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This Is What My Voice Is For

I experienced a profound moment of clarity Monday afternoon. Attending Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) Advocacy Day in Albany, I listened intently as Rabbi Linda Goodman of Union Temple in Brooklyn affirmed the Reform Jewish values undergirding our Movement’s advocacy for reproductive choice while speaking to her state Senator. Though her words were persuasive and meaningful, it was the silent but amplified power of her position that resonated so deeply. That a female rabbi, a leader of the Jewish people, had chosen to devote her day to championing the cause of reproductive health spoke volumes about a battle that many mistakenly believe has been won. Sadly, the struggle continues.

In 2012, as we celebrate 40 years of women in the rabbinate, we also mark 42 years since the passage of trailblazing pro-choice New York state legislation that has now grown stale. The time is long overdue for New York to treat the regulation of abortion as an issue of public health and medical practice, rather than as a potential crime, as it still stands in the state’s penal code. With threats to overturn federal protections of reproductive choice intensifying, it’s incumbent upon reproductive health advocates in New York to ensure that our state constitution protects a woman’s right to choose. Seeing women like Rabbi Goodman, Rabbi Marci Bellows of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh and RJV co-chair Rabbi Jennifer Jaech of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester devote their limited free time to voicing support for this issue and others reminds me why we began ordaining women 40 years ago.

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United We Mourn


prayingflag.jpgYesterday, in his powerful eulogy to those who were lost during the tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ on January 8th, President Obama insisted, “at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

Today, more than fifty faith leaders from across the nation, including our own Rabbi David Saperstein, heeded that call in an open letter to Congress. Expressing their support for those who were wounded and their grief for those we lost, Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy members from a variety of religious organizations and congregations joined together in echoing the President’s call for thoughtful reflection and dialogue as we cope with and endeavor to understand Saturday’s violence.

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The View from the Podium

Since I began my new position at the RAC as Projects Coordinator, no two days have been alike. In an office as busy as ours, with our 50th anniversary right around the corner, an intensive lame duck session in Congress, and the regular day-to-day of covering 60 issues and representing 1.5 million Reform Jews in the capital, I’ve learned to live with a certain level of mystery in each new day at the office. I always have a general sense of how the workday will pass and what tasks need to be completed, but there is no way to anticipate everything that will land on my desk. Just yesterday, this mystery manifested itself in, to be eloquent, one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

Rather than a day at the office, I spent the afternoon at the House of Representatives with my colleague, Eric Harris, the RAC’s press secretary. I was privileged to join Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ) as well as Jewish leaders from B’nai B’rith and Zionist Organization of America to ask President Obama to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard.

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Primary Fever

  I got the fever, my fellow voters. Do you? Voters in Washington, DC, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Delaware hit the polls yesterday to cast their ballots in some hotly contested primary elections.

As my colleagues strolled the office proudly sporting their “I Voted/Yo Voté” stickers and channeling the adrenaline of election season, I sat at my desk ruminating on my absentee ballot for New York and longing for my own sticker of approval. I imagined scenes of enthusiastic Jewish voters, firmly clutching their Get Out the Vote 2010 guides while waiting for their turn at the ballot box. Some brought the guide as a security blanket, tucking it under their arm or rolling it up to swat an unwelcome fly, others read and re-read their favorite highlighted sections, and a small group congregated to debate the RAC’s top ten election movies.

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Get Out the Vote!

It’s that time of year again, fellow voters, so don your election caps and start reading! This year’s 2010 midterm elections, taking place Tuesday, November 2, are sure to promise some exciting races, controversial ballot questions, and unpredictable results and we want you to be in the know. To help keep you informed about this year’s candidates and ballot measures, and boost your enthusiasm for civic participation in its most quintessential form, we’ve created a Voting Information Center with tons of resources and links to ensure you cast an educated vote this November.

On this site you can find Jewish resources, programming recommendations, sample publicity materials and the RAC’s top ten election movies! You can also research the candidates in your federal, state and local elections, find out about important ballot measures in your state, and how to register to vote or submit an absentee ballot. This information and so much more is available on our Voting portal so make sure you check it out!

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Bolton Blocks Bulk of Bill

Yesterday, immigration advocates were vindicated as U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton struck down the most heinous provisions of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070, which takes effect today. In her ruling, Judge Bolton rejected the assertion of Arizona’s lawyers that the statute was crafted to complement federal laws and insisted that the provisions interfered or directly conflicted with them.

In her preliminary injunction, Bolton delayed the stipulations that require immigrants to carry papers and that banned them for soliciting employment in public places while the federal lawsuit proceeds. She also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of “suspected” undocumented immigrants reasoning that it would violate the rights of citizens and legal residents and unduly burden federal resources and agencies, which would be asked to field a flood of requests for confirmation of immigration status, thus distracting from other priorities.

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Law and Order

July 21st was a landmark day for Native Americans, and all those who are concerned about their lives. Last week, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act (H.R. 725) passed by an overwhelming majority in the House (326 Yeas) and will now be signed into law by President Obama. While the name of this bill sounds relatively inconsequential, it is actually far-reaching legislation, which will make a profound difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Native Americans, especially Native American women.

H.R. 725 includes the Tribal Law and Order Act, which aims to reform the justice system by establishing accountability measures for federal agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting reservation crime, and by providing tribes with additional tools to combat crime locally. President Obama greeted passage of the bill asserting, “The federal government’s relationship with tribal governments, its obligations under treaty and law, and our values as a nation require that we do more to improve public safety in tribal communities and this act will help us achieve that.”

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DOJ Files Suit

courtdaylogo.pngIn an expected follow-up to President Barack Obama’s immigration speech last Thursday at American University, the Department of Justice has filed suit against Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070. While the major hype generated by opponents of this law has focused on its inclination toward racial profiling – SB 1070 designates “reasonable suspicion” of undocumented status as grounds for police interrogation – the lawsuit focuses on an altogether different issue known as pre-emption.

The New York Times explains that, “Pre-emption is a legal doctrine based on the Constitution’s supremacy clause that elevates federal law over states.” In other words, the Department of Justice is suing the state of Arizona for trying to usurp the authority to establish immigration policy, a prerogative of the federal government only. President Obama justified the value of pre-emption in last week’s speech when he warned, “as other states and localities go their own ways, we face the prospect that different rules for immigration will apply in different parts of the country — a patchwork of local immigration rules” rather than one clear national standard.

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