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.
Chag sameach! I hope you’re enjoying Sukkot as the Fall parade of Jewish holidays continues. Under the expert leadership of Michael Namath, we built our sukkah on the RAC’s front lawn. We’re looking forward to welcoming friends of the RAC, former staff and interns to join us for lunch in the sukkah on Tuesday. If you’re in DC, come by (and RSVP here by Monday so we can provide enough food for all).
Last Tuesday, we held our Faiths Calling day in support of ENDA, spearheaded by Rachel Laser. Scores of other faith groups participated in this effort to get the Senate to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and ensure that under federal law no one can be fired, refused hiring or promotion, or demoted based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. You can see the statement from faith leaders here. The lines for the call-in campaign are still open - take a second to dial in if you haven’t already!
Happy 5774! I hope you had an enjoyable Rosh Hashanah with family and friends and an easy fast. I was in Montreal for a quick trip and enjoyed the taste of home (quite literally, since it seemed my holiday involved hopping from meal to meal).
Last week was a remarkable one around the RAC, giving our new Legislative Assistants a sense of the breadth and depth of our work. Last Wednesday, of course, marked the anniversary of 9/11, and we all took a moment to remember those lost on that tragic day.
I’m writing this note on the train back from New York, where I’ve spent the past four days as part of the team planning the upcoming URJ Biennial. Along with about 25 other staff and lay leaders, we discussed plans for everything from the plenaries to the late night entertainment, from registration to post-Biennial evaluation. It was a thoughtful and creative group and based just on where we are now, three months before Biennial, it’s already clear it will be a great event in San Diego this December. I hope you’ll join us and bring friends too.
The only downside of being part of the planning team was that it meant I had to miss a memorable week in D.C. I was able to join last Saturday’s March on Washington events on the National Mall, where Rabbi Rick Jacobs offered an opening prayer. But I couldn’t be part of the RAC’s Wednesday morning bagel breakfast featuring David Saperstein in conversation with CSA member Rabbi Si Dresner, who worked side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King.
The RAC’s Manager of Congregational Relations, Isaac Nuell, who helped put together the event, shared the following: