Second Annual Pride Shabbat at Ohev Shalom

Ohev Shalom of Bucks County announces with exuberance its second annual Pride Shabbat on Friday June 8th at 6 PM in the Sanctuary. It is the belief of Ohev Shalom and our congregation that every person deserves love and respect. We welcome all peoples to our synagogue, so join us for this special Shabbat to celebrate our Jewish LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. A special Kiddush with wine and dessert will follow the Shabbat Services.

 

For more information, please email Cantor Annelise Ocanto-Romo at [email protected] or call her via the main office at 215-322-9595. We look forward to seeing you at our exciting and musical Pride Shabbat services on June 8th!

Pride Shabbat at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County

PJFF Film: “The Freedom to Marry”

For Evan Wolfson, it has always been about standing on the right side of history. Having begun advocating for LGBT rights at Harvard Law School, where he wrote his thesis on the subject of marriage equality, Wolfson has devoted his entire career to serving the LGBT community and its collective aspiration to legally wed. In 2003, he created the Freedom to Marry Foundation, where he and his team of activist pioneers have spent over a decade fighting to eradicate the traditional model for marital union state by state.

In this profoundly moving film, director Eddie Rosenstein traces the history of the marriage equality movement to the peak moment when Mary Bonauto, an American lawyer and civil rights advocate, stood before the Supreme Court and fought on behalf of every person’s right to love whom he or she chooses. Charged with emotion, these firsthand accounts of Bonauto and Wolfson learning of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in June of 2015 remain just as poignant a year later.

The screening of the film will also include a panel discussion moderated by Tiffany L. Palmer, founder and shareholder of Jerner & Palmer. The speakers on the panel will be Helen E. Casale, vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Fairness; Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum; and Eddie Rosenstein, the film’s director (with his Philadelphia filmmaking team, Stephen Gifford and Rick Sebeck).

Buy tickets here.

Hate has Absolutely no Place in America

Hillary Clinton. Photo Credit: Ida Mae Astute

Hillary Clinton. Photo Credit: Ida Mae Astute


— Hillary Rodham Clinton

I join Americans in praying for the victims of the attack in Orlando, their families and the first responders who did everything they could to save lives.

This was an act of terror.  Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are hard at work, and we will learn more in the hours and days ahead.  For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.  That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home. It also means refusing to be intimidated and staying true to our values.

This was also an act of hate.  The gunman attacked an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month.  To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country.  I am one of them.  We will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear.  Hate has absolutely no place in America.

Finally, we need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals.  This is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States and it reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets.

This is a time to stand together and resolve to do everything we can to defend our communities and country.

The Limits of Freedom of Religion

Since the Supreme Court pronounced that a corporation can have religious rights, a number of new cases have been emerging, seeking to stake out broad additional territory.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court found that a closely held business corporation had religious rights, and could deny its employees contraceptive health insurance coverage called for under the Affordable Care Act. But that ruling may be only the beginning of a new chapter in the law of religious freedom under the First Amendment.

A few years ago the Pennsylvania Department of State, the agency that processes incorporation papers, refused to accept an application for the title “I Choose Hell Productions LLC” because it contained blasphemy. The Department rested its refusal on a law against blasphemy in corporate names, and argued in support of the law that the public should not be exposed to inflammatory language. The federal court hearing the case ruled that the law was an unconstitutional effort to advance religion.

But what about a law that is entirely neutral – that does not deal with religion at all? Polygamy is unlawful across the board, even though a few religions allow it. A law against cruelty to animals will be effective against animal sacrifice if the law is conceived and worded neutrally, and not as a reaction to a particular religion.

Simons Looking back by Stevie

A Jewish lesbian wedding in Colorado. Photo by Steve Crecilius.

However, in Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation for profit could avoid complying with a provision of a totally neutral law – the Affordable Care Act – to provide insurance that includes benefits for contraceptives, if the owners of the business have a religious scruple against use of the abortifacient medicines at issue. Since then, it has been open season on religious exemption claims.

Several states have extended to gays the protection of their laws against discrimination in employment, housing and commerce. In Colorado, a cake baker refuses to prepare wedding cakes for LGBT weddings. The baker justifies his refusal on grounds of his religious beliefs. A gay couple challenged the refusal before the state human relations agency and won. The baker is appealing to a court from agency’s the ruling against him.

In New York, a catering hall that usually handles weddings refuses to rent out for gay weddings. A gay couple who were refused a booking complained to the New York State human relations agency and were successful. The wedding hall is appealing to the state courts.

What is the right answer to these cases? The traditional response is rendering up to Caesar: Those who engage in commerce must accept the burden of the laws that cover matters such as trade and employment. The newly emerging answer may be that individual religious scruples are protected, even in the commercial marketplace.

As a minority, Jews might prefer the new and enlarged version of the First Amendment protection of religion. Maintaining our religious practice without any accommodation is certainly very difficult at times.

Or we might conclude the opposite. Consider that the baker might have anti-Semitic “scruples” along with his belief against gay marriage. The wedding hall could prefer not to accept events that bless a marriage without mentioning the Christian sacraments.

Large urban centers have plenty of bakers and wedding halls, but other areas, where few Jews live, may also have few of these services. Should the views of such services’ owners – even the sincerely held religious views — exempt the businesses from the anti-discrimination laws of their states or of the federal government?

As the new cases move along, we will find out.

Modern Marriage: DOMA Elimination Raises Many Questions


Daylin Leach officiates the marriage between Sarah and Marcia Martinez-Helfman at the Talamore Golf Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the parallel provision on the Marriage Law in Pennsylvania expand gay rights and bestow important benefits on GLBTQ communities. These include the ceremonial and symbolic element of traditional marriage, and the reduction or elimination of economic discrimination in favor of traditional marriage that continues to exist in some public laws and programs.  

But in addition, this line of cases has broadened the circumstances in which discrimination will be inferred in facially “neutral” governmental action, and has broadened the application of the doctrine of equal protection of the laws, all to the good.  

More after the jump.
Family law, the body of common law principles and statutes controlling marriage, adoption, divorce, support and custody issues, has been a subject of state law. Moreover, the states have been permitted to experiment and apply highly individual approaches in this area.

Until late in the last century, battles over divorce laws arose primarily in state legislatures. For decades, trips to Reno or Mexico had been common parts of a divorce “package.” These days, lawyers fight cases over the question of jurisdiction: If one of two married people travels to a place far from the marital home, is the divorce decree obtained there really binding?

The questions of how marriages formed, on the other hand, had received much less attention. Now with the advent of gay marriage, inevitable adjustments will be made in related norms and practices. Any assumptions about relationships will be revisited.

The traditional polite seating at the meal table — boy, girl, boy, girl — is surely adaptable. Other institutions will take longer to adapt.

As a formal matter, the two paths to marriage — a civil or a religious ceremony — will remain unchanged. Nonetheless, organized religions will face pressure to decide whether they too will broaden their viewpoint and grant sacramental support to gay marriage.

This revolution is surely going to pour over into heterosexual families and relationships. When a marriage — or union — breaks up, many assumptions about custody and support will no longer seem applicable.

Who is responsible for bringing up a baby? The traditional assumption that there will be a breadwinner, and that this role will survive separation and divorce, will seem antiquated. Why should the breadwinner, or the homemaker before divorce continue in that role afterward? If those roles are purely personal elections, need they be permanently binding?  

Jewish Community Debates Sochi Olympics


Gornaya Karusel on Mount Aibga in Krasnaya Polyana, one of the 2014 Sochi Olympics venues.

— by Alina Dain Sharon, JNS.org

With the Winter Olympic Games underway in Sochi, Russia, the Jewish debate on the games mirrors the discourse taking place in the broader international and athletic communities.

While some Jews say they view the games purely as sport — with social or political issues not factoring into their evaluation — not all can ignore Russia’s controversial “gay propaganda” legislation, political detentions, and allegations of Olympic corruption, and the recent terrorist threats against the games.

One Jewish resident of Moscow, Anya Levitov, said the various sensitive issues in Russia “make these games anything but an event to follow.”

More after the jump.
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and activist who is both Jewish and openly gay, said on ABC News that the propaganda law, which was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last June, bans the distribution of information that could harm children’s development or encourage them to accept alternative sexual relationships.

There have already been attempts to remove children from lesbian couples. So, basically, LGBT people [in Russia] have an incredible amount to fear right now, especially if they have children.

Furthermore, while the law itself only bans propaganda, anti-gay violence around the country has increased recently.

An International Olympic Committee member, Gian-Franco Kasper, said that as much as a third of the record-high $50 billion price tag for the Olympics has been siphoned off. Businessman Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Putin’s government, said on ABC News he has evidence that Russian officials and business executives stole at least $30 billion of the funds meant for Olympics-related projects.

Levitov said to JNS.org that the the Olympic sports venues were hastily built and may be hazardous to spectators and players. “The construction was done by migrant workers, many of whom were sent back home without pay,” she said, and added that growing nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment has been growing in the country in recent years.


The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, being interviewed on the Games, last month.

Putin has denied allegations of Olympics-related corruption: “I do not see serious corruption instances for the moment, but there is a problem with overestimation of construction volumes,” he said to reporters, and added that some contractors had won tenders due to low bids that they subsequently inflated.

This price increase, it is sometimes due to contractor’s deliberate acts, and sometimes it is due to the fact that the professional valuation of necessary investments, especially in mountain conditions, for a mountain cluster, are not efficient enough

Putin’s presidency has not been associated with the kind of state-sanctioned anti-Semitism that was prevalent during the Soviet era. But Levitov said that “the rise of state-sanctioned xenophobia and anti-gay hatred, as any intolerance, is ultimately a threat to the Jews.”

A Jewish businessman from Moscow, Ivan Kosarev, said that since the decision was made to hold the Olympics in Sochi, he has fully supported investing money in the major sports competition, and doing so efficiently. Kosarev said to JNS.org he is glad the games are taking place in Russia, and that while corruption around the games should be investigated if it exists, political issues such as the LGBT rights should be discussed separately.

On the other hand, he said, “If I were the Russian president X years ago when they decided to apply for holding the Olympics, I might have not made the same decision but rather invested into infrastructure in a more broader sense,” such as railways, airports, and roads.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) editorial manager, Stuart Lieberman, who will be reporting on the Paralympic Games, which will take place in Sochi next month, disagrees with boycotting the Olympics.

“I do not think you should be avoiding countries for reasons like this,” he said. Lieberman added that part of the value of the games is “to inspire and excite the world, and to instill change in society.”

Sochi’s Chabad-Lubavitch center is preparing to welcome an influx of Jewish athletes and visitors to its 3,000-member local Jewish community. Chabad has acquired two temporary centers that will be staffed by 12 rabbinic interns, and its staff has equipped itself to prepare about 7,000 kosher meals during the course of the games.

The Chabad emissary to Sochi, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, does not take a political stand on human rights or corruption issues.

“I view my role in this community as a spiritual one. I am here to cater to the needs of the Jewish community, as well as to visiting tourists,” he said to JNS.org. “It is our goal as an organization that the spiritual and religious needs of those living and visiting Sochi are met, and hopefully expanded.”

However, Edelkopf said that the Sochi Jewish community is “in touch with local officials and security experts” regarding safety precautions, in light of concerns that the Sochi Olympics may be a target for terrorist attacks, particularly from Islamist groups in the Northern Caucausus region.


Sochi, Russia.

In December, two suicide attacks killed 34 people in Volgograd, about 700 kilometers north of Sochi. An Islamist group from the Caucausus claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police is imposing long-planned restrictions of access into and movement within Sochi. Russian officials said that up to 70,000 personnel will be patrolling the games.

the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) director of Russian Jewish community affairs, Sam Kliger, said JNS.org that he hopes Russia “will do its best to prevent any attempt of terrorist acts during the Olympics.” A “positive sign” is that Russia reportedly cooperates with the U.S. on security issues, said Kliger, who also cited rumors that Russian security cooperation with Israel is also on the way.

Levitov, however, questions the publicity surrounding security risks to the games:

I personally view the widely publicized threats of terrorist attacks simply as a public relations effort of Russian authorities. It creates pre-text for further attacks on civil rights, and more restrictions on freedom of travel around the Olympic area, and allows for excuses if something does go wrong. Any mismanagement, infrastructural failures or collapsed buildings can be explained by terrorism.

The executive director of the National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia (NCSJ), Mark B. Levin, said to JNS.org that his organization is not certain about any specific threats to Jewish people attending the games. But the group has been contacted by some concerned individuals and is directing those people to the U.S. State Department, Levin said.

Like the IPC’s Lieberman, some Jewish groups see the Olympics as a way to promote tolerance and freedom.

B’nai B’rith International said in a statement that “The Olympic Games have the potential to mark a new direction in which there is no discrimination based on race, gender, handicaps or sexual orientation.”

The Olympics are a microcosm. While we expect athletes from every nation to have the right to compete fairly, a societal commitment to tolerance and acceptance should be applied to every aspect of society.


Postage stamps commemorating the three mascots of the Games.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said to JNS.org that the games provide “a chance to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBT community and to promote democratic ideals.”

He said that the ADL is not supporting a boycott of the games but calls for the U.S. to “consider new ways to “lead in the effort to have Russia address the anti-LGBT persecution in the same way the Jackson-Vanik amendment dealt with Soviet Jews, or the Magnitsky act addressed certain human rights violations.”

AJC’s Kliger said that Putin’s recent political gestures, such as the releases of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the members of the Pussy Riot band from prison, are a step forward for the country ahead of the games.

Kliger said to JNS.org that he is encouraged by “recent declarations by a number of Russian officials that there will be no discrimination against any group or individual” at the games, including LGBT people, and other “signals of goodwill coming from the Russian government indicate that Russia is much more interested in conducting the Games in the spirit of sports, peace, and cooperation.”

But Gessen said on ABC News that “people who have not had the kind of international attention that those people had are remaining in prison… So it’s not a sign of an end to the crackdown… It’s a very transparent and actually a very cynical PR gesture.”

Levitov said to JNS.org that the Sochi Olympics are a very important event for Putin and his public image. Since the games are being marketed as Russia’s symbol of strength and prestige among world powers, she said, it is important for the games to show that none of the human rights and corruption issues in Russia belong in the civilized world.

“It would be great if leaders of the world’s leading democracies would demonstrate their position or disapproval openly. I have no hope that the Jewish leaders would, but it would be great,” she said.

NCSJ’s Levin said that, naturally, “there will be athletes and spectators who will voice disapproval,” given the “serious differences, politically, between the Russian federation and the U.S. or the West.”

But at end of the day, Levin said, the Olympics “always go to the country that is willing to pay for it.”  

Civil Rights Arrive in Pennsylvania: State Rep. Brian Sims Interview

Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims (D., Philadelphia), the first openly gay candidate to win an election to the state General Assembly, made headlines last week with the passage of a resolution for recognizing the Human Rights Day.

In an exclusive interview with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, he shared his plans for the next few years, a surprising Jewish connection, and a few thoughts on the House speaker, Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler County).

Q: Where did the idea for the resolution on the Human Rights Day come from?

I had known of the Day for 15 years, since I heard of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Last month, after the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, invited me to speak on advocating for civil rights at local events in honor of the Day, I decided to propose a resolution for recognizing this day in Pennsylvania.

Q: Was it realizing that you were gay that brought you to the civil rights area?

I have first learned of civil rights through feminism. Both of my parents were lieutenant colonels in the Army, so I grew up with a very strong woman and two very equal parents.

Being part of the gay community was one of the reasons that I ran for the House. Pennsylvania has no LGBT rights laws at all, so a lot needs to be done. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the State Senate support such legislations.

Q: Has your being gay hurt you in ways that legislation could have prevented?

Not very often. To my fortune, I live in a city with many laws that protect my rights. In other areas of Pennsylvania, you can get fired from your job or kicked out of your house, and even get bullied just for being gay.

Q: Were you surprised last June, when the speaker of the House, Daryl Metcalfe, did not let you speak on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, saying that it would be “an open rebellion against God’s law”?

Yes. I knew that he did not like me personally, and did not have respect for the House and its members, but I was surprised by the reason for which he did not let me speak.

Anyone can believe in anything they want, and have any motivation for their activism, but “God’s law” has no place in the Government and its voting.

Q: How has being elected changed your lifestyle?

I have always been very busy: Before being elected, I was the president of Equality Pennsylvania, and active in five more civil rights organizations. Now I am just as busy, but have a whole team that helps me.

In the little spare time that I have, I carry lectures, to teach the public on subjects such as saving money and public safety.

Q: What are your plans for the elections to the General Assembly next June?

I will run for the same office again. I need several more years to take care of all of the issues in my district (the 182nd House District, Center City).

Q: Do you have any connection with the local Jewish community?

When I worked as a lawyer, each and every one of my bosses was Jewish. They all understood what it meant to stand up and be an advocate for your community, so working as a lawyer had been connecting me with the Jewish community as well as with the lawyer community.

Last October, politicians from Pennsylvania held a diplomatic trip to Israel, but I could not go. A similar trip is planned for next March, and I would like to join it.

Pennyslvania DOMA Hero Honored: Mark Aronchick’s Journey


Mark Aronchick and Congressman Chaka Fattah.

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

The local attorney and advocate for equality, Mark A. Aronchick, received the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) Social Justice Award, at a reception last month.

Aronchick is the lead counsel, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in the challenge to the Pennsylvania version of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), being brought by a number of same sex couples seeking the right to marry in Pennsylvania.

This challenge is the most important civil rights case in Pennsylvania in years. As the case progresses through the lower courts and perhaps up to the Supreme Court, it could be a very suitable capstone to Aronchick’s long and illustrious public career.

More after the jump.
Through its Church-State Committee, JSPAN takes an active, lively interest in freedom of religion, and other First Amendment cases. This non-profit agency intervenes in key cases, petitions the federal and state executive branches, and educates its members and the public regarding religious and civil rights issues.

DOMA is a statute that the federal government, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states adopted, defining marriage as exclusively a union between a man and a woman.

The United States Supreme Court ruled a key provision of the federal statute unconstitutional earlier this year, reasoning that the law addresses no apparent federal interest, except to express animus against the gay community.


Mark Aronchick and Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.

The LGBT movement exulted: The federal ruling points the way to attack the Pennsylvania DOMA, but getting a state law overturned is never an easy case.

The DOMA case will turn on constitutional issues, with which Aronchick has extensive experience: Prior important constitutional level cases he handled include litigation concerning voting rights, electronic voting machines, and policies and practices of the Philadelphia Police Department.

As the new DOMA case develops, a growing public recognition of its importance and of Aronchick’s key role is expected.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1974 with high honors, Aronchick became active in local democratic politics. After Bill Green was elected mayor of Philadelphia, Aronchick became the youngest person to serve as Philadelphia city solicitor.

He has also filled key positions in the organized bar, including president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and treasurer and chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Aronchick served as a member of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and Chair of the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board, a key advisory board to the state supreme court, for four years.

Regarding this virtually continuous stream of often difficult, very public volunteer positions, Aronchick states that he is not special, and that a number of other lawyers could have filled his roles, but his argument in this instance is not convincing.


Dan and Sheila Segal, and Mark and Judith Aronchick.

Aronchick views the fight to allow same-sex marriage in the DOMA case as incredibly important, and a natural next battle following in the larger Jewish tradition, of supporting greater equality for all people.

He is optimistic about the future of the Jewish community, observing that young people today approach public service differently than earlier generations, but continue to offer strong leadership skills.

Aronchick is married to Dr. Judith Aronchick, a professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Their daughter, Sara Aronchick Solow, graduated from Yale Law School, and currently is clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Mark and Judith’s son Jonathan is a student at Georgetown Law School, having previously served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Aronchicks’s five month old grandson, Ethan Solow, is reported to constitute a serious distraction from law, but one that Mark is up to handling.  

Pennsylvania Senators Join Forces to Stop LGBT Discrimination


Brian Sims.

— by State Rep. Brian Sims (D-Phila.)

I have long believed that civil rights cannot be a one party issue.

Senator Casey (D-PA) has supported LGBT civil rights from nondiscrimination to marriage equality, and I was proud to see him continue to demonstrate that support last night.

I am especially proud of Senator Toomey (R-PA), who last night confirmed to Americans across the nation that civil rights is not an issue of right and left, but an issue of right and wrong. Senator Toomey’s vote in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) shows that a conservative ideology and support for LGBT equality are not mutually exclusive.

While I am heartened and invigorated by last night’s vote, we still have a long way to go in fulfilling our national creed, that we are all created equal and endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

More after the jump.
In 29 states including Pennsylvania, American citizens can still be fired from their jobs, kicked out of their homes, or denied services at businesses all because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. We must continue our efforts to pass nondiscrimination laws at the state level, such as HB300 here in Pennsylvania, to ensure that we eliminate the last vestiges of discrimination from our laws.  

But last night, we have made great progress. And I wholeheartedly thank Senators Casey and Toomey for voting on the right side of history.

ENDA: Time for U.S. to Take Next Step Toward LGBT Equality

— by Amber Powers

   Sexual orientation & gender identity: all employment
   Sexual orientation: all employment
   Sexual orientation & gender identity: state employment
   Sexual orientation: state employment
   No state-level protection for LGBT employees.

In Pennsylvania, unless you are a public employee, you can be fired solely on the basis of being gay, lesbian or transgender.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, but there is still no such federal protection for lesbian, gay and transgender people.

Today, it remains legal in 29 states to refuse to hire or promote someone, or to demote or fire them, just because they are gay, and in 33 states to do so if someone is transgender.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would put an end to such discrimination. Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to bringing ENDA (S. 815) to the Senate floor for a vote before Thanksgiving — the bill’s first full Senate vote since 1996. The corresponding House Bill (HR 1755)  was referred to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections last July.

Momentum for ENDA is growing by the day. As people of faith, and as Americans, we must ensure passage of this crucial legislation.

More after the jump.
The ethical imperative to protect the vulnerable is core to my identity as a person and as a religious leader. Jewish tradition teaches us to always be mindful of our own history as an oppressed people and to use that knowledge to guide our actions and inform our understanding of what it means to create a just society.  

In Exodus, it is written, “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The Biblical prophets implore the Israelites to apply this lesson widely and to remember that anyone in our midst who is vulnerable is worthy of our protection. I don’t need to go all the way back to my distant ancestors’ experiences in another land to bring these lessons home.

In the 1930s, here in the United States, my grandfather faced discrimination as a young Jewish man trying to support himself as a travelling salesman. After repeatedly being denied a hotel room, he made the difficult decision to permanently change his surname from “Perlowitz” to “Powers” to better hide his Jewishness. Every time I write or say my name, I am reminded of his story and of the dangers of discrimination.

Thankfully, employment discrimination against Jews and other people of faith is largely a thing of the past in the United States. We must not stand idly by as others suffer from discrimination today.

The religious denomination with which I am affiliated, Reconstructionist Judaism, is fully committed to inclusion in all aspects of Jewish life, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.  

The 1992 Report of the Reconstructionist Commission on Homosexuality articulated a vision for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian individuals in our communities and I am proud to be a religious leader within a tradition that continues to hold inclusion as a treasured central value.

Reconstructionist Jews are certainly not alone in supporting ENDA. Sixty-five faith groups, including ten religious denominations, have also signed a letter in support of the legislation. Some of these groups have pointed to the importance of the broad religious exemption in ENDA, which also exempts small businesses from its scope.

Although these groups may differ on the issue of same-sex relationship recognition, we all agree that people should be judged in the workplace based on the quality of their work and not personal characteristics.

Moreover, an overwhelming number of Americans now support a law that protects gay, lesbian and transgender Americans from discrimination in the workplace. According to national poll, even 56% of Republicans support this type of law.  

A Public Religion Research Institute poll last May showed that 61% of minority Protestants, 59% of white evangelical Protestants, 75% of white mainline Protestants, 76% of Catholics and 84% of religiously unaffiliated Americans support workplace nondiscrimination for gays and lesbians.

According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, America’s top businesses are also on board: 88% of Fortune 500 companies already have policies prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in their workplaces, and 57% also protect transgender employees.

As a Reconstructionist rabbi and an American, I call on all of us to recognize our moral responsibility to protect the ability of our lesbian, gay and transgender brothers and sisters to earn their livelihood. It’s time for our country to take this next step on our journey toward equality and fairness.