Wishing You the Best of New Years, L'Shana Tovah

JSPAN Newsletter - August 27, 2010

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: August 27, 2010
Constitutional Convention – What are the Risks? The Rewards?
Many voices are calling for a constitutional convention in Pennsylvania. A convention is proposed to solve the budget process in the Legislature, to correct the redistricting process that gerrymanders elections, to address scandals in the judiciary, to reform property taxes, and other topics. The Governor and the two major gubernatorial candidates have spoken in favor of a constitutional convention. But what are the risks?

JSPAN has assembled four eminent authorities to discuss the question: ex-Gov. Dick Thornburgh, now a practicing lawyer, attended the last constitutional convention held in 1967-68, Prof. Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne Law School, is an authority on the history of the last convention. Judge James Gardner Colins (retired), also a practicing lawyer, heads the Pennsylvania Bar Association committee formed to study con con proposals. State Representative Kathy Manderino will explain the recent history of con con in the legislature and may predict the future as well..

Lunch and learn: at a luncheon on Tuesday, September 21, 2010, the speakers will lead a discussion of the proposals to hold a constitutional convention. The program will run from 12:15 pm until 2:00 pm at the Racquet Club, 215 South 16 Street, Philadelphia. The cost is $15 (including a buffet lunch).

Space is strictly limited. Reservations must be made in advance in two steps: first call 215-635-2664 or 215-635-2554, and then mail your check payable to JSPAN at 1735 Market Street, Suite #A417, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Note: This program is available only to non-lawyers and to lawyers who attend the Pennsylvania Bar Institute CLE on this topic given the morning of September 21. Rep. Manderino’s presence depends on the legislative calendar and cannot be assured.


Gtg, time 4 mincha, TTYL!
JTA, August 24, 2010

New online prayers with chat room

SAN FRANCISCO – On a recent weekday, Rivka Bowlin led mincha, the afternoon prayer service, from her home in Louisville, Ky.

Her fellow worshipers were in Atlanta, Detroit and Oakland, California, watching her on their computer screens, following along with an online prayer book and keying in “Amen” after each blessing via a chat window.

Bowlin was the day’s prayer leader for PunkTorah, the brainchild of two young Jews in Atlanta who are trying to create a global Jewish community in cyberspace. They held their first prayer service on June 30.

Just because participants don’t meet face to face doesn’t make that community any less real, said Patrick Aleph, the group’s 27-year-old co-founder and executive director.


[read more]


Study: Pa. judicial elections big on special-interest donations
by Chris Mondis, Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections consistently rank at or near the top for special-interest spending, a national study found, undermining public confidence in the legal system.

The study, released Monday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and two other public-interest organizations, said the decade-long battle over lawsuit reform between business interests and plaintiffs' lawyers was responsible for the sharp spike in spending.

Judicial campaigns featuring slickly produced television advertising, political consultants, and big-money fund-raising have come more and more to resemble political campaigns, with interest groups not only spending millions of dollars but also prodding judges to take positions on issues, said the authors of the study.

"It has gotten to the point that these judicial elections cannot be distinguished from political races," said Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center. "While the public accepts that politicians represent particular constituencies, judges are not supposed to represent anyone."


[read more]

JSPAN has endorsed the drive to adopt merit selection of appellate judges instead of election on political party tickets, as presently practiced in Pennsylvania. Merit selection proposals typically provide for a panel to review candidates and submit a recommended list from which the Governor makes a selection. That candidate would go before the State Senate for confirmation.


This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon
By Kenneth Myers, Vice President of JSPAN

The season of reflection is here, and it has to weigh heavily on those of us who ponder larger questions.

Our economy stumbles along, with unemployment far too high and too wide among a broad cross-section of the old, the young, blue collar folk and new college grads. The large financial prizes handed out to those in power in a few industries seem totally out of place in a society with pockets of 20% unemployment.

Peace in the Middle East seems no closer, and each year that it fails to materialize gives credence to a number of very wrong answers to the open question. As we depart Iraq and struggle in Afghanistan, American hegemony in world affairs seems only a dream of the distant past.

In this country we Jews have long enjoyed a golden age like few others in our history. We are empowered as never before to reach for the goals of Torah, Tikkun Olam, striving for the perfection of the world.

America is also striving, and our brilliance is that we do prevail in time. We are the most powerful, most respected and admired nation on earth. We will restore full employment, expand the reach of health insurance, continue to do good works around the globe, and stand by Israel while we work for peace in the Middle East. We will respond unselfishly to all the challenges, as the richest nation on earth should.

We wish you the best of New Years.

This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon. Many Jews eat apples and honey together during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year. Tashlich is another Rosh Hashanah custom, in which we symbolically cast away our sins by tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water, such as a river, ocean or stream. After the ritual observance, add a gift of food to the hungry or a gift of money to Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.

To donate, click here.


A Product of Global Warming? - Responding to the Pakistan Flood
The recent flooding in Pakistan has left millions homeless and caused overwhelming damage to thousands of communities - and sparked a global conversation about the real and immediate implications of our changing global climate. While quantifying disaster never truly does justice to the magnitude of the impact, the numbers in Pakistan are staggering: over 1,400 killed, 6,000 villages destroyed, and 14 million people affected.

Yet relief and development organizations are struggling for funding to confront the disaster and begin the rebuilding process. It is hard to fully comprehend the magnitude of a catastrophe unfolding half a world away, particularly when the news cycle is dominated by stories and images from closer to home. Yet the flooding is a stark reminder of the need for disaster preparedness and resources for response, and the danger of unchecked changes to our global climate.


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Park 51 Should Not be Complicated For Jews
Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Huffington Post, August 24, 2010

"It's very complex at this point," a Muslim American told the New York Times. The controversy swirling around Park51, the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan is, for some, a difficult issue. But as a Jew, I find the question of my own response simple. The most apt analogies from American Jewish history help me understand why thoughtful Muslim Americans might be conflicted in their response. These analogies suggest that Jews, on the other hand, should unambiguously support Park51. Our role is to stand with the people of good will who want to build the center.


[read more]

JSPAN supports the right of Muslim Americans to establish houses of worship and to practice their religious beliefs free from discrimination, rights guaranteed to them by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  


Slumdog Tourism
by Kennedy Oede, NY Times Op-Ed

SLUM tourism has a long history — during the late 1800s, lines of wealthy New Yorkers snaked along the Bowery and through the Lower East Side to see “how the other half lives.”

Slum tourism has its advocates, who say it promotes social awareness. And it’s good money, which helps the local economy. But it’s not worth it. Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.


[read more]


The Political Scene - The Empty Chamber

Just how broken is the Senate?
by George Packer - August 9, 2010

“Sit and watch us for seven days,” one senator says of the deadlocked chamber. “You know what you’ll see happening? Nothing.”


[read more]


What if They Repealed Obamacare?
by Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic

On their way to Washington last week, Tea Party activists stopped in Lansing, Michigan. And among the officials who addressed them was Mike Cox, the state’s Republican attorney general. Cox recently announced he would be among more than a dozen state officials filing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of health care reform.

Most legal experts seem to think the lawsuits won’t succeed. Among other things, it turns out that the U.S. fought a large war, about a hundred and fifty years ago, in order to settle the issue of state nullification. But if the officials filing these suits seem not to understand that history--or at least, not to care about it--their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, like their supporters’, seems genuine. If they had their way, their states really would reject the new health care law.


[read more]

JSPAN strongly supports the legislative effort to broaden healthcare insurance and manage the cost of care, goals expressed in the immense and immensely detailed reform package that passed Congress this year. Guided by our Healthcare and Bioethics Policy Center experts, JSPAN is continuing to monitor implementation of the new law to assure that those key goals continue to be the focus of each reform.


Natural Gas Deposits Improve Israel's Energy Outlook
New York Times, August 21, 2010

JERUSALEM — For decades, Israelis have taken perverse pride in what they lacked — oil and gas deposits. Few countries had looked so hard with so little result. Obliged to live off their wits, Israelis turned their country into a high-tech haven.

But enormous deposits of natural gas have been detected off the country’s northern coast. Last year, the United States Geological Survey estimated that more than 120 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas reserves lie beneath the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, most of it within Israeli territory. …

But they are bringing with them a series of keen challenges, including heightened tensions with Lebanon over the boundaries of the gas fields, fears of rocket attacks, a citizens’ revolt over the location of processing plants, an ugly battle over government royalties, and concerns that Israel could blow its windfall and turn into a nation of single-resource slackers.

"Everyone is dreaming about a golden calf,” lamented Brenda Shaffer, an energy policy specialist who teaches political science at the University of Haifa. “We should be thinking about reducing pollution, establishing energy security and reordering our priorities. Our coalition system leads to a very politicized allocation of money. Unfortunately, more money won’t mean it will be spent differently.”


[read more]


Rotem Conversion Bill in the Knesset: Pro and Con
Liberal American Jews and their Rabbis went ballistic this summer over the threat of a new law reinforcing the monopoly of the Orthodox over conversion to Judaism (at least within the geographic bounds of Israel). The proposal was put on hold for six months but the debate continues.

PRO: Rabbi Avi Shafran, “Abuse of Power” (August 10, 2010)

The Jewish world reportedly has six months before the Rotem Bill (or some facsimile thereof) returns to the Knesset for further consideration.

That should allow us all to more leisurely — and hopefully more reasonably — not only assess the bill's strengths and weaknesses but ponder a troubling issue peripheral to the legislation, but which was engendered by it.

The bill's essential aim is to allow non-Jewish Israelis a greater choice of religious courts than presently. The bill, further, formalized the decades-old religious status quo placement of conversion in Israel under the auspices of the country's official Chief Rabbinate.

On cue, the Jewish Federations of America, local Jewish Federations, Reform and Conservative leaders and an assortment of pundits all, as they say, went ballistic at the notion that halacha, or Jewish religious law, would determine conversion standards in Israel. That, despite the fact that the Rabbinate has overseen conversion in Israel since the country's founding.


[read more]


CON: David Suissa, “Charedi Rebel” (August 17, 2010)

Few issues have generated as much heat in the Jewish world this year as the Rotem bill, which is now on hold pending further review. Presumably, a key goal of the bill was to make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of Russians in Israel, who are not halachically Jewish, to convert to Judaism. There is sharp disagreement among critics of the bill over whether it would, in fact, accomplish that goal.

The bill would formalize control of the conversion process with the Charedi-controlled Chief Rabbinate. This is of great concern to the non-Orthodox streams, who are afraid this might impact the Law of Return, which currently honors non-Orthodox conversions performed outside of Israel. In addition, the bill would make it difficult, if not impossible, to challenge the Chief Rabbinate in the Israeli Supreme Court, something that has been done successfully in the past. …

If you’re not part of the Charedim, it’s easy to be outraged by their rigidity. But what if you’re a Charedi scholar who is highly respected in the Charedi world? Can you also be outraged?

Yes, if your name is Rabbi Chaim Amsellem.

Amsellem is an MK from the Charedi Shas party, and he has been making waves. One reason is that he has written a serious book of halachah that supports a more lenient view of conversions.

The book is based on the concept of Zera Yisrael, or progeny — someone who, while not halachically Jewish, is very close to Jews and has even risked his or her life to defend the Jewish nation.

There are hundreds of thousands of such potential Jews in Israel. If Rabbi Amsellem were ever put in charge of the Conversion Authority, there would be a revolution in the Jewish state, if not the Jewish world.

How does a Charedi scholar and politician come to display such extraordinary flexibility in a world that is hardly known for it? I wanted to see for myself, so I managed to corral him last week at a Jerusalem hotel, and I spent three hours listening to a Jewish rebel express outrage at his own community. Sound familiar?

"I'm Charedi," he told me, “but I’m also Sephardic. The Sephardic way is a paradox: to keep tradition but to stay open. The Torah is not there to put handcuffs on you. We try to find solutions. We put unity first.”


[read more]


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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.

Kenneth Myers

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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