Public Figures Speak to Reform Values at Consultation
When it comes to politicians addressing Jewish organizational
conferences, I can be pretty jaded, having heard more than my share of
talks so tailored to a particular group’s interests that it’s clear
that someone in the group had a hand in the speech.
I didn’t feel that way on Tuesday afternoon.
That’s when Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) gave the last speech of the
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on
Conscience. Her remarks came after a crazy afternoon with RAC
officials doing some soft-shoe shuffling as members of Congress — who
had to vote on legislation that day — either were late, or came, left
and came back again.
But when she took to the stage, McCarthy, a fierce gun control
advocate who no doubt has made her remarks hundreds of times in the
past, had the room spellbound as she told of her unlikely entrance
Her story is well known: Her husband was murdered and her son severely
wounded in a gunman’s attack on the Long Island Railroad back in 1993.
“Dennis is dead,” McCarthy’s brother told her as she arrived home that
evening, “and Kevin is in surgery and might not make it.”
A nurse by training, McCarthy was later told her son had only a 5 to
15 percent chance of surviving. She determined that not only would he
survive, but he would learn to talk and walk again — something that
gives her hope for her friend Rep. Gabriel Giffords’ recovery.
When McCarthy’s member of Congress voted for the repeal of the federal
assault weapons ban, a reporter asked her how angry she was. So angry,
said this feisty woman, that “I’m going to run for Congress.”
She did, won in 1996 and has been fighting for gun control ever since.
“I’ve been trying to get this country to wake up and see what violence
McCarthy wasn’t the only member of Congress to address the RAC on
Tuesday: Jared Polis (D-Colo.) spoke of his signature education reform
efforts, while Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) primarily focused on the
federal budget and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the budget and health
Polis lamented that a good education shouldn’t depend on zip code and
income level, and argued that measuring a school’s effectiveness means
more than looking at test scores, but seeing how much students
progress once they enter a given school.
Pelosi said the affordable health care bill “honors the legacy of
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and that a budget should
be a statement of our values.
Schakowsky picked up on that same theme, pointing to the huge income
gap between the richest of the rich and the rest of us. Fixing the
deficit, she said, shouldn’t be done “on the backs of those who had
nothing to do with creating the deficit.”
Sister Helen Prejean, best known for the book and eponymous film, Dead Man Walking,
told of her journey toward fighting against the death penalty. She
called for a “bond” between Catholics and Jews in fighting against the
The words consciousness and conscience are very close to one another,
she told the crowd: “When our conscience tells us something is wrong,
our consciousness says, what are you going to do about it?”
That, in essence, is the RAC’s mission, isn’t it?