Voices of WRJ: B’har

by Judy Wexler

I recently had the opportunity to visit southern Spain, where so much Jewish history exists. I even had the privilege of attending a community Pesach Seder in Seville, where there is currently a small but thriving Jewish community. Nonetheless, for the most part, Jews have not lived in that area for over 500 years. As we toured the ancient cities there, I was faced over and over again with the devastation experienced by the Spanish Jews, culminating with the death of so many and the expulsion of others. Spanish Jews were denied their most basic freedoms, as occurred at so many other times in our history, although some continued to practice their Judaism at great risk. As I traveled and visited old synagogues and museums dedicated to the Spanish Jews, I recognized the theme of exile, which our people have faced so many times.

This week’s parashah, B’har, or “at the mountain of”, presents laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Thus, we begin the parashah by recognizing the close relationship between the people of Israel and God, during the period of the Exodus. The handing down of these laws at Sinai also emphasizes their importance. Read more…

The Zubik v. Burwell Decision: What Happened, and What’s Next?

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Zubik v. Burwell, a consolidation of several cases concerning the accommodation for religious non-profits to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Court ruled to remand, or send back, the case to the lower courts for further review of alternatives to the accommodation as it currently functions, leaving key issues unanswered because the Court did not rule on the merits.

Under the accommodation, religious non-profit organizations can object to providing contraception coverage for their employees. Once the employers notify the government of their objection, a third party administrator works with employees to ensure seamless coverage for contraception. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Emor

by Karen Maes

Parshat Emor, while establishing many rules and regulations, has a major overarching theme, acceptance, or lack thereof. Leviticus 21 and 22 mainly talks to the priests. As written in The Torah, A Women’s Commentary, Parshat Emor: “The text places emphasis on avoiding desecration of the sanctuary by keeping the holy from coming into contact with impurity or with disqualifying imperfections.” I understand what the end goal was but I think the priests, by only accepting what they deemed as perfect, probably overlooked many good people. In fact, I am not the only one who sees this. In 2007 Amy Scheinerman, wrote in Voices of Torah, “We might understand banning profligate priests, but barring physically impaired kohanim from officiating offends our moral sensibilities.” She goes on to say, “Is human imperfection offensive to God? Is a kohein’s physical perfection in some way a reflection of God’s perfection?” One of the things I love about Reform Judaism is that I am not afraid to disagree with our sacred texts. In fact, discussion and questioning is welcomed and encouraged. Perfection means inequality and lack of inclusion. Read more…

Honor World Refugee Day by Joining the Refugees Welcome Campaign

Last September, WRJ’s Executive Committee passed a statement on the Crisis of Syrian and Other Refugees from the Middle East, calling on members to assist in resettling refugees in their communities as such opportunities become available, to educate themselves regarding the current crisis and to donate and raise funds for refugee relief. 

Throughout the month of June, faith communities across the country are joining in a Refugees Welcome Campaign in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Faith communities, refugee resettlement organizations and human rights groups have formed a partnership to provide a vibrant welcome to refugees among us. Read more…

The Struggle for Pluralism at the Kotel Continues

By Jacob Kraus

Three times a year – on Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuottens of thousands of men gather at the Western Wall to hear Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing. This triannual gathering is one of the most visible traditions associated with the three pilgrimage holidays, filling the Kotel’s plaza with worshippers. It is also a reminder of how central the Western Wall is to Jewish life, and therefore the importance of making the holy site a place where all Jews can pray according to their custom.

Women of the Wall worked to raise the profile of this important issue as Pesach approached by organizing Birkat Kohanot, an opportunity for women to participate in the rite traditionally reserved for men. The initiative received support from the Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy Estate, as Leonard Nimoy popularized the hand symbol from the priestly blessing as part of Mr. Spock’s benediction in Star Trek. Read more…

Voices of WRJ: K’doshim

by Renee Roth

Holiness. This parashah is all about holiness and rules for keeping us holy.

“You shall be holy, for I, your G-d, Adonai, am holy. “

According to The Torah, A Woman’s Commentary, all of the following commandments are set in the context that God is holy and that we are to strive toward holiness in every aspect of our lives. The entire community is gathered and addressed; men and women- YEAH, we are included! And then, we have a long, long, list of rules that we need to follow about how we are to be holy. Read more…

Five Ways to Participate in National Gun Violence Awareness Day 2016

On June 2, millions of people across the county will be observing the second annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day, also known as Wear Orange Day.

On January 21, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton – a majorette and high school student from the South Side of Chicago – marched in President Obama’s Second Inaugural Parade.  One week later, after finishing final exams, Hadiya was shot and killed in a park near her school.  Soon after this tragedy, Hadiya’s childhood friends asked their classmates to commemorate Hadiya’s life by wearing orange.  They chose the color orange to symbolize the value of human life, as hunters wear orange in the woods to protect themselves and others. This call to action from Hadiya’s classmates has grown into a national movement, and orange is becoming the symbol of gun safety.

In June 2013, Women of Reform Judaism’s Board of Directors issued a statement on gun violence prevention calling upon its members to continue to educate constituencies, congregations, and communities to become knowledgeable advocates for strong gun violence prevention measures; and work jointly with temple youth groups to the same end. Last year, the Reform Movement participated in the first ever National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and this year, the RAC and NFTY are once again working with Everytown for Gun Safety and dozens of other organizations, to draw awareness, to educate and to take action to prevent gun violence. Here are five ways that you and your sisterhood can get involved with Wear Orange this year: Read more…

Voices of WRJ: Acharei Mot II

by Doris Schyman

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence from Britain. The next day began the War of Independence. In the end, Jerusalem was divided and the old walled city lay entirely in Jordanian hands. But in 1967, in six days, I.D.F. forces and paratroopers from the 55th Brigade captured East Jerusalem and the entire West Bank. Jews returned to pray at the place where our people prayed for more than 2,000 years.

The Declaration on the Establishment of the State of Israel, written in 1948 and read by David Ben-Gurion, includes the phrase: “the state will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of religion, conscience, education, and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the Holy Places of all religions.”

Read more…

Three Policy Changes to Support this Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, which will be celebrated on May 8, we will take time to honor our mothers and all of the love and support they give us. As we take time to honor important women in our lives, it is important to remember that there are still many challenges that mothers, especially working mothers, face today. Here are three different policy solutions that you can support this Mother’s Day to help mothers and their families:

  1. Close the Gender Wage Gap: The gender wage gap has been a problem for decades, and has persisted even since the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Last fall, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that women are on average paid 79 cents to every dollar paid to men. This number is even worse for mothers, as on average they only make 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. Because of this disparity in mother’s wages, there isn’t a more opportune time to advocate for the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1619/ S.872) which would deter pay discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages.
  2. End Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace: Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed by Congress in 1978, there is still much work to be done to ensure that pregnant women are not discriminated against in the workplace. Without accommodations, pregnant women face unpaid leave, lost benefits and even job loss. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2654/S. 1512), or PWFA, would require employees to provide reasonable, temporary accommodations to pregnant workers so that they can remain in the workforce throughout their pregnancy. This Mother’s Day, urge your Members of Congress to protect expecting mothers from discrimination in the workplace.
  3. End Violence Against Women Around the World: One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates as high as 70% in some countries. Violence against women is a human rights violation that devastates lives, fractures communities and prevents women from fully contributing to the economic development of their countries. The International Violence Against Women Act, or I-VAWA (H.R. 1340/S.713) would provide concrete tools to change the circumstances that lead to violence against women and girls. This Mother’s Day, urge your Members of Congress to end violence against women globally.

Jewish text teaches us that, “A society and a family are like a pile of stones. If you remove one stone, the pile will collapse. If you add a stone to it, it will stand” (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 100:7). By honoring our mothers and taking action to improve their lives, we are adding a stone to the pile, further strengthening it. To learn about how the Reform Movement has supported women and mothers through its policy, read this article.

To learn more about women’s issues, visit the RAC’s webpage or Women of Reform Judaism’s issue page.

This post originally appeared on the RAC’s Blog. 

Thoughts From the EUPJ Conference in London: We’re All In This Together!

by Sandy Abramson

I was lucky enough to attend the Biennial Convention of the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ), which took place in London April 14-17. The theme was “Building Bridges, Spanning the Jewish World and Beyond.” As a new WRJ representative to the UN, a former WRJ board member, and a frequent visitor to Paris, going to this convention was a great first-hand look at the accomplishments and challenges that characterize European Progressive Jews today.

My husband Steve and I were among participants from 29 nations attending the conference. They ranged from Argentina and Belgium to India, South Africa, Italy, the FSU, Hungary, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, Israel, and more. Our own WRJ leaders, Marla, Blair, Susan, and Lynn, were there, and it was great to be with them! Read more…