Remembering Six Teen Suicides...

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:



Newsletter: October 8, 2010
Program Set for JSPAN Social Justice Award November 16
Alan Solow, current chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and of the Jewish Community Centers Association (JCCA) of North America, has accepted the invitation of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network to be the guest speaker at the organization's sixth annual Social Justice Award presentation on November 16, 2010, 5:30 p.m. at Independence Visitor Center, Philadelphia. Arlene Fickler, noted attorney and community activist, will receive the JSPAN award. She is a friend and colleague of Mr. Solow, with whom she served on the board of the JCCA.

Mr. Solow has been engaged over the years in a wide spectrum of leadership roles in the Chicago area as well as on the national scene. He played a key role in coordinating the JCCA's activities with the Israel Association of Community Centers and is a vice chair of the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers. He has also served as chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago, and in various capacities in the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish United Fund, the United Jewish Communities, CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Mr. Solow is a practicing attorney and a partner and vice chair of the Restructuring Group at DLA Piper LLP (US). He will be addressing the question: "Is American Jewish Leadership Out of Touch with Its Constituents?" This subject is especially timely as the organized Jewish community in the United States faces major demographic and social changes in the 21st century.

Invitations to this event will be mailed out shortly - please look for them in your mailbox!




JSPAN Holds Two Sessions on Proposals for a PA Constitutional Convention
Governor Rendell, candidates Corbett and Onorato, and newspaper editorialists urge that Pennsylvania hold a constitutional convention to reform the legislature, the courts, the state budget process, taxation, the way we hold elections, and other subjects. But would holding a con con actually solve any problems? Once begun, could it be controlled? And is there any way con con could get started at all?

JSPAN organized a continuing legal education program cosponsored by the Committee of Seventy, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, and offered by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. Ex-Governor Dick Thornburgh, Judge James Gardner Colins (ret.), State Rep. Kathy Manderino and Law Prof. Bruce Ledewitz spoke at the program offered concurrently in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

Governor Thornburgh, who was a delegate to the last state con con held in 1967-68, spoke of the techniques used to select topics, to elect delegates, and ultimately to control both the politics and the focus of the convention.

Professor Ledewitz laid out the long list of scandals in the state legislature and the courts, and the recent Dauphin County Grand Jury report on pervasive malfeasance in the legislative branch. But he concluded that a con con alone is not likely to do any good without valid reform ideas developed in advance, a desirable agenda, and strong planning and leadership.

Representative Manderino described recent and current efforts in the legislature to implement reform by constitutional change. Despite the scandals of recent times, legislators resist reform proposals. Some constituencies (she gave as an example the gun control lobby and lawyers) are very sensitive to any proposals to open the state constitution for amendment, and have been successful in torpedoing even the mildest proposals. Until the public really demands action, she suggests that proposals to hold a constitutional convention will not be adopted.

Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins (retired), who heads the Pennsylvania Bar Association study of con con, noted that the 1967-68 convention agenda was tightly controlled by the legislature. Against the expected efforts of special interests, today it would be difficult to exercise such a level of control. Therefore legislators are not enthusiastic about initiating the process.

The second JSPAN event was a luncheon especially for non-lawyers, immediately following the cle program. Gov. Thornburgh, Judge Colins, and Prof. Ledewitz discussed the con con proposal in an informal setting. Tim Potts, blogger at Democracy Rising PA, opened the discussion by laying out the need and constitutional basis for a reform program that includes a constitutional convention. The discussion was lively, frank and informative.

At this time JSPAN has not adopted a position on the desirability of holding a constitutional convention to reform Pennsylvania state government. But we and seventy citizens who participated in the cle and luncheon are much better informed and able to evaluate our choices as a result of these two programs.  









An Amazing New Energy Resource?
by Margot Horwitz, JSPAN Board member

"They may have the right to extract the gas, but you have the right to a healthy environment, including clean air and pure water."

The anonymous Internet author of this comment was questioning the major new drilling project in Central Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. Such environmental concerns were among many ramifications of natural gas extraction explored by James M. Seif and Steven P. Hershey, two experts in energy and environment, at the JSPAN Board meeting on October 5, 2010.

James Seif, previously Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, is Managing Partner of 2lst Century Energy Development Partners LLC, a firm which develops alternative energy projects. He discussed the effects of deregulation over the past four decades, which have been distorted by politics and carbon concerns, among other factors. Yet there has also been development of new sources of energy, including solar, wind and hydro-power. He believes that we should use less carbon energy, and noted that the Marcellus Shale Coalition has been working to reduce the carbon footprint--while potentially creating many jobs for Pennsylvania. Even now, there are increasing numbers of gas drilling businesses in the Commonwealth, and there is huge potential.

Steven Hershey, Vice President at Philadelphia Gas Works in charge of regulatory and external affairs, spoke of the need to get natural gas to homes and businesses from a source such as the Marcellus Shale. He noted the many benefits if people can spend less money to heat their homes--and if we are less dependent on oil imports from such major sources as Venezuela, Mexico and the Middle East. Solar and wind power avoid a carbon footprint, but at this time are expensive. Natural gas is the bridge to reduce carbon and get us through until other renewable energy resources are developed. Most of our natural gas comes from the Gulf, but we should aim to create supplies in this region through developing the Marcellus Shale deposits.

But as the quotation above emphasizes, there must be responsibility in the way that natural gas is pulled from the ground. Drilling could be important to Pennsylvania's future, but clean air and pure water are as critical as energy independence.






Health Reform Hits Main Street
Confused about how the new health reform law really works? This short, animated movie -- featuring the "YouToons" -- explains the problems with the current health care system, the changes that are happening now, and the big changes coming in 2014.

Written and produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the movie is narrated by Cokie Roberts, a news commentator for ABC News and NPR and a member of Kaiser's Board of Trustees.





Remembering Six Teen Suicides...
...and Call to Action Sunday, October 10th in Philadelphia



Who: Equality Forum, William Way Community Center, Attic Youth Center and other collaborating community organizations

What: Vigil for Tyler Clementi and Recent Teen Suicide Victims

When: Sunday, October 10th from 4:00 - 4:30 p.m.

Where: William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia

Tyler Clementi, 18, Rutgers University freshman and accomplished violinist
Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minnesota freshman and talented cello player
Asher Brown, 13, Houston, Texas eighth-grader and straight A student
Raymond Chase, 19, Johnson & Wales University sophomore and culinary student
Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Indiana sophomore and animal lover 
Seth Walsh, 13, Fresno, California middle school student, artist and fashion aficionado

The program will include Susan Wheeler, a Lebanon, Pennsylvania mother who lost her teenage son Jim to suicide after he was harassed and urinated on at his high school. Jim Wheeler's story is the subject of the award-winning documentary film, "JIM IN BOLD."

Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus members will perform.

For Vigil information, contact Catherine Guidi at

Click here to see a video prepared by Ellen Degeneres about these senseless deaths.













JSPAN Endorses Legislative Effort to Preserve Embryonic Stem Cell Research
On September 20, 2010, Lynn Zeitlin, JSPAN board member, communicated with Sen. Arlen Specter on behalf of the board, congratulating him on his efforts to draft legislation to preserve embryonic stem cell research, an issue "that is near and dear to your heart." Speaking for the board, she urged the senator to "exercise your power to overturn for good the recent dangerous decision to halt this research." The full text of the letter is below.



Senator Arlen Specter
4111 Timber Lane
Philadelphia PA 19144


United States Senate
711 Hart Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Specter:

I would not be surprised to know that you are already hard at work in the Senate drafting legislation to preserve embryonic stem cell research that I know is near and dear to your heart. I am writing to say that many of us would see passage of this legislation with you as the lead sponsor as one of the finest legacies you could leave as a fitting coda to your distinguished Senatorial career.

At a recent meeting of the JSPAN board, I offered to reach out to you on this important subject. It is our hope that your commitment to finding therapies for so many diseases for which stem cell research holds so much promise would lead you to exercise your power to overturn for good the recent dangerous decision to halt this research.

I wish you and Joan and the family a very happy, healthy and sweet Shana Tova.

Sincerely yours,














Still No New Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill!
Despite herculean efforts by national anti-hunger groups, including MAZON, A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the House of Representatives failed to pass the child nutrition bill, H.R. 5504, before adjourning on September 30, 2010 for the midterm election. The child nutrition programs were set to expire on that day, but Congress instead passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) through December 3rd, which will allow these programs, along with all other government programs, to continue working off of the previous year's level of funding.

The House was in negotiations to pass the Senate version of the bill, S. 3307, but failed to reach agreement before they adjourned. That legislation contained cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and was rejected by 106 House members. The bill is expected to be debated and voted on during a "lame duck" session starting November 15th.

While the next few weeks will provide additional opportunity for negotiations to continue, time is running out for Congress to pass a strong child nutrition bill before the end of the 111th Congress. Hunger relief agencies, public policy organizations and social justice advocates across the nation are continuing to work for a compromise that will allow the bill to move forward, while addressing concerns about additional access for children in need as well as looking for ways to restore the SNAP cuts.

MAZON and JCPA are asking JSPAN readers to contact their individual members of Congress now, while they are in their district offices, and to press them to vote for passage of H.R. 5504 and to refrain from using SNAP benefits to fund any other programs.

Click here to access contact information for members of the House of Representatives.

J.J. Goldberg is editorial director of The Forward and one of the leading voices in contemporary Jewish journalism. His column, Good Fences, appears weekly on the editorial page. In the October 8, 2010 issue, in an essay entitled "It's Still the Economy - but More So," Mr. Goldberg states, "It's pretty obvious by now what this election is about. It's the economy. ... What's certain is that things won't get better if we keep doing what we've been doing. And it'll take a lot more than improving school lunches." To access Mr. Goldberg's economics 101 crash course on how the U.S. economy got into such an intractable mess, click here. But at the same time, please don't forget to help those hungry school children - contact your House members NOW!






One Book One Jewish Community Kicks Off 2010-2011 Selection
Since its inception in 2007, Philadelphia's One Book One Jewish Community (OBOJC) has reached tens of thousands of community members, engaging them in book-related programs, conversations, and diverse Jewish learning opportunities. OBOJC currently partners with 75 synagogues and organizations from across the five-county Philadelphia region.

The Fall 2010 issue of Reform Judaism included a review of this year's OBOJC selection, "By Fire, By Water," by Mitchell James Kaplan. Click here to access the review.






The Climate Gap in the U.S.
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) was created in 1993 to catalyze and enact a distinctively Jewish programmatic and policy response to the environmental crisis. COEJL is working to bring Jews around the country together to work toward a better future on the common ground of a healthy environment, green jobs and a secure energy future through action and education.

The essay below by Sybil Sanchez, executive director of COEJL, originally appeared in the September 29, 2010 issue of Confronting Poverty, a publication of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit." Rajendra Pachuari, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In thinking about how climate change affects those who are most socially vulnerable, it might be easier to think of disasters as something that happens to people 'over there,' in distant lands outside our own borders - disappearing islands in the Pacific, floods in Pakistan, or severe droughts in Africa. Unfortunately, we must recognize that it is a growing challenge we face just as much at home as elsewhere.

U.S. Government research states that over the past 50 years, our average temperature has risen more than 2°F and precipitation has increased 5%. The sea level is rising, Arctic sea ice declining and more extreme weather is expected in the form of torrential downpours, heat waves, regional droughts, floods, and hurricanes. In the United States, northern areas will become wetter and southern areas, particularly in the West, drier. Atlantic hurricanes and eastern Pacific hurricanes will intensify.

One need only to look at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico region, the damage done by other recent hurricanes, or even the heat waves and extreme weather events of this past summer to see that climate change hits closer to home than we like to think and that it hits our country's most vulnerable populations the hardest. These factors contribute to a disturbing "climate gap" situation, wherein the poorest people suffer the most from climate hazards because they are the least protected from them.


[read more]







A Film Unfinished
October 15, 2010 is the Philadelphia premier of a new Holocaust documentary, "A Film Unfinished," by the Israeli director Yael Hersonski. This remarkable film has been described by The Jewish Daily Forward as "a monumental archival achievement," and by Heeb Magazine as "perhaps the most understated and intriguing documentary ever made about the Holocaust." It was a winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and the 2010 Jerusalem Film Festival.

At the end of World War II, 60 minutes of raw film, having sat undisturbed in an East German archive, was discovered. Shot by the Nazis in Warsaw in May 1942, and labeled simply "Ghetto," this footage quickly became a resource for historians seeking an authentic record of the Warsaw Ghetto. However, the later discovery of a long-missing reel complicated earlier readings of the footage. "A Film Unfinished" presents the raw footage in its entirety, carefully noting fictionalized sequences, including a staged dinner party, which falsely showed "the good life" enjoyed by Jewish urbanites. The documentary probes deeply into the making of a now-infamous Nazi propaganda film.

"A Film Unfinished" is a film of enormous import, documenting some of the worst horrors of our time and exposing the efforts of its perpetrators to propel their agenda and cast it in a favorable light.

On August 17, 2010 The New York Times film critic Jeannette Catsoulis reviewed the film.Click here to read "An Israeli Finds New Meanings in a Nazi Film."

To view a trailer about the film, click here.





Westboro Case Poses Dilemma for Jewish Groups
On October 6, 2010, Ron Kampeas, Washington bureau chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, reported on a case now before the Supreme Court which tests "a delicate principle in defending the First Amendment: Hate the speech, defend the speaker. ... Jewish organizations that routinely have defended free speech that others might find abusive are sitting this one out. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has not filed a brief; the Anti-Defamation League filed a brief arguing that the case has no merit."

The case involves a right to privacy and protection from defamation suit brought by a Maryland family, whose son, a soldier in Iraq, was killed in a noncombat accident there. The defendant is the Westboro Baptist Church, whose founder picketed the soldier's funeral, "protesting against U.S. soldiers for not rising up and overthrowing the 'sinful'U.S. government."

Mr. Kampeas interviewed Marc Stern, associate general counsel of the AJC, who advised him that "should the court rule solely on the issue of privacy, the free speech ramifications would be minimal. However, should it emulate foreign courts that have banned certain forms of hate speech, it would amount to a major change in interpretation of the First Amendment."

"There are strong free speech arguments for the church," Mr. Stern said. "If the court rules that certain kinds of speech are not protected at all or of such little utility as to deserve protection, that would be a really radical change in American law."

The JSPAN Board has not addressed this specific issue, but invites all our readers to weigh in on the subject. Click here to send us your opinions.

To read "Westboro case poses dilemma for Jewish groups" by Ron Kampeas in its entirety,click here.

An editorial in The New York Times on October 7, 2010 outlined the oral arguments that were raised at the Supreme Court on October 6 between the justices and the attorneys in this case. Click here to read "Lamentable Speech."







Americans for Peace Now Launches Interactive Map Project
On September 20, 2010 Americans for Peace Now (APN) released an interactive mapping tool using the latest technologies to analyze the situation in the West Bank. Facts on the Ground: The APN Map App makes it possible for iPhone or Internet users to get a clear - and constantly updating - picture of developments about the settlements.

Noam Shelef, APN's director of strategic communications, commented, "This app democratizes information about settlements. ... Anyone can explore the West Bank with just a click of a mouse or a touch of a finger. Our goal is to revolutionize the debate over settlements, breaking through polemics and spin, to anchor the discussion in the facts. While people are entitled to their opinions on this divisive issue, there is only one set of facts, and our app makes them available in unprecedented clarity and detail."

To access Facts on the Ground: The APN Map Project, click on the graphic below.




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Please note: The next issue of this newsletter will be on October 22nd. 

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 or to JSPAN, 1735 Market Street, Suite #A417, Philadelphia, PA 19103








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JSPAN Officers
Brian Gralnick

Kenneth Fox
Vice President

Judah Labovitz
Vice President

Ruth Laibson
Vice President

Kenneth Myers
Vice President

Stephen Applebaum

Stewart Weintraub
Secretary & General Counsel

Susan Myers
Policy Centers Chair


Jeffrey Pasek, Chair
Alex Urevick
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
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.

Ruth Laibson

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.