, all you have to find is that there is a reasonable likelihood (that there is) a strong case that it’s unconstitutional.” The State Supreme Court said, added Leach, that “in order for this law to survive for the 2012 election, the judge had (to hold) another hearing and find, as a factual matter, that everyone in Pennsylvania who wanted an ID could feasibly get an ID.”

Pointing out that many of the 71 offices of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) were only open one day a week, Leach said, “If you take the total number of PennDOT hours, and the total number of people that need these IDs, every PennDOT office would essentially have to give out a thousand IDs a day. If a thousand people showed up to a PennDOT office, 970 of them would be sent home.”

Of the claim that the voter ID bills were designed to eliminate voter fraud, Leach said, “Any remedy you craft has to be in response to an actual problem. In-person voter fraud is not an actual problem, in that it never happens…People tend not to commit extremely high-risk, no-reward crimes-that’s just human nature.” Leach also raised the danger of “fistfights as polls, as people who voted for fifty years showed up at the polls show up and the person who’s been signing them in for fifty years told them they couldn’t vote- that’s going to get very ugly. There’s going to be people challenging every single ID at certain polls, and that will create long lines and (they will) hope that people go away without voting.”

Ann Gemmell pointed out the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), where “they sit around and create model legislation, and as soon as they get total control of a state house and senate, they start flying this legislation in, and it happened in Pennsylvania.’ Gemmell said that progressive have been “spending a lot of time and energy that could be spent on talking about Kathy Kane (running for Pennsylvania Attorney General) and registering voters.”

Liz McElroy reminded people that “Before 2006, no state had a law in their books for photo ID every time somebody voted. Today, now, at least thirty (states) do. That’s not an accident, if you think about what happened in those intervening six years in this country.” There are many people, said McElroy, “who think, what’s the big deal about voter ID? You need a (driver’s) license to but cigarettes, you need a license to buy beer, all these things you need ID to do. It’s not necessarily crazy right-wing people who are saying this, it’s our friends, neighbors, and union members.

“It’s a big deal because,” said McElroy, “it’s not my right to get on an airplane, (but) it’s my right to go into the voting booth and vote, so they’re very different things. It’s not my right to buy cigarettes or beer, but it’s my right to walk into a voting booth.” In the years from 2006, she added, “We’ve seen a relentless attack on workers, on teachers, on public employees- I’m not just talking union workers, (but on) all workers.” Companies, she said, want to “completely cut workers’ benefits and pay, and exploit them. You’ve got to work more hours for less money, (or) we’ll ship your job to China. That conversation has been around for a long time…The same people who are coming after us as workers, or as women (attacking) our reproductive rights, or as Gays and Lesbians, whatever category, they’re the same people who are going after our voting rights. It’s all tied together, and it’s really one of those issues that, truly, we’re all in it together.”  

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Today President Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to following laureats:

  • Secretary Madeleine Albright,
  • Attorney General John Doar,
  • Musician Bob Dylan,
  • Dr. William Foege,
  • Senator John Glenn,
  • Prof. Gordon Hirabayashi,
  • Dolores Huerta,
  • Jan Karski,
  • Juliette Gordon Low,
  • Author Toni Morrison,
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres (*),
  • Justice John Paul Stevens, and
  • Coach Pat Summitt.

(Shimon Peres was not able to attend yesterday, so his medal will be awarded in a separate ceremony next month.)

Transcript after the jump.

Remarks by President Barack Obama

Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat, and welcome to the White House.  It is an extraordinary pleasure to be here with all of you to present this year’s Medals of Freedom.  And I have to say, just looking around the room, this is a packed house, which is a testament to how cool this group is.  (Laughter.)  Everybody wanted to check them out.

This is the highest civilian honor this country can bestow, which is ironic, because nobody sets out to win it.  No one ever picks up a guitar, or fights a disease, or starts a movement, thinking, “You know what, if I keep this up, in 2012, I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama.”  (Laughter.)  That wasn’t in the plan.

But that’s exactly what makes this award so special.  Every one of today’s honorees is blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent.  All of them are driven.  But, yes, we could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven.  What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people — not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime.

Together, the honorees on this stage, and the ones who couldn’t be here, have moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions.  They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better.  Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye.  Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in.  It’s our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives.  And so today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well led, and that’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So I’m going to take an opportunity — I hope you guys don’t mind — to brag about each of you, starting with Madeleine Albright.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Usually, Madeleine does the talking.  (Laughter.)  Once in a while, she lets her jewelry do the talking.  (Laughter.)  When Saddam Hussein called her a “snake,” she wore a serpent on her lapel — (laughter) — the next time she visited Baghdad.  When Slobodan Milosevic referred to her as a “goat,” a new pin appeared in her collection.

As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.  And as an immigrant herself — the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child — Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job.  This is one of my favorite stories.  Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, “Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.”  And she replied, “Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State.”  (Laughter.)  We’re extraordinarily honored to have Madeleine here.  And obviously, I think it’s fair to say I speak for one of your successors who is so appreciative of the work you did and the path that you laid.

Attorney General John Doar

It was a scorching hot day in 1963, and Mississippi was on the verge of a massacre.  The funeral procession for Medgar Evers had just disbanded, and a group of marchers was throwing rocks at a line of equally defiant and heavily-armed policemen.  And suddenly, a white man in shirtsleeves, hands raised, walked towards the protestors and talked them into going home peacefully.  And that man was John Doar.  He was the face of the Justice Department in the South.  He was proof that the federal government was listening.  And over the years, John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.  He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March.  He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In the words of John Lewis, “He gave [civil rights workers] a reason not to give up on those in power.”  And he did it by never giving up on them.  And I think it’s fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan started out singing other people’s songs.  But, as he says, “There came a point where I had to write what I wanted to say, because what I wanted to say, nobody else was writing.”  So born in Hibbing, Minnesota — a town, he says, where “you couldn’t be a rebel — it was too cold” — (laughter) — Bob moved to New York at age 19.  By the time he was 23, Bob’s voice, with its weight, its unique, gravelly power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel.  Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude.  There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.  All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth.  And I have to say that I am a really big fan.  (Laughter.)  


Dr. Bill Foege

In the 1960s, more than 2 million people died from smallpox every year.  Just over a decade later, that number was zero — 2 million to zero, thanks, in part, to Dr. Bill Foege.  As a young medical missionary working in Nigeria, Bill helped develop a vaccination strategy that would later be used to eliminate smallpox from the face of the Earth.  And when that war was won, he moved on to other diseases, always trying to figure out what works.  In one remote Nigerian village, after vaccinating 2,000 people in a single day, Bill asked the local chief how he had gotten so many people to show up.  And the chief explained that he had told everyone to come see — to “come to the village and see the tallest man in the world.”  (Laughter.)  Today, that world owes that really tall man a great debt of gratitude.


Senator and Astronaut John Glenn

On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still.  And for half an hour, the phones stopped ringing in Chicago police headquarters, and New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loudspeakers.  President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders and joined 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous
words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became a hero in every sense of the word, but he didn’t stop there serving his country.  As a senator, he found new ways to make a difference.  And on his second trip into space at age 77, he defied the odds once again.  But he reminds everybody, don’t tell him he’s lived a historic life.  He says, “Are living.”  He’ll say, “Don’t put it in the past tense.”  He’s still got a lot of stuff going on.

Professor Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi knew what it was like to stand alone.  As a student at the University of Washington, Gordon was one of only three Japanese Americans to defy the executive order that forced thousands of families to leave their homes, their jobs, and their civil rights behind and move to internment camps during World War II.  He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, and he lost.  And it would be another 40 years before that decision was reversed, giving Asian Americans everywhere a small measure of justice.  In Gordon’s words, “It takes a crisis to tell us that unless citizens are willing to standup for the [Constitution], it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”  And this country is better off because of citizens like him who are willing to stand up.

Dolores Huerta

Similarly, when Cesar Chavez sat Dolores Huerta down at his kitchen table and told her they should start a union, she thought he was joking.  She was a single mother of seven children, so she obviously didn’t have a lot of free time.  But Dolores had been an elementary school teacher and remembered seeing children come to school hungry and without shoes.  So in the end, she agreed — and workers everywhere are glad that she did.  Without any negotiating experience, Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farm worker contracts.  And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table.  “Don’t wait to be invited,” she says, “Step in there.”  And on a personal note, Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, Si, se puede.  Yes, we can.  (Laughter.)  Knowing her, I’m pleased that she let me off easy — (laughter) — because Dolores does not play.  (Laughter.)


Jan Karski

For years, Jan Karski’s students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn’t realize was he was also a hero.  Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II.  Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.  Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.  It was decades before Jan was ready to tell his story.  By then, he said, “I don’t need courage anymore.  So I teach compassion.”


Girl Scouts in attendance at the White House as President Obama honored Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Juliette Gordon Low

Growing up in Georgia in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low was not exactly typical.  She flew airplanes.  She went swimming.  She experimented with electricity for fun.  (Laughter.)  And she recognized early on that in order to keep up with the changing times, women would have to be prepared.  So at age 52, after meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts in England, Juliette came home and called her cousin and said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world.  And we’re going to start it tonight!”  A century later, almost 60 million Girl Scouts have gained leadership skills and self-confidence through the organization that she founded.  They include CEOs, astronauts, my own Secretary of State.  And from the very beginning, they have also included girls of different races and faiths and abilities, just the way that Juliette would have wanted it.

Toni  Morrison

Toni Morrison — she is used to a little distraction.  As a single mother working at a publishing company by day, she would carve out a little time in the evening to write, often with her two sons pulling on her hair and tugging at her earrings.  Once, a baby spit up on her tablet so she wrote around it.  (Laughter.)  Circumstances may not have been ideal, but the words that came out were magical.  Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt.  From “Song of Solomon” to “Beloved,” Toni reaches us deeply, using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct, and inclusive.  She believes that language “arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.”  The rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.


Justice John Paul Stevens

During oral argument, Justice John Paul Stevens often began his line of questioning with a polite, “May I interrupt?” or “May I ask a question?”  You can imagine the lawyers would say, “okay” — (laughter) — after which he would, just as politely, force a lawyer to stop dancing around and focus on the most important issues in the case.  And that was his signature style:  modest, insightful, well-prepared, razor-sharp.  He is the third-longest serving Justice in the history of the Court.  And Justice Stevens applied, throughout his career, his clear and graceful manner to the defense of individual rights and the rule of law, always favoring a pragmatic solution over an ideological one.  Ever humble, he would happily comply when unsuspecting tourists asked him to take their picture in front of the Court.  (Laughter.)  And at his vacation home in Florida, he was John from Arlington, better known for his world-class bridge game than his world-changing judicial opinions.  Even in his final days on the bench, Justice Stevens insisted he was still “learning on the job.”  But in the end, we are the ones who have learned from him.

Pat Summitt

When a doctor first told Pat Summitt she suffered from dementia, she almost punched him.  When a second doctor advised her to retire, she responded, “Do you know who you’re dealing with here?”  (Laughter.)  Obviously, they did not.  As Pat says, “I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn, and call the cows.  But what I’m really known for is winning.”  In 38 years at Tennessee, she racked up eight national championships and more than 1,000 wins — understand, this is more than any college coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA.  And more importantly, every player that went through her program has either graduated or is on her way to a degree.  That’s why anybody who feels sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare, or she might punch you.  (Laughter.)  She’s still getting up every day and doing what she does best, which is teaching.  “The players,” she says, “are my best medicine.”  

Israeli President Shimon Peres

Our final honoree is not here — Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who has done more for the cause of peace in the Middle East than just about anybody alive.  I’ll be hosting President Peres for a dinner here at the White House next month, and we’ll be presenting him with his medal and honoring his incredible contributions to the state of Israel and the world at that time.  So I’m looking forward to welcoming him.  And if it’s all right with you, I will save my best lines about him for that occasion.

So these are the recipients of the 2012 Medals of Freedom.  And just on a personal note, I had a chance to see everybody in the back.  What’s wonderful about these events for me is so many of these people are my heroes individually.  I know how they impacted my life.

I remember reading “Song of Solomon” when I was a kid and not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think.  And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something that — about this country that was so vital.  And I think about Dolores Huerta, reading about her when I was starting off as an organizer.

Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways.  And I was telling — somebody like Pat Summitt — when I think about my two daughters, who are tall and gifted, and knowing that because of folks like Coach Summitt they’re standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong, then I understand that the impact that these people have had extends beyond me.  It will continue for generations to come.  What an extraordinary honor to be able to say thank you to all of them for the great work that they have done on behalf of this country and on behalf of the world.

So it is now my great honor to present them with a small token of our appreciation.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Presidential Medal of Freedom citations: Madeleine Korbel Albright.  Madeleine Korbel Albright broke barriers and left an indelible mark on the world as the first female Secretary of State in the United States’ history.  Through her consummate diplomacy and steadfast democratic ideals, Secretary Albright advanced peace in the Middle East, nuclear arms control, justice in the Balkans, and human rights around the world.  With unwavering leadership and continued engagement with the global community, she continues her noble pursuit of freedom and dignity for all people.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think this goes very well with your broach.  (Laughter.)

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  John Doar.  As African Americans strove for justice, John Doar led federal efforts to defend equality and enforce civil rights.  Risking his life to confront the injustices around him, he prevented a violent riot, obtained convictions for the killings of civil rights activists, and stood by the first African American student at the University of Mississippi on his first day of class.  During pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement and in the troubled times of the Watergate scandal, John Doar fought to protect the core values of liberty, equality and democracy that have made America a leader among nations.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Bill Foege.

THE PRESIDENT:  He is pretty tall.  (Laughter.)

MILITARY AIDE:  A distinguished physician and epidemiologist, Bill Foege helped lead a campaign to eradicate smallpox that stands among medicine’s greatest success stories.  At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Carter Center, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has taken on humanity’s most intractable public health challenges from infectious diseases to child survival and development.  Bill Foege has driven decades of progress to safeguard the well-being of all, and he has inspired a generation of leaders in the fight for a healthier world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Glenn has set a peerless example through his service to our nation.  As a Marine Corps pilot and the first American to orbit the Earth, he sparked our passions for ingenuity and adventure and lifted humanity’s ambitions into the expanses of space.  In the United States Senate, he worked tirelessly to ensure all Americans had the opportunity to reach for limitless dreams.  Whether by advancing legislation to limit the spread of nuclear weapons or by becoming the oldest person ever to visit space, John Glenn’s example has moved us all to look to new horizons with drive and optimism.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Susan Carnahan, accepting on behalf of her husband Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi.  In his open defiance of discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II, Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi demanded our nation live up to its founding principles.  Imprisoned for ignoring curfew and refusing to register for internment camps, he took his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.  Refusing to abandon his belief in an America that stands for fundamental human rights, he pursued justice until his conviction was overturned in 1987.  Gordon Hirabayashi’s legacy reminds us that patriotism is rooted not in ethnicity, but in our shared ideals.  And his example will forever call on us to defend the liberty of all our citizens.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta.  One of America’s great labor and civil rights icons, Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta has devoted her life to advocating for marginalized communities.  Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America and fought to secure basic rights for migrant workers and their families, helping save thousands from neglect and abuse.  Dolores Huerta has never lost faith in the power of community organizing, and through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues to train and mentor new activists to walk the streets into history.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, former Polish foreign minister accepting on behalf of Jan Karski.  As a young officer in the Polish Underground, Jan Karski was among the first to relay accounts of the Holocaust to the world.  A witness to atrocity in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, he repeatedly crossed enemy line to document the face of genocide, and courageously voiced tragic truths all the way to President Roosevelt.  Jan Karski illuminated one of the darkest chapters of history, and his heroic intervention on behalf of the innocent will never be forgotten.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Richard Platt, accepting on behalf of his great aunt, Juliette Gordon Low.  An artist, athlete and trailblazer for America’s daughters, Juliette Gordon Low founded an organization to teach young women self-reliance and resourcefulness.  A century later, during the “Year of the Girl,” the Girl Scouts’ more than 3 million members are leaders in their communities and are translating new skills into successful careers.  Americans of all backgrounds continue to draw inspiration from Juliette Gordon Low’s remarkable vision, and we celebrate her dedication to empowering girls everywhere.

(The medal is presented.  Applause.)

Toni Morrison.  The first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison is one of our nation’s most distinguished storytellers.  She has captivated readers through lyrical prose that depicts the complexities of a people and challenges our concepts of race and gender.  Her works are hallmarks of the American literary tradition, and the United States proudly honors her for her nursing of souls and strengthening the character of our union.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Paul Stevens.  From the Navy to the bench, John Paul Stevens has devoted himself to service to our nation.  After earning a Bronze Star in World War II, Stevens returned home to pursue a career in law.  As an attorney, he became a leading practitioner of anti-trust law.  And as a Supreme Court Justice, he dedicated his long and distinguished tenure to applying our Constitution with fidelity and independence.  His integrity, humility, and steadfast commitment to the rule of law have fortified the noble vision of our nation’s founders.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Pat Summitt.  Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports.  Over 38 seasons, she proudly led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to 32 SEC tournament and regular season championships and eight national titles, becoming the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.  On the court, Coach Summitt inspired young women across our country to shoot even higher in pursuit of their dreams.  Off the court, she has inspired us all by turning her personal struggle into a public campaign to combat Alzheimer’s disease.  Pat Summitt’s strength and character exemplify all that is best about athletics in America.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Bob Dylan.  A modern-day troubadour, Bob Dylan established himself as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  The rich poetry of his lyrics opened up new possibilities for popular song and inspired generations.  His melodies have brought ancient traditions into the modern age.  More than 50 years after his career began, Bob Dylan remains an eminent voice in our national conversation and around the world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Can everybody please stand and give a rousing applause to our Medal of Freedom winners?  (Applause.)

Well, we could not be prouder of all of them.  We could not be more grateful to all of them.  You have had an impact on all of us, and I know that you will continue to have an impact on all of us.  So thank you for being here.  Thank you for putting yourself through White House ceremonies — (laughter) — which are always full of all kinds of protocol.


White House Reception. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Fortunately, we also have a reception afterwards.  I hear the food around here is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  So I look forward to all of you having a chance to stay and mingle, and again, thank you again, to all of you.  (Applause.)

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.  

Open Letter to President of the Philadelphia Orchestra


— by Hannah Lee

Dear Ms. Vulgamore,

I write as a concerned music patron.  The recent decision to apply for Chapter 11 financial re-organization sets a troubling precedence in the music world and I wonder how Philadelphia would fare in the end?  Since that decision, I have been having weekly conversations with a source within the organization and I was moved to write by our latest chat yesterday.

Yes, we can be proud that the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the top five in the nation (along with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland), but I was amazed to learn that our orchestra also pays the highest salary of all these as well as the highest starting salary for the musicians (at $70,000, an unheard-of amount in the fine arts)!  Equally amazing facts to me are: the Orchestra does not perform or rehearse on Sundays; the 12-week vacations that some musicians enjoy; and the contracts that stipulate a full orchestra for each performance, necessitating substitute players and a huge substitute salary payroll.

More after the jump.
Yes, it does seem prudent to re-think these financial agreements, but what does it mean to throw all the previous years of labor negotiations out the window?  Could every other cultural organization take this “easy” way out of financial difficulties?  What obligations to your employees (and your paying patrons) remain?  But what about the unwieldy 60-member administrative staff?  And why are you still interviewing candidates for the following positions (as listed on your website): Director, Foundations and Government Relations; Institutional Giving Coordinator; Group and Corporate Sales Coordinator; Operations Coordinator; and Education and Community Partnerships Coordinator?  I do note that the part-time position as receptionist is non-paying.

How could you think of retiring Peter Nero, the energetic, two-time Grammy-award-winning pianist and director of the Philly Pops– under the same management as the Philadelphia Orchestra- for 30 years?  His much younger colleague, James Levine, has been suffering from debilitating back troubles, but he has been allowed the liberty and respect to choose when to withdraw from his multiple duties as conductor and music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony.

I read in Sunday’s Inquirer that the Orchestra will have an abbreviated season at the Mann this summer, because of its previously planned European tour.  Add this fact to the uncertainty over whether there will be a fall season and you leave your patrons puzzled and frustrated.  Do remember that Philadelphia lies within an easy commute to New York and even Washington, so some of your music-loving patrons could choose to leave the city for their listening pleasure.

While I have your ear, could I also add that the Orchestra’s move to the Kimmel Center has about doubled the ticket prices beyond the affordability of the average family with children?  No wonder that your concerts as seen from the stage are often a sea of senior faces with glasses.  What are your obligations to your patrons?  To nurturing a music audience for the future?

If yours were a Jewish organization, I would say shanda for shame.  You are a world-class cultural institution, so conduct yourself with world class.

Sincerely,
Hannah Lee

Two Jewish Groups Oppose Budget “Onslaught”

— Hershl Hartman

Budget-slashing efforts at state and federal levels were labeled “a determined onslaught against the social structure of this country” in a joint statement released today by two national secular Jewish groups.

Citing the “traditions of the Jewish labor and progressive movements,” the statement urges the groups’ members and others in the Jewish community to call upon “reasonable elected officials” to stand up against extremists who would balance budgets at the expense of the least-powerful.”

Joining in the statement were the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, with 24 affiliated communities and Sunday schools across North America, and the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, a 111-year old organization dedicated to fostering Jewish cultural identity and social and economic justice.

The full text of the statement follows the jump.
“From the State House in Madison, Wisconsin, to the House of Representatives in Washington, D. C., recent days have seen a determined onslaught against the social structure of this country.

“Under the guise of ‘fiscal responsibility,’ the targets have ranged from government workers to health care, and food for impoverished children, from Planned Parenthood to public radio and television, among many others.

“As inheritors of the traditions of the Jewish labor and progressive movements that contributed significantly to the social structure that today defines the United States, the undersigned organizations call upon all reasonable elected officials-regardless of party-to resist these unconscionable attacks.

“We urge our members and others in the Jewish community to make their voices heard to elected representatives at all levels of government, urging them to stand up against extremists who would balance budgets at the expense of the least-powerful at the behest of those able to expend millions to assure their own profits. We stand in solidarity for the right of all workers to organize and bargain collectively.

“It was everyday working women and men and professionals who created the social structures of this country. We cannot allow right-wing extremists to destroy them.”

Reflections on labor unions since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

— Hannah Lee

Friday, March 25th was the 100th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 young female workers.  This tragedy propelled reforms in the conditions of these sweatshops and innovative labor laws were enacted to protect workers.  The division of Fire Prevention was also created as part of the Fire Department.  “Among other restrictions, all doors must now open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems.”  ( Paul Rosa )

Here are some personal reflections on the garment factories in the years since 1911.  My mother was a worker in these factories– still sweatshops– until her retirement.  My family arrived in the United States in 1967 and, in the beginning, she did piecework at home, but the pay was terrible (even worse than at the factories).  When her youngest child (my brother, now a professor of finance at the University of Maryland) started full-day kindergarten, she went to work in the factories.

My stories of the unions are not as rosy as in the history textbooks.  The bosses kept two sets of timecards for each worker.  When the union representatives came by for a visit, the bosses would whip out the “legitimate” ones.  My mother chose to be paid by the piece, instead of the hour, because she didn’t want to be henpecked for her diligence (which was good).  She trained herself to not use the bathroom on the job because they were uniformly filthy.  However, the health insurance benefits from a union membership were invaluable and in her retirement, my mother has volunteered with her union.

Being a concerned mother, she would excuse herself at school dismissal time to walk us home from school, give us a snack, and return to work, putting me in charge of my younger siblings.  She would work until closing time.  (My father worked in Chinese restaurants six-to-seven days a week, so he was never home in the evenings.)

The recent novel by Jean Kwok called Girl in Translation is as accurate to my childhood and upbringing in the world of New York’s garment factories as a novel can be.  Until I read her fictionalized memoir, I’d forgotten how the thick dust in the factories settled on everything, getting into all of our crevices and coating our skin.

The legacy of the ILGWU, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (“look for the union label” was the union song) is long-lasting.  My siblings and I all earned multiple degrees: I received a bachelor’s from Brown, a M.S. in Epidemiology from Columbia, and was an All-But-Dissertation Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Epidemiology at N.Y.U.; my sister earned a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in education from Stanford; and my brother also earned a bachelor’s from Brown and a M.B.A. from N.Y.U.  In the next generation: my elder daughter just graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, with a degree in Linguistics .

Remembering the Victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

— David Karp

Susan Harris of Los Angeles visits the grave of her great uncle, Jacob Bernstein, on March 25, 2011, at Mount Richmond Cemetery in Staten Island, New York. Bernstein was among the 146 people who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, and the Hebrew Free Burial Association held a memorial ceremony to honor the 22 victims of the fire it buried at the cemetery 100 years ago. The Hebrew Free Burial Association provides Jewish burial rites and a final resting place for impoverished Jews. The fire led to major changes in workplace labor and fire safety laws. (Photo/David Karp)

Triangle Factory Fire Memorial at Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

One hundred years ago on March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Waist Company in New York City erupted in flames, and the resulting deaths of 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian women immigrant workers, many of them teenage girls, galvanized a city and a movement. The Triangle fire was a watershed moment in the history of the American Jewish labor movement and social reform.

On March 24, 2011, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO and the National Museum of American Jewish History are joining forces to commemorate this tragic event, honor those who gave their lives and discuss the evolution of the labor and reform movements that the Triangle fire inspired.

Join us for this extraordinary program, including a documentary film about the fire and its aftermath and viewing of the first floor exhibit at the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Hear about JSPAN’s new initiative to advance the Kosher Clothes movement here. Tickets are $36 (students $18) but seating is limited. Advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary from Ruthanne Madway, JSPAN Executive Director, 215-546-3732

More after the jump.

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. …

Even today, sweatshops have not disappeared in the United States. They keep attracting workers in desperate need of employment and illegal immigrants, who may be anxious to avoid involvement with governmental agencies. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.

Labor Day Message from the Jewish Labor Committee

First Labor Day parade, Union Square, New York, 1882.

— Stuart Appelbaum, President, Jewish Labor Committee

This year, Labor Day falls during the same week as Rosh Hashana.  While Labor Day may be considered by many to be the summer’s last hurrah, or another shopping day, its original purpose was to honor the contribution that the labor movement has made to American society.  Just as in the first week of the Jewish “Days of Awe” – from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, when we strive to make amends for interpersonal sins, and hope that we can do better in the year to come – we can and should see Labor Day as a time to reflect, and to become better, by respecting and honoring those who labor.

More after the jump.
The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated back in 1882 in New York City, and soon spread to communities across the country.  Twelve years later, in the aftermath of the bloody 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland made it a priority to secure legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.  It was indeed passed, unanimously, in Congress and signed into law six days after the end of the strike.  For more than a century, all 50 states have made Labor Day a state holiday, originally devoted to “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community.

Throughout its history, the American labor movement has been standing up for the needs of working men and women and their families – first and foremost in representing workers at the bargaining table, to secure decent contracts, decent working conditions, and decent benefits. The labor movement has secured benefits for all of us, not just union members – from the fight 75 years ago for Social Security, to the fight 45 years ago to establish Medicare, and most recently, in the struggle for health care reform.  It was American unions who led the fight for minimum wage laws, and then for increases to keep up with the increased cost of living.  

But this is not just about history – it is about today.  The struggle to improve the lives of workers is just as necessary today as it was in earlier decades.

That’s why the labor movement and its allies, including the Jewish Labor Committee, marched this year on Wall Street to call for government programs that focus on the working and living conditions of all workers, not just the CEOs of large corporations.  That’s why this past winter, more than 200 rabbis heeded our call and signed onto a petition vowing to boycott three Boston area hotels until the layoffs of the “Hyatt 100” were reversed; rabbis, cantors, and other Jewish communal leaders are committing themselves to continue the struggle to improve the working conditions of all hotel workers.  That’s why we fight against corporations such as Mott’s, that, in spite of earning record profits, are trying to force their workers to accept wage and benefits cuts. That’s why we advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, and march to end the abuses against farm workers who pick our fruits and vegetables, or factory workers who toil in sweatshops to make our clothes, whether they are union members or not.  

This year, we urge that national, state and local priorities serve the needs of working people as well as those currently unemployed.  Especially now, more government spending, targeted to create decent, well-paying jobs, is needed.  

This year, let us work to pass meaningful government legislation, from a bill to guarantee paid sick leave for all workers to the Employee Free Choice Act.  These can make real differences in the lives of working families.  The Jewish Labor Committee is committed to doing everything possible to pass this much-needed legislation – and we urge our members and friends to do the same.

Standing up for working families encompasses a range of strategies, and a range of possibilities.  During 2010’s Labor Day and as the Jewish New Year of 5771 begins, we hope that many in the Jewish community will join us as we roll up our sleeves to work with our partners — in the trade union movement, within the Jewish community, and all who are determined to bring forth a society based on true economic justice and prosperity for all.