In this week’s parsha we read, “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:19). It is reasonable and necessary to punish crime, in the interest of public safety. But for some offenders—especially drug offenders—our current laws disproportionately punish low-level offenders without improving public safety.
In light of recent Supreme Court decisions, and more opinions expected to come down this morning, it feels like an appropriate time to recap what the nine justices have been working and opining on.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding a constitutional ban on affirmative action in public university admissions in Michigan 6-2 (Justice Kagan recused herself). Interestingly, Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the conservative wing of the Court. The New York Times notes that “justices in the majority, with varying degrees of vehemence, said that policies affecting minorities that do not involve intentional discrimination should ordinarily be decided at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom.”
Just weeks after Attorney General Holder highlighted the issue of felon disenfranchisement, members of Congress have introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to 4.4 million Americans who are out of prison and living in the community. Read more…
Last Friday, as the URJ’s representative in the DC Voting Rights Coalition, I participated in the DC Vote Annual Lobby Day. Joining with other organizations in the coalition, we took the Hill by storm—in total, representatives from the coalition conducted dozens of meetings with House and Senate staffers on this issue.
As two communities that have historically struggled for freedom side by side and share a common history of slavery and oppression, it is appropriate that we reflect upon the relationship between American Jews and African Americans during this Passover season.
During a week of important election reform developments coming from the Supreme Court, it is worth highlighting the work of civil rights advocates responding to a similar Court decision, Shelby v. Holder, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Since that decision was handed down last June, members of the civil rights community have been hard at work developing a bill that would ensure access to the ballot box for all Americans.
In the beginning of March, I, along with some thirty Congressmen and Senators, was privileged to be a participant in the Congressional Faith and Politics Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Mississippi and Alabama. Beginning in Jackson Mississippi, we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the “Freedom Summer,” a summer when more than 900 Caucasians joined African Americans from all over the United States to come to Mississippi and Alabama in order to register African American voters. The Pilgrimage would end in Selma Alabama with a recreation of the famous voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. This march took place forty nine years ago.
In Jackson, we went to the home of the assassinated civil rights hero, Medgar Evers, and heard remembrance from his widow, Myrlie. On the trip, I also met David Goodman, whose brother Andrew was killed in 1964 along with another Jew, Michael Schwerner and an African American, James Earl Chaney. In the chapel at Tougaloo College, I chanted the El Male Rachameem prayer for the four murdered activists which was quite a moving experience! Read more…
In typical Jewish fashion, Passover is a holiday centered on the celebration of our freedom while also ensuring that we do not forget the bitterness of slavery. We gather our friends and family for a meal, but we cut out chametz and kitniyot, requiring us to get creative with matzah – but honestly, matzah is not-zah tasty. Steeped in family tradition, Passover is also a unifying holiday for many Jews. There is something powerful beyond words to know that as you sit down to a seder with your family and friends, Jews across the world are doing the same: celebrating, remembering, retelling and commemorating.
We are a people for whom the story of slavery and exodus is central to our self-understanding. And that is extraordinarily powerful—and humbling. I was so deeply moved when I first heard this story about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reform Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner: Dr. King was invited to a seder for the first time, and was moved by what he heard and saw. Dr. King told Rabbi Dresner that he hoped African-Americans would similarly honor their ancestors’ story of slavery: “I hope we will be as proud as you are of what our slave ancestors endured and their struggle for freedom.”