JCPA: Government Shutdown Is “Insult to Our Democratic System”


Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving 9 million women and children without nutrition assistance. WIC office in Kings County, Cali.

— by Benjamin Suarato

Unable to agree on a new appropriations bill, Congress has instead opted for a government shutdown, “which its impact will be felt most by the vulnerable among us,” according to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“This government shutdown is a product of a dysfunctional Congress,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

And once again, our most vulnerable must suffer. Because of this dysfunction, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving 9 million women and children without nutrition assistance. Head Start, which creates opportunity for children, would also suffer an immediate reduction. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees in each of our communities, who will still be expected to meet their financial obligations even as we, as a nation, neglect ours. It is a callous abdication of our political leaders’ responsibility, and an insult to our democratic system, to ask those with the least to suffer from an inability to compromise.

More after the jump.
Last month, JCPA Vice President and Washington Director Jared Feldman sent a letter to Congress urging them to “craft a federal appropriations bill that prevents a government shutdown and furthers fiscal equity.” Citing the Biblical command that “there shall be no needy among you,” the letter specifically called to protect WIC and Head Start, among other programs, and for a restoration of the cuts from the sequester.  

“The clock is ticking on how long dysfunction can rule,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

States can temporarily shoulder extra burdens, but as the days continue, the effects of a government shutdown will grow more serious. The stakes are too high for our leaders to be focused on political posturing, instead of serious governing. We call on Washington to quickly end this shutdown by passing a budget that restores funding to critical programs, promotes opportunity, helps to lift our most vulnerable, and ends the cycle of a country that lurches from crisis to crisis.

President Obama, Please Address Court’s Jerusalem Decision


Israeli Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs asked President Barak Obama to use his authority to undo the damage caused by Federal appeals court ruling, declaring unconstitutional a 2002 U.S. law permitting American citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” on their passports. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the 2002 law wrongfully intruded upon a President’s sole power to recognize foreign governments. In 2012, the JCPA joined an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in defense of the law. JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said:

The Court’s disappointing opinion allows the State department to continue the unfair policy, treating those born in Jerusalem differently than all other foreign cities in which passports are issued. We call on the Administration to right this wrong, and allow Jerusalem-born applicants who desire so to list Israel on their passports.

More after the jump.
JCPA Chair Larry Gold said:

The opinion deeply conflates the President’s power to recognize foreign governments with Congress’s power to regulate immigration. However, the policy set by this opinion is much broader: it permits the Department of State to delegitimize the nationhood of persons born in areas that are under dispute, such as Jerusalem. While no one questions the President’s prerogative to set foreign policy, this case permits a policy that unnecessarily drags people born there deeply into the politics of the conflict itself.

While the U.S. has consistently recognized the state of Israel since independence was declared in 1948, it has refused to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.  

JCPA: Middle East Peace Must Be Negotiated, Not Imposed


JCPA President Steve Gutow

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) today reaffirmed its support for U.S.-led efforts to restart direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. The call came in response to issuance of new European Union (E.U.) guidelines restricting its economic engagement and other activities with Israeli entities beyond the so-called “Green Line” (pre-1967 armistice lines). The guidelines do not affect economic activities of individual E.U. member countries. The JCPA described this action as “one-sided pressure.”  

“A final and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two parties. Permanent borders must be mutually agreed upon, not imposed by outside parties like the European Union,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

More after the jump.

Europe is, and long has been, an important economic partner of Israel’s, and it maintains close ties to the Palestinians as well. These relationships should be used as leverage to help bring the two sides together. This one-sided pressure contributes to a growing movement to isolate and unfairly blame Israel alone for the stalled peace process. We join with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other Israeli leaders in calling on the E.U. to reconsider the decision.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

Last week, we were in Washington, D.C. with the American Task Force for Palestine to express our mutual support for the U.S. efforts, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, to facilitate resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. That is why we are dismayed by the E.U.’s decision this week, which we believe only complicates those efforts. What’s more, these unhelpful guidelines fail to distinguish between the West Bank, Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem. There has been a virtually uninterrupted Jewish presence in Jerusalem for three millennia, with the exception of twenty years (1948-67) when Jews were denied the right to visit their holy places.

New Opportunity for House Farm Bill

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed the House of Representatives’ rejection of the proposed Farm Bill. The bill, which included a $21 billion cut to SNAP (formerly food stamps) failed by a vote of 195-234.

“Now is time to press the restart button,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The House of Representatives defeated a Farm Bill that would have eliminated food assistance for 2 million individuals, many of whom are in working families with children or seniors.  Now Congress has the opportunity to debate a serious food policy that aims to feed all Americans, not take food from the hungry.  

More after the jump.
We will continue to work with our partners in Congress and our allied faith and anti-hunger advocates to protect SNAP. We encourage Congress to move forward with a more responsible Farm Bill, one that doesn’t aim to undermine our safety net.”

“Hunger cannot be legislated away or zeroed out through budgeting. It must be confronted with compassion and effective solutions. In SNAP, we have both,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold. “Since the beginning of the recession, SNAP has done exactly what it was designed to do: meet the needs of those who suddenly found themselves unemployed or struggling to support their family through no fault of their own. With a near 97% efficiency rate, SNAP has raised 3.9 million people out of poverty in 2011 alone and kept even more from hunger while also contributing to local economies.  We thank the majority who voted to protect our most vulnerable and are eager to continue working with Congress to pass a Farm Bill that addresses our deficit in a serious manner without targeting the poor our society should be protecting.”

Jewish Organizations Applaud Obama’s Speech in State of Union


Obama visiting shooting victims last July

“Last night, the President discussed his policy proposals to pursue justice and build opportunity,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow.

Our nation is one of ambition and aspiration, and the President spoke to both these fundamental values. He discussed some of the most intractable issues that face our nation: gun violence that leaves 30,000 Americans dead every year, an immigration system that breaks apart families and forces individuals into the shadows, an energy system that pollutes our planet and changes our climate, and an economy that has left millions without work and millions more with wages insufficient to support their families. Now, after the drama of the election and the pomp of the inauguration, our elected leaders must focus on the hard work of governance.

More after the jump.

In a few short weeks, the ‘sequester’ is poised to eliminate nutrition assistance for 600,000 women and children through cuts to WIC and end early childhood education for 70,000 young students enrolled in Head Start programs. Such policies are wrong, simply wrong. Our national challenges are opportunities to renew our shared commitments to one another and empower our communities. Over the next year, we urge the President and Congress to work in good faith in dealing with the proposals offered tonight. We must maintain focus and work together to strengthen our economy and ensure that nobody who works full time lives in poverty, protect our environment while spawning new green industry, and provide a path for prosperity for all.

“We find ourselves at a critical juncture for both policy and politics, and consensus and cooperation will be central to our success. Bipartisanship has characterized the President and Congress’ support for Israel and we were pleased to hear the President reaffirm his commitment to Israel’s security and against a nuclear armed Iran in tonight’s speech,” said JCPA chair Larry Gold.

A new model for bipartisanship on domestic issues was demonstrated in the fiscal cliff compromise of last year. We are encouraged by the serious proposals on immigration and gun violence put forward by groups of Senators and Representatives from both parties. In just a few short weeks, dramatic spending cuts will threaten important national programs from national security to education, to foreign assistance and medical research. We must make tough choices and we appreciate the President’s candor. In the next few weeks the JCPA and our member agencies will continue to work with members of Congress, community organizations, and civil society groups to develop constructive, consensus policies that protect the most vulnerable and position our nation for growth.

Bnai Brith International has released this statement:

B’nai B’rith International is encouraged President Obama will focus on aging programs, energy independence, immigration reform and reducing gun violence in his second term. His renewed commitments to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons are also positive.

We are pleased with the president’s spirited defense of both domestic discretionary spending and the jobs created by these programs. The president spoke of aging programs like Medicare, and we are open to hearing more about his plan. B’nai B’rith is particularly interested in hearing about savings in Medicare from lower prescription drug costs and from encouraging better health care. We remain concerned, however, that unreasonably or arbitrarily high savings targets could force ill-advised measures that weaken the nature of the program by undermining its universality or eroding benefits.

Energy independence received renewed attention from the president during his address. Our current dependence on foreign oil undermines our security, forcing the United States to rely on fossil fuels from countries whose interests are adverse to our own. B’nai B’rith supports the president’s call for investment in alternative energy programs.

B’nai B’rith has long been a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and we are pleased the administration is making it a priority. Creating a path to citizenship for millions of the country’s undocumented immigrants is important for the well-being of the country.

We commend the president’s insistence that the United States will “do what is necessary” to prevent Iran from “getting nuclear weapons.” Iran, the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, continues to pursue nuclear weapons, even as an international coalition has instituted tough sanctions.

B’nai B’rith is also encouraged the president outlined a firm commitment to Israel: “And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”

We welcome the president’s commitment to reducing gun violence. The president said: “Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.”

Last month, the B’nai B’rith International Executive Committee passed a formal resolution that called for a ban on assault weapons, as well as a limit on ammunition magazine capacity. B’nai B’rith pledges to work with all political parties, interest groups and coalitions to make sure meaningful bipartisan gun regulations become reality.

Of course the president’s annual address to Congress and the nation offers a framework for the president’s priorities. B’nai B’rith will review details as they emerge and work to ensure action on our key priorities.

Bipartisan Immigration Action Signals Hope for Millions

— by Benjamin Suarato

Just one day after a group of Senators released a landmark bipartisan plan, President Obama announced his intention to work with Congress on comprehensive immigration overhaul. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed both proposals and expressed a desire to work with the President and Congress to ensure passage of a comprehensive bill that will offer hope, security, and opportunity to millions of immigrants.

“This is welcome and exciting news for all Americans,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

Transcript and more commentary after the jump.

That these Senators were able to come together on a bipartisan basis to offer a proposal signals a seriousness of intent that may finally allow our nation to update and reform our immigration system. Undocumented workers will be able to leave the shadows and begin the path towards citizenship, and aspiring Americans will have new opportunities to immigrate the United States. The Senate’s plan embodies the best of our national aspirations — freedom, equality, justice, and oppertunity — and offers a comprehensive and consensus set of policy proposals. The President issued a similar call today, and we are eager to work with both Republicans and Democrats, both Congress and the President, to finally see immigration reform passed. Not only will these proposals strengthen our country, but the bipartisan cooperation behind them could mean the start of a new era.

The Senate plan, introduced by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Michael Bennett (D-CO), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would create a path for citizenship for those currently in the country (pending a border security deal), reform the process for legal immigration, implement an employment verification system, and establish an improved process for admitting future workers.

We are told in the Torah to be kind to the stranger among us because we were once strangers in Egypt; but we do not need to go back that far. We are a nation of immigrants and many in the Jewish community — and every community — are just a generation or two removed from immigrant roots. We understand from our own experiences what can be done to welcome the stranger and reduce the uncertainties and isolation of the immigrant experience. This must include the reunification of families, said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. Just as America benefitted from an influx of talent and passion before, the plans being discussed would open doors for new generations of immigrants to leave their mark on our country. Details, of course, remain to be worked out, but the thrust is clear. At the end of the day, and with bipartisan cooperation, the millions who came here to work and raise families with access to opportunity will finally gain the security to continue to live their lives as productive members of society without fear of arrest as they work towards citizenship.

The full Obama speech transcript:

Last week, I had the honor of being sworn in for a second term as President of the United States. And during my inaugural address, I talked about how making progress on the defining challenges of our time doesn’t require us to settle every debate or ignore every difference that we may have, but it does require us to find common ground and move forward in common purpose. It requires us to act.  

I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others. Some debates will be more contentious. That’s to be expected. But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling; where a broad consensus is emerging; and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America. I’m here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now. Now is the time. Now is the time. Now is the time.

I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long. I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.  Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.

Think about it —  we define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are — in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our country on the cutting edge. And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.

After all, immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo!. They created entire new industries that, in turn, created new jobs and new prosperity for our citizens. In recent years, one in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. One in four new small business owners were immigrants, including right here in Nevada — folks who came here seeking opportunity and now want to share that opportunity with other Americans.

But we all know that today, we have an immigration system that’s out of date and badly broken; a system that’s holding us back instead of helping us grow our economy and strengthen our middle class.  

Right now, we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America; 11 million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows. Yes, they broke the rules. They crossed the border illegally. Maybe they overstayed their visas. Those are facts. Nobody disputes them. But these 11 million men and women are now here. Many of them have been here for years. And the overwhelming majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re contributing members of the community.  They’re looking out for their families. They’re looking out for their neighbors. They’re woven into the fabric of our lives.  

Every day, like the rest of us, they go out and try to earn a living. Often they do that in a shadow economy — a place where employers may offer them less than the minimum wage or make them work overtime without extra pay. And when that happens, it’s not just bad for them, it’s bad for the entire economy. Because all the businesses that are trying to do the right thing — that are hiring people legally, paying a decent wage, following the rules — they’re the ones who suffer. They’ve got to compete against companies that are breaking the rules.  And the wages and working conditions of American workers are threatened, too.

So if we’re truly committed to strengthening our middle class and providing more ladders of opportunity to those who are willing to work hard to make it into the middle class, we’ve got to fix the system.

We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules. We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable — businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense. And that’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.    

There’s another economic reason why we need reform. It’s not just about the folks who come here illegally and have the effect they have on our economy. It’s also about the folks who try to come here legally but have a hard time doing so, and the effect that has on our economy.

Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They’re earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there’s a good chance they’ll have to leave our country. Think about that.

Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea — their Intel or Instagram — into a big business. We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else? That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors. That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, during my first term, we took steps to try and patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.

First, we strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.

Second, we focused our enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who endanger our communities. And today, deportations of criminals is at its highest level ever.

And third, we took up the cause of the DREAMers — the young people who were brought to this country as children, young people who have grown up here, built their lives here, have futures here. We said that if you’re able to meet some basic criteria like pursuing an education, then we’ll consider offering you the chance to come out of the shadows so that you can live here and work here legally, so that you can finally have the dignity of knowing you belong.

But because this change isn’t permanent, we need Congress to act — and not just on the DREAM Act. We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country right now. That’s what we need.

Now, the good news is that for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. So at this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging.

But this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time. So it’s not as if we don’t know technically what needs to get done. As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform. And my hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill, because the ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Republicans like President George W. Bush. You don’t get that matchup very often. So we know where the consensus should be.

Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.

So the principles are pretty straightforward.  There are a lot of details behind it. We’re going to hand out a bunch of paper so that everybody will know exactly what we’re talking about. But the principles are pretty straightforward.

First, I believe we need to stay focused on enforcement. That means continuing to strengthen security at our borders. It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. To be fair, most businesses want to do the right thing, but a lot of them have a hard time figuring out who’s here legally, who’s not. So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status.  And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.

Second, we have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally. We all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship.

We’ve got to lay out a path — a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally. That’s only fair, right?

So that means it won’t be a quick process but it will be a fair process. And it will lift these individuals out of the shadows and give them a chance to earn their way to a green card and eventually to citizenship.

And the third principle is we’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century because it no longer reflects the realities of our time. For example, if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America. You shouldn’t have to wait years.

If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.

So that’s what comprehensive immigration reform looks like: smarter enforcement; a pathway to earned citizenship; improvements in the legal immigration system so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world. It’s pretty straightforward.  

The question now is simple: Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do. I believe that we do. I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.

But I promise you this: The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become. Immigration has always been an issue that enflames passions. That’s not surprising. There are few things that are more important to us as a society than who gets to come here and call our country home; who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the United States of America.  That’s a big deal.

When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of “us” versus “them.” And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of “us” used to be “them.” We forget that.

It’s really important for us to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else. Somebody brought you.

Ken Salazar, he’s of Mexican American descent, but he points that his family has been living where he lives for 400 years, so he didn’t immigrate anywhere.

The Irish who left behind a land of famine. The Germans who fled persecution. The Scandinavians who arrived eager to pioneer out west. The Polish. The Russians. The Italians. The Chinese.  The Japanese. The West Indians. The huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks, before they were “us,” they were “them.”

And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule. But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build a nation.

They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies. But they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember, but whose actions helped make us who we are; who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick. They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth, but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.

And that’s still true today. Just ask Alan Aleman. Alan is here this afternoon — where is Alan? He’s around here — there he is right here. Alan was born in Mexico. He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Alan went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way — and he was, except for one: on paper.  

In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age — driving around town with their new licenses, earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. He knew he couldn’t do those things. But it didn’t matter that much. What mattered to Alan was earning an education so that he could live up to his God-given potential.

Last year, when Alan heard the news that we were going to offer a chance for folks like him to emerge from the shadows — even if it’s just for two years at a time — he was one of the first to sign up. And a few months ago he was one of the first people in Nevada to get approved. In that moment, Alan said, “I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted.”

So today, Alan is in his second year at the College of Southern Nevada. Alan is studying to become a doctor. He hopes to join the Air Force. He’s working hard every single day to build a better life for himself and his family. And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America.  

So in the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real and the debate becomes more heated, and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams. Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It’s about people. It’s about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story.

Throughout our history, that has only made our nation stronger. And it’s how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last: an American century welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, and who is willing to work hard to do it, and is willing to pledge that allegiance to our flag.

New Jewish Energy Partnership For Tu B’Shvat


— by Benjamin Suarato

New York City — Today, January 24, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) and Canfei Nesharim, an organization that focuses on sustainable living inspired by Torah, will begin a new strategic collaboration to promote advocacy and action on energy policy and conservation in the Jewish community. COEJL’s Jewish Energy Guide and Canfei Nesharim’s Year of Action will be launched in time for Tu B’shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. Marrying action resources with implementation tools, this collaboration will reach across multiple denominational and organizational spectra of Jewish life.

More after the jump.

As part of COEJL’s broader Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign, the Jewish Energy Guide and accompanying Canfei Nesharim Year of Action serve as blueprints for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar. With 18 organizational partners committed to using and distributing the Jewish Energy Guide, participants will have access to a comprehensive approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change. Contributors to the guide include notable figures from the Jewish and environmental worlds, such as Bill McKibben of 350.org and Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Naomi Tsur.

Canfei Nesharim’s Year of Action will provide tools and resources to empower the Jewish community to take action on energy conservation and reduce food waste, including action tips and a calculator on Jewcology, a web-based social media portal for the entire Jewish environmental community, where participants can report their actions and see their results — as well as the results of the entire Jewish community. The program follows their 2012 Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment and continues through Tu B’Shvat 2014. New actions will be posted throughout the year.

The year 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of COEJL and the 10th anniversary of Canfei Nesharim.  Together, these Jewish environmental organizations will inspire the Jewish community to take immediate action and make a meaningful impact this year.  

2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge Continues

— by Benjamin Suarato

Rabbis and cantors in communities across the country representing all four major denominations are committing to living for one week on a food budget of $31.50, the average allotment for individuals on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly SNAP), as part of the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, running from the lead-up to the High Holy Days starting September 7 and continuing through Thanksgiving. Participating clergy will take the challenge in order to educate congregations and communities about the realities of hunger and raise a loud collective Jewish voice about this crisis.

“Hunger and food insecurity touch every one of our communities, but it is rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood,” said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a member of the JCPA board. “The Food Stamp Challenge is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community’s deep commitment to help those in need. This includes education about the programs and assistance available.”

More after the jump.
“The involvement of rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism, in every region of the country is a testament to the centrality of ending hunger to the work we do as Jewish leaders and the unity of our community in elevating the conversation on poverty,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This will be my third Food Stamp Challenge and each time, I am reawakened to the true struggle faced each day by those who depend on SNAP to put food on the table. It is a lesson that is now being brought to communities across the country through this committed involvement of religious leaders.”

SNAP participation has been functioning as intended, steadily increasing with the needs of those still struggling during the slow economic recovery, yet the program, one of the key instruments to addressing hunger in America, has been facing proposals of severe cuts to funding.

“On a budget of only $1.50 per meal, many SNAP recipients must settle for unsatisfying meals that lack the necessary nutrition and energy to meet the demands of work and family,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “By trying to understand, even in a very small way, the challenge these families face, we will be better armed to protect SNAP from the threat of cuts.”

The 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge is being led by a unique partnership of organizations spanning the religious spectrum, including:

    the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger,
  • the Rabbinical Assembly,
  • the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,
  • the Union for Reform Judaism,
  • the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
  • the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,
  • Uri L’Tzedek,
  • American Conference of Cantors, and
  • the Cantors Assembly.  

Resources created for this mobilization, include sample sermons, advocacy opportunities, programming ideas, and other tools for engaging congregations and communities. The Food Stamp Challenge is open for others besides clergy who are interested in participating in this experience.  More information and registration can be found online.  

The Steering Committee that is providing leadership for the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge includes:

  • Chaired by Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)
  • Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ and Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL  (both represent the Rabbinical Assembly)
  • Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Senior Rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, MN (representing the committee as Chair of the Board of Directors of MAZON:  A Jewish Response to Hunger)
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO; Rabbi Neil Borovitz of Congregation Avodat Shalom in River Edge, NJ; Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Judith Siegal of Tempe Judea in Coral Gables, FL (representing the Union for Reform Judaism/Central Conference of American Rabbis)
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit, who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI (representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)
  • Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek
  • Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, CA
  • Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio (representing the Cantors Assembly)
  • Cantor Shannon McGrady-Bane, co-chair of the ACC Social Action and Justice Committee (representing the American Conference of Cantors); and
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

For more information about the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, please contact Robin Rosenbaum, JCPA Poverty Campaign Coordinator, at: [email protected] or (202) 212-6037.

Jewish clergy in all communities have been weighing in about how the goals of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge have resonated with their varied experiences:

“I am taking the Food Stamp Challenge along with my family because it is important to not only talk about the fact that so many people in America are in need of food assistance, but also that we take action. When I take the Food Stamp Challenge I will have a better understanding as to what people who receive food stamps are feeling each and every day. By encouraging the members of my congregation to join me in this endeavor we will be making a statement that we must continue this important work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and advocate on behalf of those who are in need. This is what Judaism asks of us and what we must do.”

— Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ

“With so much at stake in terms of how we are providing healthy, accessible and affordable sustenance in our country, inaction was not an option for me, challenged by my preparation for High Holy Days as visiting rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation T’Chiyah in Detroit, to do more than only utter words and offer prayers for those in need. I have been spurred on by the wonderful response from friends, family, and clergy and members of faith communities everywhere. Let’s collect food for those in need this Yom Kippur and Thanksgiving and invite those who live with food insecurity to our sukkot, AND let’s work for systemic change for the millions who live on Food Stamps every day in our own communities, congregations and nation.”

— Rabbi Shawn Zevit who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI

“In my congregation, publicizing the Food Stamp Challenge has galvanized the community’s youth and social action leadership to make this a year to focus on hunger and food insecurity locally and in Israel.  Our students have adopted the slogan “Hunger is no Game” as the theme for the year (basing themselves on the recent movie, The Hunger Games”).  At a time when the social safety net is shredding and the alienation of rich and poor from their common humanity is increasing, taking the Food Stamp Challenge reminds us, in a small way, of our interconnectedness.”

— Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism,  Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)

“We move about our communities like ships on non-intersecting courses across a vast ocean, not realizing how many among us are really struggling to feed themselves and their families on a daily basis.  The maze of public assistance in food and other resources is unknown to many of us — but is becoming known to more and more of us, even as powerful forces in our society seek to decrease the resources available to the growing number in greater need.  

“I hope that our involvement with this project will enable people to see and feel more clearly — and to remove the stigma attached to those who receive help.  I have long suspected that there are more needy among us than we know — that people internalize the idea that if they are Jewish they can’t be needy, so if they are needy, they mustn’t be Jewish — or full members of our Jewish community.  A project like this may shed some light and some heat.”

— Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio

“Our society is short on empathy for those in need. The Food Stamp Challenge is a tool to channel us away from indifference towards empathy for the food insecure. I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge as a personal reminder to avoid indifference and to work with others to fight food insecurity.”

— Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL

“The 18th century Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said, ‘If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.’

“As Jews we know that it is not enough to make sure that others have enough to eat. We need to challenge ourselves to experience what those in need actually experience- the anxiety, the pain, and even the humiliation- so that we always remain motivated to fight for economic justice for all. At this time, when more children in this nation are food insecure than ever before, I feel compelled to motivate myself to find solutions in every way I possibly can. The Food Stamp Challenge is one path I am taking to motivate and inspire me to do my part to bring more light and wholeness into this New Year.”

— Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Divests From Israel

— Benjamin Suarato

In advance of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s biennial General Assembly this summer, church leaders made the disappointing decision to approve a report that calls for divestment from three companies for their sales to Israel. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, together with the Israel Action Network, an initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the JCPA, called on Presbyterians to return to their commitment to positive outcomes and abandon the path to divestment which will not foster reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians will poison the well for positive interfaith relations between the Jewish and Presbyterian communities.

More after the jump.
“We are profoundly disappointed by the General Assembly Mission Council’s decision to recommend this report,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Neither peace nor the long friendship between our two communities is served by this action.  It is tragic that national Presbyterian leaders are making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church. Once again, we turn to our friends who will gather in the church’s General Assembly this summer to find a path towards peace rather than dissension.  The proposed resolution drives a wedge between our two communities, frustrates interfaith cooperation and undermines our joint efforts to pursue social justice.”  

Rabbi Gutow continued, “The JCPA and the IAN encourage communities to work together to foster peace through efforts of reconciliation.  The parties know enough conflict.  Why add to the division?”

“The Presbyterian and Jewish communities should work together to build support for goals everyone should share – a two-state solution with peace and security as the only means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “Divestment does not achieve this goal. It ignores the complexity of the conflict by singling out one party.  It weakens relationships that are already fragile.   It misuses American companies as a proxy for parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The JCPA has worked closely with the Israel Action Network, which is chaired by David Sherman of Chicago, key JCPA national member agencies, Jewish Community Relations Councils throughout the country, and local rabbis to build relationships with local church leaders to foster dialogue and programs that support peace and reconciliation and reject delegitimization and divestment.

New Sanctions Create Clear Lines For Isolating Iran

— by Benjamin Suarato

President Obama issued an executive order yesterday, which was released today, extending sanctions against Iran to include the Iranian Central Bank, a move welcomed by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for its far reaching impact in isolating the Iranian regime. The sanctions were originally passed by Congress as part of the Department of Defense Reauthorization.

“We thank President Obama and Congress for their commitment to using powerful economic tools in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Iran has continually threatened the United States and our allies in the region – especially Israel,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The escalating intensity of the U.S. sanctions regime, which now includes all who do business with Iran’s Central Bank, is a signal of our seriousness in stopping their dangerous nuclear weapons program.”

“With these sanctions, the US has drawn a clear line. You cannot continue to benefit from the prosperity and security of access to our markets and friendships while contributing to Iran’s ability to undermine our fundamental security interests,” said JCPA chair Dr. Conrad Giles. “This Congressional legislation and the White House’s prompt implementation of it should send a message to Iran and the rest of the international community that when the President says an Iranian nuclear weapon is ‘unacceptable,’ he means it.”