This Tuesday, Vote “Yes” for Higher Minimum Wages


Rally for a “living wage” in Philadelphia, May 8.

— by Rabbi George Stern

“Living wages” make it possible for workers to raise families and enter the middle class without relying on public funds, enhancing worker self-esteem and productivity.

Allowing businesses to pay low wages essentially subsidizes corporate profits: Corporate executives make outsized salaries, shareholders get larger dividends, and we all pay taxes to support food stamps and other crucial benefits for the underpaid workers.

Many myths surround low-wage workers, including that they are mainly teenagers seeking a little pocket money, or that they are uneducated and therefore unskilled (i.e., that the low wages are “their fault”). The speakers at a rally for a “living wage” in Pennsylvania, which I attended as the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) representative, demonstrated clearly how inaccurate these myths are.

One after another, adults raising children, some of which trying to find the funds to complete college degrees, testified to the hardships they endure as they bring home between $7.25 and $8.00 an hour, at establishments like the Philadelphia International Airport and fast food restaurants. The workers of the latter are planning strikes in Pennsylvania and across the country to highlight their plight.

More after the jump.
Last year, a study by the Economic Policy Institute found that:

  • The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
  • 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
  • 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
  • 56 percent are women;
  • 28 percent have children;
  • 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
  • 44 percent have at least some college experience.

On May 4, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order raising the wages of city subcontractors to 150% of the federal minimum wage, which would currently mean a minimum of $10.88 an hour. Next Tuesday, May 20, city voters will have a chance to codify that order into law by voting “yes” in support of ballot issue #1.

While we at JSPAN do not consider that to be a living wage, it is a good move in the right direction. We also urge support for the $10.10 minimum “living wage” for Pennsylvania, the subject of the recent rally.

As Rebels Age, One Less Hanukah Party in Tel Aviv


Jewish prisoners mark Hanukah: an olivewood Hanukia sent from prison to the underground commander, Abraham Stern.

— by Zev Golan

They are in their 80s and 90s now, but when the British ruled Eretz Israel they were teenagers, or maybe in their 20s. Their faces were on “wanted” posters; those who were caught went to prison or were exiled to Africa. They are the remnants of the most feared Jewish militia that fought the British – Lehi, commonly known as the Stern Gang. Every Hanukah they met in Tel Aviv, lit Hanukah candles, shared some doughnuts, and watched their numbers dwindle.

They chose to meet on Hanukah because it commemorates the victory of the few against the many. They, too, began as a group of a few dozen extremists in 1940 and, even in 1948, when they all joined the Israeli army, they numbered under one thousand.

More after the jump.


The remnants of the Stern Gang celebrate Hanukah: Lehi veteran Tuvia Henzion lights candles with Hanna Armoni. Behind the Hanukia is a photo of Abraham Stern.

Since 1932 Abraham Stern, their future leader, had been writing songs about “anonymous soldiers” who would “live underground” while fighting to liberate the homeland. By 1941 his followers were killing officials of the British regime that had promised to make the holy land a Jewish home but more or less reneged, and they were bombing the British offices that were preventing Jewish immigration. By then Stern was on the run and many of his men were in jail. His imprisoned troops crafted an olivewood Hanukah lamp and smuggled it to him with a note: “To our days’ Hasmonean, from his soldiers in captivity.”

Hanukah was a special time for the fighters. Stern wrote, “We are a handful of freedom fighters, possessed with a crazy desire for sovereignty, and according to our detractors of little strength. But this is not so. The little strength is much greater than it appears. Like the Hasmoneans’ oil, the fire of zealousness and heroism burns in the temple of our hearts, a divine flame. The day is coming soon when we will use this flame to light the candles of our Hanukah, the Hanukah of the Hebrew kingdom, in a free Zion.”

Stern was captured by British police in a rooftop apartment in south Tel Aviv and shot to death. The veterans have held their Hanukah gatherings in this hideout, now an Israeli museum. They were joined every year by Stern’s son, Yair, now 70. He was always the youngest “veteran” in the room. Though he was six years old when the British left and Israel was established, he paid the price of being his father’s son. During the War of Independence, an Israeli army unit drove past his house on its way to battle. The commander jumped out of a jeep and ran to Yair, who was playing in the yard. “We have an army and a state thanks to your father,” he said, then drove off. “If I hadn’t heard that, I don’t know how I would have turned out,” Yair said recently. He became a sports reporter and ultimately the director of Israel Television. Now retired, he promotes the memory of his father and the 127 Lehi members killed by the British or in the 1948 war with the Arabs.

Over the years the number of fighters attending the party dropped and the number of grandchildren rose. One regular was Hanna Armoni, now 87. In the 1940s she brought food to the underground’s prison escapees and blew up bridges. Her husband, Haim, helped blow up some British oil refineries and was one of 19 Lehi fighters sentenced to death for the deed. Hanna took out an ad in a local paper to inform Haim that he’d become a father, but he was killed escaping from Acco prison before he met his daughter. The daughter attended last year’s party with her own children.

“Lehi was violent,” Hanna says, “but in all the years of our war with the British, Lehi never targeted a woman or child. Our targets were British police, soldiers, and government officials.” Tuvia Henzion, 92, was a synagogue choirboy who had studied auto mechanics. He fought with British Colonel Orde Wingate’s raiders before joining Stern’s militia. When Stern was killed, Henzion reorganized some of the remaining fighters into secret cells of three or four members; Lehi kept this structure for the rest of its war. One of the young people he drafted into Lehi was Armoni. In recent years, the two organized the Hanukah parties.

Stern himself liked parties. He had been considered the life of any he was at and usually led the guests in songs and dances. When he died he was hated by the British and almost all of Palestinian Jewry, which did not understand his insistence on throwing the British out of the homeland, especially during a World War. Today, Stern has been honored by the Knesset and has streets and even a town named for him. His followers, once “the few against the many,” are today the consensus in Israel.

But every year, fewer of the original “few” meet on Hanukah, because fewer survive. This year they decided not to spend the time and money on invitations and refreshments. Instead, they appealed for contributions and have hired someone to put their literature online and revamp an old website. They haven’t given up hope and plan on having a party next year. Perhaps Judah Maccabee’s troops gathered on Hanukah to celebrate their victory, too, until none of them were left, and history was left with their stories.

Israeli historian Zev Golan’s latest book is Stern The Man and his Gang

Amazing Reunion Of Holocaust Survivors After 50 Years!

Henry Stern was one of the fortunate ones.  In 1937, his family embarked on the last boat of Jewish refugees to leave Germany legally.  They sailed for New York.  The family settled in Opelika, Alabama.  As news of the Holocaust trickled out, Henry never stopped hoping that some of the relatives left behind had somehow survived.  In 2004, with the aid of the internet, he succeeded.  Here is an amazing clip of Mr. Stern’s reunion with his cousin Fred Hertz.

Jewish Leaders Denounce Right-Wing Smear of Occupy Wall Street

We are publicly engaged American Jews who support both Israel and the ideas behind Occupy Wall Street and who also strongly oppose right-wing attempts to smear that movement with false charges of anti-Semitism.

It’s an old, discredited tactic: find a couple of unrepresentative people in a large movement and then conflate the oddity with the cause. One black swan means that all swans are black.

One particularly vile example was a television ad during Sunday talk shows paid for by something called the Emergency Committee for Israel that is organized by William Kristol and Gary Bauer.

It is disingenuous to raise the canard about Jews and Wall Street in order to denounce it.

Occupy Wall Street is a mass protest against rising inequality in America, a fact documented last week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Anyone who visits Zuccotti Park understands that it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do “with liberty and justice for all.”

All of us irrespective of party or position should expose and denounce anti-Semitism where ever it occurs, but not tar hundreds of thousands of protestors nationwide because a handful of hateful people show up with offensive signs that can’t be taken down in a public park open to all.

We are pleased that the Anti-Defamation League agrees that some random signs “are not representative of the larger views of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

List of co-signers follows after the jump.
 
Cosigners

  • Stuart Appelbaum, President, RWDSU*
  • Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and President, J Street
  • Richard Brodsky, former Assemblyman, New York
  • Richard Cohen, Washington Post
  • Danny Goldberg, President, Goldve Entertainment
  • Mark Green, former Public Advocate for New York City
  • Elizabeth Holtzman, former Congresswoman and District Attorney (Brooklyn)
  • Rabbi Steven Jacobs, founder, Progressive Faith Foundation
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
  • Madeleine Kunin, former Governor, Vermont
  • Jo-ann Mort, CEO, ChangeCommunicaitons
  • Eliot Spitzer, former Governor, New York State
  • Andy Stern, President Emeritus, Service Employees International Union
  • Hadar Susskind, Vice President, Tides Foundation
  • Margery Tabankin, President, Margery Tabankin Assoc.
  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

*Institutions for identification purposes only.