July 2015


JSPAN Newsletter - July 2015

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In this Issue:
Newsletter: July 2015
Our Social Justice Work Matters: JSPAN Celebrates SCOTUS and PA Decisions
JSPAN adds its huzzahs to the celebration of U.S. Supreme Court decisions to extend to all the right to marry and to uphold the Affordable Care Act, and the PA Commonwealth Court's striking down Act 192's restrictions on local gun control laws- all happening within 24 hours. A mechayah! (Yiddish for soooo refreshing!) These recent victories remind us that the social justice work we do really does matter. By making our voices heard-whether by voting, contacting our lawmakers, educating others, or otherwise showing what we care about in amicus briefs-when we raise our voices, our judges, lawmakers and elected officials sometimes listen. In his opinion on same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy acknowledged as much when he described how the Court's understanding was "enhanced" by the "societal discussion of same-sex marriage" over the past decade and, in particular, by the "more than 100 amici" organizations that communicated to the justices the views of so many "central institutions in American life." JSPAN is proud to have been part of the 100 in these landmark cases.

But our joy in these victories is bittersweet. The death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight others in Charleston reminds us of how much work we still have to do if we are truly to be one nation (see below JSPAN's condolences).

We continue our work this summer, showing our dedication to protecting constitutional liberties and the civil rights of Jews, other minorities, and society's vulnerable-by, for example, joining in an amicus brief supporting Gov. Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty (see below). Also below, you can get to know our new President, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, in an interview by JSPAN Board Member Bryan Schwartzman, and read the first installment of a new monthly column by Board member Edward Hoffman titled "Board Meeting," that will introduce you to members of our Board. In Ed's first column below, he introduces himself.



JSPAN Lauds Same-Sex Marriage Court Decision
Jewish Social Policy Action Network is delighted by the U.S. Supreme Court's highly anticipated ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. By a 5-4 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the lead opinion, the justices declared that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States.

Justice Kennedy concluded that: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. ... [The challengers] ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." The ruling means that same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states and U.S. territories, and that all states must respect a same-sex couple's marriage so long as it was legal where it was performed. The basis for the majority opinion was that marriage is a fundamental right and, therefore, there can be no further discussion about the level of scrutiny to be applied to this issue. Justice Kennedy said, "[t]he right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty."


[read more]


SCOTUS Marriage Ruling Adopts Argument of Amicus Brief by Religious Organizations (Including JSPAN)
Thirteen Jewish groups, including JSPAN, Bend the Arc and organizations representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, were among the 25 groups joining in the amicus brief of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) filed in Obergefell v. Hodges earlier this year.

Therein the amici organizations argued, "[N]o one's religious liberty would be threatened by overturning the marriage ban before the Court . . . [R]eligious groups will remain free, as they always have been, to choose how to define religious marriage and which marriages to solemnize." Addressing arguments of proponents of marriage bans that relied on one particular religious understanding of marriage as deserving of religious liberty protection, the amici argued that a preference for one religious view would violate both the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses of the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution.

Consistent with the arguments of the amici, Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion: "[R]eligions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-same marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and central to their lives and faiths, and their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."

JSPAN appreciates the contributions of the ADL and attorneys at the law firm of Greenberg Trauig, LLP who prepared the brief, and thanks ADL for the opportunity for JSPAN to participate in this important effort.


JSPAN Applauds Court Decision Upholding Provisions of Affordable Care Act
On June 25 the United States Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell, upheld the Affordable Care Act's provision of subsidies to low- and moderate-income Americans who purchased health insurance through federal exchanges because they live in states that opted not to set up health insurance exchanges on their own.

Plaintiffs maintained that the Affordable Care Act provided only for subsidies on policies purchased through state exchanges. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, understood the intent of the law to subsidize all policies in order to make the insurance affordable to those who, until passage of the ACA, were uninsured.

In January 2015, JSPAN signed on to an amicus curiae brief drafted by a sister organization, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) of Boston. Passage of the ACA moved the country in a direction that JSPAN has long supported. JSPAN applauds the Court's decision, which helps ensure continued progress towards providing universal health coverage.


[read more]



Board Member Bryan Schwartzman Interviews JSPAN's New President, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, one of the Philadelphia region's most well-known and well-respected religious leaders, was recently elected to be the new president JSPAN, succeeding attorney Deborah Weinstein. Before retiring in June 2014, Rosenbloom was the religious leader of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park for 36 years. He now holds the title of Distinguished Service Rabbi in the congregation.

Rabbi Rosenbloom recently sat down with JSPAN Board Member Bryan Schwartzman for a wide-ranging discussion about the organization and the issues on its agenda. What follows is an edited version of that interview.

You spent your whole career as a congregational rabbi. Why, in your retirement, have you decided to take on this leadership role with JSPAN?

I have been familiar with JSPAN almost from its inception. Some of my congregants (Ken and Sue Myers) were involved in its founding and they have talked to me about JSPAN through the years. In fact, I was on a JSPAN panel about the Iraq War in 2009. I have always respected it as an advocate of social policy from a liberal standpoint that emerges out of Jewish teaching. I decided that I would be able to make an impact on causes that I believe in. I didn't want to pass up that opportunity.

Is it easier to be an advocate on social justice issues now that you are retired from the rabbinate?


[read more]


On the Charleston, SC, Murder of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Eight Others, We Send Our Condolences
The death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight others in Charleston reminds us how much work we still have to do if we are truly to be ONE nation. JSPAN President Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom sent the following message in a letter to Rev. Terrence Griffiths, President of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, on behalf of JSPAN:

Dear Rev. Griffith:

On behalf of the entire Board of Directors of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, I send our deepest condolences to you, the members of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and everyone in your various congregations on the tragic and senseless murder of nine innocent people in Charleston. While we address this to you as a leader in the African American community, the fact is we are all diminished by the loss and ashamed that our nation remains in the grip of racism, despite all the progress and good intentions of many over the past century and a half.

Jewish Social Policy Action Network continues to engage the Jewish community in confronting bias and prejudice of all sorts, including the systemic racism that is both the most easily denied and the most insidious.

And still we believe: We shall overcome.


Board Meeting: New Board Member Edward Hoffman (Interviewing Himself)
With this interview, new member of the JSPAN Board Ed Hoffman inaugurates a column in the newsletter aimed at helping our readers to get-to-know our leadership-"Board Meeting"--starting with a candid interview of himself. JSPAN is fortunate to have Ed "on board." We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did! -Ed.

- What did you do for a living?
I am a CPA, earning the certification at a time when it was necessary to work for a CPA firm before you could even sit for the exam. I put in the minimum experience, and then moved on to Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, where I audited claims for 37 years. This skill is a branch of forensic accounting and, after I retired six years ago, I set up Hoffman Forensic Accounting as a part-time consultancy.

- What is your Jewish background?
My parents joined a conservative shul under the five-year covenant: I went to Hebrew School for five years, studied for bar mitzvah, met my rabbi on the morning of the ceremony, and then left the building. But my mother was a graduate of Gratz College, and I continued my education there for eight years (while attending Central High and University of Pennsylvania), earning high school and teacher's diplomas. My rebellion was not staying the ninth year to earn the Bachelor of Hebrew Literature. When I tried to earn it a few years ago, I found that Gratz no longer offers it.

Despite my extensive Hebrew education, no conservative shul would hire me. But I was able to get a job teaching at Rodeph Shalom, and served on its faculty with George Stern while we were college students. Meeting George changed my life, as he informed me that his next step was enrollment at Hebrew Union College in New York. I was shocked that someone I liked and respected was going to be a Reform rabbi.


[read more]



ACLU-PA Files Brief in Support of Gov. Wolf's Death Penalty Moratorium [with JSPAN Among Amici]
On June 18, 2015, JSPAN joined with the Philadelphia Bar Association, Pennsylvania NAACP and Pennsylvanians Against the Death Penalty in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in support of Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty. In February, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed an emergency petition before the state Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the governor's action. The case will likely be argued this fall.

The amicus brief argues that not only are the governor's actions authorized under the Pennsylvania Constitution but they are also justified by the pervasive failures of the capital punishment system, which suffers from high reversal rates of convictions, racial bias, and unconstitutionally under-funded representation for those who cannot afford an attorney.

JSPAN opposes the death penalty as it is currently applied in the United States and believes that a "moratorium on the death penalty is necessary to protect constitutional liberties and civil rights, especially those of racial and other minorities who are disproportionately victimized by the current system."

To review the brief, read more.


JSPAN Board Member Babette Josephs on Hand to Support Proposed Legislation to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws
JSPAN Board member Babette Josephs was in Harrisburg on June 3 to support legislation to reform civil asset forfeiture laws in Pennsylvania---legislation that JSPAN endorses.

In Pennsylvania, the government can take property it claims is connected to illegal activity without actually charging the property owner with a crime. Prosecutors and police who make decisions about when to pursue civil forfeiture are then allowed to keep 100% of the forfeiture profits for their own budgets. They, therefore, have a direct financial incentive to take as much property as possible.

There are now bills before both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature--sponsored by Senators Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York) and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks/Lancaster)--to reform this practice. Both bills would:

  • Require a criminal conviction of the property owner before the property can be forfeited. Law enforcement could still seize the property pre-conviction if they establish probable cause that the property is linked to criminal activity. It would then be forfeited IF the criminal prosecution concludes with a conviction;
  • Alter the revenue stream from forfeiture proceeds to divert the revenue to the general fund of the county or the Commonwealth;
  • Provide protections for innocent third parties; and
  • Close the loophole allowing local authorities to continue civil asset forfeiture by coordinating with the federal government, a process known as equitable sharing.

For more on civil asset forfeiture reform at the state level, see a report by Larry Miller, Staff Writer at The Philadelphia Tribune, click here.



Dirty Money
In an editorial on civil forfeiture practices in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer has also called upon the state legislature to "take action to assure that civil forfeiture law isn't paying law enforcers to punish the innocent." - Ed

The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial
July 6, 2015

District Attorney Seth Williams has agreed to stop seizing homes and cars from people who aren't even suspected of crimes and haven't been able to contest the seizures in court. It's a belated but welcome retreat from an indefensible practice.

Using the state's civil forfeiture law, which is designed to deprive drug dealers of ill-gotten gains, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has routinely thrown innocent people out of their homes on the grounds that investigators believed drug crimes took place in them. The law allows prosecutors to take a property even if the owner has not been accused of a crime and, worse, before a judge reviews the case.


[read more]



Update on MAZON/Act Against Hunger: Meeting with Wolf Administration on Anti-Hunger Legislative Initiatives
As part of its pursuit of social justice, a central tenet of Judaism, JSPAN endeavors to educate and raise the consciousness of the Jewish community regarding its obligation to alleviate hunger and its causes and to encourage and support legislative and other governmental initiatives to address food insecurity. As a partner of the coalition described below, JSPAN strongly supports the Act Against Hunger initiative.--Ed.

In the Elkins Park community, a coalition of six congregations, including Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, Congregation Adath Jeshurun, Beth Sholom Congregation, Congregation Kol Ami, Melrose B'nai Israel Emanuel and Temple Beth Am, have joined together with the Coalition Against Hunger and JSPAN to form Act Against Hunger, an initiative of the MAZON Advocacy Project.* Under the direction of Samuel Chu, national community organizer for MAZON, the group has had significant success coordinating specific anti-hunger legislative initiatives. In July, 2014 they met with Secretary of Public Welfare Beverly Mackereth to discuss how to improve access to critical anti-hunger programs in Pennsylvania such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

With the formation of the Wolf administration in Harrisburg, Ted Dallas, formerly Secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources, has been appointed to that position in Pennsylvania. Act Against Hunger is currently formulating plans to meet with Secretary Dallas on July 8, 10:00 a.m. at Congregation Beth El in Harrisburg.


[read more]



Commonwealth Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania Act 192 Restrictions on Local Gun Control Reform
Posted at CeaseFirePA
By Jeff Dempsey
June 26, 2015

[On June 25, 2015], the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a vital opinion which struck down Act 192. Act 192 was a piece of legislation passed by the previous legislature and signed into law by former Governor Tom Corbett. Act 192 allowed any group that counted as a member a Pennsylvanian legally allowed to own a gun, to sue any town or city that had enacted its own laws pertaining to firearms. These laws could be mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms or even the inability to carry guns in a public park. Moreover, the groups who levied these suits would have been eligible to recoup their costs in the event of a victory.

Regardless of the contents of the legislation the way in which it was passed was dubious. This decision makes clear that it was not only dubious but blatantly unconstitutional. Powerful lobbying efforts had consistently failed to pass this kind of legislation on its own. As a result, the legislature attached an amendment to a bill that penalized the theft of scrap metal. The fact that giving groups the ability to sue a town and the theft of scrap metal had nothing to do with each other did not bother the legislature.


[read more]



Your Opinion Counts

The editors of the JSPAN newsletter welcome reader's comments regarding the content and format of the newsletter. We want to know what you like and dislike. Are we providing a perspective and service that you find informative and worth reading? Do you have comments on specific articles or items? Let us know what you think! Send all comments to newsletter@jspan.org




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JSPAN Officers
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom

Richard Malkin
First Vice President

Burt Siegel
Vice President

Marc Stier
Vice President

Jill Katz Zipin
Vice President

Joanna Klein

George Pomerantz

Stewart Weintraub
General Counsel

Lynn Zeitlin
Past President

Rabbi George Stern
Executive Director

Irwin Aronson
Katie Beran
Susan Bolno
Adam Bonin
Ruth Damsker
William Epstein
Rabbi Seth Goren
Brian Gralnick
Edward Hoffman
Margot Horwitz
Adrienne Jacoby
Nathan Kleinman
Marlena Kleit
Judah Labovitz
Ruth Laibson
Jonathan Lipson
Theodore Mann
Jeffrey Pasek
Audrey Ann Ross
J. Sanford Schwartz
Bryan Schwartzman
Daniel Segal
Dan Siegel
Rabbi David Straus
Ilene Wasserman
Deborah Weinstein

Ira Goldberg


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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