News/Policy

JSPAN Annual Meeting, Thursday June 16, 2011, featuring Guest Speaker Joe Sestak

On Thursday, June 16 the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN) held its Annual Meeting in the Justice Roberts Room at the law firm of Montgomery McCracken, in the Wells Fargo Building, 123 South Broad Street, in Center City Philadelphia.

Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population

Author: 
ADAM LIPTAK
Source: 
New York Times

WASHINGTON - Conditions in California's overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.

Salazar v. Buono: Was It Good for the Jews?

On April 28 the Supreme Court decided Salazar v. Buono – the case about the Latin Cross atop Sunrise Rock in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters

Barry Ungar, a member of the JSPAN Church-State Policy Center, has reviewed for our readers "Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters" by Louis Begley. The book was published in 2009 by the Yale University Press. Most of us are familiar with the essential outline of the Dreyfus Affair – a French Jewish army officer is falsely accused and convicted of treason at the end of the nineteenth century because of a pervasively anti-Semitic atmosphere and a corrupted military and judicial system which enforced it. We also know that one of the heroes was Emile Zola, who famously wrote “J’Accuse,” and that one of the villains was the real traitor Ferdinand Esterhazy. Louis Begley’s “Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters” is the book to read for those who want to know more about the Affair – to know the full list of heroes and villains, the extraordinary number of twists and turns in the story, the details of the corrupted military and judicial processes, the significance of the political and social conditions in France at the time, particularly following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and the luck, both good and bad, which played an important role in how the Affair unfolded and came to a conclusion. The book, unfortunately, is not presented as simply a history of the Dreyfus Affair, which is what it is, but rather, as suggested by its title, as how what happened then teaches us lessons about the Bush war on terror. The title, and the promise which it implies, undoubtedly was to sell more copies. That implication is a broken promise. Indeed, the author does very little to even attempt to fulfill it. Only in a very small portion of the book, near the beginning and then in the very last paragraph, is there even an attempt to fulfill the promise.

Jerusalem Population Trends Show Continued Shrinkage of Jewish Majority

The latest edition of the Jerusalem Statistical Yearbook shows a significant reduction of the city's Jewish majority in relation to its Palestinian population. The report was published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a Jerusalem-based think tank. It shows that the city's population is significantly younger and poorer than the population of other Israeli cities and its Jewish population is much more religious than that of other Israeli towns. The report, released last month, covers the years 2007-2008. At the end of 2008, the report says, the population of Jerusalem was 763,000, of which 495,000 were Jewish and 268,000 were Palestinians . That means that Jews were about 65% of the city's population (compared to 74% in 1967, when East Jerusalem was captured by Israel, and 72% in 1980). According to the report, most Jerusalemites (60%) - both Israelis and Palestinians - live in East Jerusalem. Of these 444,900 Jerusalemites, roughly 43% reside in neighborhoods that are predominantly Jewish (192,100) and make up 39% of the city's total Jewish population.

Israel: Combining Forces to Fight Food Insecurity

Beginning this month, food insecure Israelis will have a new powerhouse organization working to meet their needs, when the country's two leading hunger relief efforts, Table to Table and Leket: the Israel Food Bank, merge to create Leket Israel. The new entity will consolidate and simplify charitable food distribution to agencies serving the hungry and function as a "one-stop shop" for food manufacturers, retailers and food service companies to donate their surplus products. The name Leket Israel encapsulates the biblical concept of collecting food from across Israel for the benefit of those in need. Table to Table was founded in 2003 to rescue and redirect excess food that would otherwise be destroyed. In a short time, it became Israel's umbrella organization for donations of surplus food. Leket: The Israel Food Bank was founded in 2007 in response to a survey that reported 22% of Israeli citizens suffered from food insecurity. Leket's mission has been to provide a systematic national response to the problem by operating an effective and professionally managed food bank. The food bank has adopted best practices from the international community of food banks, led by the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), which supports food banks and food bank networks where they exist and works collaboratively to create them in communities where they are needed.

The end of Intergroup Relations?

By Burt Siegel The most important development in American intergroup relations of the decade may be that many people born in this decade will think very little about the very term. For them relations will exist among individuals but not groups. To older generations, the sense of being a member of an identifiable people remains strong.

Chanukah - A Minor That has Become a Major

It’s really a minor that’s become a major. But try telling your children, or grandchildren, Chanukah is just a minor holiday. Why is Chanukah considered a minor holiday? For starters, the story is not found in the Torah, or even in our Bible. And there is no masechet or book of the Talmud dedicated to this holiday or its laws and traditions. In fact, in the entire Talmud, there is only half a page dedicated to any discussion about this holiday. You may know as well that the earliest versions of the story of Chanukah are found in the Apocrypha, in the Books of First and Second Maccabees, books ironically which were preserved, not by the Jewish community, but by the Church, and were written most likely in Greek. The word apocrypha itself means obscure or hidden away. The story can be found as well in the early church’s Greek and Latin bibles, but not in ours. It is ironic that the story of Chanukah is preserved in Greek, as the major issue of this holiday is the pressure of hellinization, of the in-roads made by Greek and Macedonian culture into the world of ancient Jerusalem. In many ways, the true story of Chanukah is the story of an internal Jewish war and struggle—a struggle we still grapple with today. How can we live both in the modern world, and affirm all that is good about modernity and shape and fashion our Jewish identity at the same time? (For a great read about this true story of Chanukah, see Harry Olitzky’s wonderful essay ”Chanukah: What Really Happened,” published in Moment Magazine, December 1984).

Israel Policy Forum Conference Call with MK Shaul Mofaz on His Peace Initiative Proposal

On Wednesday, November 11, 2009, the Israel Policy Forum held a conference call where Israeli Member of the Knesset Shaul Mofaz discussed his recently announced peace initiative proposal. Under the Mofaz Plan, a permanent Palestinian State would be created immediately but with provisional borders that would include all of Gaza and 60% of the West Bank territory in which 99% of the West Bank Palestinian population lives. The Israeli government would provide assurances that the Palestinian State ultimately would include nearly all of the West Bank territory. And, the Israeli and Palestinian governments would enter into negotiations to address all Final Status issues, including permanent borders, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem. (http://www.israelpolicyforum.org/blog/mofazproposesimmediatepalestinianstate). In his initial remarks, MK Mofaz briefly described his background and experience, emphasized his belief in peace, and pointed out the failure of all previous negotiating efforts to achieve results. Citing extensive national security analysis, MK Mofaz explained the need for urgency because “time [is] not on our side.” MK Mofaz pointed out that Iran is gaining in strength, notably in its development of nuclear weapons and in its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. MK Mofaz also pointed out that the Palestinian dialogue is heading toward a one-state solution, which is not in Israel=s favor. MK Mofaz explained that Israel=s primary interest is in maintaining a “Jewish and democratic state.” MK Mofaz then described his peace plan in somewhat more detail as a two-phase process, the first phase of which would be the immediate creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. The second phase would be a process of continuing negotiation and dialogue to resolve outstanding issues such as establishing permanent borders, providing for security of Israel, addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return, and the status of Jerusalem. The immediate establishment of a Palestinian State, he stated, would create a change in attitude that would enable the parties to reach agreement on the outstanding issues that has not been possible to date. MK Mofaz concluded his initial remarks by pointing out three essential requirements for his plan to succeed: the need for a clear statement by the Palestinians to end the conflict, the need to create a mechanism for mediating future disputes, and the need for an Israeli public referendum approving the resolution of Final Status issues before implementation of an agreement. MK Mofaz described his two-stage plan as “the best way to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians” and noted one additional requirement for success: the need for the United States to back and approve this plan. MK Mofaz believed that a final agreement could be reached in about four to six years. On Wednesday, November 11, 2009, the Israel Policy Forum held a conference call where Israeli Member of the Knesset Shaul Mofaz discussed his recently announced peace initiative proposal. Under the Mofaz Plan, a permanent Palestinian State would be created immediately but with provisional borders that would include all of Gaza and 60% of the West Bank territory in which 99% of the West Bank Palestinian population lives. The Israeli government would provide assurances that the Palestinian State ultimately would include nearly all of the West Bank territory. And, the Israeli and Palestinian governments would enter into negotiations to address all Final Status issues, including permanent borders, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem. (http://www.israelpolicyforum.org/blog/mofazproposesimmediatepalestinianstate). In his initial remarks, MK Mofaz briefly described his background and experience, emphasized his belief in peace, and pointed out the failure of all previous negotiating efforts to achieve results. Citing extensive national security analysis, MK Mofaz explained the need for urgency because “time [is] not on our side.” MK Mofaz pointed out that Iran is gaining in strength, notably in its development of nuclear weapons and in its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. MK Mofaz also pointed out that the Palestinian dialogue is heading toward a one-state solution, which is not in Israel=s favor. MK Mofaz explained that Israel=s primary interest is in maintaining a “Jewish and democratic state.” MK Mofaz then described his peace plan in somewhat more detail as a two-phase process, the first phase of which would be the immediate creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. The second phase would be a process of continuing negotiation and dialogue to resolve outstanding issues such as establishing permanent borders, providing for security of Israel, addressing the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return, and the status of Jerusalem. The immediate establishment of a Palestinian State, he stated, would create a change in attitude that would enable the parties to reach agreement on the outstanding issues that has not been possible to date. MK Mofaz concluded his initial remarks by pointing out three essential requirements for his plan to succeed: the need for a clear statement by the Palestinians to end the conflict, the need to create a mechanism for mediating future disputes, and the need for an Israeli public referendum approving the resolution of Final Status issues before implementation of an agreement. MK Mofaz described his two-stage plan as “the best way to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians” and noted one additional requirement for success: the need for the United States to back and approve this plan. MK Mofaz believed that a final agreement could be reached in about four to six years.

Thanksgiving: The Quintessential Jewish-American Experience

by Burt Siegel, JSPAN Board member Most of us have, at one time or another, struggled with what has sometimes been called the "Christmas dilemma", meaning: what is a Jew supposed to do about Christmas? As late as the 1950s, a surprisingly high number of even endogenous Jewish households had Christmas trees. (Sometimes, in an attempt at embarrassed humor they were referred to as "Chanukah bushes.") Today, other than in religiously mixed households, that phenomenon is rare. Nor do very many Jewish children still get visits from Santa. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit that he did make one stop at my house in 1948 or '49. My older sister, killjoy that she was, pointed out that it would have been physically impossible for him to have made it to every house, even in a place as small as Bayonne, NJ, from sundown to sunrise. To be honest, by the age of 5 or 6, I had figured this out myself. I didn't tell my parents though, because I didn't want to kill a good thing, but for some reason, Santa never made a repeat appearance. More observant families, for the most part, even prevented their children from trick or treating, or dressing up in a costume on Halloween. When my oldest daughter was in a Jewish day school in the 1970s, she was told that she had to ignore Halloween because it was a Christian holiday. This led to her to tell a bewildered Christian playmate that she couldn't go around the neighborhood collecting candy with her because the holiday had "something to do with Jesus." Of course fundamentalist Christians don't let their children participate in the Halloween merriment either, because the holiday is "pagan." As my Bubbie would say, "go figure." Thanksgiving was always a free pass, I thought. We could really throw ourselves into this one without a modicum of guilt. While I know that none of the Jewish kids I grew up with in the late '40s and early '50s would have been comfortable playing wise men in the PS # 3 school play, ( we even had a baby Jesus,) being chosen to be a Pilgrim was real "yicchus." I never got that part though; I played an Indian, an inferior role in those pre-PC days. by Burt Siegel, JSPAN Board member Most of us have, at one time or another, struggled with what has sometimes been called the "Christmas dilemma", meaning: what is a Jew supposed to do about Christmas? As late as the 1950s, a surprisingly high number of even endogenous Jewish households had Christmas trees. (Sometimes, in an attempt at embarrassed humor they were referred to as "Chanukah bushes.") Today, other than in religiously mixed households, that phenomenon is rare. Nor do very many Jewish children still get visits from Santa. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit that he did make one stop at my house in 1948 or '49. My older sister, killjoy that she was, pointed out that it would have been physically impossible for him to have made it to every house, even in a place as small as Bayonne, NJ, from sundown to sunrise. To be honest, by the age of 5 or 6, I had figured this out myself. I didn't tell my parents though, because I didn't want to kill a good thing, but for some reason, Santa never made a repeat appearance. More observant families, for the most part, even prevented their children from trick or treating, or dressing up in a costume on Halloween. When my oldest daughter was in a Jewish day school in the 1970s, she was told that she had to ignore Halloween because it was a Christian holiday. This led to her to tell a bewildered Christian playmate that she couldn't go around the neighborhood collecting candy with her because the holiday had "something to do with Jesus." Of course fundamentalist Christians don't let their children participate in the Halloween merriment either, because the holiday is "pagan." As my Bubbie would say, "go figure." Thanksgiving was always a free pass, I thought. We could really throw ourselves into this one without a modicum of guilt. While I know that none of the Jewish kids I grew up with in the late '40s and early '50s would have been comfortable playing wise men in the PS # 3 school play, ( we even had a baby Jesus,) being chosen to be a Pilgrim was real "yicchus." I never got that part though; I played an Indian, an inferior role in those pre-PC days.
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