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August 2014

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The news this week that an extended ceasefire was reached between Israel and Hamas is a much welcomed development after more than five weeks of heightened hostilities and the tragic loss of innocent lives. We pray that the ceasefire proves lasting and that future generations will know the reality of a lasting, just and meaningful peace.

Rabbi Richard Hirsch and President Johnson at AFL-CIO event

Rabbi Richard Hirsch, founding director of the Religious Action Center, pictured with President Johnson in 1964.

Sarah Greenberg

Right before my daughter was born, my husband and I took a childcare class. We were the typical expectant parents, eagerly awaiting the birth of our child, and petrified that we wouldn’t know what to do once she arrived. I expected to learn how to put on a diaper and what to do for an earache. What I didn’t expect was for the instructor to say that before I let my child go on a play date, I should ask the host family if they had a gun in the house and how they stored it. Before that, I had never actually thought about my quiet suburban neighbors touting firearms that could endanger my child.

Fast forward a couple of years to our joining Temple Israel in Boston. TI was a pioneer in using faith-based community organizing methods, and was engaging in house meetings. One emerging theme was huge concerns about teenagers experiencing stress and issues regarding their safety.  And then, there was Newtown, CT. The tragedy of kindergarten children and their teachers being tragically murdered brought all of our attention to the threat of gun violence, and the threats that guns pose when used in crimes, suicides, and accidents.

We recently became a host congregation for our local Family Promise affiliate, Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network.  Our involvement with an interfaith hospitality network has afforded our congregation the meaningful opportunity to fulfill our mission to bring justice to the world by providing food and shelter to the homeless.  Almost as important as providing these families with food and shelter this project has allowed us to create real relationships with families in need of support.  I have had the honor of sitting and sharing dinner with numerous people hearing about how they have found themselves homeless. 

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment took effect, granting suffrage to millions of American women to demonstrate that their voices – through their votes – mattered in our democracy. It would take many decades after 1920 to ensure full voting rights for all United States citizens, an effort we are sadly still working on today.

As the only thriving democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a beacon of light in a region often filled with despair. And yet, despite its democratic nature, when it comes to religious pluralism, Israel has a long way to go. In 1947, Israel adopted the Ottoman Millet system, formerly in place under the British Mandate, which allowed for religious groups within Israel to establish their own legal systems governing personal status laws (marriage, divorce, alimony, etc.) The URJ notes that there are presently 13 recognized religions in Israel, including Judaism, Islam, Druze, and several Christian denominations. Within the Jewish tradition, however, only Orthodox Judaism is recognized by the state under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. All other Jewish denominations, including Reform and Conservative, function under the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Class of 2014-2015 began work on Tuesday and is deep into the orientation program. This is my favorite time of year, when the new LAs infuse the office with their energy and enthusiasm, but also because it's an excuse for me to invite former LAs back to the RAC to teach the new class.

“Whatever valuable information testing mandates provided have been completely overshadowed by the enormous collateral damage inflicted on too many students. Our schools have been reduced to mere test prep factories and we are too-often ignoring student learning and opportunity in America.”- NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

The National Education Association recently hosted the Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA) Conference in Denver, CO. The RA is the primary legislative and policymaking body of the association. The NEA members, reaching nearly 9,000 delegates, voted to launch a Toxic Testing Campaign to bring the focus back to supporting students learning. These delegates, most of whom are teachers themselves, are not against testing to understand student comprehension, but rather the excessive need to test of local, state, national and district levels to evaluate a school or teacher. Many times these tests are not as beneficial to the students as the financial gain for the school.

The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 (H.R. 1447) is crucial legislation that will provide much-needed transparency in the criminal justice system. The law would require and facilitate the collection of information regarding the deaths of prisoners in custody, alleviating the environment of suspicion, concern and mistrust that exists today in many racial and ethnic minority communities from coast to coast.

In December, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act.  The Senate must now introduce and pass a companion to H.R. 1447 before adjourning for the year so that the President can sign it into law.

Urge your Senators to introduce and pass this important legislation. Take action now!

On Tuesday, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress published this Op-Ed in the New York Times, callingfor a collective voice standing in defense of the Christian minority being persecuted for their religious beliefs in Iraq and the Middle East.

He writes, "In a speech before thousands of Christians in Budapest in June, I made a solemn promise that just as I will not be silent in the face of the growing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe and in the Middle East, I will not be indifferent to Christian suffering. Historically, it has almost always been the other way around: Jews have all too often been the persecuted minority. But Israel has been among the first countries to aid Christians in South Sudan. Christians can openly practice their religion in Israel, unlike in much of the Middle East."