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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Welcoming

February 29, 2000- We have come together today to welcome a pilgrim — a pilgrim for justice. On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the broad coalition of national religious communities who support campaign finance reform, welcome to Washington, Granny D. Mazel Tov — congratulations — on completing an historic and inspiring march for justice and democracy that began 14 months and more than 3,000 miles ago.

Yours would be a remarkable journey even for someone sixty years your junior. That you have done this at age 90 is beautiful and stunning testimony to the strength of the human spirit, the power of an idea, and the justice of your cause.

But Granny D, permit me to offer a little perspective even to your remarkable accomplishment. Three thousand years ago, the Jewish people walked for 40 years — through the Red Sea, across the desert, and over mountains to escape bondage in Egypt. Moses was 80 years old when he began and 120 when he stood on the mountain and first saw the promised land. But in our time, your walk is unparalleled. You have walked for 14 months, across the deserts of cynicism, through the seas of apathy, and over the mountains of big money contributions, to help free our republic from the bondage of campaign finance; bondage whose chains are forged in gold, and whose shackles are padded with silk.

We in the religious community walked behind you and beside you throughout your journey, sometimes in person, always in spirit and support. Now as you walk up these Capitol stairs to demand campaign finance reform, we march with you, and are proud to stand for the ideas you cherish.

We stand with you because you are right.

We stand with you because you stand for justice.

We stand with you because our Bible mandates that we care above all for the weak and the vulnerable — exactly those who are shut out of our current electoral system. Our Bible warns of how money can undercut the integrity of leaders and distort a system of justice. When the average senator has to raise $15,000 every week for six years to get reelected, we have created a system where our elected officials must spend more time raising money than raising the moral conscience; more time pursuing contributions than justice.

Reforming this system will not be easy. It will take the same level of patience, fortitude, and strength that enabled you to cross this great nation on foot. It will take the same level of commitment and stamina you sustained across 3,000 miles.

Yet your pilgrimage reminds us that nothing is impossible. It inspires us to keep going, mile after weary mile, until we reach our destination. It demonstrates that individuals can make a difference, and gives us faith that if we join together, we will win in the end, and create a fairer and more equitable democracy.

So thank you again, Granny D., for taking on this journey, this issue, and the cause of true democracy in America.

You have indicated that this struggle for campaign finance reform is your last great crusade in a life devoted to social justice, a life that has involved you, since the 1930s, in the struggles for women's rights, nuclear disarmament and so many other urgent causes. Forgive me for being skeptical about your retirement. So, in the tradition of Moses: May you live to be 120, and may your years be filled with health and strength and, above all, with the wonder of seeing your dreams fulfilled.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.




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