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Former RAC Staffer Testifies for Marriage Equality in MD

Marriage equality advocates have had much to celebrate over the last few days: An appeals court struck down California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8, Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire signed marriage equality legislation into law, the New Jersey state Senate passed marriage equality legislation, Meanwhile, in Maryland, faith advocates are hard at work trying to get their state to be the next one to grant marriage equality. On Friday, former RAC Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Joanna Blotner (pictured above), who currently works at the Human Rights Campaign as the Religion & Faith Program Coordinator, testified before the Maryland House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations Committee with her mother, Sheri Zaitz-Blotner, in support of marriage equality.

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VA Rep. Enters L’Taken Speech into Congressional Record

For six weekends a year, the RAC programming and legislative staff works 16-hour days with little sleep and lots of coffee as we run the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Social Justice Seminars. Over the course of those six weekends, nearly 2,000 high school students participate in the program, which is designed to expose students to a variety of public policy issues, explore the Jewish values surrounding these issues and teach the skills of an effective advocate. The four-day intensive seminar culminates on Monday, when the students visit their members of Congress and present persuasive and passionate lobby speeches on the topic of their choice. Even years later, L’Taken alumni recall the lobbying experience as empowering and transformational – and I can imagine that Alex Lesser and Sam Dixon of Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station, VA (pictured above), won’t be forgetting the events of this past Monday anytime soon.

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Let’s Play BINGO… 2012 State of the Union edition!

It’s T-minus 12 days until President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, the annual speech given to the U.S. Congress in which the President reports on, well, the state of the union and outlines his priorities for the new year. We here at the RAC are looking forward to the 2012 State of the Union address, and we’ve put together a list of issues we’d like President Obama to address when he speaks to the nation on Tuesday, January 24. But why should we have all the fun? Join our State of the Union experience by playing BINGO… the 2012 State of the Union edition!  Read more…

#URJBiennial: Finding Meaningful Social Action Opportunities for your Youth Group

During the URJ Biennial earlier this month, I was invited to present in a NFTY workshop titled “Finding Meaningful Social Action Opportunities for your TYG.” The participants spent much of their time brainstorming social action ideas and discussing ways to adapt the ideas depending on a youth group’s budget, location and/or membership. After the brainstorming session, I shared some brief thoughts with the participants about ways to involve adults in their programming, reach out to outside groups and utilize the RAC’s resources. Below are the key takeaways:

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Alan Gross to Remain Imprisoned in Cuba

The Cuban government refuses to release Alan Gross, now 62, even though his health is deteriorating.

Last week the Cuban government announced that it would release 2,900 prisoners in advance of the Pope’s visit, which is expected in March. But Cuban officials explicitly singled out 62-year-old Alan Gross, a Jewish Maryland resident who was arrested in Cuba in December 2009, as one of the prisoners who is NOT on the list of prisoners to be released – even though Gross has much in common with many of the prisoners who, according to the Cuban government, are being released on humanitarian grounds.

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Former LA Featured by ONE Campaign

marc- cropped.jpgEvery year, the RAC hires several bright-eyed recent college graduates to spend a year advocating in Washington, D.C., for Jewish values and social justice on behalf of the Reform Jewish Movement. You know these Eisendrath Legislative Assistants well: They send you action alerts, help your congregation with social action programming, create educational materials and write on this very blog. I was fortunate to participate in this program last year, and I am pleased to give a shout-out to one of my fellow 2010-2011 LAs, who was featured on the ONE Campaign’s blog a few days ago.

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Food Stamp Challenge: Day 1

Yesterday for lunch, I had half a can of tuna fish, carrot sticks and an apple. All together, it cost me about $1.40, which is not bad for my first day. It was 10 cents under my average meal allotment. Why, you ask, did I have such a small and inexpensive lunch?

Yesterday was the first day of the Food Stamp Challenge, a national effort by hundreds of individuals across the country, including RAC Director Rabbi David Saperstein, to live on the nationwide average food stamp benefit of $1.50 a meal for one week ($31.50 total), from Thursday, October 27, through Thursday, November 3. The goals of the Food Stamp Challenge are to raise awareness about the difficulties faced by those who rely on the meager food stamp benefit as their primary source of nourishment and to raise money for anti-poverty and anti-hunger efforts.At this point, you might also ask: Why do I feel the need to participate in something like the Food Stamp Challenge when I work every day on these issues and when I am certainly aware of the economic injustices in our country because of that day job? I personally was moved to participate in this challenge for three reasons:

  1. It is a creative and innovative way for me to better understand the cause for which I am working. Granted, I realize that by limiting my food budget for seven days, I am not fully experiencing a life of poverty; I can still pay my rent, pay my utilities bill, and pay for my health insurance and other basic expenses. But by experiencing this one aspect of poverty, I can have a more tangible sense of the problem, which will help inspire me to help alleviate said problem.
  2. It is an excellent education tool for those around me. Every time someone sees my simple lunch, I get to explain the Food Stamp Challenge; the problems of hunger, food insecurity and poverty; and the inadequacy of food stamps and other government programs in alleviating these problems. Every time I have to turn down an invitation to go out to lunch, eat Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house or take that cookie my co-worker baked, I get to explain each of these things all over again. Each person I interact with in this seven-day span will hear my story, which connects to the story of the 1 in 7 Americans who use food stamps daily.
  3. It is an easy and meaningful way for me to donate to anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs. The last participant guideline in the Food Stamp Challenge (and this one guideline is optional) is: “Donate the additional money you would have spent on food during this week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization.” When I read this line, I was incredibly moved. I thought it was such a wonderful way to “pay it forward.” As I said before, I know that by living on $31.50 in food and beverages for one week, I am not fully experiencing the challenges of someone on food stamps, nor am I fully solving the problems of hunger and poverty. But at the very least, by fulfilling this last participant guideline, I am doing something intentional with the money that I spend on food.

I’m only one day into the Food Stamp Challenge, and already it has been an eye-opening experience, from the time I spent agonizing over what to purchase in the grocery store to the small pangs of hunger I experienced yesterday when my lunch of tuna, carrots and apples was not sufficient. Please consider joining me in the Food Stamp Challenge, whether for one meal, one day or one week, so that we might all begin to understand what it means to be hungry in America.

Photo courtesy of Food Stamp Challenge website.

Were We Prepared?

Irene.jpgThe earthquake and hurricane that hit the East Coast over the last week have certainly wreaked havoc, although thankfully not as bad as the recent earthquake in Japan or Hurricane Katrina. But all of these natural disasters can remind us of an important issue–making sure our emergency management and response plans adequately meet the needs of people with disabilities–and provide a fitting opportunity to evaluate and improve those plans.

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