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.

Reform Movement Joins Communal Israel Terror Relief Fund

— by Annette Powers

In response to Israel’s military efforts to stop the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza, and the subsequent escalation in violence, the arms of the Reform Movement, representing 1.5 million Jews in North America, as well as numerous professional organizations and affiliates, are joining together, calling for spiritual, political, and financial support for Israel.

More after the jump.
The Reform Movement has long been an unwavering voice for Israel and reaffirms that staunch support for Israel in this moment of crisis. The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) has been in touch with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), and the entire Reform Jewish Movement is working together to provide support for Israel’s people who find themselves in the line of fire from Gaza rockets, including those in Reform communities.

To that end, the Reform Movement is joining with partners from across the North American Jewish landscape in establishing an Israel Terror Relief Fund. This effort is being coordinated by the Jewish Federations of North America. All donations will go to direct aid, including to the Reform community in Israel, through organizations such as The Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, as they work to provide respite and support to the thousands of children and families in Israel’s southern region, food and emergency kits to the elderly and disabled, and many other relief and emergency services.

Donation information, as well as a wide array of other resources – including liturgical suggestions, background information from many of our affiliates, including ARZA, and curricular materials – are available at urj.org/israel.

Sad Day For The Atlanta Jewish Community

Atlanta Jewish Times proposed assassination of the President of the United States of America.


— by Annette Powers

The leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) uniformly and vehemently denounces the column penned by Atlanta Jewish Times Publisher Andrew Adler. In a bizarre missive that referenced Alice in Wonderland, a Star Trek movie and fiction writer Tom Clancy, Adler laid out potential scenarios for Israel’s leadership to avoid a multilateral war, including assassination of President Barack Obama.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ said:

That any publication in the United States would call for the assassination of the President is despicable. That a newspaper owner could even consider publishing this irresponsible and hateful column is beyond belief.  Worse still, Adler used the platform of this respected Jewish community paper to espouse such disrespectful language and ideas that have, sadly, become far too common in today’s political discourse.

URJ Chairman, Steve Sacks said

Aside from the monumental misjudgment by the publisher to print such inflammatory beliefs, Adler has furthermore embarrassed not only himself but his paper, his community and the larger Jewish community. His article marked a sad day for the Jewish community in Atlanta as their once vibrant newspaper has been tainted with rhetoric that serves neither Israel’s interests nor those of Atlanta’s Jews.

While welcoming the news that Mr. Adler will no longer be at the helm of the paper, Religious Action Center Director Rabbi David Saperstein said

It is not enough for the American Jewish community to only condemn this editorial in the strongest possible terms. We must reclaim the public dialogue around Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship from those who launch attacks for partisan political gain.

Video interview of Andrew Adler on Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV follows the jump.

The Traveling Mitzvah Bear


— by Annette Powers

Twelve adorable stuffed bears departed from the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) New York offices on a journey to over 100 early childhood centers in Reform congregations throughout the United States and Canada.

Izzy is looking at the Torah with some Ganon Gil Preschool friends while we were learning about Simchat Torah (Beachwood, Ohio).

Each of the bears — Bernie, Benny, Goldie, Hannah, Herbie, Izzy, Lily, Moishe, Rose, Sadie, Saul and Sylvia — will visit these centers over the 2011-2012 school year to teach young children about the importance of doing mitzvot (good deeds) and the value of hachnasat orchim (hospitality/welcoming the guest.) Each bear comes with a journal, the book Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale and ideas about what to do with the bears.

More after the jump.


Rose arrived at Glasser Preschool in Oak Park, IL just in time to make challah for Shabbat!

Some of the suggestions on the list include: preparing the students ahead of time by teaching them about mitzvot and hachnasat orchim, taking pictures of the bear doing good deeds with the students and making cards for the students who will meet the bear next on his travels.

The journal can be used for recording any photos, drawings, or writings related to the bears’ experiences while visiting. Participants can also share on the URJ Traveling Mitzvah Bears Facebook event page.

The book Bim and Bom by Daniel Swartz, donated by The PJ Library, illustrates the importance of mitzvot. The story tells of Bim and her brother Bom who work hard all week, and then spend Fridays doing good deeds. At sundown, they joyfully meet to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath together.

“The Traveling Mitzvah Bear program is a creative and fun way to instill young children with some of the most essential Jewish values,” said Cathy Rolland, URJ’s director of early childhood education, “We look forward to seeing the many creative ways early childhood educators will find to use these bears and the reactions of the children who get to enjoy them.”

Hannah came to B’nai Jehudah Preschool in Kansas. She helped us celebrate Shabbat!

“Our bear just arrived and we are anxious to introduce him to our students and start taking pictures and making memories,” said Arlene Kaufman, director of Temple Trager Early Childhood Education Center in Louisville, Kentucky. “This is such an exciting and innovative program. What a wonderful way to bring our Jewish schools together.”

The bears will gather at the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) booth at the 2011 URJ Biennial convention in December as a stop-over during their extensive travels.  

Reform Movement Denounces Glenn Beck’s Attack on Religious Values

— Annette Powers

“Beck’s sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.

Speaking on his Tuesday radio show, Fox News host Glenn Beck brought up the recent letter that more than 400 rabbis signed and placed as an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal criticizing him for repeatedly comparing his ideological foes to Nazis. He claimed that this letter, coordinated by Jewish Funds for Justice, was dominated by Reform rabbis, and dismissed the Movement as akin to “radicalized Islam.” Reform rabbis, he said, “are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way.” His comparison was “not about terror,” he stressed, but “about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith.”

In response to these remarks, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism issued the following statement:

We are deeply distressed by Glenn Beck’s profoundly offensive remarks about Reform Judaism and Reform rabbis.  Beck’s sweeping dismissal of the religious faith of a million and a half North American Jews was both tragic and outrageous.

Reform Judaism, a proud and venerable religious tradition, does not accept Mr. Beck as the arbiter of what is spiritual and what is not, of who has faith and who does not, of what constitutes real religion and what does not.   We respect his faith and demand that he respect ours.  Our members, who — like others in North America — apply their religious values to the problems of the broader society, are happy to have Mr. Beck disagree with us on any position that one or more of us may take, but not to make pronouncements and sweeping condemnations that he has neither the right nor the knowledge to make.

We are particularly incensed that Mr. Beck chose to compare Reform Judaism with “radicalized Islam.”  While noting that Reform Judaism is not about “terror,” he implied the opposite — or, at the very least, that the religious faith of the largest segment of North American Jewry is extremist and fanatic.

Mr. Beck’s comments are offensive to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.  Speaking in sweeping generalizations about other religious traditions is offensive.  Imputing radicalism and fanaticism to large religious groups is offensive.  Dismissing the heartfelt religious beliefs of millions of North Americans is offensive.  Mr. Beck should be ashamed of his comments, and we hope that he will have the good sense never to repeat them.

Transcript of Beck’s comments follows the jump.

Reposted from Media Matters for America

Last month, 400 rabbis signed an open letter from Jewish Funds For Justice to Rupert Murdoch requesting that Glenn Beck be sanctioned for his false claims that George Soros collaborated with the Nazis.

Today, rather than apologizing, Beck lashed out at the rabbis. Beck falsely claimed that “all” of the rabbis who signed the letter came from the Reform movement of Judaism. Beck asserted that Reform Judaism is “more about politics” than about faith. Beck went on to liken Reform Judaism to “radicalized Islam.”

Transcript

PAT GRAY (co-host): And now remember, this is all fueled by an organization that Soros funds, that has a bunch of progressive rabbis that came out against Glenn and said —

BECK: OK, you have to — hang on just a second. When you talk about rabbis, understand that most — most people who are not Jewish don’t understand that there are the Orthodox rabbis, and then there are the Reformed rabbis. Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the Reform Judaism, it is more about politics. I’m not saying that they’re the same on —

GRAY: No, obviously not.

BECK: — and they’re going to take it at that, but — stand in line.

GRAY: “Glenn Beck says –“

BECK: It’s not about terror or anything else, it’s about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith. Orthodox rabbis — that is about faith. There’s not a single Orthodox rabbi on this list. This is all Reformed rabbis that were — that made this list.

STU BURGURIERE (executive producer): Yeah, I don’t know that for a fact. I know that certainly this organization is a progressive political organization. And that’s fine.

These are pretty outrageous claims — even for Beck.

First of all, the letter was signed by rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstruction, and Reform movements. So Beck is dead wrong about that.

But more importantly, the Reform movement isn’t some fringe, radical group that has abandoned Judaism; it’s the largest religious denomination American Jews.

According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, 35 percent of American Jews consider themselves to be Reform, compared to 10 percent who consider themselves to be Orthodox and 26 percent who consider themselves to be Conservative.

Similarly, the survey found that 39 percent — a plurality — of American Jewish households that belong to a synagogue are Reform.

According to its website, the Union for Reform Judaism includes “more than 900 congregations in the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands” and “is the largest Jewish movement in North America and represents an estimated 1.5 million Jews.”

That’s a lot of Jews that Beck just smeared.