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March 2015

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Child poverty is a national crisis that must be addressed. In the United States, there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children. This means that the number of poor children (14.7 million) is greater than the combined populations of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The right to vote is fundamental to American democracy and has been a key part of the Religious Action Center’s work since our founding in 1961. As you may know, the RAC and Reform Jews have a proud legacy of support for the Civil Rights Movement and portions of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were even drafted right in our conference room! It is for this reason that we were so disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder in June 2013, which invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act and eliminated crucial protections for voters. In the wake of Shelby, we have pushed for a Congressional fix through the Voting Rights Amendment Act, but we know that there are many aspects of our voting system that needs reform.

As we approach the holiday of Passover, I’m starting to think of the commandment in the Haggadah: "in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." The commandment has always stuck with me as a call for empathy with our Jewish ancestors, yet after working on immigration reform for the past year, I see the commandment as a way of forming a connection to our immigrant history. For what is “coming forth from Egypt” but immigrating to another land?

Spring is almost here! The snow is finally melting (if you live on the Northeast corridor), flowers are budding and you have two weeks to eat all the chametz in your kitchen before Passover. Welcome to the Jewish month of Nisan, and to the beginning of spring.

As we prepare for Passover in only a few weeks, we know that celebrating Passover connects us as Jews – to our families, to our communities and the broader Jewish people. Passover also unites us with humanity. Many people across our country and our world have experienced oppression and persecution. Although we were once slaves, avadim hayinu, we now are free—but too many in the world are not. Modern-day slavery is one of the most profoundly troubling plagues of our time. The innumerable people who are trafficked for sex work or domestic work all have one thing in common: their freedom has been taken from them.

Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and a lot has changed in the past five years. Thanks to the ACA, the 129 million non-elderly Americans with pre-existing health conditions can no longer be denied coverage or charged more because of their pre-existing condition. Also, millions of low-income individuals are now eligible for Medicaid thanks to ACA expansion of the program. And, a March 16, 2016 Department of Health and Human Services report states that 16.4 million uninsured people have gained health insurance coverage since 2010 under the Affordable Care Act. These improvements, among many others, on the five year anniversary of the ACA are a cause to celebrate and rededicate our commitment to affordable and accessible care for all.

The United States has a mass incarceration problem. While only having 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, making us the world’s largest jailer. Between 1980 and 2012, the U.S. federal prison population rose from about 25,000 inmates to 219,000 inmates, an increase of more than 790 percent. In fact, at the end of 2013, an estimated 6,899,000 persons were under the supervision of adult correctional systems, which includes those incarcerated in prison or local jail in addition to those supervised in the community on parole or probation.

On Passover, Jews around the world eat matzah instead of leavened bread to remember how the Jewish people did not have time to wait for their bread to rise before they were escaping slavery in Egypt. While matzah can be delicious in certain forms – there is nothing like Grandma Fineman’s matzah meal pancakes, her chocolate covered matzah, or her matzah brei recipes – after eating the umpteenth peanut butter and jelly sandwich on matzah, the unleavened staple can start to seem old or tiresome. When seeing boxes upon boxes in grocery stores, I am among the first to groan. Yet even though we may not enjoy eating matzah, we have to remember that we are lucky to have food on our tables and in our bellies, unlike far too many people in our country.

When I was young, one of my largest role models was Sandy Koufax, one of the best all-time pitchers in Major League Baseball. I identified with Koufax: like him, I was Jewish, I played baseball, and I was left-handed. Though I never played baseball quite as well as he did, I felt like I could understand some of the struggles he went through—when I was angry about having to skip school for the High Holy Days, I reminded myself of the time when Koufax famously refused to pitch in the World Series because it was Yom Kippur (and his Los Angeles Dodgers still won the World Series anyway).

By Bobby and Sophie Harris

My daughter Sophie and I drove from our home in Marietta, GA to participate in the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. We attended a pre-march program at Temple Mishkan Israel—Selma’s only synagogue. Though the synagogue has less than 10 remaining members, the sanctuary was full that morning. Sophie was one of just a handful of youth who attended the service. Below are our reflections from the day: