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Beyond Marriage Equality

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 09:00

On Wednesday night at the ESPY Awards, Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, named after the African American tennis star who died of AIDS in 1993. In her moving speech, Caitlyn described the struggles trans people face, including bullying, suicide and even murder, and the importance of education and accepting trans people and their identities. Caitlyn’s speech highlighted several of the many issues that the LGBT community and their allies now have to address following the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

The Supreme Court’s ruling three weeks ago to overturn marriage bans and establish marriage equality across the United States was an important milestone in the battle for LGBT equality but a lot more needs to be done. As Caitlyn highlighted, trans people face high levels of bullying and are often the victims of violence, including homicides. Transgender people, like their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts, lack explicit federal non-discrimination protections and therefore have limited recourse when they face discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, federal funding, education and jury selection.

The fact of the matter is, the Supreme Court’s decision, though important, had a narrow scope and only focused on marriage equality. Earlier this week, we saw in the halls of Congress the legislative barriers that LGBT people still must overcome. When the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) – a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on students actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or their association with LGBT people – came to a vote as an amendment to a larger bill, it failed to get the 60 votes it needed (52-45).

Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have announced that they will jointly be introducing legislation that would establish comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protections in education. If the SNDA vote is any indicator, this will be an uphill battle.

In addition, LGBT youth throughout the country are still struggling with their identities and often face rejection from their peers and their family. Despite President Obama’s call for states to outlaw “conversion therapy,” it is still legal in most states for conversion therapy providers to offer services that they claim can make LGB people straight and transgender people cisgender. These “therapies,” beyond being ineffective, also lead to negative psychological outcomes among LGBT people.

It is clear that we still have a long way to go to achieve legal equality for LGBT people. But, perhaps the most difficult struggle LGBT people face is achieving lived equality. LGBT people need laws that grant them the same rights and protections as other marginalized groups, but as the experiences of people of color in this country illustrate, legal protections do not necessarily lead to lived equality, though they do get us closer to that place.

As Reform Jews, we have an obligation to play a leading role in fighting for LGBT equality. Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image (Genesis 1:27) and that there are other genders/sexes beyond male and female. As Jews who are tasked with repairing the world, we cannot stand idly by as LGBT people face discrimination and rejection. That is why our synagogues have taken important steps over the past few decades to welcome LGBT people and why the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have passed over a dozen resolutions regarding LGBT rights, including the CCAR’s most recent resolution in opposition to conversion therapy and in support of the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people. To learn more about LGBT rights and to contact your elected officials about important LGBT legislation, visit the RAC’s LGBT rights webpage.


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AIPAC Cancels Staff Vacations in Push To Kill Iran Deal

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 06:29
Cancel your summer vacations. That was the order AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, gave his employees in a staff meeting convened this week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after the United States announced the Iran nuclear deal.

Why Israel's Military Supports Iran Deal — Despite Bibi's Bluster

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 21:00
The Israeli security establishment mostly supports the Iran nuclear deal, despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition. J.J. Goldberg speaks to a former Shin Bet director who says the prime minister’s biggest mistake was keeping America at arm’s length as the agreement took shape.

Recap: Catholic and Jewish Faith Traditions Call for Action on Climate

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 17:00

By Jennifer Queen

Though Pope Francis may not know it, he and the ancient rabbis have a lot in common. As I participated in the Interfaith Update on the Papal Encyclical webinar yesterday, Rabbi Tarfon’s words, “it’s not your obligation to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” from Pirkei Avot (2:15-16), continually came to mind. The conversation between Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner and Rachel Laser from the Religious Action Center, founder of the Catholic Climate Covenant Dan Misleh, and Mark Rohlena from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, unfolded around Laudato Si: Sulla cura della casa commune (or Praised Be You: On the care of the common home), Pope Francis’ encyclical, released in June.

Pope Francis’s stance is that as we, as human beings, are directly responsible for the effects of climate change, and so the onus is on us to make good on our mistreatment of the environment. Though the work may not be complete within our lifetimes, neither are we free to sit idly by while clean water sources disappear, deserts expand, and the poorest and most vulnerable among us continue to suffer. This is not only our responsibility, it is a moral imperative. Pope Francis discusses climate change as an “issue we’re facing as a human family” and links our disregard and abuse of the environment as intimately connected to and indicative of our disregard of one another – one that requires our immediate attention, individually and systemically.

With an audience of almost 100 participants representing a variety of faith groups from around the country, we learned on the webinar that Laudato Si is the first papal encyclical solely dedicated to the environment. While Mr. Misleh noted that encyclicals are, first and foremost, “to be conscientiously read by Catholics,” this one is intended for everyone, including those outside of the Catholic community.

We as Reform Jews can certainly agree with Pope Francis’s environmental agenda. Our relationship with the environment and the natural world is not as God intended, nor is our relationship with our fellow humans. Rather, as partners in the sacred, ongoing work of creation, we must consciously plug back into the notion of “intergenerational solidarity.” At the same time we need to acknowledge that our planet is on loan to us from our children and all the generations which will come after us. This parallels the Jewish teachings in Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah (7:13), which tells us that when God created the first humans, God said: “Look at My works! See how beautiful they are—how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

We are not only thrilled to have such great partners in the Catholic Church in the sacred, ongoing work toward climate justice, we also look forward to assisting in the worldwide culture shift toward the Pope’s idea of “sabbath living;” toward deep reflection and contemplation about our place in the universe, and our role as stewards of the earth in order to actualize, as Mr. Rohlena put so eloquently, the “full picture of human flourishing”.

Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will.

Jenn Queen is the rabbinic legislative assistant at the RAC this summer and is a second year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Jenn holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University and is an alumna of Indiana University.

The post Recap: Catholic and Jewish Faith Traditions Call for Action on Climate appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.

Excavation of Jewish Mass Grave Halted in Lithuania

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 16:29
The excavation of a mass grave of Holocaust victims in Lithuania was halted following an appeal by the Jewish community and the country’s chief rabbi.

Why Orthodox Rabbis Should Be Required to Watch “Magic Mike XXL”

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 10:19
“Magic Mike XXL” is entirely and completely designed for the heterosexual female gaze — a gaze which Orthodox Judaism struggles to acknowledge. Shayna Weiss argues that the movie’s embrace of female desire is one Orthodox rabbis should take to heart.

Reauthorizing Comprehensive Sex Ed

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 17:00

The past few weeks have brought mixed news in the realm of sexuality education. At the end of June, we wrote about a House sub-committee vote to eliminate programs proven to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy, reduce abortion and save tax dollars in Fiscal Year 2016.

Since then, a Senate sub-committee voted to advance similar cuts, proposing a budget that would significantly cut funding for the innovative Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) and for Title X family planning centers, while increasing funding for abstinence-only until marriage programs by 300 percent. By gutting funding to family planning services for low-income individuals and undermining comprehensive sexuality education, these appropriations bills would leave millions of Americans without information and services to keep themselves safe and healthy.

By contrast, abstinence-only until marriage “sex ed” curricula leave teens without the necessary tools to keep themselves safe and healthy. Studies show that abstinence-only until marriage programs do not prevent teenagers from having sex—instead, they prevent them from having safe sex. Our nation’s young people must have access to scientifically-based, medically-accurate information in order to make informed choices about their health.

Comprehensive sexuality education equips people with the information they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other health problems, and it also provides models for healthy adult relationships. It relies on accurate scientific knowledge and research to provide students with the truth about the potential risks of sexual activity, all while teaching tools to reduce these risks and to promote safe, healthy behavior.

In the midst of these damaging cuts, there is some good news on the sex ed front: key provisions of the Teach Safe Relationships Act (S. 355) were included in the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (S. 1177), the bipartisan education bill that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Senators Kaine (D-VA) and McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act back in February to integrate a safe relationships component to all sexuality education curricula. The Every Child Achieves Act incorporates key provisions of the Teach Safe Relationships Act by requiring all schools that apply for Title IV funding to describe how they are educating students about safe relationship behavior. The bill also enables school districts to use their Title IV funding to improve their “safe relationship behavior” education, as well as defines safe relationship behavior as developing effective communication skills and recognizing and preventing coercion, violence, or abuse, including teen and dating violence, stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence and harassment.

According to the Justice Department, more than 290,000 Americans are victims of rape and sexual assault each year, with young women between the ages of 16-24 consistently experiencing the highest rate of intimate partner violence.  We know that one of the best ways to prevent sexual violence among adults is to educate them about healthy relationships as young people; by teaching safe and healthy behaviors early, we can shape how young people approach relationships throughout their lives.

The guiding principle of sexuality in the Jewish tradition is K’doshim tih’yu, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Providing young adults with accurate and comprehensive information allows them to make informed decisions about their health and helps them maintain respect for themselves and their bodies.

The appropriations bill is scheduled move forward to the full House Appropriations Committee next week. Contact your Representative today to urge him or her to protect robust funding for comprehensive sex education and family planning services!




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This Month in The Tent: No Summer Slowdown Here!

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 09:00

Much of the world slows down during the summer, and even synagogues aren’t the hustling, bustling places they typically are during the rest of the year. Nonetheless, conversations continue unabated in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

Many of the current discussions focus on planning for 5776, with these conversations proving especially popular:

  • With fewer than 10 weeks until the High Holidays, synagogue leaders are engaged in an ongoing conversation about how to market worship services to unaffiliated members of the community. Do you have any advice to share? Chime in!
  • On the programming front, synagogue leaders whose congregations are immersed in hands-on social action initiatives are looking for ways to boost social action advocacy activities, including how to achieve consensus from among a diversity of opinions.
  • Are religious school fees are tax deductible? A conversation among lay leaders tackles the touchy topic of IRS rules and how to advise temple members about which synagogue expenses can (and cannot) be written off.
  • Has your synagogue come up with an interesting way to let families know about children’s b’nai mitzvah dates? How about a “Parashah Party”? Check out this conversation about creative ways to inform families of their child’s bar or bat mitzvah date.
  • Synagogue leaders are ever in search of cost savings, and this conversation about how to get discounts for software purchases can save you a bundle. Hear from congregations that are already taking advantage of these cost-effective measures to learn how yours can do the same.
  • For a bird’s-eye view of how other congregations manage all things High Holiday – from tickets and video streaming to balancing security and audacious hospitality and more – check out this summary of a recent YamJam in The Tent.

The lazy days of summer are a perfect opportunity to come on in, join the conversation, and explore the wealth of resources and information available in The Tent. For additional support, contact the URJ Knowledge Network team.

'Moses Man' — A Holocaust Musical of Teens on The Run

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 15:55
“Moses Man,” a musical about a family’s 9-year-long World War II survival odyssey that took them on a sanctuary search from Vienna, to Cyprus, Palestine and Africa before finally landing in America, has enough “now you’re safe, now you’re not!” twists and turns to justify being dubbed a Holocaust musical thriller.

Lithuanian Rabbi Pushes Back Against Excavation of Mass Grave

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 09:06
The chief rabbi of Lithuania appealed to authorities to prevent the excavation of a mass grave of Holocaust victims in the country’s north.

Looking Back at Kutz@50… and Then Looking Forward

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 09:00

By Rabbi Michael A. White

I recently returned from a magical week as a faculty member at the URJ Kutz Camp, the Reform Movement’s teen leadership institute at the foothills of the Catskills in Warwick, N.Y. My week at Kutz brought back memories of my first visit some 37 years ago.

Nearly four decades ago, one of my high school classmates convinced me to attend a regional youth group event at Kutz, and off I went. Until that weekend, Shabbat, to me, meant sitting in a hard pew while listening to organ music. Shabbat at Kutz camp was refreshingly different, to say the least!

During Shabbat at Kutz that first year, we ate greasy chicken and delicious doughy challah. Services were energizing and informal, led by a cool guy with long hair, a mustache, and a guitar. We draped our arms around each other’s shoulders, and we sang our hearts out. We talked through the night. And just before we left, one of the leaders of the Reform Movement, Al Vorspan, challenged us to fight to end apartheid in South Africa, for women’s rights, for Israel. He told us that we were the future, that we could make a difference, and that we could heal the world.

That first weekend at camp, I became a committed, enthusiastic Reform Jew.

Like most teenagers, I was tentative, excruciatingly self-critical, easily bruised by social slights, afraid of girls, afraid of being left out, afraid of just about everything. It was in the intentional, warm, welcoming community of youth group and camp that I found my voice and my confidence, a sense of purpose and mission, and friends I came to love.

These days, I certainly do not consider myself old, but I am old enough to be concerned about Jewish leadership after I’m gone, about who will draw our kids into the nonjudgmental Reform Jewish teenage community of the next generation. That’s why I have agreed to chair “Leading the Jewish Future: The Campaign for the URJ Kutz Camp.”

At 50 years old, Kutz Camp is too small, too dated, and in need of massive refurbishment and expansion. Our collective alumni vision is to transform Kutz into a year-round center for teenagers, college students, and young adults. Throughout the year, Jewish youth will come to Kutz for exceptional leadership training; they will learn about the Torah’s commitment to heal the world, about God, prayer, Israel, and Jewish ethics. Artistic and musically inclined kids will come to create the next iteration of Jewish music and art. College kids will learn to combat the anti-Israel cancer that plagues so many of their campuses, and Birthright alumni will have their reunions at Kutz, learning to make the transition from new lovers of Israel to ardent American Zionists. And finally, youth professionals will come to gain vital professional development.

That is our vision for Kutz. It’s a daunting challenge, and we are just getting started, assembling a national team to find the necessary resources.

I recently wandered into the office of my colleague at Temple Sinai, Rabbi Andy Gordon, who was meeting with one of our outstanding teen leaders, Maya Faye Gordon, as she prepared to become a bat mitzvah on our congregation’s teen pilgrimage to Israel. Together, they were excitedly discussing her Torah portion, Terumahwhich translates as “sacred gifts for the construction of the temple.” Maya told me it was a perfect portion for her: “The gifts of Judaism, of Jewish community, of youth group, of Israel, the obligation to use her gifts to improve her community and world… it’s just perfect!”

Rabbi Gordon was clearly very proud of his student. For me, it was an encounter that affirmed the priority Temple Sinai pays to our teen community, and it also affirmed the importance of securing the future of URJ Kutz Camp. We need strong synagogues for all the future Mayas to find their Jewish home, and we need places like Kutz to ensure that gifted leaders and mentors will be there to inspire them.

Rabbi Michael A. White serves Temple Sinai of Roslyn in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. If you are interested in contributing to help secure the next generation of Reform Jewish leadership, please contact him by commenting on this post.

UN Calls for Release of 2 Israelis Held in Gaza

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 07:53
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Palestinians in Gaza to provide information about two Israelis believed to be held there. Ban on Monday also called for their prompt return to their families, the Associated Press reported. Ethiopian-Israel Avera Mengistu is believed to have climbed over the security fence between Israel and Gaza last September. His presumed captivity, which Hamas denies, was under a gag order that was lifted last week. Also missing is an Israel Bedouin who crossed over to Gaza in April and has not returned. TOP HEADLINES Obama: Nuclear deal cuts off pathway to Iranian bomb Lithuanian chief rabbi protests excavation of WWII mass grave Former hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner again detained, released The U.N. will monitor developments in the case, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the AP. Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that Mengistu’s father has been homeless for the last ten months. The Ashkelon municipality offered to pay for hotel bills or rent for Haili Mengistu, and said it would increase welfare payments to the family, Ynet reported. The Mengistus made aliyah in the mid-1980s during Operation Moses, and moved first to Jerusalem and then to Ashkelon. They divorced three years ago. Haili Mengistu has been moving from relative to relative and sleeping on the streets since then. Israel negotiated several months ago with Hamas for release of the two men, but Hamas tried to hand over an Eritrean national who had entered Gaza looking for work instead, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday night.

Can an Ex-Hasid Fit In Without Ever Hearing Nirvana or Watching Cartoons?

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 05:00
Shulem Deen says those who’ve left the ultra-Orthodox world have a key worry: They don’t know how to fit into the American mainstream without ever having listened to pop music or put on a tie to get a job.

For Ex-CNN Anchor Who Converted, Judaism Sharpens Focus On Kids

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 05:00
CNN anchor turned education advocate Campbell Brown is launching a news site called The Seventy Four, referring to the 74 million school-age children in the United States.

Conversion Committee Helps Steer Path for Orthodoxy

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 16:14
I have a confession: I am a convert regarding conversions. That’s the stark realization I reached as chairman of the Rabbinical Council of America’s recent conversion review committee.

Why I Can't Go to Your Non-Zionist Synagogue

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 15:00
When Lior Zaltzman heard about Tzedek Chicago, a non-Zionist synagogue, she realized she probably had much in common with its congregants. But as an Israeli citizen, she won’t be joining them. Here’s why.

Can a Non-Zionist Synagogue Succeed — and Spread?

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 13:00
Now that Rabbi Brant Rosen has founded Tzedek Chicago, an explicitly non-Zionist congregation, Jonathan Katz asks: Is this the model millennials have long craved — and will we soon see more like it?

A Greater Fire

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 09:30

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

Two weeks ago, Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist Church was a victim of arson. It is less than three and half miles from my home. Their children’s choir sang at our Beth El MLK service three years ago and my kids were close friends with the kids of their former minister, Dennis Hall. I was moved to worship with them the first Sunday after the fire. 

In Charlotte, where the painful past of the Jim Crow South is still felt and racial mistrust can be high, I feel a religious mandate to “love the stranger” and to make that stranger into a neighbor and friend.  With the freedom of Sundays without our own worship services, I also choose to help break down the racial barriers in our churches, fighting the maxim that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in our community of some 700 houses of worship.

Briar Creek Road Baptist Church is small.  When I visited, there were about three dozen church members and a dozen visitors. I was moved by the optimism and faith of Senior Pastor Mannix Kinsey, Co-Pastor Rhonda Kinsey, and their entire congregation. With dance, song, preaching and prayer, they offered gratitude. Here were some of their messages:

  • Our children’s building was set aflame but thank God no human life was lost.
  • An arsonist set a fire last Wednesday but we will set a greater fire of spirit in our sanctuary.
  • We don’t need lights or power to worship God.
  • We are grateful for so many churches that are ready to help.
  • Tragedy will not stop us from being a unifying force.
  • We don’t have time to worry about whomever, whatever, or however the fire was set.

While Briar Creek Road Baptist Church does not have time to worry about whomever, whatever, or however the fire was set, we, as the Reform Movement, do have that time. We should worry not only about this fire but about the six other recent fires at African American churches in the South, including three confirmed arsons. While the fire in the church in Greeleyville, SC was likely set off by lightning, it nonetheless awakened memories of their 1995 fire, started by two members of the Ku Klux Klan. When the sanctity of even one church in our country is shattered by racism and hatred, it shatters the sanctity and sanctuary of all of our houses of worship.  How much more so should seven fires move us to action?

Praying with our African American brothers and sisters is a start. This summer’s weekly conversations for healing and change coordinated by Mecklenburg Ministries (Charlotte’s interfaith organization) are a next step.  But, we need to do more. As a religious movement we need to work towards achieving racial justice on every level: from supporting national, state and local legislation protecting civil liberties to working together in congregational partnerships with the African American community.

For decades, Temple Beth El has taken part in a popular Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon Exchange with African American churches. For several years, the broader Charlotte community embraced that vision and dozens of congregations engaged in an MLK sermon exchanges.  For the coming year, we hope to see more frequent youth and parent exchanges among Charlotte houses of worship across lines of difference. We are starting with our Beth El youth and pursuing opportunities for youth exchanges in areas of worship and social action.

My prayer is that in the coming year, as a movement, we can build a greater fire for racial understanding and justice that will create light, warmth, and safe sanctuaries for all.

Rabbi Judith Schindler is Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth El in Charlotte. She is on the Interfaith Advisory Council of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, leads the Education Equity group for the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, is past Co-Chair of the Clergy Advisory Board of Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith organization, and served on the Board of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition for Housing.  She serves on the President’s Rabbinic Council of the Hebrew Union College and is a past Co-Chair of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.

The post A Greater Fire appeared first on Fresh Updates from RAC.

Rabbi Barry Freundel Appeals Prison Sentence for Mikveh-Peeping

Sun, 07/12/2015 - 14:27
Rabbi Barry Freundel is appealing the length of his prison sentence for filming women nude at a ritual bath.

Dumped Claims Conference Ombudsman Says Fraud May Be Much Bigger

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 21:01
When the board of directors of the Claims Conference — which handles German compensation for Nazi atrocities against Jews — gathers next week in New York for its annual meeting, controversy again may lead the agenda.