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Ethics Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

High Holy Day Inspiration from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis

As we enter the month of Elul, we are aware that Tishrei is almost upon us. Sitting in front of our computers, we might think to ourselves “Stop mulling and just write the sermon!” But writing High Holiday sermons really does require that we ponder what to preach. Every year, we ask ourselves the same questions: what message will resonate with our congregants, what are we passionate about saying, and what wisdom do our texts and tradition have to offer us.

This year, there is a new question to add to the list. In the past, I did not think much about what my colleagues were saying in their sermons. I might check in with a few friends, or bounce ideas off some people, but I was never speaking as part of the North American Reform Movement. This year, it will be different.

In 5774, like many colleagues, I will be speaking about the topic of immigration reform. This issue calls to us as Jews. We are immigrants. We fled slavery in Egypt to journey into freedom. More recently my great-grandparents fled the pogroms and mandatory military service in Russia to find a better life here in the United States. We know what it is to wander and to be treated as outsiders.

We also have a chance to make a real difference. The Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The House will be debating moving a bill to the floor in September, perfect timing for us to have an impact. Imagine what hundreds of rabbis can do together as we preach or teach about immigration reform this High Holidays.   

I’m going to be honest and say that while immigration reform is not my issue, justice is. Acting together powerfully is vital to who I am as a rabbi and who we are as Reform Jews.  At the CCAR Convention in Long Beach, we asked the question: Do we want to act together as a Reform Movement? The answer was a resounding yes, as hundreds of colleagues across the country joined the efforts of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, a project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the Justice and Peace Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations.  Since then, we have worked on passing legislation through the Senate. Teams of colleagues in seven states met with key swing senators and their staffs. Many of us gathered in Washington DC for a lobby day, or participated in a national call-in day. Nearly 400 of us are staying connected through the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Facebook group. We have worked together to amplify the rabbinic voice for justice, but there is more work to do.

Now we have another chance to act together to make a real difference in the debate in the House. In the weeks to come, we’ll share more with you about which legislators are crucial to the passage of compassionate, common sense immigration reform. But in the short term, there is something that only we as rabbis can do: speak from the heart to our congregants about this defining issue of our times.

So, will you join our effort and make preaching and teaching about immigration reform part of your High Holidays this year? To make it as easy as possible we have compiled text resources and sample sermons. If you willing to join the effort please share your thoughts and plans on the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Facebook group so we can log your participation. And, it never hurts to reach out to another colleague or two to ask them to join us as well.

As we move into Tishrei we have the opportunity to begin our year by speaking out for justice. Join us in showing our legislators, our congregants and ourselves what it means to be part of a national movement and to put justice at the center of the Reform rabbinate. 

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Ethics Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Judaism and Immigration Reform

Judaism has something to say about Immigration Reform. And, it starts with Welcoming the Stranger, and Protecting the Weak.

Immigration Reform has been a hot issue, these past few months. A Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill has recently passed through the Senate, and the house is now debating what, if any, bill it might pass. What does Judaism have to offer this conversation?

Clearly, there isn’t a single “correct” Jewish position on Immigration Reform. That’s especially true when we’re talking about specific policies or legislation. Judaism doesn’t tell us precisely how long is too long for a path to citizenship to take. Judaism has little if anything to offer in helping us decide what percentage, precisely, of our money should we be spending on border security, as opposed to other aspects of Immigration policy.

But, Judaism does have quite a bit to say about values — which values should be important to us, and which values should undergird our society.

One of the values integral to Judaism is Hachnasot Orchim—welcoming the stranger. Welcoming the stranger has always been part of Judaism. In the Book of Genesis, we hear of Abraham, the first Jew, who was sitting in the entrance of his tent, when three strangers passed by. He immediately invited them in, and treated them like royalty — preparing a meal for them himself, not even letting his servants do it for him. That was probably fairly common and expected — we still see echoes of this kind of behavior in that part of the world. Our people inherited this tradition, and we built it into our theology.

You see, there is a natural, human tendency to favor those to whom we are the closest. We tend to take care of our own, and to be wary or afraid of “the other.” The mitzvah of welcoming the stranger is, in part, a counterbalance to this reflex. It reminds us that this person, whom I do not know is, among other things, a human being. And that means that they were created in the image of God. The moment I encounter him or her, I have an obligation to him or her. There is no one — not a single, solitary person — from whom I can completely turn away, and to whom I have no obligation.

These people — these immigrants — who are not, at least not yet, part of our nation are still people. And we have an obligation towards them. We have to welcome them.

We can’t welcome everyone equally, of course. No one is suggesting that we don’t have any Immigration policy — that we open our borders and make everyone and anyone a citizen. But, our starting place has to be one of care and welcoming. We have to work to figure out how we can bring the greatest number of people possible into our country, and into our lives, rather than starting from a place of rejection and isolationism.

It would be incredibly ironic for us, as Jews, to be less than welcoming when it comes to immigration policy. Because, we’ve often been the victim of it. We’ve been the victims of restrictions on our own migrations for centuries. We’ve fled persecution and been told, time and again, “you’re not welcome here.” Even when others were trying to wipe our people off the map, we’ve been told to go somewhere else. Just not here.

And, in less dramatic times, we still had to leave one home to seek a better life elsewhere. Very few of us in the Jewish community have an American heritage which goes back more than a few generations. We are a people of immigrants in a nation of immigrants. It is our repeated memory of being a stranger in a strange land which is supposed to drive our moral dedication to helping others to never feel like strangers themselves. Or, as it says in Leviticus (19:33-34), “When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Because we were strangers, we know how it feels. And so, we are commanded to help other strangers. We have an obligation to immigrants not in spite of the fact that they are strangers, but precisely because of it.

We also have to remember that many immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are among the most vulnerable in our society. And that’s another, perhaps even greater reason that we are obligated to help them. We are told over and over that we are obligated to protect the weak — the Bible commands us to protect the widow and the orphan, because those categories were the weakest, and the most vulnerable, in ancient society.

By contrast, “They’re not my problem” appears exactly never in our text.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the specifics of policy, discussions about “who should get in first” and rhetoric about amnesty and such that we can forget a very basic, fundamental fact: we’re talking about people here. Were talking about people — not “illegals,” but people — who are suffering. People who, perhaps because they came here illegally, are not afforded, or do not know about, the legal protections to which they are entitled. They are exploited and abused, with startling regularity and severity. Even if we hold them accountable for entering this country illegally, it should still shock our moral centers that human beings are treated in this way. Workers are abused physically, and are threatened with deportation should they utter any protest, or seek help. Children are left without their parents, often put in dubious foster care, because their parents were deported, while they weren’t. Husbands and wives are kept apart for years and years because the one who came here, legally or not, doesn’t have the right, or perhaps just the resources, to bring their loved one over. Young women are forced into slavery and the sex trade, because as far as society is concerned, they don’t even exist. It’s an abomination.

As I said, the policy issues are deeply, deeply complicated. And, no one policy, or set of policies, is going to solve all these problems. But, that simply doesn’t give us the right to lose our sense of empathy for people who are suffering. The fact that we can’t make the problem go away in no way diminishes our responsibility to make it better. We have to remember that behind every story, behind every argument, behind every policy debate live real people with real lives. And they’re in real pain.

That, more than anything else, drives my support of Immigration Reform. It is a belief that, flawed, imperfect and incomplete as it will inevitably be, it is a step in the direction of justice, and of mercy. It is a step in the direction of forging a society which more closely holds to the ideals and values set out in our tradition.

Your conscience will tell you how to act, when it comes to laws and policies. Judaism can’t tell you, and neither can I, which candidate to support, or which bill to protest. but, I urge you to do something. Call your Senator, or call your representative. Urge them to act. Urge them to act in a way which will make our country, and our society, a place which welcomes the stranger, protects the weak, and strives to be a shining example of our greatest ideals.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg is rabbi of Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, Florida.  This is a version of the sermon he gave at Congregation Beth Am on Friday, July 19th.

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Israel News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

I Am The Egg (Wo)Man: Reflections on Rosh Chodesh Av with Women of the Wall

“Jerusalem has greatly sinned, therefore she is become a mockery. All who admired her despise her, for they have seen her disgraced;and she can only sigh and shrink back.”

–Eicha (Lamentations) 1:8

The first 9 days of Av are seen in traditional Judaism as days of, if not mourning, then solemnity. We do not feast, we do not celebrate; we are once again living through the days leading up to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And, as many have already noted, one of the most significant statements the rabbis make about that destruction is that the blame cannot be placed on Roman shoulders. Why, they ask, was the Temple destroyed? Because of sinat chinam–baseless hatred. And so Monday morning, as I looked at the faces of the Haredim crowding the Kotel plaza, as I looked at the faces of these men and women who are supposed to be my kinsmen (and women), I felt not anger and not hatred, but deep, deep sadness.

It seems that the same cannot be said from the other side. It is not sadness that compels one Jew–one human being!–to call another Jew a Nazi. It is not sadness that sent a hard-boiled egg flying through the air as a projectile, landing solidly (and not comfortably) on my neck. And it is not sadness that raised male voices to drown ours out.

Talking with a mentor last night, I asked. I asked about the deep anger, and hatred. I said: I just can’t understand. Why? Why such deep anger and hatred? And she, who comes from a far more traditional world than I do, said two things. First, the part I know but hate to acknowledge. There are people–and I refuse to paint the entire Haredi world with one brush, just as I wish they would not paint all liberal Jews with one–in that world who truly believe, to the depths of their soul, that I come to Jerusalem, I come to the Wall, I come to the world, to destroy Judaism.

But, she said something else that, rather than enrage me, gave me some hope. She said that their anger came from a place of fear. That these men and women are looking around and seeing a changing world. They are seeing a world that is increasingly adapt or die, and they choose–time and again–not to adapt. And so I thought back over the faces I saw in that space. And I thought to myself–maybe there is one girl, or one boy, there who looked at us and saw not rodfim, those who seek to do harm to Judaism and the Jewish people, but who saw something new. Maybe there was one boy–or one girl–who looked up and saw in my face, or the face of someone standing next to me, something familiar. Maybe there was one girl–or one boy–who heard in my prayers something exciting. Maybe someone there looked up and saw new possibilities, a different way to live, a living and breathing Judaism.

I happened to be standing next to one of my mentors during the tefillot, and she later shared with me the conversation she had with a little girl standing near her–a rabbi’s daughter. This little girl asked the simplest–and of course most difficult–question to answer. Why, she, asked, were the men on the other side of the barricade trying to drown out our prayers? “The women sing so beautifully,” she said. “Why would they do that?”

IMG_2645The men on the other side of the barricades alternated between screaming and blowing whistles to disrupt us, or simply trying to pray louder. I preferred the latter. Because there was a moment, maybe just before the egg jolted me back to reality, where I was able to live in a different reality–a vision of a Jerusalem that is truly ha-banuyah (rebuilt). In that moment, the voices of women were raised in prayer and song, and the voices of the men were raised as well. And I imagined–just for those moments–that together the voices of Israel, the voices of the Jewish people, reached straight up to heaven.

There is much to be said, and much anger to be shared, over the erasure of women’s voices and women’s bodies from the public sphere in Israel, over what seems to be a campaign by the Haredi community to silence women. There is much to be said, and much anger to be shared, over the role of the Haredi community and the rabbanut in controlling religious life in Israel. There is much to be said, and much anger to be shared, that even despite a clear court ruling, we were barred from the Kotel itself for the first time in 25 years. Others have and will say it better than I can. Because on Monday, for me, anger was not the predominant emotion coursing through my veins. Hatred was not the overriding feeling of the day. Sadness was.

But, that being said, I have to point out the feeling is NOT mutual. Only one side has interest in listening to the other, only one side speaks of shared space, and only one side uses vehement hate speech and physical violence to stake its claim. And the government, despite the progress in court, continues to cater to only the one side, the loudest side. And with all of my idealism, all of my hope–I simply don’t know what to do with that. I don’t know where that can go.

As a Reform Jew, I have long struggled with the meaning and ritual of Tisha B’Av. I have learned and studied over the years; this week at the Hartman Institute, we wrestled with the notions of and texts on communal mourning. I do not wish to see the Temple rebuilt speedily in my day, and so what do I do with this holiday?

Yesterday might have given me an answer. I mourn not for what was, but for what could be and isn’t. I mourn for the fact that I, by virtue of biology, am denied full access to the Kotel. I mourn for the fact that this land that I love, this place whose vision was to be a home for the Jewish people, cannot get itself past a single definition of Judaism–even as its people define themselves in all shades of grey. And I mourn, perhaps most of all, for those voices, male and female, that could be rising up to heaven (or wherever I believe the Divine resides) together, indistinguishable by gender or religious definition, simply united in hope and in comfort, in petition and in praise, in sadness and in joy.

The next Rosh Chodesh we will usher in will be Elul, the month of penitence and preparation for the High Holy Days. I will be back in the United States, though my prayers and heart will be with Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall. And as they–and we–pray the words of Psalm 27:

Only this do I ask of God,

Only this do I seek: to live in the house of Adonai all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of Adonai, to frequent God’s  Temple.

I will be praying that that house, that beauty, is wide and rich and imaginative enough to hold all of us—male, female, Haredi, Reform, and everywhere in between–in one room, with one voice and one vision.

For the sake of Jerusalem I will not, I cannot, I must not be silent.

rabbi_sari_laufer_headshotRabbi Sari Laufer serves Rodeph Sholom Congregation in New York City.

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News Reform Judaism Social Justice

Help Needed Now for People with Disabilities Worldwide: UN Disability Treaty

Hillel, asks, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14)

This month’s U.S. legislative agenda will give Americans with disabilities and their supporters (including we Jews) the opportunity to respond fully to the last two of Hillel’s three questions.  We can respond positively –IF we choose to take part in the current Senate debate regarding the ratification of the UN Disability Treaty.

What seems like yesterday to some of us and a world ago to others, the ADA became the law of the land.  Prior to that, we people with disabilities were treated as second class citizens.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, Americans with disabilities and our friends were “for ourselves” when we for the first time in history became an organized political force.  We did not rest until in 1990 we were given the full rights we U.S. citizens deserved.

No one was “for us” had we not been “for ourselves.” How dare we now sit back and be “only for ourselves,” enjoying our public accommodations or basking in our lawful, if not fully implemented, access to opportunity without looking outside of ourselves, beyond our borders.

We need not look far to see that worldwide not only are basic rights denied to people with disabilities but punishment is incurred simply for being born with or acquiring a disability.  It is tragic that throughout the world people with disabilities are denied fundamental rights.

Drafted in 2006, the UN Disability Treaty officially called “The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” or “CRPD” addresses this worldwide concern.  The UN Disability Treaty gives international affirmation to the rights of people with disabilities to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

In 2009 our UN Ambassador signed the UN Disability Treaty on behalf of the U.S.  As per UN requirements, it now must be ratified by the U.S. legislature.  By U.S. law that means it takes a two-thirds majority senate vote.

Last winter, your voices helped bring the CRPD to a vote in the Senate, where it disappointingly failed by just five votes.  This summer, the Disability Treaty is to be considered for ratification once again by the U.S. Senate.

Therefore, we must define Hillel’s “what we are” by once again speaking out loudly – this time for those other than ourselves.  We all must educate our communities to write letters, make calls or actually visit senators and tell them, “You must vote YES to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities!”

We must especially urge all Republicans to vote “yes” and we must communicate our support of the “yes” leanings of Democrats.

We have many Americans who are “for us” now – Americans with and without disabilities. Let us take their hands.  Lead them to do what’s right.

The Disability Treaty is based on U.S. law.  The United States needs to continue to lead this effort on a global scale. According to UN procedure, the U.S. cannot formally have a leadership place at the table if we do not ratify it.

Those forces that oppose the Convention are small but mighty.  Senators are receiving 100 “anti” letters to one “pro” letter.  Many use unfounded religious reasons for opposition so we need to use our religious voices when we urge our senators to vote “Yes.”

And we must all ask ourselves, “If not now, when?”

Here are 3 easy ways you can help pursue justice for the one billion people around the world who live with a disability:

  1. Email your Senators, and urge those in your community to do the same. If you’d like sermon starters or talking points, let the RAC know.
  2. Your Senator will be home this week for the July 4th recess. Set up a meeting to speak with your Senator by calling his/her office.  To find your senators’ local office information, please go to: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm    This meeting can have exponentially more effect than an email or a phone call. If you’d like talking points or tips for the meeting, the RAC would be happy to help you out!
  3. The press can amplify your voice. Submit a letter to the editor or an op-ed to your local papers. The Religious Action Center has sample language you can use and can help you place the article as well.

Thank you for your continued support towards equal opportunity and full inclusion for all. With your help, we hope to see our country step up once again to its role as a global civil rights leader.

If you have any questions or for more information, please feel free to email RAC Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Raechel Banks at rbanks@rac.org  or call 202.387.2800 to speak with Raechel.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s senior adviser on disability issues, co-chair of the Jewish Disability Network and co-chair of the Committee on Disability Awareness and Inclusion of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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News Reform Judaism Social Justice

On This Side of History – A Personal Reflection on Marriage Equality

What does it feel like
when a human-made law
tells you your relationship isn’t worth as much as that of others
even when you’ve been together 10 years, 20 years, 60 years?
What does it feel like for your religious marriage ceremony to not be backed by your government?

Before today, I couldn’t tell you, because it was too oppressive,
and I didn’t want to explore the pressures it forced upon my life.

But today, on this side of history, I can say
that the Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013
feel like sunshine breaking through the clouds.
That the Creator is shining down
renewing the covenantal promise
that we are indeed created in the Divine image.
It feels like a heavy rush hour traffic suddenly clearing
and all road blocks have been taken away.
It feels like we are 10,000 feet up and now free to move about the cabin.
It feels like news that a disease has gone into remission.

One of life’s major obstacles have been removed
and instead of our government working against our family unit,
it is supporting it, rooting for us.

It feels like we are marching through the parted waters of the Red Sea,
on our way to freedom.

It feels like people have confidence in our ability to make the world a beautiful place,
instead of begrudgingly tolerating us.

It feels like justice.
It feels like intentional, sincere hugs and cheers.
It feels joyous, empowering and deeply affirming.

It feels like we are a true part of the community and that we are blessed.

Rabbi Heather Miller serves several congregational communities in Los Angeles, CA. Prior to ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2008, she majored in Peace and Justice Studies and Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. She and her wife, Melissa de la Rama, were named the 2013 Liberty Hill Foundation “Leaders to Watch.” Learn more at www.rabbiheathermiller.com.

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Ethics General CCAR Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

An Historic Day for Equality

Today is a true historic day! A moment when you can feel the chains of bondage breaking. The Supreme Court has ruled that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is dead. The Gay and Lesbian married couples cannot be denied federal rights and benefits. And Proposition 8, the hateful ballot proposition in California that went into affect in November 2008 taking away the right to marry is also history. The court ruled that the people who sponsored Prop 8 who took the case to court when the State of California Governor and Attorney General refused to sponsor the court case, had no standing to do so. Thus Prop 8 which was declared void and unconstitutional by a lower court ruling is just that unconstitutional.

While the Supreme Court avoided ruling on a sweeping marriage equality platform across the United States, the ruling means that now in 13 states (including CA) and the District of Columbia where marriage is legal, the Feds must recognize that marriage in the over 1138 rights and benefits and privileges at the Federal level.

The marriage equality fight isn’t over in the United States. There are many places where gay men and lesbians cannot legally wed. And there are 33 states in the US where you can still be fired for being gay! That is why it is time for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass the House and Senate. The marriage equality and adoption rights must still be fought state by state.

We aren’t full citizens yet. But today for sure… a little more.

I am grateful to God for this day. A day of blessing for sure. A day where we feel God’s justice showering down upon us and encouraging each of to continue the work of Tikkun Olam-repairing a broken world.

Rabbi Denise Eger is Vice President and President Elect of CCAR.  She is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami of West Hollywood, CA.  

This blog originally appeared on walking humbly. seeking justice. living with hope.

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Ethics General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice Statements

Reform Movement Welcomes Ruling in Marriage Equality Cases

Reform Movement leaders issued a statement today in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality in the cases Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The following statement comes from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is a significant victory for the protection of Americans’ civil rights. No longer will lesbian and gay couples remain invisible to the federal government; no longer should there be doubt about the legal legitimacy of these partnerships.

 

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which we vigorously opposed when it was first considered, has been an offensive and discriminatory measure since its passage in 1996. Since then millions have been denied fundamental rights because of the impact of this ill-advised law. Though that law still stands, today’s ruling in Windsor v. United States promises to lessen some of its most damaging effects. By striking down Article Three of DOMA – a section of the law that the Obama Administration stopped defending several years ago – the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples.

 

Sadly, too many couples across America are still denied the fundamental right to marry. The Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively expands that right to tens of millions more Americans. The Court missed an opportunity to take a stronger stand for marriage equality today, yet it is a step toward greater civil rights for millions of Americans.

 

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

 

Inspired by our Movement’s longstanding commitment to civil rights, we joined in amicus briefs to the Court in both the Perry and Windsor cases. We look forward to the day when full civil marriage equality is the law throughout the country, reflecting our nation’s historic commitment to the civil rights of every individual. In the meantime, today’s decisions will inspire us to continue to seek justice for all.

 

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General CCAR Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

The Time for Immigration Reform – Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Advocating in Ohio

This blog post is excerpted from the prepared remarks shared on Friday, June 21, 2013 by Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, Senior Rabbi of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in a meeting with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, convened together with Rabbi Rick Block (CCAR President and Senior Rabbi of The Temple – Tifereth Israel in Cleveland, Ohio), Rabbi Lewis Kamrass (Senior Rabbis of Isaac M. Wise Temple of Cincinnati, Ohio), and a broad coalition of supporters of comprehensive immigration reform in the US. Coalition partners included: HOLA, NAACP, Global Cleveland, American Nursery Alliance, University Hospital, National Latino Evangelical Churches, Hispanic Roundtable, Huntington Bank and America’s Voice each conveyed their support to the Senator of the current bill before the Senate. Partners in the Jewish community included the American Jewish Committee board leadership who also contributed abundantly to the success of the meeting in terms of the Jewish community voice to Senator Portman.

Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk and Rabbi Rick Block, who serves as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, spoke emphatically and in solidarity with other many Ohio rabbis and the Rabbis Organizing Rabbis affiliate within the Central Conference of American Rabbis. They each urged Senator Portman about the stakes seen in this moment to change in the current system, and the desire of Jewish American citizens to see progress made. Rabbi Rick Block urged the Senator to not see the “perfect” as the enemy of the “good” in his deliberations on the bill and to take steps to assure its passage. In addition, Joy Friedman, Senior Organizer from Just Congregations, a division of the Union for Reform Judaism joined these rabbis at the meeting and offered resources and data points to the Senator about substantial support within the Reform Jewish movement nationally.

Senator Portman, my name is Rob Nosanchuk. I am Senior Rabbi of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple and I am here with Rabbi Rick Block of The Temple Tifereth Israel, Rabbi Lewis Kamrass from Wise Temple in Cincinnati and Joy Friedman, of the Union for Reform Judaism. We recognize the gravity of this particular moment in the U.S. Senate. We approach you to ask that you stand in alliance with the coalition meeting with you today, in advocating strongly for a just solution to the broken U.S. immigration system.

As Jews, our heritage is one of lifting up values of justice and compassion. Our efforts to exhort are congregants as rabbis are built on the idea that Judaism emphasizes both dinand rachamim, both strictness to the law and mercy that we ask God to look upon human efforts. As Jews we believe that it is our task to approach situations in which we find no one acting with humane instincts, environments situations which defy humane understanding, and that in those environments we strive to give of our humanity.

Today our heritage over generations of immigrants leaves us to ask- what to do with the freedom we have been given? Where can we find sources to lift up justice and freedom?

But it is difficult to answer those questions. For justice can’t easily be located in today’s immigration system, which you’ve as much as agreed today is broken. It is not even a system. It is a non-system!

  • There’s no fairness offered to the millions of undocumented immigrants who, because we have failed in the past to make a difference in the public square on this issue, have been living in the illegalities of society.
  • There’s no goodness in the offing for the 5,000 children of immigrants forced into the foster care system.
  • There’s no equality in the system for LGBT Americans who are deemed illegitimate to protect a spouse or partner the way others can.

So we as Jews and as Rabbis feel commanded to fix this broken system and do our part in helping you to lead on this issue and to fulfill the legislation once it is signed and passed.  For we believe that the legislation before you, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, is a crucial way to begin to address the problems I’ve mentioned and that you’ve outlined. We believe it is consistent with the humane and compassionate ideals we write and teach about to thousands of your constituents, and we commend you on your feeling that you want a comprehensive bill, and say to you that you should vote for the most just most fair comprehensive immigration bill that is placed before you.

I remember meeting you Senator a couple of years ago at an event where we each spoke acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. We exchanged letters after that gathering. I remember the image you spoke of that day of remembering your travel back after 9/11 to be with your family and community in Ohio. You spoke of the feeling of profound pride and unity you had while watching Ohio first responders driving on the same highway toward New York, contributing with every fiber of their being to the acts of life affirmation, of healing and saving and redeeming lives.

I have held that image with me, when I think of you. I ask you today to hold on to that feeling of unity, to remember the idea you had on 9/11 that even during those perilous days, there is nothing we cannot be responsive to as a nation when we draw from what unites us. The first responders that ran from departments across the nation to help address the crisis in New York did not wait to secure the best reimbursement system. They had no idea whether there would be any real positive outcome for their extraordinary efforts. But they knew that people in our society were in harm’s way and that a time comes to decide to get involved in promoting safety and decency and justice, no matter the price.

Senator Portman, we urge you to lead and then to exhort legislators you know in the House, to lead and pass this bill, and to address some of your specific concerns when this bill goes to a conference between the branches. For this is just such a moment. Americans are counting on our leaders to get something done, in a productive, healing, just and redemptive path. This is a moment for you Senator, to be among those first responders to a broken system and promote a path that is more just and compassionate.

Thank you for your time and for meeting with our coalition!

Categories
Ethics Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Lobbying for Immigration in Sacramento: Reform CA in Action

What does it mean to be part of a movement? What could it look like if we actually moved together?

On Thursday May 23rd forty-two Californian Reform Jews answered that question as we gathered in Sacramento for a day of lobbying and learning. A beautiful mix of clergy and community members, we took our message of justice and equality to the State Capitol. Our day was filled with individual lobby visits to thirty Assembly Members and state Senators as well as a meeting with Governor Brown’s office and with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. That morning, as we stood together on the steps of the Capitol, preparing ourselves for this ambitious day of meetings, we offered words of prayer. Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff from Stockton reminded us that although we pray in separate synagogues, we offer the same words, to the same God, for the same reasons. As we sang Shehecheyanu, we not only thanked God for bringing us to the Capitol to do justice, we thanked God for bringing us together as a movement.

It was the first lobby day of Reform CA, a new initiative for the California Reform Movement to act powerfully together for justice in our state. Over the past 18 months, more than 120 Reform rabbis and communities have come together to create Reform CA with a goal of restoring the California dream.  Once upon a time, California represented openness, fairness, and equality; progressive thought, investment in education and infrastructure, and cutting edge innovation. A family could move to our state, afford a home, send their children to excellent, publicly-funded schools and colleges, and find meaningful, well-paying jobs. Some of us remember living the California dream, while others of us grew up hearing stories of the California that once was. As a project of all the social justice initiatives of the Reform Movement: the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Just Congregations, we feel called to come together as a Movement to play a role in repairing the California dream. We are joining with one another to address systemic issues of injustice that hurt our families and our brothers and sisters across lines of race, class, and faith. As Rabbis who were ordained together and work down the street from one another, it took Reform CA and our collective passion to act for justice to bring us together and reignite within us the that flame of partnership.

We were in Sacramento to press for just immigration reform in our state, specifically passage of the TRUST Act, which would remedy the effect of the Secure Communities program, a federal law which has created a climate of fear in the immigrant community and has adversely affected law enforcement’s ability to make our towns, cities and state safer. Currently, immigrants picked up by police for minor misdemeanors – something as small as a broken taillight – can be held for deportation. The TRUST Act will help address the shortcomings in our current immigration system by permitting deportation holds on undocumented immigrants only if they have a serious or violent felony. This legislation will restore the trust between immigrant communities and local police and aid the continued fighting of crime in California’s towns and cities.

We learn in Pirke Avot, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” but our immigrant brothers and sisters are forced to live in the shadows and separate themselves from the community and the California dream. We hope that we will continue to march together on the path of justice as we exit the walls of our individual institutions and join together as a unified movement.

 Rabbi Rachel Timoner is Associate Rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles, CA.

Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is Associate Rabbi at University Synagogue, Los Angeles, CA.

 

Reform CA Sacramento Lobby Day

 

Categories
CCAR on the Road General CCAR Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis: Immigration Reform Lobby Day in DC

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Lobby Day in DC

(The CCAR “Gang of Ten”: Rabbis Michael Namath, Baht Weiss, Sam Gordon, Esther Lederman, Greg Litcofsky, Ari Margolis, David Adelson, RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser, and Seth Limmer)

 It started as a question: as part of our Rabbis Organizing Rabbis campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, would colleagues be interested in journeying to Washington, D.C. for a Rabbinic Lobby Day on Capitol Hill?  If so, would Senators and their staffs be willing to meet with national representatives of CCAR, even from out of state? If so, would we as rabbis be able to make any impact on the success of the legislation’s passage through Congress?

The answer to all these questions, I discovered on our first Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Lobby Day,  is a resounding: YES.

May 22 was an auspicious date for many reasons. We knew it was one of the final days Senators would be in town before their June recess.  We knew we had a team of ten colleagues taking trains, planes and automobiles to meet up at our Religious Action Center.  But we didn’t realize that late in the evening on May 21 the Senate Judiciary Committee would vote S. 744 [the bi-partisan bill for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, or CIR] out of committee by a margin of 13-5.  When we entered the halls of Congress, our Senators all knew that a vote on CIR was coming their way.

After a thorough prep session at the RAC, our day began by meeting Senator Daniel Bennet [D-CO], one of the members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” who championed CIR.  Led by David Saperstein (and together with our allies from the UUAA) we thanked Senator Bennet for his leadership, asked him how we could help ensure the passage of the Bill, and charged him (as he was happy to hear) to “get this work done”.

From that session, our own CCAR “Gang of Ten” fanned out over Capitol Hill to meet in smaller groups with the offices of  seven key senators.  We heard interesting messages from two other members of the Gang of Eight with whom we met: Dick Durbin [D-IL] charged us to help secure the vote of his IL colleague, Mark Kirk [R-IL]; Robert Menendez directed our focus to the House of Representatives, where his staff feels this legislation will face serious and sustained opposition.  Angus King [I-ME] also reiterated a call to ensure the overwhelming passage of CIR in the Senate to put real pressure on the House.

Our teams also scheduled appointments with Senators whose previous statements and records led us to believe we would have to work hard to gain their support. In many ways, it was in these sessions where the real learning of the day took place, and where the greatest optimism was found.  Joe Donnelly [D-IN], heavily influenced by the support the Catholic Conference of Bishops has put behind CIR, was encouraged to hear more faith groups speak of the moral arguments for the legislation he is leaning to support.  His colleague, Dan Coats [R-IN, who had expressed dismay for President Obama’s DREAM act], turns out to be focused on the realism of CIR’s border-security measures, but seeks a comprehensive solution and is very open to the possibility of supporting S. 744.  (Coat’s Legislative Director especially asked us to be vocal on the issue of why this bill didn’t provide “amnesty”, as that was the biggest negative public perception he felt his office needed to overcome.)  Kay Hagan [D-NC], one of five Democrats who voted against the DREAM act, wouldn’t commit to a position, as she faces re-election in a state turning towards the other party.  It was curious that we felt more encouraged by our meetings with “swing”  Republicans than Democrats…..

The most interesting meeting of the day was with the office of Mark Kirk [R-IL].  The importance of Kirk’s leadership in widening the bipartisan support for CIR could be crucial, we had been told when meeting with Durbin’s staff.  So it was with great hope and a sense of urgency that Chicago’s own Rabbi Sam Gordon began our session setting forth a compelling case.  As conversations continued, we learned that Senator Kirk was open to supporting S. 744, and potentially even inclined to do so.  The early and vocal advocacy of the faith community, we were told, was a large reason why.  As the meeting became more and more encouraging, I felt emboldened to share the following with the Senator: thanks to Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, we already have a network of sixteen committed colleagues throughout Illinois who are poised to come out and support and help Senator Kirk arrive at (and keep to) the right vote on this issue.  Sam Gordon listed the many cities in which Rabbis Organizing Rabbis can really make a very public difference for the Senator, and Kirk’s people widened their eyes at the opportunities, took business cards, and pledged to be in touch.

I learned a lot from a tremendously full day in D.C.  From Rachel Laser and the RAC Staff, I learned how important it was, before going to Wasington, to advocate publicly on a local level (I was fortunate enough to have an Op-Ed published on Immigration Reform in the Jewish Week).  Sitting with Senators and showing them my public commitment and leadership definitely made a difference.  From my Just Congregations community organizing training I learned how having people on the ground in states gave us greater power and opportunity when talking with Senators.  From the Senators and staffers with whom we shared such fascinating conversations, I came to understand how much of a real difference it makes in the policy and legislation of our nation that we as rabbis went door-to-door on Capitol Hill.

And, lastly, I learned how invigorating it was to walk through the halls of Congress with my colleagues, making a real difference in the governance of our country and the ways its people are able to enjoy justice, peace and civil liberties.  I can’t wait to do it again.

 Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of 
Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, New York.