Someone once asked Ryan Mathews if he expected to be healed and made whole when he got to heaven. Ryan, who had spent his life in a wheelchair, responded, “I am already whole and do not need to be healed. I will roll down the golden streets.” A high school classmate of mine and a recent graduate of Eden Theological Seminary, Ryan died in October just a few hours after being released from the hospital following a car accident. He was only 28 years old.
Time for a quick history lesson: In 1655, the colony of
New Amsterdam passed an ordinance forbidding Jewish residents to enlist
in the colony’s militia, ruling that Jews were instead required to
pay a monthly contribution for this exemption from service. Insistent
upon military service, Jewish colonist Asser Levy refused to pay and
instead rallied others in petitioning for the right to enlist. Their
petition, though initially rejected, was ultimately successful, and Levy
and other Jewish residents were eventually permitted to serve alongside
their fellow colonists. Levy, a proud veteran and prominent businessman,
went on to become an advocate for religious equality and a defender of
Jewish rights in the colony.
More than 350 years later, Jews worldwide continue to
serve in the military in times of war and peace, risking – and
sacrificing – their lives to protect their fellow countrymen.
Thousands of Jews have been awarded medals for their wartime service;
still thousands more have died in combat or been wounded. Jewish members
of the United States Armed Forces fought in the Civil War, both World
Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. They
continue to serve today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In its May/June issue, Moment Magazine asks 35 prominent American Jews: “What does it mean to be a Jew today? What do Jews bring to the world today?”
Those who responded include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, political commentator Alan Dershowitz, Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, filmmaker Mel Brooks, actress Mayim Bialik, “Star trek” star Leonard Nimoy, rapper Y-Love, activist Ruth Messinger, journalist Leon Wieseltier, professor Susannah Heschel, author Anita Diamant – and the RAC’s Director, Rabbi David Saperstein.
In answering the two questions, he begins,
“Jewish contributions to every cause of social justice in America in the past century have transformed America and the world for the better. The passion for social justice has manifested a degree of astonishing creativity and power that remains the defining characteristic of the Jewish people in the 21st century.”
Read the rest here and browse other response. Then tell us in the comments: What do you think it means to be a Jew today?
Israeli Knesset Member David Rotem, who has proposed a piece of legislation dealing with conversion in Israel, met earlier this week with leaders of the North American Jewish community to discuss the bill’s possible ramifications. Following a series of discussions with Rotem in new York City, the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements together issued a joint statement expressing our disapproval of the bill and our concern about its potential ramifications.
The statement is after the jump. Read more about this bill in this story or this one, both from JTA, and in this op-ed by Rabbi Uri Regev, president of Hiddush, a group that advocates for religious freedom in Israel.
Twenty-nine religious organizations wrote to Congress yesterday to express their (our!) support for immediate repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory law that currently prevents gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from serving openly in the United States military. The coalition wrote, in part, “We write because we strongly believe this policy of government-sanctioned discrimination is morally wrong and entirely contrary to the teachings and values of our faith communities.” Read the entire letter here in PDF.
Jewish signatories to the letter include the Union for Reform Judaism and the Reform Movement’s American Conference of Cantors, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Women of Reform Judaism, along with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Rabbinical Assembly.
You can show your support for repeal, too. Use our easy, pre-written (but customizable!) action alert to send an email urging your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1283 / S. 3065), which would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Firing crucial and trained soldiers is not only unjust,
but is costly and a threat to our national security. Overturning this discriminatory law will finally allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual military members to be honest about their identity, and ensure our nation is able to be served by the best trained and qualified personnel.
Today marks the 1,400th day that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has spent in Hamas captivity. Today is also the day Hamas released an animated video depicting Gilad in a coffin, his father Noam looking on.
Our Associate Director, Mark Pelavin, issued a statement this evening condemning the video, saying, “As we yearn for Gilad’s freedom, this
anniversary should be observed with grief – and never with mockery and
His full statement is after the jump.
Eight Reform rabbis representing seven congregations throughout Arizona today sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer urging her to veto the Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070), an enforcement-only immigration bill that encourages racial and ethnic profiling and dangerously extends enforcement of federal immigration law to local police. Read the letter here or below. Check out this New York Times story to learn more about this bill and what it would do.
Gov. Brewer is expected to announce her decision on the bill today at 5pm MST. If you’re an Arizona resident who wants to express your opposition to this discriminatory bill, call the governor’s office now at (602) 542-4331. Not living in Arizona but know folks who are? Make sure to send this information along to them! Together, we can help put a stop to this piece of legislation.
Allyson Robinson, Foundation Associate Director of Diversity at the Human Rights Campaign, faced off yesterday against Andrea Lafferty, Executive Director of the Traditional Values Coalition, on CBS News about civil rights in the workplace. Their focus, in particular, was H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which the House Education and Labor Committee is expected to vote on soon; the bill, more commonly known as ENDA, is expected to go to the House floor for a vote in May or June.
Currently, it’s legal is 29 states to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; in 38, it’s legal to do so on the basis of gender identity. ENDA would make it illegal for employers to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Perhaps I’m biased, both because the Reform Movement has long supported ENDA and equal rights for the LGBT community, or because I consider Allyson Robinson something of a friend, but I really thought she held her own yesterday against Lafferty’s offensive comments labeling transgender people as being mentally ill and unfit to be around children. As a prominent activist, an ordained minister, and a mother of four, Allyson is proof of the opposite – that transgender individuals are not “the other.” Rather, they’re everyday people doing the same things the rest of us do: working to make a living, parenting their kids, going to church or synagogue, and standing up for what they believe in. Her dedication and passion to fighting for equality are an inspiration to me as an ally, and after watching this, perhaps you’ll feel the same.
You can also show your support for LGBT equality in the workplace by writing to Congress now and asking your lawmakers to support H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.