More than 450 clergy and lay leaders attend Reform Jewish Movement’s flagship social justice conference
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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2009 — The social action leadership of the Reform Jewish Movement, more than 450 strong, gathered in the nation’s capital this week for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s 2009 Consultation on Conscience, the Movement’s flagship social justice conference. This year’s Consultation on Conscience featured senior members of the Obama Administration, members of Congress, and institutional leaders from the advocacy world speaking on an array of issues of importance to the Reform Movement. The conference also celebrated the achievements of 26 congregations, which were honored with the Irving J. Fain Award for Exceptional Social Action Programming.
The economic recession, of course, was a major focus of the event. Dr. Lawrence Summers, Director of the White House's National Economic Council, kicked off the event with his Sunday night keynote speech highlighting the Administration’s efforts on the economy and responded to audience questions. A number of other speakers also tackled the issue, including Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund, who spoke to the impact of the economic crisis on America’s youth, and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, who addressed the many challenges facing America’s cities in the face of economic hardship. Tuesday’s presentation from Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) focused on Congressional responses to the crisis, including the need for a comprehensive approach.
“As we rebuild our economy, we will work to build a system that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” Senator Stabenow said. “We will build an economy where the American dream is not out of reach for anyone.
Among the other senior members of the Obama Administration to address Consultation on Conscience were Senior Advisor David Axelrod, who presented an overview of the White House agenda, and Joshua DuBois, Director of the White House Office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who spoke about his office’s work.
Speakers also addressed environmental concerns and health care reform as key tenets of bettering the economy. A Monday panel on the importance of community-based and national reform of the health care system featured Dr. Scott Morris, executive director of Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., and Ralph Neas, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care. On Tuesday, speaking on the environment as an economic issue, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) both declared their support for Congressional passage of effective climate change legislation.
“Climate change is the most significant environmental challenge facing our country,” said Sen. Collins, who recalled trips to New Zealand and Alaska, where she witnessed glacial melting. She urged passage of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act and lauded the recently passed economic stimulus package, which she said will spur investment in clean energy.
Other members of Congress who addressed the conference included: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who spoke about issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee; Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), who advocated for a robust protection of civil liberties and supported the recent release of the “torture memos;” and Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), who spoke just a day after returning from a fact-finding mission to Israel and the Middle East.
But even amidst discussion of the economic downturn, one of the most pervasive messages of this week’s Consultation on Conscience was that of unrelenting optimism for the future. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who wrapped up the conference with his Tuesday afternoon speech on the Democratic Party’s agenda for the 111th Congress, set a positive tone when he spoke about the Biblical obligation to pursue tzedakah, or justice. He noted that prior to its two week recess, the House passed a budget for the coming Fiscal Year that reflect the value of justice by prioritizing money for programs essential to Americans’ well-being – education , the environment and health care.
“Words are cheap, but few things are better than a budget at showing who we want to be as a people,” Rep. Hoyer said. “And to my mind, an essential message of the House-passed budget is this: We must no longer be, we can no longer be, a people that mortgages the future to pay for today.”