Sukkot is the Jewish holiday celebrating the harvest and commemorating the booths or huts the Israelites built while wandering in the desert. As a people with agricultural roots, Jews have found many ways to mark the seasonal and environmental changes that occur throughout the year. The Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage holidays of our tradition (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), celebrate the three times each year that our ancestors journeyed to Jerusalem to make harvest offerings at the Temple.
With only 16 hours left before early voting was set to begin in Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to eliminate the first week of the state’s 35-day early voting period last Monday. The decision will restrict voters’ access to the polls by eliminating the only week in Ohio’s early voting period that allows citizens to register and vote on the same day. That week is referred to as the “Golden Week” and civil rights groups have said that Sunday and the evening hours are most important to black and low-income voters and the homeless, many of whom do not have the flexibility in their jobs or daily lives to vote during business hours. Read more…
This week, Jews around the world will be building sukkot (the plural of sukkah, a temporary three-walled shelter commemorating the booths or huts the Israelites built in the desert) to celebrate the aptly-named festival of Sukkot, which also celebrates our thanks for the fall harvest. Households and communities each build a sukkah and Jews are commanded to stay in these sukkot for the period of the festival: “You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days, every person in Israel will dwell in sukkot. In order that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:42-43).
Yet while Jews build and live in temporary dwellings for a week (most of which are very close to permanent housing), many Americans are not given this flexibility. On a given night in 2012, 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in the US. 3.5 million people experience homelessness in a given year. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high in 2012 of more than a million, or 2% of the student population. Many who are homeless work in full or part time jobs: a tumultuous economy makes it even more challenging for Americans to have a home to call their own. Even if they are employed, it is hard for many workers to earn enough money to own their own home.
One way that we can take action this Sukkot is by encouraging Congress and the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration (FHFA) to re-establish adequate funding for the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). In 2008, Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) to create 3.5 million affordable housing units. However, due to a loophole in the law, the NHTF never received funding and it’s time to look for alternatives that will make this effort successful. Sequestration cuts have further restricted the number of programs available. Take action and urge tell your Members of Congress and FHFA Director Mel Watt to reestablish funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.
In addition to being commanded to build these shelters, we are instructed to welcome others into them: “When the people of Israel leave their homes and enter the sukkah for the sake of God’s name, they merit to welcome the Divine Presence there, and all the seven shepherds descend from Gan Eden and come to the sukkah as their guests” (Zohar, Emor 103a).” Helping the homeless is not a choice; rather, it is an obligation. As we are reminded of the importance of inviting others to visit our sukkah, we need to ensure that those who do not have a home have a place to go and we must act to ensure that these individuals can have homes in the future.
This morning, the RAC staff worked together to build a sukkah, which is outside of our building on Massachusetts Avenue. The RAC will also be hosting a Lunch in the Sukkah next Tuesday (October 14) at 12 pm. We look forward to welcoming you into our Sukkah to celebrate Sukkot – make sure to RSVP so you can join us next Tuesday.
This Sukkot, as you sleep under the stars and think of the harvest, think of how fortunate we are to choose to give up our permanent shelter for one week a year for our Sukkot and what we can do to ensure that no one needs to lack shelter outside of this one week a year.
We need only reach back into our ancient Jewish texts to know that throughout our history, it is the youth that carry hope for a promising future: “Your old shall dream dreams, and your youth shall see visions” (Joel 3:1) This February the RAC hopes to translate those visions into action at the Social Justice Advocacy Seminar at 2015 NFTY Convention in Atlanta.
The greatest social change in modern Jewish history was brought about by the youth–the creation of the State of Israel. Zionist youth movements made aliyah in droves in the 1920s to realize a dream of progress, hope and justice. These young pioneers built the infrastructure of the country: they drained the swamps, built the kibbutzim and created the Haganah and Palmach.
This month, Washington State will be receiving their ballots to vote on two contradictory ballot initiatives related to gun violence, which they will send in by mail by November 4. Ballot initiative I-594 would require universal background checks for all gun purchases, including private sales. Laws similar to this have been passed elsewhere, including last year in Maryland where the new law has already led to a significant drop in gun deaths state-wide. Confusingly, an alternative ballot initiative I-591 would act to prevent state background checks unless a federal law was established. I-591 relies on the fact that a bipartisan federal background check law failed last year.
With our mandate to work on more than 70 social justice issues, we know that our voice is stronger when joined with our partners to make the changes we wish to see. In our work on the upcoming Supreme Court case Young v. United Parcel Service, we’ve done exactly that, this time with an unusual collection of advocacy groups who have come together around an issue on which we all agree.
In Young v. UPS, the Court will decide under what conditions, if any, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (the PDA) requires an employer that provides work accommodations to employees who are not pregnant but who have work limitations to provide like accommodations to pregnant employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” The plaintiff is Peggy Young, a UPS delivery driver who became pregnant and whose doctor recommended she refrain from lifting packages heavier than 20 pounds to help ensure a healthy pregnancy. UPS denied Young the accommodation, instead forcing her to take an extended, unpaid leave of absence until she could return to work after her child was born. In addition to her wages, Young lost her medical insurance during her leave, compounding the economic hardship that resulted from UPS’s refusal to accommodate her medical needs. Young sued UPS under the PDA, which clarifies that pregnancy discrimination is, indeed, a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Read more…
If you’re a Supreme Court fanatic like I am, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of this year’s term for months (well, since early July). It’s finally here. I’m excited to begin following the justices again, although I’m a bit nervous for possible case outcomes this year given the Court’s recent decisions. Even if you haven’t been counting down the days, you should consider keeping up with the Court this year exactly because its recent decisions and upcoming cases are so critical. As we saw in cases like Citizens United and Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court can shape law and spark national debate in a profound way. The cases the Court will hear this year promise to do the same:
In Refusing to Hear Cases, the Supreme Court Gives Way for Marriage Equality in Five States (Updated)
After a summer of victories for marriage equality, the Supreme Court today denied review of all of the seven petitions challenging state bans on same-sex marriage, thus allowing federal district and circuit decisions – which struck down marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin – to go into effect shortly. Same sex- marriages began at 1:00 PM today in Virginia and state agencies in Utah have all been told to begin recognizing all legally performed same-sex marriage today.