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December 2014

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In this season of giving and shopping surrounding Hanukkah, we need to consider where our gifts are coming from and how the workers who help us make these purchases are treated. We need to keep worker’s rights in mind as we pursue this work and ensure that everyone is treated justly.

Labor movements remain to be a key and integral part of our work in advocating for just workplaces. Unions are organized groups of workers formed to protect and to ultimately further the workers’ rights as well as their interests. As independent employees, workers may face harassment, unsafe working conditions, and poverty-level wages. Through unions, workers can advocate that they are treated fairly in the work place: they can advocate for sufficient paychecks, adequate benefits, safety in the workplace, equal opportunities, and most importantly for respect. Workers have fundamental rights to have fair, safe, and healthy workplace environments, and unions help enable ensure that this is a reality.

Last month, I talked about the coming deadline for the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1, which was on November 24. At the time, it was unclear whether the sides would reach an agreement, whether they would extend the talks, or whether they would walk away. We learned on the 24 that the parties could not reach a comprehensive agreement, but decided on a 7-month extension until June, during which remaining difference would be sorted out.

Last month, Weather.com reported that there was record breaking November Arctic Cold weather, full of cold surges and record-breaking low temperatures. There may be global warming, but that does not mean that cold winters are a relic of the past. And, even as the weather gets cold, there are far too many Americans forced to sleep out on the streets in these conditions.

On any given night there are 250,000 people on the streets and 3.5 million people experience homelessness over the course of a year. The number of homeless students reached an all-time high in 2012 of more than a million, or 2% of the student population. The number of homeless children in the country has reached a record high, amounting to one in thirty children being homeless! This means that 2.5 million children in the United States go to sleep without a home of their own each night, a historic high in the number of homeless children in the U.S.

Today is Human Rights Day, celebrated worldwide on the anniversary of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration includes 30 articles, including the right to education, freedom from slavery, and equality under law has been used as a basis for international treaties against discrimination, on behalf of the rights of women and, perhaps most notably on Human Rights Day 2014, the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT).

As we approach the joyful holiday season, it is important to remember the challenges that so many across the world continue to face. Malaria, which is transmitted from the bite of a single mosquito, causes 200 million illnesses per year and kills more than 600,000 people, most of whom are children under the age of five. Jewish tradition teaches us that human life is sacred because all of humanity is created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Thus, we must make sure to treat each life with equal value, and fight this disease that is both treatable and preventable.

This past weekend, hundreds of Jewish high school students arrived in Washington, D.C.  for the Religious Action Center’s first L’Taken Social Justice seminar of 2014-2015. After a weekend of learning about a wide range of social justice and political issues, ranging from homelessness to disability rights, the students spend Monday lobbying on Capitol Hill on an issue that resonated with them. While preparing for the Monday lobby visits, I was touched by the many personal stories that students who were lobbying on embryonic stem cell research shared. These stories to me emphasized the importance of cementing the current federal rules regarding embryonic stem cell research into law.

By Cantor Ross Wolman

In this week’s parashah, Vayeishev, we read the story of Tamar’s struggle in the house of Judah (Genesis 38). Tamar marries Judah’s eldest son and he dies. Through the biblical law of levirate marriage, she is obligated to marry his younger brother so that his name may continue. When that brother dies, Tamar must marry another younger brother but Judah is reluctant to send her to him as two of his sons have died while married to her.

Time passes, Judah’s wife dies, and Tamar takes cunning action. She hears Judah is away from home and she dresses seductively as a prostitute, disguising her identity. Judah lays with Tamar and she becomes pregnant. He gives her his seal and cord (like an ID) as collateral until she receives payment.

Earlier today at a press conference at the National Press Club, the 90 Million Strong Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty was launched. Barbara Weinstein, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism spoke on behalf of the Reform Movement, which has long advocated for the abolition of the death penalty and reform of the criminal justice system. Here is Barbara's statement from this morning:

It’s easy to talk about global warming when it’s sweltering hot outside and everyone is sweating during the summer, especially in a summer like 2014, which was the hottest ever on record. Once we’re all bundled up in gloves and scarves, drinking hot tea, it’s a little harder to be heard when you’re talking about how global temperatures and rising quickly and dangerously. Just because it’s seasonally colder out doesn’t mean that climate change is less of a global disaster.

Tomorrow, Senator Durbin is holding a final hearing for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The Senator’s goal for the hearing is to assess what has been accomplished in recent years and what still needs to be done on key civil and human rights issues. The RAC has submitted written testimony to show the strength of our community’s interest in the topics the subcommittee works on. Our testimony covers a number of the important issues including voting rights, criminal justice and sentencing reform, the death penalty, hate crimes, and more.