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May 2015


Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the RAC, will be speaking at a panel today at the Center for American Progress called "Harnessing Faith to Work for Justice." Rabbi Pesner will be joined on the

By Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen

Four weeks ago, I walked along a street in Memphis with 11 teens from my congregation, a chaperone and our educator, Brad Cohen. The day before, we had volunteered at the Dorothy Day House, cleaning a basement, spreading mulch and helping three young boys make birthday cards and a cake to surprise their mom. Now we walked via Beale Street (Birthplace of the Blues) to the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On the way, we passed a mural depicting a black man holding a sign that read: I AM A MAN. My teens wondered aloud what it could mean. One said, “Of course he’s a man, what else would he be?”

NFTY and the RAC are partnering with a broad coalition of national organizations to promote “Wear Orange,” a new national campaign to end gun violence in America. As part of the first National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 2, the campaign is asking supporters to wear orange as a sign of solidarity and commitment to change in the face of an all too tragic status quo.

Sincethe second day of Passover, Jews have been participating in the ritual of counting the Omer. As we count the Omer, we look forward to the celebration of receiving the Torah at Sinai and the joyous celebrations of harvest and springtime. .

In late April, Nigerian armed forces rescued 93 women and 200 girls who had been held by the terrorist group Boko Haram. When news broke of the rescue, there was early hope that these girls were the schoolgirls abducted from a Chibok school in April of last year—the subjects of the global campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.” It turns out this was a different group of girls and women altogether, 300 of nearly 2,000 kidnapped by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2015. It is not clear how long these women were held, but we do know from their testimony that Boko Haram subjected them to extreme violence, including rape, forced marriage and sexual slavery. We sigh with relief that these women are no longer captive, while we offer prayers for those still in captivity, and for mental, physical and emotional healing for those who have been freed as they begin to rebuild their lives.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, today joined with a diverse group of faith leaders calling on President Obama to take immediate action to address the Rohingan humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia. The well-documented persecution of the Rohingya minority community in western Burma and the resulting refugee crisis in the region is deeply concerning to us as a people who throughout history have been victims of ethnic and religious persecution and the experience of being forced to flee even as other nations closed their doors. The letter sent today by Rabbi Pesner and others calls for the U.S. government to address the root cause of this crisis and assist with the rescue of refugees.

Growing up as an Israeli-American, Shavuot meant the time on my grandparent’s kibbutz when the workers from the fields and the dairy would showcase to the community the first fruits of the season. In a big community-wide gathering, fresh sheaves of wheat, fruits and vegetables, newborn calves would be paraded across a stage alongside kibbutz mothers carrying babies born in the last year. This tradition is in keeping with our sacred text, which tells us: “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Eternal your God” (Exodus 23:19).

Continuing the same trend we’ve seen over many months, Congress has not made progress to address the crisis of gun violence, but federal inaction hasn’t stopped states from enacting their own laws. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown signed into law the Oregon Firearms Safety Act, which will make background checks universal on all gun sales in the state, making it the eighth state to do so. And on the other side of the Columbia River, Washington enacted the Sheena Henderson Act, which allows family members to be notified when police return guns to loved ones, when those guns had been taken for safety considerations. The act was named after a Spokane woman who was shot to death the day after police returned guns to her husband who suffered from mental illness after he was judged not to be a safety threat.

On Tuesday, the country’s second largest city, Los Angeles, voted to raise its minimum wage from its current wage of $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2020. This raise will impact over 40% of the city’s workforce, which is currently earning less than $15 an hour. This increase passed with a vote of 14-1 in the City Council and exemplifies the momentum that is being felt around the country along with local efforts to raise the minimum wage. Seattle, Chicago, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland have all had recent minimum wage increases. In addition, there are proposals on the docket in Louisville, Washington, D.C., New York City, Kansas City, Missouri, and Portland, Maine.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post wrote about the topics most clergy members discuss from the pulpit as a way to illustrate that the issues most associated with communities of faith -- reproductive rights and LGBT rights/same-sex marriage, due much in part to  the Religious Right -- is not what is actually happening on the ground.