The following blog post is adapted from remarks given by Cantor Jason Kaufman (Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA) at Keep the Faith, Build Back Better: Prayer Vigil and Fast outside the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2021.
"Good afternoon, my name is Cantor Jason Kaufman. I am here on behalf of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest and most diverse Jewish denomination in North America.
Guided by progressive Jewish values, the Reform Jewish Movement has for decades been at the forefront of health care advocacy, and because of that, we know that the Build Back Better bill offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address racial and socioeconomic health disparities across the United States. As people of faith, we know that health care is a sacred human right. Congress must ensure that all people in the United States have access to quality, affordable, and equitable health care.
The enduring legacy of slavery and more than four hundred years of systemic immoral racism has created deep racial health disparities across our nation. Black and Brown Americans are likely than white individuals to report a range of chronic health conditions including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS. Black women are up to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. Hispanic, Native American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander mothers face higher mortality rates as well.
This is unacceptable. This is shameful - but we have the ability to change course. We can Build Back Better. We can Build Back Holy.
In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act with the intent of expanding Medicaid to low-income people in all 50 states. But today, 12 states have simply refused to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of Americans without health insurance. We must close the Medicaid gap and expand health care coverage across our nation.
Congress must also pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. It is a long overdue effort to address generations of injustice and ensure a person's race never determines their health outcomes.
Religion is co-opted all too often to divide us, to discriminate against us, and yes, even to harm us. Well, that's not my religion - and I know that's not yours. The God that I believe in does not discriminate against us. The God that I believe in commands us to care for all those in our communities, particularly the most vulnerable. This is not a choice - to care for others health is what it is to be a religious person. As Jews, we believe deeply in the concept of pikuach nefesh - that saving a life is the highest religious value. It is so important, that almost every other religious commandment may be broken in order to save a life.
Friends - we are here to not just demand that a bill be passed. We are here to save lives.
We have learned again and again - and particularly during these last two years, that our destinies are bound with each other. To have a healthy nation, every community and every person must have access to healthcare.
As Jews, as people of faith, as people of conscience, we say with one loud resounding voice: Congress - it is time to pass Build Back Better. Our health depends on it.
Build Back Better. Build Back Holy."
Over the coming days, Congress will continue to negotiate the Build Back Better package. Urge your Senators and Representative to support provisions of the Build Back Better plan that close the Medicaid coverage gap and pass the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.