Rabbi David Saperstein Nominated to Key State Department Post

On Monday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David to serve as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. I wrote a letter to the Reform Jewish community about this: I have long said that Rabbi David Saperstein is a national treasure. I am pleased and proud, but not surprised, that President Obama […]

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Barbara Weinstein

This Week at the RAC: New LA Class, ROR Victory, Statement on Events in Ferguson

The Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Class of 2014-2015 began work on Tuesday and is deep into the orientation program. This is my favorite time of year, when the new LAs infuse the office with their energy and enthusiasm, but also because it’s an excuse for me to invite former LAs back to the RAC to teach […]

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Toxic Testing in the Class Room

“Whatever valuable information testing mandates provided have been completely overshadowed by the enormous collateral damage inflicted on too many students. Our schools have been reduced to mere test prep factories and we are too-often ignoring student learning and opportunity in America.”- NEA President Dennis Van Roekel The National Education Association recently hosted the Annual Meeting […]

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Text of HR 1447, Death in Custody Reporting Act

Take Action to Support Transparency in the Criminal Justice System!

The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (H.R. 1447) is crucial legislation that will provide much-needed transparency in the criminal justice system. The law would require and facilitate the collection of information regarding the deaths of prisoners in custody, alleviating the environment of suspicion, concern and mistrust that exists today in many racial and ethnic minority […]

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Concern for Religious Minorities Around the World

On Tuesday, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress published this Op-Ed in the New York Times, callingfor a collective voice standing in defense of the Christian minority being persecuted for their religious beliefs in Iraq and the Middle East.

He writes, “In a speech before thousands of Christians in Budapest in June, I made a solemn promise that just as I will not be silent in the face of the growing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe and in the Middle East, I will not be indifferent to Christian suffering. Historically, it has almost always been the other way around: Jews have all too often been the persecuted minority. But Israel has been among the first countries to aid Christians in South Sudan. Christians can openly practice their religion in Israel, unlike in much of the Middle East.”

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A Yom Kippur Bone Marrow Donation Story

I joined the bone marrow registry at a Gift of Life drive when I was a first year at UNC-Chapel Hill. The NC Hillel director at the time, Or Mars, also joined the registry that day. While I have been hoping ever since to be someone’s match, that day has yet to come. Though I’m not destined to be a match (yet), it’s remarkable how the stars have still seemed to align in other ways almost ten years later. I manage the RAC-Gift of Life partnership, and specifically, spend a lot of my time helping congregations across the US organize bone marrow drives on Yom Kippur. As you’ll read below, Or became a match for a young boy a few years after swabbing. Amazingly, his story is deeply intertwined with Yom Kippur, and to top it off, his wife is a rabbi at a participating Yom Kippur congregation this year!

Enjoy his story below, and be in touch with me to learn about all the ways to get involved with our partnership with Gift of Life.


“In August 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to be a bone marrow donor for a 7 year-old boy suffering with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. It is a very rare disease and often fatal, unless treated with a bone marrow transplant. I was a perfect match for this unknown boy and was asked to be a bone marrow donor. Throughout the donation process, Gift of Life took care of everything involved with this mitzvah, including expenses. I just had to show up and they lovingly chaperoned me the rest of the way.

A few days before Rosh HaShanah, I donated my bone marrow to this nameless boy. The process took an hour, and I was back in my hotel room by that afternoon with very little discomfort. Ten days later I was told that the bone marrow was accepted by the patient’s body. Such good news! He received the donation on Rosh HaShanah – b’Rosh Hashana yikateivu – On Rosh Hashanah it was written. And his body accepted it on Yom Kippur – u’v’yom Tzom Kippur yaychateimu. And on Yom Kippur it was sealed.

A year after the donation, both the recipient and I were able to connect and begin building a relationship. Is started with this letter from his dad:

“We received some wonderful news today – you agreed to release your contact information to us – and we are delighted by the opportunity to meet you and to get to know you.  As you now know, your selfless act saved the life of our then seven-year-old son…As far we are concerned, you and your family are and always will be an integral part of our family.”

On our first phone call, Mikey was very eager to learn what allergies I had – because now that we share the same bone marrow, we also share the same allergies. I was thrilled to tell him that I have no allergies – he doesn’t either now.

I will forever be connected to Mikey and his family. It has been 6 years and we are in regular touch. We visit each other once a year and a few months ago, my family and I were at his bar mitzvah where we were honored with having an aliyah on the Torah.

Being a bone marrow donor through Gift of Life is one of the greatest things I have ever done. The obligation of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) overrides all other obligations in Jewish life. Being given this opportunity allowed me to actualize all of my Jewish values in one act. It is as simple as this….the more of us that are in the registry the better the chances that people with fatal diseases, like Mikey had, will find a match for hope of a cure.”

Or Mars is the Director of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program at The Wexner Foundation. He is married to Rabbi Sharon Mars; she serves as the Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel, whose congregation will be participating in the RAC and Gift of Life’s Yom Kippur Project. They live in Columbus, OH with their three children. For any questions about being a bone marrow donor, please feel free to contact Or at orormarsmars@gmail.com.

Ferguson, statement from Barbara Weinstein

Urgent Need for Justice and Peaceful Resolution of Unrest in Ferguson

Washington, D.C., August 20, 2014 - In response to the unrest in Ferguson, MO, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We, like so many across the U.S. and indeed the world, have watched the unrest in Ferguson, MO with heavy hearts and deep concern. Though the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer are ongoing and assessments about both the public’s reaction and law enforcement’s response are essential, what is already clear is that in Ferguson, the relationships between law enforcement, public officials and community members have been terribly damaged by mistrust. At the same time, persistent and widening economic inequality has also contributed to deep communal frustration.

Sadly, these circumstances are not unique to Ferguson. The challenges of racial divides and mistrust that afflict communities across the U.S. are a tragic emblem of how much work remains to be done to overcome divisions rooted in our nation’s history and the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities. As the gap between the rich and the poor widens in America, these economic inequalities are having a detrimental effect on communities where opportunities are shrinking every day.

Efforts to remedy these challenges require both short- and long-term commitments. Law enforcement must swiftly, fully and justly investigate the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death even while respecting and protecting the rights of community members who wish to assemble peacefully and express themselves. Communal relationships must be strengthened and we are encouraged that so many Reform congregations, including those in and around St. Louis, are engaged in such interfaith and inter-coalitional efforts. We are proud of our synagogue members and rabbis who have participated in, and supported efforts to keep peaceful, the protests that have taken place in Ferguson. As a Movement, we stand with them and will continue to advocate for policies and practices that address the scourge of racial profiling while promoting opportunity for all. We also continue to work to address those policies that have contributed to the growing economic inequality nationwide with the goal of ensuring that Americans in every community have the foundations they need and the opportunities they deserve to achieve the American Dream.

Let's Move

Let’s Move into a Healthier America  

As someone who has traveled a good amount, I can’t say I’m always proud of some of the American stereotypes that are out there, worst of all – that Americans are overweight. This is more than a stereotype nowadays when one in three children in the United States is either overweight or obese. In order to fight the past few decades’ transition to unhealthy behavior, First Lady Michelle Obama started the Let’s Move Campaign in 2010.

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new legislative assistants, Rachel, Jordan, Liya, Melanie, Claire, Jonathan

Welcome to the 2014-2015 Class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants

We are thrilled to welcome (L-R in the picture) Rachel, Jordan, Liya, Melanie, Claire and Jonathan to the Religious Action Center on their first day as the new Eisendrath Legislative Assistants. Over the next two weeks, the LAs will learn about the RAC, the Reform Movement, and how we do our social justice work within the larger community of advocates in Washington, D.C. This class is as bright, thoughful, and committed to tikkun olam as ever, and we can’t wait to see the work they will accomplish in their year with us!

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Yestel Velazquez family

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis: A Victory for Immigrant Justice

By Joy Friedman 

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (ROR) has good news to share! ROR, 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, has spent the last year and a half working for justice for immigrants and the rights of American citizenship through immigration reform.

Millions of undocumented workers and families in America are forced to live in the shadows due to outdated and discriminatory immigration laws. If Senate Bill 744 had become law, many of those immigrants would have had a path to citizenship. Without the passage of badly needed reform, ​thousands of immigrants are torn from their families every day through deportation. At the spring Commission on Social Action meeting, the CSA approved Rabbis Organizing Rabbis’ new Immigration Reform strategy: defending undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Last week, after quick vetting by the CSA, a minyan of rabbinic ROR leaders made their first foray into deportation defense. Working with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), ROR leaders helped to save Yestel Velazquez, a New Orleans community and civil rights leader, from imminent deportation!

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We the People Bill of Rights

The “Right” Action to Take in Aiding the Homeless

Years ago homelessness was only found on the streets of cities, a phenomenon hidden from rural and suburban towns. However with a population of over 3.5 million people per year, homelessness is an issue that has spread to all areas of the country. Read more…

Leibel Fein

Leonard “Leibel” Fein: Judaism’s Liberal Lion

We have lost a giant: Leonard “Leibel” Fein, patriarch of American Jewish liberalism, RAC Senior Adviser, and former director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, has died at 80. Our grief can no more be summed up than in the endless tributes to Leibel’s gifts and leadership of Jewish causes. Read more…