Can a person have a fair chance without access to housing?

 This week is National Reentry week, a time when the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, returning citizens, and advocates work to raise awareness of our nation’s need to reform our criminal justice system and better reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society. In the United States, nearly 100 million adults have criminal records and currently 2.2 million adults are in prison.

Yesterday, the White House hosted a briefing entitled “The Consequences of the Criminal Justice System,” which included leading experts from the American Enterprise Institute, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, opened the briefing with the central message: “If we reform our criminal justice system our communities will be safer and our economy will be stronger.” While describing important research, panelists demonstrated how mass incarceration contributes significantly to poverty, income inequality, and family instability. Fixing the damage will be difficult, and any reform must include community based programs to improve access to early childhood education, healthcare, and housing, implement better community policing practices, and much more.

 At JCPA’s annual conference last year, our partner agencies recognized that, “denying access [to returning citizens] to public assistance, food stamps, subsidized housing, professional licensure, student loans, and other programs to individuals who would otherwise qualify is short-sighted and counterproductive” as we work to allow all Americans the opportunity to live up to their potential. 

Drug arrests comprise half the arrests in our criminal justice system, and approximately half of those are marijuana arrests—the vast majority of which are for simple possession for personal use. Arrests and prosecutions for drug offenses fall disproportionately on African-Americans and Latinos, despite usage among Caucasians at similar rates.  Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued important guidance on the application of the Fair Housing Act standards in regards to applicants with criminal records. Individuals that were formerly incarcerated, or were convicted but not incarcerated, and even in some cases individuals with an arrest record, face significant barriers in securing housing. Above all, this guidance warns housing providers of discriminating against applicants on the basis of race or national origin. If two applicants of similar criminal records apply to rent an apartment, one Caucasian and another African American, yet only the African American applicant is denied housing, this exclusion constitutes discrimination. This may seem like a clear case of racial discrimination but it’s important considering that in 2014, 36% of the prison population was African American yet African Americans made up only 12% of the total U.S. population.     

In order to truly give returning citizens a fair shot at rejoining communities and contributing to our economy, it is important to make sure that they have access to basic services that so many of us take for granted. Fair access to housing is a good place to start. 

-Read HUD guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act standards for applicants with criminal records

- Read Department of Justice’s Roadmap to Reentry

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Melanie Roth Gorelick to join Jewish Council for Public Affairs staff


New York, April 11, 2016 – The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is proud to announce that Melanie Roth Gorelick will be joining the JCPA team as a Vice President of the organization. Melanie brings ten years of experience as a leader in the Jewish community relations field to her new position. Most recently, she has served as the Director of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. She is also founder of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and has worked professionally as an advocate for Israel, social justice, and humanitarian concerns at both national and international levels.

“I am thrilled at this opportunity to work with the esteemed staff of JCPA to help strengthen the community relations field and continue to ensure that the Jewish community is a leader on important policy concerns that are shaping the world at a time of great change. Based on Jewish values, and with a rich history of working in close collaboration with interfaith and interethnic groups, JCPA has a crucial role to play.”

“I could not be happier that Melanie is joining JCPA’s team. She's a dynamic leader in the community relations arena with an incredible track record in building relations and advocating on Jewish issues," stated David Bernstein, President and CEO of JCPA. "Her experience in the field will help us provide support to JCRCs across the country."

Melanie will begin her employment at JCPA on May 2 and will work out of the New York office.

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 16 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.


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Book your ticket soon!

 Just over a month left to register for JCPA2016! The hotel deadline for discounted rooms is Tuesday, April 12th. Visit www.jcpaevents.org/hotel to book online today!

Discuss and debate the big ideas – political, social, and organizational – that will define our world and our work. Build skills from governance to strategic planning, making OUR communities more effective. JCPA meetings are an experience you will never forget. We are where networks are formed and friendships are made.

Participate in 8 Skill Building sessions based on what YOU told us you wanted to learn: 

Keep Calm and Carry On: Navigating A Crisis In Your Community; Getting From Here to There: Tools For Real Time Strategic Planning; By The Numbers: How To Track And Measure Our Community Relations Work; Getting To Know You: How To Build Powerful Community Partnerships; Kosher Pork: Ramping Up Government Relations; Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Community Relations, But Were Afraid To Ask; Meet The Press: How To Get Your Message Out Through The Media; Creating Community Campus Partnerships

Be sure to book your hotel room soon because the discounted rate expires on April 12, 2016. 

click here to RSVP! 

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Celebrate an Earth Day Passover

 Passover is just around the corner! This year, Passover falls on Earth Day and also at the same time that the U.S. will sign a historic greenhouse gas emissions reductions agreement. As a celebration of Passover and our Jewish environmental values, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has created an Earth Justice Haggadah in collaboration with Interfaith Power and Light (DC.MD.NoVA) and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. As our interfaith counterparts celebrate Earth Day in churches, mosques, and other houses of worship around the world, the Jewish community can join in by considering the earth and climate change during our Passover Seder. The Haggadah can be used in full or as an insert for the four glasses of wine, the four children, or any other Seder component. You can check out the Haggadah here!  

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Conference Call on Intersectionality

 Last week, the Israel Action Network (IAN) partnered with JCPA and the JCRC of San Francisco for a webinar that explored the concept of intersectionality and how it relates to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. 

According to David Bernstein, President & CEO of JCPA,  in his op-ed on the subject, “Intersectionality holds that various forms of oppression — racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and homophobia — constitute an intersecting system of oppression. In this worldview, a transcendent white, male, heterosexual power structure keeps down marginalized groups. Uniting oppressed groups, the theory goes, strengthens them against the dominant power structure.”

On the webinar, Ilana Kaufman, JCRC Pace Director, East Bay; Joe Goldman, JCRC Pace Manager, San Francisco; and Aimee Ellis, JCRC Community Engagement Manager discussed intersectionality as a theory, a lived reality, and as an event. They also shared stories in which intersectionality was successfully employed to build coalitions and ended with an informative question and answer session. If you weren’t able to join the webinar, you can view it by clicking here.

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Terror in Pakistan

 A suicide bombing on Sunday killed dozens and wounded hundreds in a city park in Lahore, Pakistan. Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, explaining that the goal was to kill Christians, a minority religious group in Pakistan.

JCPA is outraged by any attempt to persecute individuals or groups because of their religious beliefs. As we maintained in a policy resolution in 2004, “Having been the quintessential victims of religious persecution over the centuries, Jews know what happens when good people silently stand by in the face of discrimination and oppression of others.  Jewish tradition teaches that in every generation we are obligated to view ourselves as if each of us had been personally brought forth out of Egypt.  This instruction serves as a call for the Jewish people to rise up against slavery and tyranny in our own time.  We are therefore committed to protecting religious freedom by raising awareness about and speaking out against religious persecution wherever it exists.”

Unlike the recent attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria the Lahore attack was not perpetrated or inspired by the radical Islamic State (ISIS). The Taliban confine their activities to Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, both groups seek to attack and persecute people of different religions or those who they say practice “heretical” forms of Islam, such as Shi’ites.

JCPA condemns this heinous terrorist attack, as it did those that preceded it in recent weeks in Belgium, Turkey, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. As David Bernstein, JCPA President and CEO, said in the statement issued by JCPA after the bombings in Brussels, “As we pray for the survivors and the families of those who were lost, we must also stand together, across religious, ethnic, and national lines, to confront and stop global terror.” 

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JCPA2016 - Early Registration

 JCPA2016 is a different type of Jewish conference.  It’s not just a place for listening – it’s also a place for learning and action.  Together, we can shape the community relations movement, develop strategies, and engage on the issues of the day.  There is a lot we can learn from each other, and a lot we can learn from you!  We hope you will be joining us for this one-of-a-kind experience.  

Our sessions are totally different: the Unconference, a Visioning Session for the CRC movement, and 15 Skill-Building sessions are designed to be both educational and actionable. Skill-Building sessions include: “Keep Calm and Carry On: navigating a complicated crisis in your community,” “Creating Community Campus Partnerships,” “Getting from here to there: tools for real time strategic planning,” and many others! 

Some of the biggest names and deepest thinkers will not just be presenting opinions; they will be engaging with us on the issues.  We will be working together, so your voice and insights will make a difference.

On the agenda are some of the big ideas – political, social, and organizational – that define our world and our work.   Join us in Cleveland so that we – together – can learn and make our communities stronger.

In case you forgot to register, we've extended the discounted rates until March 30th. Click here to sign up now.

JCPA meetings are an experience you will never forget. We are where networks are formed and friendships are made.

click here to register!

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COEJL Webinar on the Green Climate Fund

 The Green Climate Fund sits at the intersection of the Jewish obligations to protect the poor and to safeguard the earth. How can you get involved in environmental advocacy and #ActOnClimate? Listen as representatives from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish environmental advocacy organizations engage in a webinar and provide the 101 on ongoing international climate change advocacy. Liya Rechtman, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life Manager, participated by speaking about the history of the faith community’s advocacy on the Green Climate Fund. You can register to receive the webinar recording here

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Early Bird Registration Extended!

 Sign up now until March 30 to take advantage of early registration for JCPA2016! 

JCPA2016 promises to be a conference like none other. Between panels on intersectionality, Middle East security, and political polarization, we will be addressing some of the most important and challenging issues facing the Jewish community relations field. 

This year, we are also conducting an ‘unconference.’ What's an unconference? We're glad you asked! Unconferences are events run by participants. Attendees set the agenda for what’s discussed, lead the sessions and workshops that fill the schedule, and create an environment of innovation and productive discussion. This means that you plan the Monday morning session of the JCPA2016 Conference!

Sign up now, before the early registration rates expire on March 30! 

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Esther's Choice

 By Hanna Liebman Dershowitz

During the holiday of Purim, celebrated this week, Jews recount the story of Esther, a secretly Jewish woman who becomes queen, and the choices she makes to save her people. Esther’s actions were aimed at gaining acceptance for a minority religion that was reviled, and preventing the murder of its members. Even today, the echoes of Esther’s story are powerful and enduring. But she might be surprised to learn how the concept of religious freedom is being used now—not to protect minority religious practice or combat religious intolerance, but to give special exceptions from laws designed to prevent intolerance or provide needed services to all people.

Indeed, this year, on the day Purim begins, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on an important case relating to reproductive health access, in particular contraceptive coverage. Zubik v. Burwell considers whether religiously affiliated organizations can successfully claim that their religious expression rights would be violated if they filled out a government form. The form in question is designed to accommodate the organizations’ objections to providing their employees with coverage for contraception, which is a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The petitioners in the seven consolidated cases object to providing contraceptive coverage, and argue in Zubik that filling out the form is in itself unduly burdensome on their religious practices, because providing the information triggers the coverage for their employees to be provided by someone else. Their logic is like that of a conscientious objector in a war refusing to tell the government she will not serve, because if she does, that means the government will send someone in her place. Having to register the objection in some way may be a burden, but arguably only logistically, not in a moral or religious sense.

My organization, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), long has been committed to supporting bold choices, even ones that don’t free an entire people. JCPA strongly supports a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, and has opposed efforts to deny access to reproductive rights, contraception, and family planning services.  In the Zubik case, JCPA joined with the AJC, Union for Reform Judaism, and Central Conference of American Rabbis in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief explaining why the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on the petitioners’ exercise of religion.  In 2014, JCPA participated in a brief on the predecessor to this case, Hobby Lobby, also with AJC. Though these briefs represent the broad consensus view in the Jewish community, some of JCPA's member agencies, including the Orthodox Union, have not taken a position on the central issue in these cases. JCPA has been involved in dozens of civil rights cases, including serving as a plaintiff in a seminal school prayer case, Engel v. Vitale. JCPA is concerned that access to medical care coverage for essential health needs could be curtailed if the Court does not rule favorably in the Zubik case.

Click here to read the rest of this op-ed published in the Jewish Journal 

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