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October 2014

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The United States has a problem with mass incarceration. Though our country only makes up 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. One in 99 adults live behind bars, marking the highest rate of imprisonment in American history! One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, which includes prison, jail, parole and probation populations. In California this November, voters have an opportunity to change that.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when we devote time and energy to making ourselves and those around us aware of one of the most insidious and silent problems that plagues women, men, and children in this country. Earlier this month on RACblog we discussed how can channel our moral outrage at domestic violence into action and urge our Members of Congress to support the International Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 3571/S. 2307). You may be aware that domestic violence is an issue in this country. You may not know, however, about how crucial the issue of gun violence prevention is to the protection of victims of domestic abuse.

The upcoming midterm elections promise to break records. The Senate race between incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) is on track to be the most expensive Senate contest in American history. For more than a year, experts have predicted that the Kentucky race could be the first for a Senate seat to total more than $100 million in campaign expenditures; spending from both parties suggests these predictions will prove correct. If that is the case, the Grimes-McConnell race will shatter the current record of $82 million set by the high-profile 2012 contest between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown for a Massachusetts Senate seat.

Last year, Angelina Jolie made national news after revealing that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy because she had a BRCA1 gene mutation which dramatically increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Last week, Myriad Genetics, Inc., a company well known for its breakthrough research showing the connection between BRCA gene mutations and an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer, was at the Federal Circuit defending some of its patents related to the BRCA genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes produce proteins which suppress tumors, and consequently people with BRCA mutations are at a greater risk for certain cancers. This case is especially important to Ashkenazi Jews because Jews of Ashkenazi descent are more likely to have harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations than the general public.

New data analysis by the Weekly Number shows that throughout the world, the lack of religious freedom is linked to gender inequality.  Extremist ideologies are often a contributing factor to a dearth of religious freedom and the analysis shows that when there is a lack of respect for a diversity of religious beliefs, gender inequality often results.

In 1492, just over half a millennium ago, Christopher Columbus set sail on his famous voyage across the Atlantic and opened up the Western Hemisphere for European exploration in the early years of the Renaissance. Many of us have off of school and work today to celebrate that momentous achievement. In school, I remember long history lessons the day before Columbus Day, where I would learn about Columbus’ three ships—the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and the incredible impact that Columbus’ landing on the West Indies island of Hispaniola had on the entire world. We talked about how Columbus’ voyage paved the way for a place of religious freedom and tolerance, and of course, the United States.

 

However, we avoided talking about how the indigenous Taíno people were all but wiped out by their encounters with Columbus—up to 85% of their population no longer lived within a couple decades because of smallpox, famine, enslavement, and forced intermarriage. Our teachers shielded us from the historical narrative of the Taíno people, not only their destruction but also the rich culture they had in the Caribbean and their impact on our current society. We never talked about how the names we use to describe so many things in our culture, from “canoe” to “hurricane” to my favorite, “barbecue” came from the Taíno people.

“I wouldn’t want my child’s rabbi to be gay—it might turn him gay.” This was just one of the many homophobic remarks I heard in my Jewish day school as a closeted gay teen. In my high school, homophobic statements often went unchallenged and the phrase “that’s so gay” was thrown around often. My day school wasn’t exactly a model of inclusion: there was no Gay Straight Alliance during my time there and although one student who had transferred to the school in the middle of high school was out, no one had actually come out during my entire four years there.

Today marks World Mental Health Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues throughout the world. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is “living with schizophrenia” and will feature efforts around the globe to support people with schizophrenia living a healthy life. As Reform Jews, we have a religious responsibility to open our doors to people with mental illness and to build a supportive, inclusive and nurturing community for people with mental illness.

This Friday, it will be October 10th, or 10/10, a timely and unique opportunity for a major campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour, a $2.86/hour increase from its current rate of $7.25/hour.

Over the last forty years, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by close to 30%, demonstrating a need to raise the wage to account for changing cost values. The 1968 federal minimum wage would be worth over $10/hour in today’s dollars – yet our current minimum wage of $7.25/hour is far below that. Our current minimum wage translates to a lifetime of poverty, not near enough for anyone to live by: in no states can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40 hour week.