צדק צדק תרדוף

CONTEMPORARY CAUSES

Here are some voices on the most pressing social justice issues facing our country and world today.

  • Which of these contemporary social justice causes resonates with you?

  • Which of these issues do you feel has the power and possibility that the civil rights and labor rights movements had?

SOCIAL SAFETY NET

Carole Levine (representing the National Council of Jewish Women)

​My name is Carole Levine. My work of the last 30 years has been in the nonprofit sector, most recently as Deputy Director of the National PTA. I have also been out of work for over two years, part of the first in a series of staff layoffs at that well-known nonprofit. I have managed to find part-time work, and benefited from having a working spouse with health insurance and a good salary. I have spent much of the last two years helping colleagues and friends who are not fortunate enough to have the “safety net” that I do.

Many are my age (60’s) and need to work to survive. And many find themselves – for the first time– in increasingly desperate situations. One friend – I’ll call her “Andrea” – was working on her PhD when I hired her for a full-time management position. She was (and still is) the main source of support for her aging parents, a sister with a life-threatening pulmonary disease waiting for a transplant, and a number of other family members who relied on Andrea’s leadership. Andrea opted to relocate to Washington, D.C., with the PTA, only to be laid off six months later. When we spoke last week, Andrea shared that, despite her education and experience, she still hasn’t been able to secure a full-time job, and that the moves from Chicago to D.C. and back, and obligations to family, have left her on the brink of bankruptcy…


Jewish values dictate that those who have are obligated to help those who have not. I am lucky; I am and will be fine. But I’ve witnessed firsthand the changing face of the “needy” in America. They are my neighbors, my colleagues, my friends. Had my circumstances been different, they would be me.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Rabbi Bruce Elder (representing Jewish Council on Urban Affairs)

More than halfway into Chicago’s “Plan for Transformation,” multiple public housing facilities have been demolished but only 1,200 mixed-income homes have been built — a net loss of nearly 14,000 units for people who are poor. There are no firm plans for how to address the resulting shortage, and data show that a tiny percentage of the people formerly living in public housing have been able to move into new, subsidized units.

In stark contrast, the redevelopment of Grove Parc on Chicago’s Southside proves that it is possible to successfully address housing needs in our communities – through firm public commitment, non-profit development expertise, and community involvement. In 2008, HUD granted ownership of Grove Parc Plaza to an organization known as the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH). The building had been previously uninhabitable, plagued by years of mismanagement and disrepair. This development represented over 500 units of affordable rental housing, most of them Section 8. The Grove Parc Tenants Association, POAH, and community partners joined forces to launch an enormous multi-year redevelopment project to preserve and renovate this housing. The transformation of the area is now well underway, and a zero-interest loan from the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs’ Community Ventures Program helped to get the ball rolling.

Jewish tradition teaches, “It’s a joy to live in one’s own home” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Moed Katan 2:4). As Jews, we inherit a collective memory of wandering the desert in search of a home that will provide safety, stability, and community. Public and affordable housing are key components to ensuring the same for all.

HEALTHCARE

Rabbi Matthew Soffer (representing the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston)

My name is Rabbi Matthew Soffer, and I’m a rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston. At Temple Israel, and with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, we believe with full faith that healthcare is a right and not a privilege. No one knows this better than Kim, a member of Temple Israel, a preschool teacher in Boston.

When Kim was 10 she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She had surgery, and they removed the tumor. … She went to college, then graduate school in Boston. But while in Boston, away from her home and her doctors, her health took a turn. She needed – and had – surgery again, and again. The last thing she should have had to worry about amid this extraordinary battle was her healthcare coverage. However, for 18 months, Kim’s so-called “coverage” was so inadequate that she had to pick up an additional plan to maintain her ability to receive care from her lifelong medical team in New York. When her condition required her to take a break from work, Kim was denied worker’s comp. Why? Because her cancer was a “pre-existing condition.”

Today Kim is now secure in her job, and 2011 has been a healthy year. But her own struggle with healthcare makes her painfully aware of the crisis across our nation today, with so many lacking the coverage for which she fought and eventually won. What Kim has worked so hard for, what our community is pursuing still, is an affordable, responsible and complete healthcare for all.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Aaron Weininger (representing Keshet)


I want to tell you two brief stories today about what LGBT people are facing every day. The first is Alex’s story. Alex is a rabbinical student with years of experience in Jewish, youth, nonprofit, and educational worlds who spent months searching for a job in his local community. Each application would warrant an interview, then time and again he was turned down. His classmates and colleagues – some with less experience – all found jobs locally.

​Ultimately, he found a job - in another state. What set Alex apart from his classmates is that Alex is transgender. As he applied for jobs he was told that parents might feel uncomfortable with him teaching their children, that the kids would be confused, or simply that it might be inappropriate. None of this was a commentary on his skills or experience; rather it was all to do with his gender.


Then there is Brian, a gay man who grew up, came out, and worked for years at a progressive Jewish summer camp. Yet when he wanted to be a bunk counselor, he was told by the director he’s known since he was 10 that he couldn’t be placed in a bunk “for fear of the appearance of impropriety.” When pressed if what he meant by “impropriety” was actually pedophilia, the director said yes. His staffing decision was based entirely on the deeply homophobic stereotype that gay men are pedophiles.

What Alex and Brian’s supervisors and interviewers did was completely legal, because both of their states lacked comprehensive employment discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Nobody wins when highly qualified, passionate, talented people are denied opportunities because of who they are. The cost to LGBT people is incredibly high in terms of financial stability, health, and emotional well-being. But the costs are also high to the rest of our communities, who lose valuable colleagues, mentors, and collaborators, and to LGBT youth especially, who are denied visible role models, and the ability to imagine a future as full of possibility as their peers.

FOOD JUSTICE

The Jewish Food movement has also taken on hunger and access to nutritious food as a critical issue. Studies have shown that there are over 1 billion hungry people on the planet, more than ever before in history. The Jewish community of Los Angeles has taken on this critical issue by assembling a large coalition of groups under its Fed Up with Hunger initiative. This initiative includes food pantries, legislative efforts to end hunger and creating venues that provide access to nutritional food for all.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance, a 10 year old Jewish social justice organization in LA, is making food justice a priority for 2010. Their work includes raising awareness by showing Jewish leaders the food deserts of East LA, launching a campaign to bring grocery stores that provide both fresh food and middle-class jobs to L.A. food deserts, and volunteering at local community gardens that provide access to healthy food.

Another group, Mazon, is a national nonprofit devoted entirely to preventing and alleviating hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds. Every year, Mazon grants over $4 million to more than 300 hunger-relief agencies, including emergency food providers, food banks, multi-service organizations and advocacy groups that seek long-term solutions to the hunger problem.

GUN VIOLENCE

Rabbi Menachem Creditor (Originally presented as part of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Social Justice Commission)

Every issue matters. Some issues are ones in which a rabbinical group can achieve uniformity of opinion, but those remain rare. And the pluralistic Eilu v’Eilu Divrei Elohim Chayim (these and those are both God’s living words) approach is hard to maintain when the issue discussed is an emotional one.

We, the Rabbinical Assembly, are an international body, with colleagues spanning the globe. In Israel, where guns are a very present reality throughout society, the Gun Violence record is much lower. This is because of a culture of Gun Responsibility, where mental health screening and national registries are understood by leaders spanning the political spectrum to be wise and important enough to enact and maintain.
In the United States, political opponents of universal background checks for the purchase of a firearm and the notion of a National Gun Registry are well-organized. Many of these organized groups, among which the NRA is the most prominent, regularly invoke the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution as their proof-text. But we, as careful readers of text are also charged with championing the primary Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh (saving lives). We need to be as ready to see the many possible meanings of America’s sacred texts and to marshal our resources and use our voices to promote the healthiest authentic reading, based on our subjective vision, just as we do for Jewish sacred scripture. We do not hold Author’s (or Authors’) Intent as the only way of determining the application of inherited tradition. If we did, we would have to consider our Founding Fathers’ vision of a musket compared to a semi-automatic Glock. We do not see the grundnorm (self-proving authority) of Torah as mandating one specific interpretation, and neither should we do so in the case of the Second Amendment.

I ask us all, beg us all, to use our rabbinic voices to save as many lives as possible. Lives are on the line, and our voices as American faith leaders can make a world of difference.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • Which of these contemporary social justice causes resonates with you?

  • Which of these issues do you feel has the power and possibility that the civil rights and labor rights movements had?

ACTIVISM IN ACTION

Click on the image below.

"Kudos to Rabbis David Paskin and Jesse Olitzky who have organized Come Together Against Hate, protesting AIPAC's invitation to Donald Trump to speak this Monday night. These two rabbis and their supporters are acting in the noble and courageous tradition of my father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The vulgarity, racism, and fear mongering that have been promoted by Mr. Trump violate everything we stand for as Jews. Rabbi Paskin and Rabbi Olitzky: my father would be standing with you!" Posted on Facebook by Susannah Heschel, March 18, 2016

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

  • Did the rabbis of the Come Together Against Hate movement have basis in Jewish tradition for their activism?

  • Would you have stood with them?

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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