New JSPAN Pres. Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom Fights For Fairer Society

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What issues are highest on your agenda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish Legislator Silenced Defending Religious Freedom & Choice


After these remarks, House Republicans censored Rep. Lisa Brown (D-MI) for using the word “vagina,” and barred her from the subsequent debate on education. Brown said at a press conference: “If I can’t say the word vagina, why are we legislating vaginas? What language should I use?”

According to Benjy Sarlin:

A second lawmaker, Rep. Barb Byrum (D), was also gaveled down after introducing a bill that would require men to prove that their life was in danger before they were allowed to receive a vasectomy.

“I was ignored by the majority floor leader and not allowed to speak on my amendment, which would have held the same standards for men and women when it comes to legal, voluntary procedures in reproductive health, and now I am being silenced for standing up for women,” Byrum said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Reproductive Rights

This is Chapter 3 of a 3-part series on the War on Women.

Chapter 3: Reproductive Rights

Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front. Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).

Last month, the Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed employers to deny women coverage for birth control and any “objectionable” medical service, possibly even flu shots. Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio’s amendment would have allowed any employer — not religious institutions, because they are already exempt — to make this call on behalf of their female employees. That means a woman’s boss at a restaurant, retail store, law firm or anywhere would have control over what health care she could receive. After an hour during which he was on the record opposed to it, Mitt Romney said, in typical flip flop fashion, “Of course I support that amendment.” Of course he does. And we can thank him for paving the way — he also said he would have supported a “personhood” amendment in Massachusetts, which could have banned abortion in any circumstance, some contraception, and even fertility treatments like IVF.

In the video on the right, Dr. Mildred Hanson explains how she and other U.S. doctors worked around the law to provide abortions before the procedure was legalized in 1973 through Roe v. Wade. We don’t want to have to go back to this.

More after the jump.

Romney and Corbett are too extreme for women
Less than a day after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed Romney, the Democratic National Committee is up with a 1-minute video highlighting his comment at a press conference that women who don’t like forced ultrasounds before receiving abortions could always “close their eyes” during it. “But women aren’t closing their eyes to Romney and the GOP’s extreme positions on women’s health,” a DNC official emails.  

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Equal Pay

This is Chapter One of a three-part series on the War on Women.

Lilly Ledbetter explains why equal pay for equal work is a civil right, and Mitt Romney should listen.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill President Obama signed into law. When asked whether Mitt Romney supports the Act, Romney’s campaign replied, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

US Gender Pay Gap By State

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Vote Tally

Chapter 1: Fighting for Equal Pay

From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has worked to ensure that women are paid fairly for their work. The President is committed to securing equal pay for equal work because it’s a matter of fair play, and because American families and the health of our nation’s economy depends on it.  April 17 was Equal Pay Day, which marks the fact that, nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the average woman still has to work well into the calendar year to earn what the average man earned last year.

In conjunction with Equal Pay Day:

  • The White House released the Equal Pay Task Force Accomplishments Report:  Fighting for Fair Pay in the Workplace.  The Equal Pay Task Force brings together the best expertise of professionals at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management, who work daily to combat pay discrimination in the workplace.  The report details the significant progress that the Task Force has made to fight pay discrimination – including improving inter-agency coordination and collaboration to ensure that the full weight of the federal government is focused on closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
  • Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced the winners of the Equal Pay App Challenge.  In January of this year, the Department of Labor, in conjunction with the Equal Pay Task Force, launched this challenge, inviting software developers to use publicly available data and resources to create applications that accomplish at least one of the following goals:  provide greater access to pay data organized by gender, race, and ethnicity; provide interactive tools for early career coaching or online mentoring or to help inform negotiations.  A solution to the pay gap has been elusive, in part because access to basic information — e.g., typical salary ranges and skill level requirements for particular positions, advice on how to negotiate appropriate pay — is limited.  Because of the enthusiastic response to the Equal Pay App Challenge and the creative apps that were developed, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can access answers to these basic, but important, questions.  This challenge represents just one more way that women can empower themselves with the tools they need to make sure they get equal pay for equal work.  
  • Finally, in an ongoing effort to educate employees and employers about their rights and responsibilities under our nation’s equal pay laws, the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau today published two brochures that will help educate employees regarding their rights under the existing equal pay laws and enable employers to understand their obligations.

From signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to creating the National Equal Pay Task Force, to proposing minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers – 90% of whom are women – President Obama has made clear his belief that there should be no second class citizens in our workplaces and that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.

If only women had a coupon like this, they wouldn’t suffer from the wage gap!

Presidential Proclamation follows the jump.
Presidential Proclamation of National Equal Pay Day

Working women power America’s economy and sustain our middle class. For millions of families across our country, women’s wages mean food on the table, decent medical care, and timely mortgage payments. Yet, in 2010 — 47 years after
President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — women who worked full-time earned only 77 percent of what their male counterparts did. The pay gap was even greater for African
American and Latina women, with African American women earning 64 cents and Latina women earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a Caucasian man. National Equal Pay Day represents
the date in the current year through which women must work to match what men earned in the previous year, reminding us that we must keep striving for an America where everyone gets an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work.

At a time when families across our country are struggling to make ends meet, ensuring a fair wage for all parents is more important than ever. Women are breadwinners in a growing number of families, and women’s earnings play an increasingly important role in families’ incomes. For them, fair pay is even more than a basic right — it is an economic necessity.

That is why my Administration is committed to securing equal pay for equal work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill I signed as President, empowers women to recover wages lost to discrimination by extending the time period in which an employee can file a claim. In 2010, I was proud to create the National Equal Pay Task Force to identify and combat equal pay violations. The Task Force has helped women recover millions in lost wages, built collaborative training programs that educate employees about their rights and inform employers of their obligations, and facilitated an unprecedented level of inter-agency coordination to improve enforcement of equal pay laws.

Working women are at the heart of an America built to last. Equal pay will strengthen our families, grow our economy, and enable the best ideas and boldest innovations to flourish — regardless of the innovator’s gender. On National Equal Pay Day, let us resolve to become a Nation that values the contributions of our daughters as much as those of our sons, denies them no opportunity, and sets no limits on their dreams.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 17, 2012, as National Equal Pay Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage discrimination, and join efforts to achieve equal pay.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

— BARACK OBAMA

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: VAWA

What do the 31 Republican Senators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act all have in common?

This is Chapter Three of a three-part series on the War on Women.

Chapter 3: The Violence Against Women Act

On April 26, the United States Senate passed S. 1925, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), by a vote of 68 to 31. S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), ensures a continued federal government response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking while making significant improvements to the law. To celebrate the passage of this critical legislation, Jewish Women International (JWI) Executive Director Lori Weinstein released the following statement:

The Violence Against Women Act is a historic law that has benefited millions of women across the country. Today, the Senate passed a strong, bipartisan reauthorization bill and sent a strong message to victims of violence throughout the country: You are not forgotten. This bill not only continues VAWA’s successful programs and services for another five years but also improves access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and immigrant victims, and gives American Indian women equal access to justice.

For the last two years, JWI has worked closely with our colleagues on the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women and our allies on Capitol Hill to pass a reauthorization bill that strengthens and improves VAWA. After today’s victory, we turn our attention to the House of Representatives and call on them to renew and strengthen this lifesaving legislation in a bipartisan manner.

Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been an invaluable tool for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting violent crimes targeting women. Studies have shown that incidents of domestic violence have decreased as more women report attacks and law enforcement has improved its investigation and prosecution of the crimes.

The bipartisan Senate vote reauthorizing VAWA will help continue this trend, providing better tools to train law enforcement and victim service providers, focus attention on addressing the high rate of violence in the tribal and LGBT communities, and redirect funds to the most effective programs.

Even as Maimonides reminded men of the imperative to treat women with honor and respect (Sefer Nashim 15:19), our Jewish sages recognized that violence comes in forms that are both physical and emotional.  The Violence Against Women Act helps prevent and respond to such tragedies when they occur and is worthy of reauthorization. We call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead and swiftly pass the Violence Against Women Act.

 

Special Mother’s Day Report from the War on Women: Introduction

Viral Music Video That Every Women (and Man) Should Watch

The video Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage is Soomo Publishing’s moving music video parody of Lady Gaga. The video pays homage to Alice Paul and the generations of brave women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in 1920. (See Lyrics)

This Sunday is Mother’s Day when we honor the women in our lives.

However, in politics, the place of women can not be taken for granted. Just as our matriarchs fought for Women’s suffrage a hundred years ago, we must continue to fight to ensure the women in our lives the same rights that men enjoy.

Today, the gender war is being fought at a fevered pitch. As I see it there is action on at least three fronts:

  • Women made gains on the front for pay equality.
  • Women held off an assault on the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Women are losing ground in many states on the reproductive rights front.

Indeed, women are at risk of losing the choice of whether or not to become mothers by banning common forms of birth control, fertility treatment like in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions (even in case of rape).

Over the days leading up to Mother’s Day, we will publish a series of report showing the progress women are achieving and the setbacks women are contending with on each front.