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March 2015

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As we sit at our Passover Seders, we relive the story of how our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt, and how they were freed. Our history of slavery and redemption calls on us to speak up against injustice in our world today, especially when it comes to workers’ rights.

Modern-day slavery continues to be a scourge on humanity worldwide, and it is imperative that we take action to end it. We also should not lose sight of the national policies we can enact to ensure that workers who are employed in the open marketplace are treated with justice.

We often talk at the Seder about the Four Children: the Wise, Wicked, Simple, and Silent (or, as the last is often called, the One Who Does Not Know How To Ask). We see a little of ourselves in each child as we discuss their place in the Seder and how we explain to them the story of Passover. Do we tell them that we were there together at Sinai, including them in their legacy, or do we exclude them and criticize their apathy?

This year, as we consider Passover’s Four Children as we sit around the Seder table, let us discover and discuss the tension between our Jewish community’s obligation to “till and tend” the earth as God told humankind in the Garden of Eden, and the spectrum of beliefs that many may hold about climate change.

Last weekend, a handful of RAC staffers made a trek from the snowy northeast to Alabama, where they joined thousands converging on Selma to observe the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Carrying a RAC banner, they joined a crowd in a symbolic reenactment of a march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where civil rights activists 50 years ago met a violent, now-infamous confrontation with police.

But historical commemoration was not the only theme of the weekend. Diverse social justice organizations led programming ranging from educational community organizing workshops to impassioned religious gatherings. A bipartisan Congressional delegation led by Rep. John Lewis discussed using policy to address voting rights, systemic poverty, and criminal justice reform. And a multicultural, interfaith crowd gathered in a small, historic Reform synagogue to honor the Jewish commitment to the civil rights movement, past, present, and future.

by Rabbi Rachel Timoner

“Who knows whether you have come to your position for such a time as this?"

Last week we told the story of Mordechai calling Esther to action for her people just days before our country commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama. We honored Esther and Mordechai, who risked their lives to rid their community of the injustice Haman intended to perpetrate, and then we honored Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel, John Lewis and many others who risked their lives to rid our country of the injustice perpetuated by structural racial inequality.

Since his inauguration in 2009, advocates for reproductive rights have been urging President Obama to reinterpret the Helms Amendment, which bans American foreign aid for abortion services in all circumstances. Though certainly not the only dangerous, anti-choice policy in U.S. law, Helms stands out as the lowest hanging fruit on these issues. This is especially the case because while most of these reproductive rights-related policies take the form of legislation and apply immediately individuals across the country, the Obama Administration administers the foreign aid that would be sent to clinics around the world. Thus, it is in the power of the executive branch to reinterpret the Helms Amendment, so that entities like USAID who oversee some of the granting process, will change the rules for grantees who offer reproductive health services.

This past weekend I had the great privilege of being a part of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL. Along with my roommate and four of other legislative assistants (and we later joined up with RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Pesner and Deputy Director Rachel Laser), I headed south to honor the work of those who risked and gave their lives for the Civil Rights Movement and to rededicate myself to continuing their work today. While I expected the weekend to be meaningful, I didn't understand the full power of participating in the anniversary commemorations until I actually arrived in Selma and was able to hear the stories and wisdom of those around me.

Last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released new guidelines which call on single-sex emergency shelters and other facilities to “place a potential client (or current client seeking a new assignment) in a shelter or facility that corresponds to the gender with which the person identifies,” while taking health and safety concerns into account. This guidance builds upon HUD’s 2012 regulation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in programs and shelters receiving HUD funding and is an important victory in the fight to provide shelter for people experiencing resources.

Too many children are going to school hungry. We are all told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but imagine that day after day, having breakfast may not be a stable option for you or your family. And imagine that food is scarce for other meals as well. How well could you do on tests? On papers? In class discussions?

A study recently released by No Kid Hungry found that three out of four public school teachers also say that students regularly come to school hungry. Though child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, already exist, these programs need to be strengthened. Breakfast is connected to benefits in the classroom: a majority of teachers see students paying better attention in class and having improved attendance. 48% of educators also note that their teens have fewer disciplinary problems when they eat breakfast.

This past weekend, four of the other legislative assistants and I were in Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the March to Montgomery. We had planned our trips months prior to the event, and although I was excited to be a part of this important milestone, I became more and more nervous as the Jubilee approached. With each passing day, I continued to read about the barriers to marriage equality in Alabama, and although I clearly had no intention of getting married while in Alabama, it reminded me that Alabama has the lowest support for marriage equality out of all fifty states and lacks non-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals. I would be leaving the queer-friendly bubble of Washington, D.C. for a state where I could not as easily assume people’s support for my rights. It was ironic that I would be going to a state to mark a landmark moment in civil rights history while that same state was currently in the throes of resisting equality for LGBT people.

Israeli citizens will elect a new government in just five days, in what many have called Israel’s most important election ever. Israelis find themselves at a crossroads, with real debates about whether the Jewish state should expand settlements, engage in peace negotiations, ensure protections for women and members of the LGBT community and treat all religions equally.