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This Week at the RAC

It’s been a big few weeks for nominations and I don’t just mean the Oscars or the Golden Globes. On Thursday, President Obama named Jack Lew to serve as Treasury Secretary, replacing Tim Geithner. I’m sure the fact that Lew was a featured speaker at our 2011 Consultation on Conscience was a key factor in the President’s decision. Also announced in recent days were Senator John Kerry to become Secretary of State, John Brennan as CIA Director and former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as Defense Secretary. All of these are positions that will need to be confirmed by the Senate, which will allow a fuller exploration of the nominees’ records in the coming weeks. Speaking of comings and goings, the Israeli embassy reached out to us this week to rebut the reports I referenced in last week’s email about the possible departure of Ambassador Oren. The official comment is that at the moment Ambassador Oren isn’t going anywhere. On Thursday, we hosted and RAC LA Raechel Banks helped organize the Jewish Disability Network’s winter meeting. Ari Ne’eman, President and co-founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, was the featured speaker, focusing on the depth of the challenges the disability community and its advocates face from the fallout of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  Ari recently wrote an op-ed on this topic for the New York Jewish Week. In fact, we spent a big part of the week continuing our response to the Newtown tragedy. We’ve been working with others in the faith and secular advocacy communities, consulting with congressional leaders and the White House, and keeping on the pressure for quick and effective actions. We need your help in two key areas: First, we are coordinating a call-in day to Congress on February 4, urging legislation on gun violence prevention.  We’ll have more info in the coming weeks and days, but get ready to make those calls.  Second, for our rabbis, send your gun-related sermons past or present to your local, state and federal representatives. (And send us a copy too!)

On Friday, our Deputy Director Rachel Laser spoke at an interfaith prayer service marking the 11th anniversary of the first detainees’ arrival at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay and calling on leaders to close the prison. Since its opening, more than seven hundred people have served time at the prison and 166 detainees remain in Guantanamo today. The yearly National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by the President on January 3, included provisions blocking the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the US. President Obama singled out that section for criticism in the statement he issued upon signing the bill.

Next week will be the last of the first term of the Obama administration and inauguration preparation is in full swing. The President will be sworn in using three Bibles. On Sunday, January 20 (the date mandated by the Constitution) he will be sworn in privately using a Bible from the family of his wife, Michelle. On Monday during the public ceremonies, he will take the oath on Bibles used by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Bible is the same one the President used to take the oath in 2009. Today our third group of participants in L’Taken social justice seminars are on the Hill lobbying their members of Congress after a full weekend of learning. After a few weeks off, our staff was rested, energized, and loved the opportunity to welcome students and chaperones.

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Barbara Weinstein

About Barbara Weinstein

Barbara Weinstein is the Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism and Associate Director of the Religious Action Center.

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