It's Now Okay to Choose Hell!

JSPAN Newsletter - July 23, 2010

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: July 23, 2010
Court Strikes Down PA Blasphemy Law: It's Now Okay to Choose Hell!
by Jeff Pasek, JSPAN Board chair and JSPAN Church-State Policy Center member

Another battle in the culture wars has ended. A federal district court in Philadelphia struck down the state law that prohibits corporate names from containing "[w] ords that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord's name." JSPAN is proud to have played a part in that effort by filing the only amicus brief in the case.

The dispute arose when George Kalman attempted to form a business to make a film. He selected the name "I Choose Hell Productions, LLC" out of a philosophical belief that even if life was often hellish, it was better than suicide. When Pennsylvania would not let him register the name because clerks in the Corporations Bureau thought the name was blasphemous, Kalman turned to the ACLU, which filed suit on his behalf.

In a 68 page opinion, Judge Michael Baylson concluded that the Pennsylvania law violated the Establishment Clause because the language of the statute showed that it had a predominantly religious purpose and conveyed a message of state endorsement of religion over non-religion.

 

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JSPAN Testifies in Support of Racial Justice Act
By Marshall Dayan, chair of the JSPAN Death Penalty Policy Center

On July 19, 2010, the House Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature held a hearing on House Bill 1996, the Racial Justice Act, sponsored by Representative Robert Matzie (D-Allegheny/Beaver). The bill would allow defendants charged with or convicted of capital crimes to challenge their death sentences if race was a significant factor in the decision to prosecute or impose the death penalty. The bill explicitly allows for consideration of statistical evidence to prove that race was a significant factor in obtaining a death sentence. Aspects of cases that could be subject to evaluation are the prosecutorial decision to charge someone capitally, the jury selection process, and the sentencing process.

JSPAN presented written testimony, joined by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee (PAJC). Marshall Dayan, a board member of both organizations, drafted the testimony, which was edited by JSPAN board members Kenneth Fox and Jeffrey Pasek. Other groups presented written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

A Racial Justice Act is perhaps uniquely necessary in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is one of only two jurisdictions in the United States where social scientists conclude there is a statistically significant correlation between the race of the defendants and the death penalty, the other being Houston, Texas. Philadelphia produced an assistant district attorney, Jack McMahon, who trained other prosecutors how to get away with excluding African-Americans from jury service. Not only have African-Americans been victimized by racial discrimination in application of the death penalty in Pennsylvania, but now Latinos are likewise being targeted in the I- 81/I-83 corridor, with a hugely disproportionate number of residents of death row.

The Torah strictly prohibits unequal justice; “[y]ou shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsmen fairly.” Leviticus 19:15 (Jewish Publication Society, 1985). In our testimony, JSPAN communicated this principle to the committee, and joined it to the American promise of equal justice under law. Whether or not the Racial Justice Act passes during this legislative session, JSPAN has served notice that race discrimination in the criminal justice system, particularly in the imposition of the death penalty, is simply unacceptable.

Click here to read the complete testimony of JSPAN and PAJC in support of H.B. 1996, presented on July 19 before the House Judiciary Committee.

 

New JSPAN Website Up and Running
The new JSPAN website has been launched! Please go to www.jspan.org and let us know what you think about it, and what can be added to enhance the viewing experience. Sections are still being updated and more changes are being considered. Click here to send us your ideas!

 

Israeli Legislation Would Say Who Gets to Be a Jew
In a move that has dire implications for the legitimacy under Israeli law of Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox Jews, legislation that will grant absolute control to the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel in determining who is a Jew was suddenly brought to a vote in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on July 12, 2010. It passed the committee on a 5-4 vote and will now be brought to the full Knesset.

This legislation, known as the Rotem bill, would formalize ultra-Orthodox control of the conversion process by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel and require converts to live an Orthodox lifestyle. Opposed by the vast majority of North American Jews, the bill is now making its way toward ratification by the full Knesset – a move clearly designed to cater to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ultra-religious political allies.

The prime minister announced on July 18 that he would oppose the Rotem bill. He told his cabinet that he feared it would create a rift in the Jewish world and that if he couldn't find a compromise solution, he would ask his coalition partners to vote against it. The bill would have to pass through three votes in the Knesset to become law.

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Conservative and Reform movements, and a host of other organizations that represent North American Jews and Jews worldwide have mobilized to fight the legislation. It is imperative that a vociferous response is delivered now by the American Jewish community. JSPAN members are being asked to contact Prime Minister Netanyahu right away to protest the Rotem bill and make clear that progressive Jews worldwide cannot support Israeli policies that deny religious freedom to the liberal denominations.

To send an e-mail: "pm_eng@pmo.gov.il"

To call: 011 972-2-670 6162
011 972-2-640 8457

To Fax: 011 972-2-566 4838

To learn more about this critical issue, click here to read "The Diaspora Need Not Apply" by Alana Newhouse, editor in chief of Tablet Magazine, which covers Jewish life and culture. Her opinion piece originally appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of The New York Times.

 

Remembering What the AJCongress Was
News item: On July 18, 2010 the American Jewish Congress announced that it had suspended its activities after running out of funds. The suspension confirmed months of rumors that the Jewish-American advocacy organization was on the verge of collapse after losing as much as 90 percent of its approximately $24 million endowment in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Editor's note: The demise of AJCongress is deeply felt by those of us in the Philadelphia Jewish community who spent many years toiling on behalf of the values and goals that the organization embodied in its heyday, and who look back on those years with affection and pride.

The Bernard Madoff saga continues to play out in unusual ways. A new play, "Imagining Madoff," by Deborah Margolin, was to have included two interlocking characters: Mr. Madoff and Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Holocaust survivor and one of his most famous victims. Mr. Wiesel, however, has threatened to sue the playwright unless she removed his character from the script. To learn more about these developments, click here to read "The Play on Madoff, Without Wiesel" by New York Times reporter Patrick Healy.

Jerome A. Chanes served from 1983 to 1996 as national affairs director of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the predecessor to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. He is editor of the forthcoming "The Future of American Judaism' (Trinity/Columbia University Press). The opinion piece below, "What the Congress Gave American Jews," first appeared in the July 23, 2010 issue of the Jewish Daily Forward.


When the American Jewish Congress closes its doors — an outcome that increasingly appears imminent — there won’t be many mourners saying Kaddish. Instead, the prevailing communal sentiment will probably be: “We have too many agencies; one less will not matter!”

The serious financial problems that had plagued the AJCongress over recent decades became a mortal threat in the past year and a half as a result of l’affaire Madoff, in which the storied agency lost the bulk of its endowment. While details have been scarce, the on-again, off-again — and now very much on-again — merger talks between the American Jewish Committee and the AJCongress appear certain in the event of an agreement to yield more of a takeover than a merger.

The group’s lonely mourners will be those of us who remember what the AJCongress once meant to the American Jewish polity. We will recall the pioneering role that the AJCongress — not so many years ago one of the “Big Three” Jewish “defense” agencies (along with the AJC and the Anti-Defamation League) — played in shaping the contours of American Jewish communal affairs over nearly a century. The AJCongress taught the American Jewish community how to say what it wanted to say, and how to do what it needed to do.

 

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Message to Obama: Don't Restrict Abortions for High-Risk Women
by Margot Horwitz, JSPAN Board member

A disturbing new health care policy has just emerged from what we all thought was the pro-choice White House: an imposition of a ban on abortion services for women in the newly-created high risk insurance pools. At a time when our country is about to implement nationwide health-insurance coverage, women with pre-existing conditions (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) are to be denied access to emergency abortions. Although there is nothing in the new law which requires such action, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is prepared to put it into effect.

Surprisingly, the administration’s policy is similar to the ban proposed by anti-choice Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, which was defeated during the health care debate. Confronting such restrictions, groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are working to prevent this egregious attack on some of America’s most vulnerable women. These groups are asking individuals to write to the President, and to DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, reminding them that the abortion-coverage ban was not part of the agreement on health reform, and that it should be removed.

At its meeting on July 21, 2010 the JSPAN Board voted to urge the administration not to exclude abortion coverage from healthcare insurance. A letter from JSPAN president, Brian Gralnick, expressing the Board's concerns, is being sent to President Obama.

When we fight back against this reprehensible policy, we protect a woman’s right to choose for future generations.

President Obama can be reached at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius can be reached at:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

 

Help Ensure Full Funding for Child Nutrition Programs
On July 15th, 2010, in a bipartisan vote of 32-13, the House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee passed the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act (H.R. 5502), its version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. If enacted into law, this legislation would increase access to important feeding programs and enhance the nutritional quality of food served in school-based and preschool settings. In addition, this legislation would make improvements to child nutrition programs, including the school lunch program, school breakfast program, afterschool snack and supper program, and summer feeding initiatives.

On July 13, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chair of the House Ed and Labor Committee, sent a letter to President Obama asking for his leadership on passing a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill by September 30th. It is now of the utmost importance that funding be identified and the full House of Representatives pass the bill prior to the August recess.

To learn more about the need for this legislation, on Sunday, July 25 at 7 pm, Dateline NBC will feature "American Now: Friends and Neighbors," a series highlighting the pain of American families struggling with hunger, poverty, and unemployment. This series offers a portrait of the families who are most in need of help from the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, unemployment insurance, and other assistance measures currently being discussed in Congress. We encourage you to let your friends and family members know about this special series.

ACTION: JSPAN encourages individuals to call their representatives, senators, and the White House and tell them to pass H.R. 5502 before the August recess in order to ensure that children receive expanded access to nutritional food through child nutrition programs. To access the telephone numbers of your elected officials, click here.

To learn more about what is in the Nutrition for America's Children Act of 2010, click here.

 

Israel of the 40s 50s and 60s Now In Color!
In a dusty attic in Boston, Massachusetts, a long-hidden trove of unique archival footage of the tumultuous period of the 1940s through the 1960s in Israel was recently unearthed.

Fred Monosson, a Jewish-American businessman from Brookline, had purchased one of the first privately owned portable color movie cameras available at that time, and had travelled to Europe and Israel to record the historical formation of the state from the ruins and devastation of the Holocaust. The footage was then stored in his attic and forgotten about for almost six decades.

Last year, as the grandchildren were cleaning the house in preparation for selling it, they discovered the films and showed them to their friend, Israeli film director Avishai Kfir. He was flabbergasted at what he saw - a record of the formative years of the state IN COLOR! It had been thought that all of the historical footage from that period was only in black and white. Included, for example, are images of very young Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Tabenkin (head of the Palmach), as well as shots of British Mandate soldiers walking the streets of Jerusalem. Mr. Monosson flimed dozens of historic events, many of which apparently were never filmed by anyone else, and continued to film until after the Six-Day War of 1967.

Mr. Kfir and his colleagues are preparing a full-length documentary entitled "I was there in color," based on a reworking of the footage, for release in the near future. In anticipation of the documentary, Israel Public Television put together a moving report about the surprising discovery and the upcoming documentary. It was first shown in Israel on November 1, 2009.

To access the Israel Public Television video, click here.

 

The Presbyterians, Israel and the Value of Community Relations
On July 10, 2010 at the 219th General Assembly of the two-million member Presbyterian Church (USA), a report emanating from the Middle East Study Committee of PC-USA that called for divestment from Israel and equated Israeli policy with apartheid was voted upon by delegates to the assembly. The inflammatory report on the Middle East conflict had been described by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism as "an egregious anti-Israel diatribe, making selective use of facts and a selective reading of history to build a case against Israel and to erase almost 1900 years of Jewish presence in and connection to the Land of Israel."

For the past several months, in anticipation of this vote, a groundbreaking grassroots lobbying mobilization had taken place, involving a coalition of 13 national Jewish organizations, rabbis, Jewish lay leaders and Presbyterian allies across the country, working together to change the perceptions of the delegates about the accuracy and legitimacy of the report. The effort was ultimately successful and a compromise report, in which much of the language most troubling to Jewish groups had been modified or replaced, was accepted by the 700 delegates.

In analyzing why this effort succeeded, James Besser, Washington correspondent for The Jewish Week of New York commented that the General Assembly vote is "a reminder of the value of looking for ways to build bridges to our opponents, not just try to blow them out of the water. In other words, it's an affirmation of the community relations process, ... community relations at its best. It's not as easy as issuing the harsh press release, and maybe not as emotionally satisfying - but in the long term it may be a whole lot more productive."

To read "The Presbyterians, Israel and the value of community relations" by James Besser in its entirety, click here.

 

Women's Role in Holocaust May Exceed Old Notions
Isabel Kershner is a British-Israeli journalist and author who has been reporting from Jerusalem for The New York Times since 2007. In an article which appeared on July 18, 2010, she discussed the research of Wendy Lower, an American historian who had formerly worked at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and is now teaching and doing research at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munich, Germany.

In her research, Ms. Lower "has drawn attention to the number of seemingly ordinary German women, ... far greater than previously thought," who participated in the genocide "as perpetrators, accomplices or passive witnesses. ... While most did not bloody their own hands, the acts of those who did seemed all the more perverse because they operated outside the concentration camp system, on their own initiative.

"Only 1 or 2 percent of the perpetrators were women, according to Ms. Lower, but in many cases where genocide was taking place, German women were very close by. ... (They) willingly went out to the Nazi-occupied eastern territories as part of the war effort, to areas where genocide was openly occurring. Ms. Lower's findings shed new light on the Holocaust from a gender perspective, according to experts, and have further underlined the importance of the role of the lower echelons in the Nazi killing apparatus."

To read "Women's Role in Holocaust May Exceed Old Notions" by Isabel Kershner in its entirety, click here.

 

Is the Rule of Law in Israel in Danger?
by Dr. Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor Emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Among Professor Freedman's publications are "Israel in the Begin Era," "Israel Under Rabin," "Israel's First Fifty Years" and "Contemporary Israel."

Israel today is beset by numerous security problems, such as Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran. However, while attention is focused on Israel’s external security challenges, another threat to Israeli security has emerged, this one from inside the country. What is involved here is a growing disrespect for Israeli law and the Israeli Supreme Court from two important sectors of Israeli society---the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) and the West Bank settlers. If this problem is not dealt with expeditiously, Israel may be in deep trouble.

Perhaps the most egregious violators of the rule of law are the Haredim. Simply put, despite taking money from the Israeli government, the Haredim insist that Jewish Law, as interpreted by their rabbis, is superior to the law of the State of Israel, as interpreted by the Israeli Supreme Court. This was most recently illustrated in the confrontation over the girls school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, where the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the school had to integrate its Sephardi and Ashkenazi pupils---the Ashkenazim had built a wall in the school and even a fence on the playground to avoid any social mingling among the girls. While the Ashenazi Haredim claimed that the purpose of the wall and fence was to separate children with different levels of piety, Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levi, himself both a Sephardi Jew and a Jewishly observant one, stated in his opinion that the list of rules promulgated by the Ashkenazim “reveals that we are not dealing with a (School) Track whose purpose is to teach a Hassidic lifestyle, but an attempt to separate sectors of the populace on a communal basis, and this under the guise of cultural differences.”

When a number of the parents refused to integrate the school, resulting in some of them being jailed, Mordechai Green, the lawyer for the imprisoned parents made the Haredi disdain for Israeli law and the Israeli Supreme Court very clear: ”Whenever there is a conflict between religion and (secular) court, that which obligates the parents is the Torah’s command, which is instructed by Gedolei Hatorah (the leading rabbis) and those who teach their ways---therefore the religious stance wins.” The Grand Rabbi of the Slonim Hassidic Movement, Shmuel Berezovsky, whose followers live in Immanuel, was even more explicit: “This is a struggle between faith and heresy, between sacred power and impure Satanic forces”. If the State of Israel is seen as a “Satanic Force”, one wonders why the Slonim Hassidim are living there.

 

[read more]  

 

Support JSPAN

PLEASE NOTE: THE NEXT ISSUE OF THIS NEWSLETTER WILL BE ON AUGUST 13, 2010

Remember that JSPAN welcomes your donations to help us continue our important and effective work in Tikkun Olam. You may send gifts via PayPal on www.jspan.org. or to JSPAN, 1735 Market Street, Suite #A417, Philadelphia, PA 19103

 

 

 

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JSPAN Officers
Brian Gralnick
President

Kenneth Fox
Vice President

Ruth Laibson
Vice President

Kenneth Myers
Vice President

Stephen Applebaum
Treasurer

Stewart Weintraub
Secretary & General Counsel

Susan Myers
Policy Centers Chair

 

Directors:
Jeffrey Pasek, Chair
Alex Urevick
    Ackelsberg
Sheila Ballen
Susan Bolno
Adam Bonin
David S. Broida
Deanne Comer
Hon. Ruth Damsker
Marshall Dayan
William Epstein
Sarita Gocial
Paula Green
Margot Horwitz
Rhoda Indictor
Lazar Kleit
Judah Labovitz
Rabbi Robert Layman
Richard I. Malkin
Theodore Mann
Mark Newman
Maureen Pelta
Adena Potok
Audrey Ann Ross
Randy Schulz
J. Sanford Schwartz
Daniel Segal
Burt Siegel
Marc Stier
Rabbi David Straus
Mike Weilbacher
Deborah Weinstein
Lynn Zeitlin
Jill Katz Zipin

Executive Director:
Lynn Gottlieb, Esq.

Editor:
Ruth Laibson

 

 

 
The newsletter contains articles and links to articles that we think will be of interest to JSPAN members. They are included for informational purposes, but unless otherwise stated, they do not necessarily reflect official JSPAN policy.

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