News/Policy

Results of Survey on American Jewish Language and Identity

How do American Jews speak English? Who uses Hebrew and Yiddish words and New York regional features? When using Hebrew words, who prefers Israeli pronunciations and who prefers Ashkenazic ones? Which Yiddish-origin features do some non-Jews use? Two researchers from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion have begun to answer these questions. Linguist Sarah Bunin Benor, assistant professor of contemporary Jewish studies and sociologist Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy have released the results of a large-scale survey of Jews and non-Jews in the United States. The online survey began in the summer of 2008 with an e-mail invitation to about 600 people, and within 6 weeks, over 40,000 people around the world had participated. For the analysis, the researchers limited the sample to native English speakers who grew up and currently live in the United States: 25,179 Jews and 4,874 non-Jews. How do American Jews speak English? Who uses Hebrew and Yiddish words and New York regional features? When using Hebrew words, who prefers Israeli pronunciations and who prefers Ashkenazic ones? Which Yiddish-origin features do some non-Jews use? Two researchers from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion have begun to answer these questions. Linguist Sarah Bunin Benor, assistant professor of contemporary Jewish studies and sociologist Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish social policy have released the results of a large-scale survey of Jews and non-Jews in the United States. The online survey began in the summer of 2008 with an e-mail invitation to about 600 people, and within 6 weeks, over 40,000 people around the world had participated. For the analysis, the researchers limited the sample to native English speakers who grew up and currently live in the United States: 25,179 Jews and 4,874 non-Jews.

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America

Book review by David Broida, JSPAN Board member Everyone knows about illegal immigration, and everyone comes into contact with illegal immigrants. You see them at the quick stop store, working on lawns of estates large and small, cleaning your office building after hours, working in the kitchens of the restaurants you frequent, standing on corners looking for work, in the Home Depot parking lot. Mostly, though, you don't know them personally, especially if you don't speak Spanish. But even if we don't know immigrants, legal or otherwise, everyone has a personal family story of immigration. In my case, my grandfather, in his native Galicia, in Dynow, was just one step ahead of the Polish army recruiter, who wanted him for a 25-year enlistment. After his mother shooed him into a back room, and shortly after the recruiter had left, he quickly made plans at age 18 to come to America, where he would meet up in 1902 with his brother, who had followed the same plot line two years previously . My grandfather, coming to America legally, had all the breaks and accrued all the advantages of the "Goldene Medina" (the golden country). Lucky me! In her spellbinding new book, Just Like Us, Helen Thorpe, a freelance writer who has written magazine stories for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and The New York Observer, among other publications, tackles a modern day immigration story, in which she befriends and follows four immigrant high school girls in Denver through graduation and college. Two are legal, Clara and Elissa,the lucky ones, with Social Security numbers, green cards, and eventually citizenship for one. The other two are not so fortunate. Marisela and Yadira can't get driver's licenses, fly on airplanes, get Social Security cards, get jobs legally, open bank accounts, get government-sponsored financial aid for college, or get to the quick stop and back without fear of being caught and deported. Health care is another important divide. They are far away from their extended families in Mexico, unable to cross the border to visit, as their legal counterparts do. In Yadira's case, she becomes separated from her mother, who has returned to Mexico rather than face jail in the United States. Book review by David Broida, JSPAN Board member Everyone knows about illegal immigration, and everyone comes into contact with illegal immigrants. You see them at the quick stop store, working on lawns of estates large and small, cleaning your office building after hours, working in the kitchens of the restaurants you frequent, standing on corners looking for work, in the Home Depot parking lot. Mostly, though, you don't know them personally, especially if you don't speak Spanish. But even if we don't know immigrants, legal or otherwise, everyone has a personal family story of immigration. In my case, my grandfather, in his native Galicia, in Dynow, was just one step ahead of the Polish army recruiter, who wanted him for a 25-year enlistment. After his mother shooed him into a back room, and shortly after the recruiter had left, he quickly made plans at age 18 to come to America, where he would meet up in 1902 with his brother, who had followed the same plot line two years previously . My grandfather, coming to America legally, had all the breaks and accrued all the advantages of the "Goldene Medina" (the golden country). Lucky me! In her spellbinding new book, Just Like Us, Helen Thorpe, a freelance writer who has written magazine stories for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and The New York Observer, among other publications, tackles a modern day immigration story, in which she befriends and follows four immigrant high school girls in Denver through graduation and college. Two are legal, Clara and Elissa,the lucky ones, with Social Security numbers, green cards, and eventually citizenship for one. The other two are not so fortunate. Marisela and Yadira can't get driver's licenses, fly on airplanes, get Social Security cards, get jobs legally, open bank accounts, get government-sponsored financial aid for college, or get to the quick stop and back without fear of being caught and deported. Health care is another important divide. They are far away from their extended families in Mexico, unable to cross the border to visit, as their legal counterparts do. In Yadira's case, she becomes separated from her mother, who has returned to Mexico rather than face jail in the United States.

Supreme Court Considers JSPAN Amicus Brief

On October 7, in the very first week of its new term, The United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a "church-state" case so significant that JSPAN as well as other national Jewish organizations filed amicus curiae (for those of our readers who have forgotten their high school Latin, "friend of the Court") briefs. Judah Labovitz, Ted Mann and Jeffrey Pasek, three of the brief's four authors (Barry Ungar being the fourth), travelled to Washington to hear the arguments. In the last term, JSPAN filed an amicus brief in the Summum church-state case. Ted and Jeff attended that argument and the side we supported ultimately prevailed. But this time there were two new faces: the new junior Justice, Sonia Sotomajor, and the new Solicitor General of the United States, Elana Kagan, who argued the case for the government (the wrong side in our view, but that's her job). In the piece below, Judah Labovitz describes the facts in the case and, at the end, explains why it is so difficult to predict how it will turn out, and why it is of special importance to the Jewish community.
On October 7, 2009, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Salazar v. Buono, in which JSPAN had filed an amicus brief in support of Frank Buono. Mr. Buono, a retired Park Service employee and practicing Catholic, brought suit challenging the presence of a Latin Cross atop Sunrise Rock, government owned property in the Mojave National Preserve, as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The cross had been erected by a VFW post as a memorial to members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives in the First World War, and a plaque below the cross so stated. After the suit was started but not yet decided, Congress sought to preserve the cross by designating it as a National Monument and authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to spend up to $10,000 to restore the cross and the plaque. In its initial opinion, the District Court concluded that Mr. Buono, who had altered his conduct in his visits to the Preserve to avoid encountering the cross, had standing to maintain the action and that the presence of the cross on federal land violated the Establishment Clause. The court therefore entered an injunction prohibiting the government from “permitting” the cross to be displayed on Sunrise Rock.On October 7, in the very first week of its new term, The United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a "church-state" case so significant that JSPAN as well as other national Jewish organizations filed amicus curiae (for those of our readers who have forgotten their high school Latin, "friend of the Court") briefs. Judah Labovitz, Ted Mann and Jeffrey Pasek, three of the brief's four authors (Barry Ungar being the fourth), travelled to Washington to hear the arguments. In the last term, JSPAN filed an amicus brief in the Summum church-state case. Ted and Jeff attended that argument and the side we supported ultimately prevailed. But this time there were two new faces: the new junior Justice, Sonia Sotomajor, and the new Solicitor General of the United States, Elana Kagan, who argued the case for the government (the wrong side in our view, but that's her job). In the piece below, Judah Labovitz describes the facts in the case and, at the end, explains why it is so difficult to predict how it will turn out, and why it is of special importance to the Jewish community.
On October 7, 2009, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Salazar v. Buono, in which JSPAN had filed an amicus brief in support of Frank Buono. Mr. Buono, a retired Park Service employee and practicing Catholic, brought suit challenging the presence of a Latin Cross atop Sunrise Rock, government owned property in the Mojave National Preserve, as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The cross had been erected by a VFW post as a memorial to members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives in the First World War, and a plaque below the cross so stated. After the suit was started but not yet decided, Congress sought to preserve the cross by designating it as a National Monument and authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to spend up to $10,000 to restore the cross and the plaque. In its initial opinion, the District Court concluded that Mr. Buono, who had altered his conduct in his visits to the Preserve to avoid encountering the cross, had standing to maintain the action and that the presence of the cross on federal land violated the Establishment Clause. The court therefore entered an injunction prohibiting the government from “permitting” the cross to be displayed on Sunrise Rock.

Life Without Parole - Cruel and Unusual for Minors

by Marshall Dayan, capital defense attorney, one of the nation's leading authorities on the death penalty, advisor to JSPAN's Death Penalty Policy Center and JSPAN Board member. On November 9, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in two cases from Florida – Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida. Both cases involve the issue of whether the ban on cruel and unusual punishments contained in the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights is violated by the imposition of a life sentence in prison, without the possibility of parole, on a juvenile who has not committed a murder. Few people realize how prevalent such sentences have become in the United States. According to a July 22, 2009 story in USA Today citing a study by a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice think tank, The Sentencing Project, Pennsylvania leads the nation with 345 juveniles sentenced to life without parole (hereafter LWOP). That same article says that The Sentencing Project’s report finds that, nationally, 77% of all juveniles sentence to LWOP are non-white. Such harsh sentences often seem appropriate for the commission of brutal and senseless crimes, whether or not committed by juveniles. But there are reasons why such harsh sentences are not appropriate for juveniles, irrespective of the nature of the crimes committed. In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons, the Court concluded that imposition of the death penalty for those who commit murder when they are juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The Supreme Court found three relevant and critical differences between juveniles and adults when it comes to their culpability for crimes. First, youths tend to lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility as compared to adults, and "[t]hese qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions." Second, according to the Court, juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure, than are adults. This is true, in part, because juveniles have far less control over their own environments. And finally, "the personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed." That is, as common sesne would suggest, juveniles are still developing – their personalities are still developing, their brains are still developing, their bodies are still developing. They are, by definition, not fully formed human beings. According to the Court, it is difficult to conclude that a juvenile, no matter the nature of his or her criminal conduct, can be considered among the most culpable, and therefore among the worst, of offenders.

Governor, General Assembly Keep School Funding and Accountability Reform on Track

A bad economy, coupled with the availability of $2.6 billion in federal stimulus funds to support public education in Pennsylvania, presented unique challenges to advancing Pennsylvania's school funding and accountability goals. But in the end, support for a rational system of education finance prevailed as the Governor and General Assembly agreed on October 9 to a 2009-10 state budget that maintains the adequacy formula adopted in 2008, provides new resources for local improvements to basic education programs, and keeps the state on track toward the long-term objective of an equitable system of education finance. In the final agreement, $654 million in federal stimulus dollars earmarked for education were used to both replace some state education dollars ($354 million), and to provide a net increase of $300 million in basic education funding to school districts above levels appropriated in the 2008-09 state budget. Schools are also slated to receive about $715 million in additional Title I, Title IID and IDEA funds from the federal government. Importantly, the 2009-10 education budget continues to use the funding formula and accountability system that was established in law in 2008. This formula mandates an adequacy target for each school district that is based on the number of students enrolled and the costs of preparing them to meet the state's academic standards. The formula then strives to close the "adequacy gap" by distributing basic education funding based on community wealth, tax effort, and other variables.

Legalize medical marijuana: Its benefits are proven; Pennsylvania is behind the times

The following article appeared in the September 4, 2009 edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Perhaps you know a Pennsylvanian suffering from multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or AIDS, or someone who is struggling to work up an appetite because of the nausea they suffer from chemotherapy. Beyond the difficulty these people face in dealing with these debilitating conditions, what would you say ought to be done if there were a beneficial, very affordable medicine that these patients needed but that they could not obtain in a safe and legal way? That is the reality for far too many ailing Pennsylvanians when it comes to accessing medical marijuana. There is legislation pending in Harrisburg that would end the frustration so many of your ill friends and neighbors feel about being unable to legally obtain marijuana.

JSPAN Urges PA Legislature to Pass a Fair and Adequate Budget Now!

Pennsylvania is facing a budget crisis that is threatening the very lifelines that protect thousands of vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and there is no end in sight. The Pennsylvania Legislature must pass a fair and adequate budget now. JSPAN is joining Pennsylvania’s faith community, clergy, and leaders from every faith tradition and signing on to letters that will be sent to members of the Budget Conference Committee, the General Assembly Leadership, and every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In those letters, we reiterate our common commitment to certain shared principles, including: the value of all persons, regardless of any identifiable demographic characteristic; the need for government to promote, enhance, and protect the ability of all members of society to flourish; and the responsibility of government to ensure that the most vulnerable citizens – children, elderly, poor, physically or mentally fragile – are not made to suffer, but have what they need to create a decent life.

Religious Freedom / First Amendment Cases Being Monitored by JSPAN Church-State Policy Center

The work of the JSPAN Church State Policy Center is seemingly never done. Last week the Center met to review current cases and legislation for possible action, working through an agenda of five current items. Buono in the Supreme Court: Members of the Policy Center congratulated Ted Mann , Judah Labovitz, Jeffrey Pasek and Barry Ungar for the excellent amicus curiae brief they submitted to the United States Supreme Court in Salazar v Buono. In this case a former National Park Service superintendant is challenging the maintenance of a large religious Latin Cross in the Mohave Desert, urging that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The federal courts agreed with Buono’s position and ruled that the cross must be removed, but Congress then passed a law authorizing the sale of the land beneath the cross (including the cross itself) to a private party who agreed to maintain a “memorial” at the site.

JSPAN Scores Victory in Church-State Amicus Brief

by Judah Labovitz and Ted Mann, JSPAN Board members and members of the Church-State Policy Center On June 1, 2009, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided the case of Donna Kay Busch v. Marple Newtown School District in a long-awaited decision. JSPAN had submitted an Amicus Curiae brief almost two years ago. We did so because the case involved an important church-state issue which, wrongly decided, would have created a very bad precedent in an area of the law of special importance to the Jewish community. Happily, the case was not wrongly decided. Donna Busch is the Evangelical Christian mother of Wesley, who at the time of the events discussed below, was a five-year old kindergartner in a Marple Newtown Township elementary school. It was Wesley's week in the "All About Me" program. During that week, parents were invited to read to the class something from their child's favorite book. According to his mother, Wesley's favorite book was the Bible, and she intended to read to the class five verses from Psalm 118, beginning with "Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; because his mercy endures forever” and ending with "The Lord is my strength and my song, and is become my salvation." The principal would not permit her to do so, although he did permit Wesley to bring into class and to display a poster depicting some of the youngster's favorite things, including his church. So, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (a conservative Christian organization founded by many Christian ministries to defend "family values" and as a response to the ACLU), Mrs. Busch sued the School District claiming, among other things, that she had been denied the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment.

CeaseFire PA Condemns Vote to Allow Guns in National Parks

On May 20, 2009, CeaseFirePA strongly criticized leading members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation – including Senators Bob Casey and Arlen specter – for succumbing to pressure from the NRA and voting to allow people to carry loaded guns into national parks. "I am appalled that members of Congress in the Pennsylvania delegation – particularly Senators Casey and Specter – voted for this shameless amendment to allow guns in our national parks," said Phil Goldsmith, president of CeaseFirePA’s board of directors. "This amendment means people can now carry loaded guns into the Independence Park area, into Washington Square Park, and Valley Forge National Park as well.
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