Schwartzman: “The deprivation of access to quality healthcare, education, and resources is not just a moral failure, it is a matter of life and death.”
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Washington, D.C. March 8, 2007- In a speech today on Capitol Hill, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, Senior Rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church Virginia, observed International Women’s Day and affirmed the Reform Jewish Movement’s support for the Focus on Family Health Worldwide Act. A copy of Rabbi Schwartzman’s statement follows:
“My name is Rabbi Amy Schwartzman and I am here today to affirm that the Jewish community stands with women, youth and families around the world on this International Women’s Day, and everyday.
It is an honor to be speaking today on Capitol Hill, on behalf of the Reform Jewish Movement, which has long upheld everyone’s right to health services, family planning, and education about sexuality for our youth.
Reform Judaism is committed to acts of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, through political, social, economic and interpersonal efforts. In 1994, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, of which all Reform Jewish Rabbis including myself are a part, passed a resolution on International Women’s Rights. In that document, we demanded that when the United States considers providing aid for another nation, it should assess that country’s record in upholding women’s rights. Once a country qualifies, as the world’s wealthiest nation, we have an obligation to devote resources to meet the needs of struggling families. As one of the world’s most educated nations, we are further obligated to work toward ensuring that the same level of education we enjoy is available throughout the world. As people who can largely access contraception, we must seek to ensure access for those who have none.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long advocated for women’s access to health care, particularly reproductive care, and all people’s right to plan their family as they see fit. Maimonides wrote in Mishneh Torah that women are commanded to care for their bodies and health above all else. If we are to uphold this value as a society, it cannot only be wealthy women who can access care. If we are to uphold this value as a society, it cannot only be American women who can access care. If we are to uphold this value as a society, we must seek ways to provide everyone with the health care that they desperately need.
The deprivation of access to quality healthcare, education, and resources is not just a moral failure; it is a matter of life and death. The mortality rates of women and infants in developing nations are appalling. Rates of HIV and AIDS worldwide are at epidemic proportions. The book of Leviticus tells us that we must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors (Leviticus 19:16). Yet year after year, we as a nation have failed to contribute our portion to fund the programs and provide the resources that save lives worldwide.
But there is a way we can help ensure that everyone has the ability to access the health care they need. There is a way to provide services to the world’s most vulnerable families. There is a way to expand contraception and sexuality education. The Focus on Family Health Worldwide Act now in Congress would increase authorized funds for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) voluntary family planning services. It ensures that the funding is targeted to prioritize the countries with the most dire maternal and child health needs and the greatest need for family planning. The bill would effectively double the available resources for such planning between 2007 and 2011. It would also strengthen the current systems that ensure uninterrupted supplies of modern, effective contraceptive measures to developing countries. The bill promotes essential measures such as health system capacity building, health worker training, community education, private sector partnerships and coordination with HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
We must remember to devote our resources to those who need a voice, rather then those who speak the loudest. We must remember to devote our resources not to the ideologues, but to the causes of justice. We must remember to devote our resources to responding to the needs of women and children in our neighborhoods and throughout our world. When we gather next year for International Women’s Day, may our voices have championed women in need all year long. May our words come to fruition in the coming year, and may we see the world repaired for all its citizens in health, wholeness and peace.”
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the
Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.