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May 2015

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On Thursday, the 15th anniversary of the historic Million Mom March, NFTY and the RAC announced that we would be founding partners in “Wear Orange” (www.WearOrange.org), a new campaign to reduce gun violence in America. The campaign honors the 88 Americans whose lives are cut short by gun violence every day -- and the countless survivors whose lives are forever altered by shootings each year – by designating June 2, 2015 as the first annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

And we’re inviting you – especially Reform Jewish teens -- to take part! Everyone who agrees that we should do more to save lives from gun violence to do one simple thing: Wear Orange.

The First Amendment ensures fundamental freedoms: freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. Because they are listed out separately, we sometimes might fall into the problem of forgetting how closely linked and overlapping these freedoms are. Freedom of speech and religion also means freedom of speech about religion, even offensive, hateful speech. Yet, in many parts of the world where the dream of religious freedom is not a true reality, open discussion of religion is not tolerated.

On Thursday morning, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a "field" hearing on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), or the D.C. school vouchers program at Archbishop Carroll High School, where a large percentage of the students receive these vouchers.

The Reform Movement has a long history of opposing voucher programs, not only because we believe in the importance of supporting and maintaining a robust, high-quality and high-performing public school system, but also because a large portion of voucher dollars got to parochial schools, compromising church-state separation.The irony of having the hearing at this location was not lost on those of us in attendance who work on this issue from a church-state separation perspective.

This week, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), a dangerous bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation with only narrow exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Last December, I wrote that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had announced that it would be changing its policy on blood donations by men who have sex with men (MSM). For decades, the FDA has banned MSM from donating blood indefinitely. However, last December the FDA announced that it will be replacing its current indefinite deferral policy with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. Earlier this week, the FDA released “Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products,” which address the FDA’s policy on MSM blood donations.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Americans will be honoring the lives of those lost in service to their country. This weekend is also known as the celebration of the symbolic beginning of summer (often with barbecues and white pants, sometimes a dangerous combination). And, coinciding with Memorial Day Weekend this year is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai (and cheesecake).

Early Wednesday, the Vatican used the term “State of Palestine” in an official document, a move that has been strongly criticized by the Israeli government. The Vatican had already recognized the entity after it was granted “non-member observer status” at the United Nations in 2012, but this document marks one of the highest profile occasions in which the “State of Palestine” term has been used. The document comes in advance of an agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinians.

This week, in the Torah portion B’har, we read that God commands the Israelites that when they enter the Promised Land, they must let the land rest. Leviticus 25:2 reads: “When you enter the land that I assign you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Eternal.” The commandment goes on to explain technically what this will mean; not just when the Israelites enter the land, but every seventh year, the community is required to leave the fields unsewn and the vineyards untrimmed.

Two weeks ago, on April 25, the global community celebrated World Malaria Day, a day when advocates around the world raised awareness and took action to end malaria. Leading up to the day, a number of champions in the fight against malaria, including three of our college fellows, shared their stories on the RAC blog. We were also thrilled to celebrate World Malaria Day at Consultation on Conscience, the Reform Jewish Movement’s flagship public policy conference which began the day after World Malaria Day.