Unpacking PM Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress earlier today to oppose the P5+1’s nuclear deal with Iran. The speech has been controversial due to a breach of Speaker of the House John Boehner extended the invitation to speak without consulting President Obama, but many Members of Congress still came to […]

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Snowballs Aside: Climate Change Update

This past week Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball to the Senate floor to demonstrate that climate change was not real. As Jews, we believe in the importance of caring for our earth and passing it on from generation to generation as we pass on our tradition. […]

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FDA Policies Don’t Just Discriminate Against Gay Men

At the end of last year, the FDA announced that it would replace its policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. In December, I wrote a blog […]

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Cities and States Standing Up For Working Families with Paid Sick Days

Over 40 million Americans do not currently have access to paid sick days. We need to take action to ensure that more people do not have to make the difficult choice between going to work and caring for a sick loved one (or themselves), and we have our work cut out for us!

During the State of the Union, President Obama called on states and cities to pass legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick time, and proposed that Congress give all staff six weeks of leave after the arrival or a new child. He also called on Congress to support Department of Labor funding to help states study and explore how to get their own paid leave programs. States and cities have been following this momentum: five cities across the country currently have paid sick days laws. And, over 2015, paid sick days laws will also go into effect in three more California cities and six more in New Jersey

Momentum to pass paid sick days legislation is building as legislators and advocates are working on active campaigns in 20 states and cities around the country.

In an election last Tuesday, 82% of Chicago voters supported paid sick days in response to a non-binding referendum on the city’s ballot. The referendum asked voters if employers in the Chicago should be required to provide paid sick days to their employees.

Earlier in February, the Philadelphia City Council voted in favor of a paid sick leave measure. Though the Philadelphia City Council has voted in support of this measure three times, this is the first time that the legislation has a real chance of getting passed and signed into law by the city’s mayor.

In addition to this municipal work, there is momentum happening on the state level as well. Nine states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin – along with the District of Columbia already allow at least some workers who have paid sick days to use them to care for certain family members. The state of Connecticut has a statewide paid sick days law in effect, and the paid sick day laws in California and Massachusetts will go into effect later this year.

As more cities and states answer the moral call to support their citizens and families with paid sick days, Congress will also be urged to pass similar legislation. Recently, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (S. 497/H.R. 932). The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  People working in a business with fewer than 15 employees would be able to earn up to seven job-protected days of unpaid sick leave annually. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act today!

We need to speak up for the millions of Americans who do not have paid sick days. We are taught that “one who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life” (Baba Metzia 112a). Indeed, in the case of paid sick days, a worker’s pay is directly tied to his/her well-being. These values have inspired the URJ to offer paid sick days to its own employees.

Take action and urge your Members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act today!

Jewish Disability Awareness Month Shmita

By Shelley Christensen

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you . . . (Leviticus 25:3–6)

Having completed six consecutive years of observing Jewish Disability Awareness Months (2009-2015), we now approach the shmita year. In ancient times, shmita meant the land was rested and debts were retired, but what might this practice mean in our time? And what are the indications for our work and mission to suffuse our Jewish culture with the spirit of inclusion throughout the year? Read more…

Lighting Our Lamps With Oil

“You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” reads the first sentence of this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20). While immersed in teaching high school students at NFTY Convention and during L’Taken Social Justice Seminars about the connection between Judaism and environmentalism, reading this sentence struck me. This week’s parshah, which mostly focuses on priestly vestments and making the mishkan, or the Tabernacle, begins with a description of sacred oil. To my contemporary mind, oil translates as a non-renewable energy source that when burned in our cars and power plants produces greenhouse gases and accelerate climate disruption. Read more…

Jewish Disability Awareness Month Logo February 2015

Reflecting on a Meaningful Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

One of the first things I learned about as the legislative assistant working on disability rights was that February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) and that the RAC and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) (as the co-chairs of the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of over two dozen Jewish organizations advocating for disability rights) plan an annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) to coincide with JDAM. However, none of the stories I heard about JDAD nor the planning of it could prepare me for the excitement of the day itself: an the amazing opportunity to see 90 Jews from across the U.S. converge on Capitol Hill to advocate for disability rights on Wednesday.

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As Snow Covers the Northeast, Keeping Those Experiencing Homelessness In Mind

Though I did live in Atlanta for the first few years of my life, the majority of my winters have been spent in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And in Boston, we are used to snow; despite my consistent efforts at the “snow day dance,” I had fewer than 10 snow days while I was in school

So yes, my home state is used to snow, but this winter has been far outside the norm. There have been over 63 inches of snow in the month of February, making it the snowiest month in Boston’s history – and February, the shortest month of the year, isn’t even over yet.

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Jewish Disability Awareness Month Logo February 2015

As JDAM Comes to a Close, Focusing on Israel

As we wrap up Jewish Disability Advocacy Month, we think also of people with disabilities in other countries. Worldwide, 650 million people live with disabilities, more than twice the population of the United States. In Israel, there are over a million children and adults of working age who live with disabilities, according to a report by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute. About one out of every five Jewish Israelis lives with a disability, and about one of four Arab Israelis. Read more…

Tony Westbrook

Balancing Minority Identities

By Tony J. Westbrook, Jr.

“So, you’re Jewish? Like full on Jewish? Like Drake.—Jewish? Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

These are the types of comments I often hear when interacting with new people. I am often surprised by the number of people that feel compelled to ask me if I am Jewish, as if it isn’t obvious from my kippah and tzitzit. I find it interesting that no one has ever said, “It’s funny, you don’t look Black.” The fact of the matter is I am both Black and Jewish (or Jewish and Black). I am a minority within a minority. When people meet me, the most common comment I hear is that I am nothing like they imagined, which leaves me wondering, what exactly do people see when they see me?  Do they see an individual, separate from the images that pervade the media? Do they see an individual who does not fit their narrow view of what it is to be a Jew, or what it is to be a person of color? Am I being thrown into the all Jewish box? The all Black box? Read more…

Education, Action, and Advocacy at NFTY Convention 2015!

Last week I joined the Religious Action Center’s programming team at NFTY Convention 2015 in Atlanta, GA to help lead a social justice track.

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