News/Policy

Measuring Poverty in America

On May 14, 2009, The Washington Post's "On Faith" Forum published the following op-ed by Rabbi Steve Gutow, president, and Melissa Boteach, senior policy associate and poverty campaign coordinator for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The essay explores the parallels between the biblical commandment to conduct a census of all the tribes of Israel, and the necessity of determining better methods of keeping track of and measuring the condition in which people live in the United States through a reformed Federal Poverty Measure. This Shabbat, Jews will read from the book of Numbers, the Torah portion in which G-d commands the Israelites to undertake a census. On a superficial level, the census in the desert is about tallying the numbers of the 12 tribes for military purposes. However, at the heart of the concept of this census is the need to count every person, to include and to value each soul, and consequently, to govern society according to an accurate assessment of how people are doing. How do we know that? The chapter could simply mention each tribe and its population, but it does not. Unlike any census here in America, the Torah names a person as it mentions the tribe. It adds humanity to the census. It tells us that this census is about people and if it is to be used to protect a society, to assign responsibility, to fairly and equitably share benefits among the whole, each person matters.

Civil Rights Coalition Fights PA Constitutional Amendment on Marriage

As marriage equality for same-sex couples gains momentum in other states, advocates across Pennsylvania are condemning state legislators who intend to introduce a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman. On May 19, 2009, the Value All Families Coalition called the proposed amendment "a divisive distraction" from issues that Pennsylvanians care most about. JSPAN is an active member of the Value All Families Coalition. The coalition is comprised of diverse statewide, regional, and local organizations that support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians. To access HB 300, click here. Your elected representatives need to hear from you about why they should support HB 300. Click here to find their contact information. "This is an issue being driven by a special interest group that is misleading our elected officials and the public by implying that our legislators have not dealt with this issue," Kaskey added., "Same-sex marriage is already against the law in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996. Surely, the majority of the members of the Senate realize they have been elected to deal with the real problems Pennsylvanians face. We urge them to spend their time on more pressing issues."

Shavuot: The Wilderness Experience that Tested and Defined Us as a People

Rabbi Elliot J. Holin is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, PA, and a member of the board of JSPAN. On erev Shavuot, May 28th, and on Shavuot, May 29th, we will celebrate the holy day that commemorates the gift of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Great drama defined the moment: “As morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain. It was surrounded by smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire. The smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.” {Exodus 19:16-18}. Some people were surely terrified by this awesome display of power, while others must have been captivated by the unfolding moment. I imagine that everyone was speechless. Those whose nerves were shattered at Sinai by fear and doubt helped create the Golden Calf. It was their greatest folly. It hastened their deaths. There were others who discovered the meaning of faith, defined as "the ability to depend upon." They held their breath and hoped that God would now tell them what was expected of them. Slowly but surely, they were being forged into a community of faith. It would take time and patience.

Vote Your Vanguard Shares: Important Action from Investors Against Genocide

If you are a Vanguard customer, watch for your proxy ballots and vote your conscience on this important issue. Look for Question 3 on the ballot page. Vanguard is urging customers to vote “against” Question 3 stating that the company adopted a policy that is "substantially identical" to our shareholder proposal.

30th Anniversary of Signing the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty: Looking Back

Thirty years ago - on March 26, 1979 - the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed in Washington, D.C. and, a week later, was celebrated in Cairo, Egypt. Below, JSPAN Board member Ted Mann, who was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations at the time, recalls his and his wife Ronnie's remarkable week with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat as the drama unfolded. JSPAN wants to thank the Jewish Exponent for permitting us to print this reflection. It appeared in the March 26, 2009 issue of that newspaper. My wife, Ronnie, and I were vacationing in Puerto Rico on March 12, 1979 when Israeli Prime Minister Begin tracked me down in my hotel room to tell me that he and President Carter had resolved their differences over a peace agreement with Egypt, that he would urge his Cabinet to accept the resolution and that it would then be up to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to accept or reject the final treaty terms. He was indescribably happy. So was I. There was much high drama over the next two weeks, in my view totally manufactured, as Carter shuttled between Cairo and Jerusalem, wrapping up the details. A peace treaty was finally signed by Sadat and Begin on the White House lawn on March 26. Begin and I met after the signing and he told me he had been invited by Sadat to come to Cairo the next week to celebrate, and he asked me to join him. I replied that regrettably I couldn’t because Ronnie and I would be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. So he said, “Bring Ronnie, too, and we will all celebrate together in Egypt.”

State House and senate Members Form Bi-Partisan Legislative Caucus to Address Pennsylvania's Hunger Issues

by Senator Daylin Leach, (D-17). Sen Leach represents the Delaware County municipalities of Haverford and Radnor and the Montgomery County municipalities of Bridgeport, Conshohocken, East Norriton, Lower Merion, Narberth, Norristown, Plymouth, Upper Merion and West Conshohocken. Pennsylvania is a leader in food and agriculture production, yet many of its residents are struggling to find ways to put food on their tables. The most recent USDA study on hunger found that 10 percent of Pennsylvania families are at risk for hunger – more than 492,000 households across the state. In one third of those households, one or more members also suffer from hunger. Additionally, Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff testified last month that more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians – nearly 1 in 10 residents – are at risk for food insecurity. What’s the difference between hunger and food insecurity? Not much, if you ask those who are at risk for either. According to The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, food insecurity is defined as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” while hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food. The recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food … a potential, although not necessary, consequence of food insecurity.” The current economic crisis is putting more stress on many families, and times are even tougher for those who already face financial difficulties. When researching the need to implement a Legislative Hunger Caucus, Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-36) found that hunger is at its highest level in Pennsylvania since the USDA began collecting data in 1995. Food insecurity is up by 20 percent since the 1996-1998 survey, and hunger is up by 27 percent. Simply put, a declining economy affects more than just gas prices and housing costs – it can also have a major impact upon the physical and emotional well-being of families.

What Passover Means to All of Us

by Rabbi David Straus, JSPAN Board member and spiritual leader of Main Line Reform Temple Beth Elohim, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania Of all of the holidays in the Jewish year, I think Passover might be my favorite, for several reasons. Pesah is intimately connected with Seder, and Seder with family and friends. It is, in so many ways, the quintessential memory creator and memory maker holiday. And, while I admit, after a few days, Matzah does get a little stale, I love the many foods associated with Passover, again, because it brings me back to wonderful memories of large family Seders with my grandparents, who have passed away, and memories of our extended family all being together—which now is increasingly difficult, as we live literally all over the country. It is no wonder that sociologists of American and Israeli Jewry tell us that Seder is among the most observed of all Jewish holidays. And, like many members and friends of JSPAN, I suspect there is another reason we are especially drawn to this holiday. It is because the themes and messages of Passover resonate so strongly with those of us committed to Jewish Social Action and Social Justice. On Seder night we read, “Rabban Gamliel taught, in every generation, each person must see him or herself as though they personally went forth from Egypt.” It is a most universal of Jewish teachings (note it says each person, not each Jew). Passover it not just a memory of ancient history—it is a rehearsal for us for our tasks in the world concerning social transformation. We need to redeem ourselves and our world from the bondage of slavery—literally and metaphorically. In the Midrash, our rabbis and sages do a word play with the word for Egypt (Mitzraiyim), and re-read it as Mi-tzar-im—from places of narrowness. That is, we must liberate ourselves and our world not only from the bondage of slavery, but also from that which keeps us narrowly focused and unable to see, if you will, another way, or the big picture, or from that which keeps us from seeing the other, and only focused on our needs and concerns—be they individual or communal. Pesah is about liberating our minds and our souls from visions of narrowness. Of course, liberating ourselves from places of narrowness is not an easy task. Redemption and change, weather personal or communal, never is. Which brings us to the egg.

Arrest Warrant for Sudanese President

Contributed by Emily Broad, former Executive Director of JSPAN. Emily recently graduated from Harvard Law School, where her studies focused on international human rights law, particularly on political and judicial responses to mass atrocities. On Wednesday, March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court made history when it issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, for atrocities committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The arrest warrant charges al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the widespread murder, rape, torture, and displacement of civilians in Darfur. This is the first time that the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of government, although heads of state have been charged with crimes at other criminal tribunals. ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo also filed charges against al-Bashir for genocide, but the ICC judges found insufficient evidence in order to issue the arrest warrant on this charge. This was due to the restrictive intent requirement for the crime of genocide, which can only be satisfied with proof that the accused had the “specific intent” to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Art. 6). Instead, the warrant was issued only for war crimes and crimes against humanity, both of which are easier to prove, as they do not require evidence that the victims were singled out on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Al-Bashir’s arrest warrant has caused a massive backlash by the Sudanese government and civilians, as well as the heads of other sympathetic nations. Al-Bashir’s supporters argue that the ICC is a tool for Western colonialism, as evidenced by the fact that the ICC has, to date, only investigated or issued warrants for African conflicts. Though this is true, three of the four criminal investigations underway at the ICC are for conflicts in States Parties to the ICC, who referred their own cases to the ICC. While Sudan is not a State-Party, its conflict was referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council.

JSPAN Joins Amicus Brief Opposing Proposition 8

On January 15, JSPAN filed an Application in the California Supreme Court to join in an amicus brief "in opposition to Proposition 8 and in support of Petitioners." The brief has been submitted by a multi-faith coalition led by the California Council of Churches (CCC) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and includes fifteen national and international faith organizations, fourteen statewide and regional

Action Alert: Speak Out Against Anti-Semitic Attacks in Venezuela

Congressional Contacts Cong. Bob Brady - 1st Dist. 1907-09 S. Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19148 Phone: (215) 389-4627 Fax: (215) 389-4636 Cong. Chaka Fattah - 2nd Dist. 4104 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104 Phone: 215-387-6404 Fax: 215-387-6407 Cong.

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