Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner’s Remarks at the March to Save Medicaid, Save Lives – As Prepared for Delivery

July 13, 2017

Contact: Max Rosenblum or Graham Roth
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WASHINGTON – This morning on Capitol Hill, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, joined Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President and Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and Architect of the “Moral Mondays” Movement; Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life; Rev. Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; Rev. Terrance M. McKinley, Minister of Reid Temple AME Church; and others for the “March to Save Medicaid, Save Lives.” Rabbi Pesner’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow below.

Good morning. I am Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – the largest denomination in Jewish life.


Jewish tradition teaches that all people are endowed by the Holy One with dignity and worth.  From the Talmudic period on, the obligation of physicians to heal, of patients to seek health care, and communities to ensure the provision of health care was well established.  In keeping with the biblical and rabbinic pervasive mandate to protect the poor and vulnerable, it was not uncommon for communities to ensure that physicians and medicines were available to those who could not pay.

Many people are familiar with the Talmudic maxim: “Whoever saves a single life, saves an entire world.”  There are lives at stake in this debate.  And that is why we fight for affordable health care and why we demand that the Senate protect Medicaid and the nearly 75 million people it serves, primarily low-income Americans,

people with disabilities,

the elderly, children,

and those who need long-term care;

 -- indeed, all of those whose health is at risk

and whose lives are at stake.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act is beyond repair; slight modifications do not stop it from being an unacceptable assault on our country’s most vulnerable communities.

This debate is about the real families in our congregations who will be directly impacted if the Senate bill is passed. Real families who deal every day with health challenges, and for whom this bill if passed would impose immense new burdens to their struggles.

Families whose children with disabilities utilize Medicaid in schools, so they can receive appropriate education.

Families with elderly parents who receive care in their homes instead of in hospitals or nursing facilities because Medicaid supports them.

Families who could not afford health care before the Affordable Care Act, and now can live without the constant worry that an illness will cause bankruptcy – or worse: go untreated.

Folks like the Kadish family, whose lives have been forever changed by tragedy, but whose tenacity and love serves as a reminder of what this current political debate is really about.

On June 29, 2013, Ethan Kadish was playing ultimate frisbee at his summer camp when he was struck by a sudden bolt of lightning. Ethan experienced a traumatic brain injury, became severely disabled, and requires constant care. As I sat at Ethan’s bedside and prayed with his parents, his older brother and his little sister, I could see that their lives were forever changed.  Ethan has been in the hospital for over 380 days over the last four years. Throughout their ordeal, the Kadish family has been surrounded with love, receiving the emotional, spiritual, and financial help of their Jewish community in Cincinnati, Ohio. They rely on Medicaid to cover the enormous financial costs of Ethan’s care, which amount to over one million dollars each year. As Ethan’s parents recently shared, “We deal with a significant amount of uncertainty every day, just managing Ethan's day-to-day care. We do not need the added stress of how to pay for Ethan's basic medical care, or if our family will be forced into financial ruin.”

As clergy, we know the power of religious communities to lift up our members; and Ethan’s story bears witness to this truth. However, as clergy, we also know that our churches and our synagogues could not possibly make up for the enormous financial costs that cutting Medicaid would mean for millions of people, whose lives are at risk. The Kadish Family’s home state of Ohio would lose $37.4 billion in total federal and state Medicaid funding from FY2020-FY2026—a 17.5 percent cut. We know that this would be devastating for millions of people—including 4 million elderly Americans who would lose coverage all together. If Medicaid is cut in any fashion close to the Senate’s proposal, governors across the country would be forced to choose between cutting Ethan’s care, or cutting the care of some else. This is a choice no person should have to make. For the Talmud also says: “Whoever destroys a life, destroys an entire world.”

In our liturgy, when we pray for healing, we echo the voice of Moses in the Torah who cried out:  El Nah – Refah Na La! Please God – heal her! As we pray for all those who are sick we say the names out loud of all those in need of healing. So today, I say the name Ethan Kadish.  I add his name to the millions and millions more as we pray.

We pray for their healing.

We pray that they may find comfort despite the fear, stress and uncertainty of what the United States Senate might be poised to do.

And we pray for the soul of our country, demanding that the United States Senate hear the voice of Ethan’s parents, and millions of more voices like theirs, and reject the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act.

El-Nah – Shma Na! Please God – Hear our Prayer!


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit www.rac.org for more.