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December 2014

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Last week, Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government through September 30, 2015, the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The passage of this bill avoided a government shutdown by funding the federal government – except for the defense budget, which is appropriated separately – for the next nine months.

As my colleague Melanie Fineman described, a number of Members of Congress objected to the bill because it contained harmful policy riders, amendments attached to legislation in its last stages to alter the language or to attach a new idea on a bill on which a compromise has already been reached. One policy rider in the spending bill seriously weakened the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory legislation, and another will allow wealthy political contributors to give even more money to political parties. The Hyde Amendment is a classic example of a policy rider: for every budget passed by Congress, anti-choice members attach language that prohibits any taxpayer funding for abortion services. Though the Hyde Amendment has not been voted on solely by itself or only on its own merits, it has been the effective law of the land since 1976.

Earlier in December, the Pew Research Center came out with a new poll on Americans’ attitudes on guns. The survey, Pew’s first on the issue since January 2013, showed an overall gain in support for “gun rights” over “gun control” over the past two years. Some of the main takeaways are below:

The holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabee resistance over the Syrians led by Antiochus Epiphanes. The Syrians had taken over Jerusalem, desecrated the holy Temple, abolished Judaism, prohibited observance of Shabbat and the Festivals, in addition to outlawing critical Jewish rites like circumcision. The Jews were given two options by Antiochus, conversion or death.

The first night of Hanukkah -- 25 Kislev -- commemorates the day the Temple was renamed for the Greek god Zeus, and the resistance movement led by the Maccabees developed. The Maccabees, led by Mattathias and Judah, ousted the Syrians and restored Jerusalem to the Jewish people.

This year, as Hanukkah began, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of parties in Lima, Peru wrapped up two weeks of international negotiations with guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to the present and immanent facts of climate disruption for populations around the globe. The conference in Lima is a precursor to a more formal and final round of negotiations on adapting to and mitigating the causes of climate change in Paris, France over Hanukkah 5776.

At the end of the 113th Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to fund the federal government through the end of September 30, 2015, or to the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The passage of this bill avoided a government shut down by funding the federal government – except for the defense budget, which is appropriated separately – for the next nine months.

As people of faith, we advocate for a just and compassionate federal budget that will promote the dignity of all Americans and will protect the vulnerable. And, in this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as foreshadowing seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:1-32). We must ensure that our federal government will not act in ways that will ultimately lead to or create more poverty in the future.

This past weekend at L’Taken, Ben from Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg, Virginia spoke to Senator Mark Warner’s staff about voting rights. Since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, it has become harder for many minority and vulnerable populations to obtain fair access to the voting booths. Ben gave his speech about voting rights because he cares about eliminating discrimination and protecting our democracy. A portion of his speech is below:

This time of year, it’s hard not to be drawn into conversations about the place of religious expression in public life. Christmas decorations abound, and religious minorities play up the celebration of a winter holiday to stake out a place in their communities. There is always a conversation about how important Hanukkah is in the Jewish tradition, probably a result of the effort I described to feel represented in a community or society where there is a widely-celebrated religious holiday.

Often, communities, local governments – particularly schools – also struggle with this question of representing different religions. The December Dilemma, as it is often called, describes the often uncomfortable conversation parents, students and other community members have to have about how not to make people feel alienated in their community.

Jewish tradition teaches us that all human beings are created in the divine image, b’tzelem Elohim (Genesis 1:27), teaching us that people of all abilities are deserving of the same opportunities and respect. The Reform Movement has a long history of working to remove barriers to the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities, fulfilling the commandment in Leviticus 19:14 that “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” This week the Union for Reform Judaism and the Ruderman Family Foundation launched the URJ Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center in order to further our work on disability inclusion.

I get asked a lot if I’m “half.” Often, people are referring to my mixed Caucasian and Asian American heritage, their curiosity sparked by my Korean last name on my Jewish business card or by whatever other seeming tip arises on a given day. Other times, particularly as the holidays overlap in December and my family brings out our menorah alongside our Christmas tree, people ask whether I’m “half Jewish,” assuming my dual holiday celebration must mean some part of me is not Jewish. They couldn’t be more wrong.

In response to Senate passage of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: