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 the new class.
In 1987, my parents announced that we were moving from New York to Montreal. I adapted quickly, as kids do, but in truth the cultural gap between the U.S. and Canada wasn’t THAT wide. The radio stations still played Madonna, I watched “The Cosby Show” on NBC broadcasting from Vermont, and I learned to put the “u” in “colour.” I also came to love figure skating, like my Coffee Crisp, and tolerate schools’ obsessive demands that students write in Hilroys (google it).
What I also come to appreciate about my time in Canada was the perspective it gave me on the United States. With distance, I could contrast life in two robust countries, both with strong commitments to democracy, rule of law, rights and liberties, but which have expressed different societal priorities.
In my 13 years at the RAC, I’ve had more than a few memorable days (and nights) at work. I’ve been to bill signings at the White House, gone to a Mexican border town with the Commission on Social Action to see our national immigration challenges up close, and rocked out to some late night concerts at URJ Biennials.
But when people ask me what my best day has been, the answer is easy: April 25, 2004, the day of the March for Women’s Lives. That was the day I literally carried the banner for the URJ – marching with our delegation of nearly 3,000 women and men, congregants and rabbis, WRJ members and NFTYites, and about 300 L’Taken teen social justice seminar participants the RAC happened to be hosting that weekend. Read more…
President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 28 – but before that happens, we want to hear from you! Even amidst Members of Congress jockeying for camera-ready seats and the theatrical cheering at mentions of favored programs, the State of the Union has historically been an important opportunity for Presidents to announce major initiatives that have become part of the fabric of our nation.
Greetings from Washington, DC where the government has finally returned to full force. The WIC program, Head Start and other vital programs that help the poor and vulnerable are no longer at risk (at least right now). And in the “fun and frivolous” category, the National Zoo’s panda-cam is up and running too.
Even amidst the shutdown, we’ve been working on other, non-budgetary issues, including immigration reform. Thursday was a Jewish community call-in day in opposition to the House’s SAFE Act, a truly bad bill that would expand immigrant detention and turn enforcement of immigration laws over to state and local law enforcement, which the Supreme Court affirmed (in Arizona v. U.S.) is a federal responsibility. You can read Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Charlie Arnowitz’s update about the SAFE Act or send an email to your representative.
If it’s true that as California goes, so goes the nation, the future of immigration reform is a little brighter. Last weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act, which means that undocumented residents can now only be held for deportation if they have committed a specified serious or violent crime. The bill was the focus of the first advocacy effort by Reform CA, staffed by Just Congregations’ Stephanie Kolin with the leadership of CSA chair Jennifer Kaufman and CSA member Joel Simonds, among others. Check out the press release celebrating the bill’s enactment.
And speaking of immigration, for a refreshing take on this issue from above the 49th parallel, I enjoyed this op-ed in the Globe and Mail by Clément Gignac, a former minister in Quebec’s government. Gignac argues for the many economic and social benefits immigrants bring to Canada, from helping to sustain healthy levels of population growth to boosting the labor force.
Last week much of the staff spent time at the URJ’s Kutz Camp. The first part of the week was a gathering of 130 URJ staffers from the various departments, with the goal of strengthening our working relationships. There were creative programs, interesting lectures, and time to schmooze informally and get to know each other better.
The second part of the week was focused on youth programming, and our program team of Michael Namath, Allison Porton, Laura Gorsky and Tanya Nathan worked with the NFTY and camp teams to better integrate the many great opportunities our Movement provides for youth and teens. And because we didn’t have enough together time this week, today the RAC program team is meeting offsite with the LAs for some extended professional development.
This week wraps up the fall holiday season, and in true RAC fashion, we were in full celebration mode. On Tuesday, we welcomed scores of friends of the RAC and former staff and interns to a pizza party lunch. As we do each year, we decorated our Sukkah with signs honoring social justice leaders. It was inspiring to look around the space and see posters with the names of not just well-known luminaries (such as Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King, Jr.), but also the non-famous who have worked in D.C. and elsewhere to better the lives of others.
Last week, Rachel Laser wrote a piece in the Huffington Post sharing some personal reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. It’s a lovely story abouthow the March helped strengthen her renewed friendship with a childhood classmate.