Beginning in August, the Reform Movement will join the NAACP on America’s Journey for Justice—an historic 860-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. The Religious Action Center is organizing hundreds of rabbis in partnership with the NAACP for the Journey, which will mobilize activists and advance a focused advocacy agenda that protects the right of […]Read more
In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. would increase the number of refugees admitted to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: We welcome Secretary Kerry’s announcement that the U.S. will increase the […]Read more
Summer 2015 was a historic and momentous summer: we applauded when the Supreme Court affirmed key tenets of the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell; we welcomed the much overdue new LGBT inclusion bill when it was introduced in Congress; and we were called to action by the Pope’s encyclical as an interfaith rallying cry to combat climate change. […]Read more
It’s that time of year! The newest class of Eisendrath Legislative Assistants arrived at the RAC two weeks ago, and jumped right into the Washington, D.C. world of politics, advocacy and social justice. We are so looking forward to what they will do and accomplish for tikkun olam this year. Clockwise from the top left:Read more
By Rabbi Fred Guttman
Adapted from a speech given on September 3, 2015 at a rally for voting rights in Raleigh, NC.
At this time of the year, Jewish people throughout the world hear the sounds of the rams horn or what we call the shofar. In ancient times, the shofar was used to announce the coming of the Sabbath and the beginning of a new lunar month. It was also used by guards on city walls to announce that the city was under attack. Read more…
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes
When the call came to drop everything and fly cross-country to highlight the racial injustice that still exists in America, nearly 200 Reform rabbis answered. We put personal and work lives on hold to retrace the steps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery and beyond. Read more…
When the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice began in Selma, AL, on August 1, the Reform Movement was there as a partner and ally.
This historic 860-mile march in which nearly 200 Reform rabbis and activists are participating, will culminate in Washington, D.C. on September 16. Throughout, the marchers are demonstrating to our nation’s leaders that Americans from a diverse array of faiths and backgrounds share a commitment to racial justice, and that it is past time for passage of legislation that will help bring the United States closer to its founding ideals of equality for all. Read more…
On Saturday night, legendary civil rights leader Julian Bond passed away at the age of 75. Mr. Bond spent his life fighting for social justice—he was a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a longtime chairman of the NAACP. His loss is felt deeply by advocates, activists, national leaders and all those whose lives have been shaped – whether they know it or not – by his pursuit of justice. Read more…
In response to the news late last month that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had ended its controversial ban against gay scout leaders, the Commission on Social Action (CSA) of Reform Judaism sent a memo last week to all of the nearly 900 Union for Reform Judaism member congregations, informing them their 2001 recommendation that congregations not sponsor BSA troops has been rescinded. While the new BSA policy is an important step forward for LGBT equality, some concerns remain. The text of that memo can be found below.
In 2001, the Commission on Social Action sent a memo to all URJ congregations and CCAR Rabbis concerning the Boy Scouts of America policy of discrimination against gay scouts and scout masters. The memo stated, “While we maintain our hope that the Boy Scouts of America will abandon its discriminatory policies, its lack of response to the many expressions of disagreement and disappointment with the policies gives us little basis for optimism. Therefore, and with pain, we must recommend that congregations sponsoring/housing troops/packs withdraw sponsorship of a troop/pack and/or stop housing one.”
We took this position based on the URJ and CCAR’s longstanding commitment to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and our support for full equality of gays and lesbians in all aspects of congregational and civic life. As a result, the overwhelming number of Reform congregations that had a relationship with the BSA severed those ties.
On July 27, 2015 the Boy Scouts of America voted to adopt a policy change in their leadership standards for adults. The new policy states: “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.” This policy change builds on a previous policy adopted by the BSA in 2013 opening its ranks to gay youth.
The BSA’s new leadership standards for adults is a positive step reflecting the fact that leadership ability is never determined by sexual orientation. It assures that gay youth in the scouting movement will see themselves reflected in positive adult role models. Scouts for Equality, an organization composed largely of Boy Scouts of America alumni dedicated to ending the BSA’s ban on gay members and leaders, hailed the policy change. Zach Wahls, SFE’s Executive Director, said in a statement, “We’re calling on gay Eagle Scouts, parents who are straight allies, non-profit organizations who support LGBT equality and anyone else who has walked away from the Boy Scouts to rejoin the fold. Together, we can build a stronger, more inclusive Scouting movement.” ￼￼
There are however, two areas where the CSA continues to have concerns about BSA policy:
1. The new BSA leadership standard for adults applies only to non-religious chartered BSA units. As the BSA’s website explains: The Boy Scouts of America issues charters to civic, faith-based, and educational organizations to operate scouting units to deliver the programs to their youth members, as well as the community at large. Over 100,000 scouting units are owned and operated by chartered organizations. Of these:
- 71.5 percent of all units are chartered to faith-based organizations.
- 21.3 percent of all units are chartered to civic organizations.
- 7.2 percent of all units are chartered to educational organizations.
That means that 71.5% of units will still be allowed, if they so wish, to bar gay leaders. Different denominations, based on their faith teachings, will make their own internal decisions about what their leadership policies will be. However, at the national level, and among all non- religious chartered BSA units, no discrimination is allowed.
2. The new BSA leadership standard is silent about the participation of transgender individuals. Although the participation of transgender scouts and leaders was not part of the concerns the Commission on Social Action raised in our 2001 memo, changing times and understandings of gender and gender identity compel us to note with concern BSA’s silence on this issue. We will continue to urge the BSA to have a fully inclusive policy for scouts and leaders.
After considering the BSA policy change, the response from advocates within the scouting community generally and in particular, Scouts for Equality as a leading voice within the gay scouting community, the Commission on Social Action has concluded that if a URJ congregation wishes to re-establish ties with the BSA and host a fully inclusive and welcoming unit, it should do so. However, we note with great concern the fact that some religiously chartered BSA units will continue to discriminate against gay leaders. We will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive and welcoming BSA for leaders and scouts who are gay and/or transgender, and we encourage those synagogues who elect to rejoin the BSA to participate whole-heartedly in this effort.
The Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism is a joint body of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism and its affiliates that seeks to apply the insights of Jewish tradition to domestic and foreign issues of social justice.
Last July, I packed up all of my bags, loaded up the trunk of my dad’s car, and made the trek from New England to move to Washington D.C. and begin my post-collegiate professional life.
While I’ve been enjoying the past year in the Nation’s Capital, amidst learning WMATA and running routes, dashing between meetings, enjoying the monuments and museums, it’s impossible not to see the rampant inequality in the District. In Dupont Circle alone, just blocks from the RAC’s office on Kivie Kaplan Way, too many people experiencing homelessness camp out at night, not sure where else to go in the hazy humidity of a D.C. summer or during the winter nights before the federal government closes for a snow day.
On September 25, Pope Francis will speak to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City as the members determine the new Sustainable Development Goals. These goals will guide global leaders in finding a way forward for international development. The Sustainable Development Goals are being finalized this September ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change happening in Paris this December. Both UN gatherings are happening in the wake of global temperature rise, sea level rise, increased droughts and flooding, all due to climate change.
Our Jewish tradition is full of journeys, from the very beginning of our sacred texts. Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden; Noah’s Ark and his aquatic sojourn – while these are not explicit commandments from God, they are journeys for these Biblical figures. Later, in parashat Lech Lecha (literally, “go” or “leave”), God commands Abraham “go from your land … to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 17:27). Later on, we read of Moses’ journey from Egypt to Midian, back to Egypt, and then his leadership of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent wandering in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Ruth leaves Moab with Naomi to a new land, Israel, where she is a stranger, and finds a new life. Over the course of millennia, Jewish individuals and the Jewish people have journeyed, whether by choice, whether by command from God, whether by necessity due to forced exile, anti-Semitism or more modern crises, such as the pogroms.
Journeys, both literal and figurative, are familiar to us as Jews. Journeys are not easy, and the miles walked and the distances covered illustrate for us the challenges and struggles of the time.