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December 2014

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As we get ready for the new Congress, it’s time to start thinking about how to continue to fund the important programs that keep our government thriving and operating. From fiscal year (FY2010) to FY2014, 19 out of 131 programs that are especially helpful to low-income and vulnerable people have seen decreases after adjusting for inflation.

We also need to ensure that the next budget includes extensions related to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  This federal credit applies to low and moderate income workers by encouraging work, offsetting federal income and payroll taxes, and ultimately increasing family income. These programs are effective – in 2012, the EITC lifted 6.5 million people, including 3.2 million children, out of poverty.

In this age of intersecting social justice imperatives -- when advocates are looking for important overlaps between traditionally defined policy areas -- it's important to remember one key issue that has serious repercussions for both our public school system and the separation of church and state: vouchers.

Vouchers (and some private school tax credits), known to some as "school choice" efforts, essentially take money away from public schools and funnel it towards private, often parochial schools. The public schools system epitomizes the American values of opportunity and equality, and the Jewish people have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1).

Seth Walsh. Tyler Clementi. Jamey Rodemeyer. In 2010 and 2011, these names were all over the news as the media reported on a wave of teen suicides as a result of anti-LGBT bullying. In response, columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better Project, a project which highlighted the increasing acceptance for LGBT individuals and featured videos from a wide variety of contributors, from President Obama to the staff here at the Religious Action Center. In the past couple of years, however, news coverage of anti-LGBT bullying and teen suicides has decreased, yet, anti-LGBT bullying continues to be an important and pertinent issue.

By showing your generosity to the RAC on this #GivingTuesday, you demonstrate your commitment to our shared values. Today, we join charities and social justice organizations in the United States and around the world celebrate Giving Tuesday, an initiative to direct the consumer energy of "Black Friday" and “Cyber Monday” toward positive change.

Because study of and reading from the Torah is vital to Jewish living and life-long Jewish learning, the Torah scroll itself has always been a powerful and essential ritual object within Jewish and synagogue life.  After years of traveling to our many conferences, the RAC’s Torah scroll is in need of repair – so we are making it the focus of our #GivingTuesday efforts this year.

Green Kislev and Hanukkah Challenge to Use CFL Light Bulbs

Welcome to December and the Jewish month of Kislev! Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, is just around the corner and as the days shorten towards the winter equinox later this month, it seems fitting to focus on how we light our houses for this month’s Green Challenge.

Disaster struck Saturday night at a school building in Jerusalem.  Four firefighter teams were called in to extinguish a blaze that destroyed a first-grade classroom.  The larger tragedy is that the fire seems to have been an act of premeditated arson, and the school targeted for being a model of Jewish-Arab community building.  The torched building housed a Hebrew-Arab bilingual school—The Hand in Hand Jerusalem School—where Jewish and Arab parents send their children to play and learn side-by-side.

Today marks World AIDS Day, a day devoted to raising awareness of the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) epidemic. Despite many advances in the treatment for AIDS since the AIDS epidemic first began in the 1980s and increased knowledge on how to prevent the spread of HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus), 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2013 alone.

And, AIDS continues to be a serious issue around the world. Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of bikur cholim, pikuach nefesh and gemulit chasidim—caring for the sick, saving lives and deeds of loving kindness—and these are the values that spur us to take action to educate others about HIV/AIDS in order to empower them to take control of their own health and advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention.