I spend every Tuesday at a local nursing home visiting my dear friend, Fay, a Holocaust survivor. At ninety years old, her mind is as sharp as a nail and she easily recounts the story of her life: from the horrors of the camps, to the beauty of Israel, and finally to the hard work, freedom, and challenges of America. Each week as I ready to leave her and return to school, a look of loneliness washes over the smile on her face and I am reminded that her only other visitors are nurses and her devoted daughter who can only visit once a week.
I’m a proud native of Jacksonville, Florida, and probably the biggest fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Jacksonville’s NFL team) you’ll ever meet. As such, the start of fall always carries a special excitement for me because it means the start of football season, when I can see my beloved Jaguars take the field for the first time in nine months. That excitement has been extra special this year, because the Jaguars were scheduled to play in Washington this past weekend. I was able to find tickets online and so, under a beautiful autumn sky, I took the Metro with the highest of expectations for a lovely day of football.
The Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Class of 2014-2015 began work on Tuesday and is deep into the orientation program. This is my favorite time of year, when the new LAs infuse the office with their energy and enthusiasm, but also because it’s an excuse for me to invite former LAs back to the RAC to teach the new class.
The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (H.R. 1447) is crucial legislation that will provide much-needed transparency in the criminal justice system. The law would require and facilitate the collection of information regarding the deaths of prisoners in custody, alleviating the environment of suspicion, concern and mistrust that exists today in many racial and ethnic minority communities from coast to coast.
In December, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The Senate must now introduce and pass a companion to H.R. 1447 before adjourning for the year so that the President can sign it into law.
Urge your Senators to introduce and pass this important legislation. Take action now!
Washington, D.C., August 20, 2014 – In response to the unrest in Ferguson, MO, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We, like so many across the U.S. and indeed the world, have watched the unrest in Ferguson, MO with heavy hearts and deep concern. Though the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer are ongoing and assessments about both the public’s reaction and law enforcement’s response are essential, what is already clear is that in Ferguson, the relationships between law enforcement, public officials and community members have been terribly damaged by mistrust. At the same time, persistent and widening economic inequality has also contributed to deep communal frustration.
Sadly, these circumstances are not unique to Ferguson. The challenges of racial divides and mistrust that afflict communities across the U.S. are a tragic emblem of how much work remains to be done to overcome divisions rooted in our nation’s history and the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities. As the gap between the rich and the poor widens in America, these economic inequalities are having a detrimental effect on communities where opportunities are shrinking every day.
Efforts to remedy these challenges require both short- and long-term commitments. Law enforcement must swiftly, fully and justly investigate the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death even while respecting and protecting the rights of community members who wish to assemble peacefully and express themselves. Communal relationships must be strengthened and we are encouraged that so many Reform congregations, including those in and around St. Louis, are engaged in such interfaith and inter-coalitional efforts. We are proud of our synagogue members and rabbis who have participated in, and supported efforts to keep peaceful, the protests that have taken place in Ferguson. As a Movement, we stand with them and will continue to advocate for policies and practices that address the scourge of racial profiling while promoting opportunity for all. We also continue to work to address those policies that have contributed to the growing economic inequality nationwide with the goal of ensuring that Americans in every community have the foundations they need and the opportunities they deserve to achieve the American Dream.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1965, change was in the air. At the height of the American civil rights movement, African-American leaders were working to eliminate the barriers that prevented minorities from exercising their 15th Amendment rights to vote. The new amendment, known as the Voting Rights Act (VRA), was successfully signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson that year.
In 1974, two members of the House of Representatives, Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY), introduced a bill entitled the “Equality Act of 1974″. This bill would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment on a national level. This was the first of its kind. In 1994, this effort morphed into a bill known as ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At first, this legislation would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. For some, this wasn’t enough, as the 1994 bill did not include gender identity or expression until 2007 when actual or perceived gender identity/expression was added under what constituted illegal discrimination in the bill. Support for ENDA continued to grow, and in fact, this past November the Senate passed ENDA with sexual orientation and gender identity/expression included.
As I think back on my years of service and involvement in Jewish communal life, I marvel at the key role the Reform Movement played in advancing and achieving civil rights, both in the lead-up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the years since.