January 27, 2010 | 12 Sh'vat 5770
The Reform Jewish Voice of New York State Newsletter
Setting the 2010 Issue Agenda - We Want YOUR Input!
Reform Jewish Voice of New York State is asking you to help us select issues for the current year that will further our progressive agenda. Please review the list of issues below and tell us which one(s) are most important to you and for which we can count on you advocating with you state legislators and government officials. Please submit your choices to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 5, 2010.
The Marcellus Shale is a 65,000 square mile formation that stretches through Southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. Deposits of natural gas trapped under the shale are being mined at an increasingly rapid rate. While some promote natural gas drilling in the shale as a cleaner, safer alternative to coal mining or offshore drilling, many questions about the ecological and human health impacts remain unanswered complicated by the method of extraction called hydraulic fracture, fracking. There is movement in New York State to halt all fracking of the Marcellus Shale until the full environmental and health consequences are known.
ETHICS IN NEW YORK STATE GOVERNMENT
A bill was passed by the state Senate and Assembly on January 20th. Many people, including Governor Paterson, do not believe the bill goes far enough to cover the abuses that have occurred in the New York State Legislature. The assumption is that the Governor will veto the bill and the Legislature will most probably override the veto. We will pursue greater transparency and better governance in New York State.
We know that health care reform is a vital issue. Given the uncertainty related to national health care reform and implications to New York State, we do not have a specific issue at this time but will continue to follow the situation very closely.
We were disheartened by the failure to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. This was a backward step on the road to equality. We have said that the civil right of marriage should be available in our state. Religious marriage and civil marriage are different and each religious group should be free to define religious marriage in their own way. We will continue to work with our coalition partners for the next two years to pursue full civil rights for same gender couples.
The budget proposed by Governor Paterson delays one of his important achievements - a plan to increase monthly welfare allowances. The neediest among us will feel the pain of this delay. In addition, we will refocus on job creation. (See below in this newsletter for a discussion on "Highlighting Economic (In)Justice")
The proposed Reproductive Health Act protects a woman's right to control her own reproductive health in a manner that is best for herself, her family, and her future. The Act ensures that a woman will have the right to an abortion if her health is endangered at any time during her pregnancy. It treats regulation of abortion as an issue of public health and medical practice, rather than as a potential crime, removing abortion from the New York State penal code. The Act guarantees everyone the right to use or refuse contraception. Finally, it updates New York State law by codifying constitutional requirements and removing outdated provisions, in order to ensure that women's rights are protected in the future.
*** We are planning a conference call on the New York State budget. Further information will follow via email.
Marriage Equality Bill Defeated in New York State Senate
The Reform Jewish Voice of New York State is disheartened by the failure to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. This backward step is a deeply disappointing delay on the road to equality, and a vote that was on the wrong side of history.
We thank the members of the Assembly who have repeatedly tried to move equality forward for all New Yorkers and the members of the Senate who voted in favor of the Marriage Equality Bill. There are 100 Reform Jewish congregations in New York State with a combined membership of nearly 100,000. RJV is a network of committed members of these congregations who are working toward passage of a bill granting marriage equality to all New Yorkers regardless of gender preference.
Following this disappointing vote, RJV prepared letters of gratitude to State Senators who voted in favor and letters of condemnation to those who blocked the bill. These letters were made available to all RJV advocates who wished to follow up with their legislators.
Highlighting Economic (In)Justice:
"And Justice for All - A Reform Jewish Voice Shabbat"
"Our teachers have said: If all the troubles of the world are assembled on one side and poverty is on the other, poverty would outweigh them all" (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 31:12). Isaiah (58:7) declared a message from God: "share your bread with hungry people and bring homeless persons into your house" (Isaiah 58:7). Maimonides taught that the highest degree of righteous giving is to aid a person in need by "offering that person a gift or a loan, by entering into partnership, or by providing work for your this person in need so that one may become self-supporting," without having to ask people for anything. In regard to this, it is written, "You shall maintain the impoverished person; whether stranger or sojourner, this one shall live beside you"(Leviticus 25:35); that is to say, "maintain your neighbor so that he or she may not fall and be in need of help" (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, "Gifts to the Poor" 10:7).
If our prophets and sages lived today, surely they would cry out against a nation that allows children to go hungry and families to sleep on the streets. Surely they would cry out against a society that neglects healing persons who are ill or helping those who are infirm, providing clothing for those wanting, and setting the alleviation of poverty as a national priority. We, too, cry out.
During the Thanksgiving season, from Sukkot to Thanksgiving, twenty-three congregations participated in And Justice for All: A Reform Jewish Voice Shabbat. Using educational materials created by RJV, congregations focused on our Jewish mandate to free others from the shackles of poverty by listening to speakers, studying texts, engaging in hands on projects to alleviate poverty, and sending letters to Governor Patterson discouraging him from building his budget on the backs of New Yorkers who can least afford it.
One congregation, Central Synagogue of Nassau County, seamlessly and successfully wove advocacy for social change into its programming for And Justice for All: A Reform Jewish Voice Shabbat and its program of education and direct assistance. During Mitzvah Day in October, the congregation began a year-long partnership with a social service agency, New Ground, which helps families and veterans break out of the cycle of poverty. Participants in Mitzvah Day learned about factors that make it difficult for people to better their lot, performed hands on direct service activities, and set the stage for And Justice for All. During Shabbat services on November 13th0, Rabbi Marc Gruber led the congregation through a text study focusing on the rabbinic definition of poverty and Jewish responsibility to alleviate the pain of people suffering poverty's impact. The social action committee of the congregation collected 183 signed letters to Governor Patterson.
RJV followed up the And Justice for All campaign with an action alert and an effort asking people to call Kristin Proud, Deputy Secretary for Human Services, to make sure Governor Paterson's budget draws down all $638 million of federal contingency funds for welfare, and allocates at least $100 million for jobs and job training.
RJV will continue to work to create a society that fulfills the teaching of the Talmud (Shabbat 63a), "Although the giving of charity is a sacred obligation, the ultimate aim of tzedakah is to abolish poverty and to enable poor persons to help themselves."
Interested in pursuing social justice advocacy?
Is there something on your mind? Do you feel like you need to do something but can't figure out how? Let us know and we can help you foster meaningful change in your community. One of our lay leaders in your area would be more than happy to lead a lobbying training seminar or help you organize a communications plan to influence your local leaders on the moral and social issues of the day. Don't feel overwhelmed, feel empowered to make change! Contact RJV's co-chairs for more ways to pursue justice in your backyard. (Rabbi Marc Gruber at email@example.com or Honey Heller at firstname.lastname@example.org)