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July 2015

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The persecution and plight of the Rohingya Muslims is nothing new. In fact, the United Nations has identified them as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living in northern Rakhine State in western Burma. For decades, they have faced severe persecution and violence at the hands of the government.

Our hearts are heavy today after learning of a vicious act of terrorism in the West Bank, in which Israelis are suspected of setting the home of a Palestinian family on fire. Tragically, the fire claimed the life of a toddler and badly injured others. Rabbi Jonah Pesner offered thoughts on the tragedy:

by Julia Weinstein

Have you ever heard of an “earworm”? What about the term “sticky music”? That song that stubbornly plays in your head and sticks in your brain is an earworm. Whatever you call it, that tune playing over and over again in your head is a universal and shared human experience. Researchers have studied and written about this phenomenon and Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain have mentioned it. There is even a TED-Ed on the topic.

Sometimes earworms are so annoying that we need an antidote. Just check Google for a suggestion on a cure: how about chewing gum? Or humming “God Save the Queen”?

Fifty years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Act Amendments, which established Medicare and Medicaid and dramatically changed the landscape of health insurance in America. Before the programs went into effect, approximately half of all seniors lacked insurance and many other people, especially people with disabilities, families with children, pregnant women and low-income Americans were unable to afford the medical services they needed. Today, Medicare and Medicaid provide health insurance to about one in three Americans—that’s more than 100 million people!

By Megan Sims

If I drive east from the house I grew up in for five minutes, I will go by an abortion clinic. If I drive west from the house I grew up in for five hours, I will be in Lubbock, a moderately sized city, home to Texas Tech University and the economic hub of the largest contiguous cotton-growing region in the country. One-fifth of the city’s population lives in poverty.

This past weekend, I attended the Religions for Peace USA Earth-Faith-Peace Teach In with a group of my fellow young faith leaders engaged in climate justice work. The group included participants from a wide array of religious traditions, from Franciscans to Zoroastrians, who flew in to the Teach-In from as far as Bombay and Brazil, as nearby as Boston and Washington, D.C. Together, our group explored sites of environmental degradation and pollution, learned about cap and trade and carbon tax models for mitigating climate change and shared environmental education and advocacy best practices from our communities.

Earlier this month, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced an effort to repeal the “global gag rule,” which blocks all U.S. foreign aid to international family planning agencies that provide abortions or even mention abortion as an option for clients seeking health care. Formally known as the Mexico City Policy, the global gag rule has vast, harmful effects on women around the world who rely on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for these services.

Last night the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted to ends its national ban on gay scout leaders and employees. While this vote represents an important step forward for the BSA, the resolution also allows chartered organizations to select their leaders based on their religious beliefs, therefore allowing individual troops to continue to ban gay scout leaders. In 2013, Rabbi David Saperstein, then-Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote a letter calling on the BSA to end their ban on gay scouts and gay scout leaders and called for the BSA to establish a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation. The BSA eventually lifted their ban on gay scouts, and last month, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the RAC, wrote a letter calling on the BSA to lift their ban on gay scout leaders and affirm that transgender boys can serve as both scouts and leaders. Although the ban on gay scout leaders has now been lifted, the BSA has remained silent on transgender inclusion.

Our Jewish values encourage us to advocate for systems that can lift people out of poverty. Jewish history also provides us with an example for helping the needy. During Talmudic times, much of tzedakah (justice) was done though tax-financed, community-run programs that helped those in needed, paralleling the entitlement security that we fight for and continue to fight for today. Through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), we can help provide for individuals in need through the tax system, a structure already in place. We need to ensure that this benefit does not just exist, but that the benefits will lift families out of poverty.

Last week, Congress moved closer to passing legislation preventing domestic abusers and stalkers from purchasing or possessing guns, as Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12) and Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL-10) introduced the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act (H.R. 3130). The bipartisan bill would close a loophole in federal law that allows some perpetrators of domestic violence to access firearms. Crucially, it would expand the definition of “intimate partners” to the definition used in the 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: someone who has been in a romantic or intimate relationship with the abuser. The bill also adds convicted stalkers to the list of those prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns.