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March 2015

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On March 7, 1965, civil rights leaders led 600 peaceful marchers from Selma towards Montgomery, AL in pursuit of voting rights, but were stopped after just six blocks. The marchers were brutally attacked by police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Images of the confrontation were televised across the country and the world, horrifying citizens and rousing much-needed, broad public support for voting rights. The day became known as “Bloody Sunday” and helped lead to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act later that year.

As longtime advocates of voting rights and civil rights, this is an important moment for the Reform Movement not only to commemorate this incredible milestone in our nation’s journey for justice, but also to recognize the work that remains to be done. For the current RAC LAs, we feel like inheritors of this tradition and believe firmly in the need for all people, of all backgrounds, to join together in the fight for justice.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, King v. Burwell, a lawsuit that claims that the Affordable Care Act only allows people to receive premium tax credits in states that run their own health insurance marketplace, as opposed to the states who use the federally-facilitated Marketplace. These premium tax credits make health care affordable to low and middle income individuals who gain insurance through the marketplace.

The Israel Religious Action Center has long brought our attention to the long, hard work that needs to be done to rid our Jewish homeland from violence, hate and discrimination. Unfortunately, IRAC was forced to remind us last week of just how much work there is to do. On Wednesday and Thursday, two religious buildings were torched, first a mosque in the West Bank town of K’fir Jab’a, then a Greek Orthodox Seminary in Jerusalem. Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC, discussed this in the IRAC newsletter, the Pluralist:

Over the course of the L’Taken season (which just ended this past weekend), participants learned about the different government programs that comprise the social safety net and how all of these vital programs work together to help our country’s most vulnerable. One of these programs is the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which provides nourishment for those living in poverty.

SNAP is a vital program that works: because of SNAP, 4.7 million Americas were lifted out of poverty in 2011.  According to 2013 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food in 2013. 15.8 million children struggled with food insecurity issues in the past year. Additionally, 50% of U.S children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before they reach the age of 2092% of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes that are below the poverty line, and two fifths of SNAP households are below half of the poverty line. SNAP helped over 46 million low-income Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet around the end of 2014.

Last month, Senator Al Franken and Representative Jared Polis reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R.846/S.439). The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) would prohibit discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although there have been several setbacks in Congress the past few weeks for SNDA, the bill’s passage is still as important as ever.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress earlier today to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran.

This past week Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball to the Senate floor to demonstrate that climate change was not real. As Jews, we believe in the importance of caring for our earth and passing it on from generation to generation as we pass on our tradition. We also know that just because winter is cold does not mean climate change is not real, happening now and effecting vulnerable communities and animals around the world.

Here are three things happening now that we should focus on instead of climate change denial:

At the end of last year, the FDA announced that it would replace its policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. In December, I wrote a blog post commenting that this new policy still raises questions about judicious, equal treatment for MSM in this particular situation. Recent news, however, illustrates that this isn’t just an issue that impacts men who have sex with men—it’s an issue that impacts all trans individuals.

Over 40 million Americans do not currently have access to paid sick days. We need to take action to ensure that more people do not have to make the difficult choice between going to work and caring for a sick loved one (or themselves), and we have our work cut out for us!

During the State of the Union, President Obama called on states and cities to pass legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick time, and proposed that Congress give all staff six weeks of leave after the arrival or a new child. He also called on Congress to support Department of Labor funding to help states study and explore how to get their own paid leave programs. States and cities have been following this momentum: five cities across the country currently have paid sick days laws. And, over 2015, paid sick days laws will also go into effect in three more California cities and six more in New Jersey

Momentum to pass paid sick days legislation is building as legislators and advocates are working on active campaigns in 20 states and cities around the country.

By Shelley Christensen

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you . . . (Leviticus 25:3–6)

Having completed six consecutive years of observing Jewish Disability Awareness Months (2009-2015), we now approach the shmita year. In ancient times, shmita meant the land was rested and debts were retired, but what might this practice mean in our time? And what are the indications for our work and mission to suffuse our Jewish culture with the spirit of inclusion throughout the year?