How the San Francisco JCRC Stopped the Criminalization of Circumcision

San Francisco CIty Hall.  Photo by Jay Graham

Having caught on in much of the West for centuries, male circumcision is taken for granted in most communities. But for Jews, the circumcision of our sons is a time for celebration, often bringing together family and loved ones to reaffirm the covenant between God and the Jews in the same method practiced since Abraham. Starting in 2009, however, this rite faced a challenge from Massachusetts.  A national anti-circumcision movement, propelled by so-called “intactivists,” proposed to the Massachusetts State House legislation that would have banned circumcision.  They were successful in compelling public testimony on the subject, but the legislation fell flat immediately.  Learning from this, the anti-circumcision movement set their eyes on San Francisco, California, home to a robust, democratic process of placing proposed legislation on the local ballot for public vote.  In October, 2010, the anti-circumcision activists launched a campaign to gather signatures to place on the San Francisco municipal ballot a measure that would criminalize those who perform circumcision, making it a crime punishable by up to a year in County jail and a fine of $1,000.  If it were to pass, this measure would create a de facto ban on circumcision within the City and County of San Francisco.  The San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council took notice.

The JCRC faced a dilemma. This could clearly be a problem for the Jewish community, but at this stage, it was just another proposed law in a State that allows for voter-initiated propositions.   It was not yet clear if there was momentum behind the proposed measure, and the JCRC didn’t want to fuel the issue, so they decided to avoid creating a media worthy campaign. Then, in the spring of 2011, the petition had gathered enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in the coming election.  Should the JCRC continue to ignore it, or undertake a massive and likely costly campaign to defeat it?

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Cleveland Joins ENGAGE

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is excited to announce that the Jewish Federation of Cleveland will be joining the ENGAGE program, JCPA’s online advocacy and activism portal.

ENGAGE uses online tools from Democracy in Action to offer JCPA member agencies an easy way to create e-mail blasts, one-click advocacy pages, online petitions, event registration, web-based fundraising, and website content management. ENGAGE also includes an online supporter database that automatically records all online user actions to help track and group supporters by interest and action. Sophisticated reporting and analytics tools will allow ENGAGE members to set ambitious but attainable goals and benchmarks and measure our success.

For Cleveland, joining ENGAGE was an “exciting opportunity to reach out to their constituency and better advocate on their concerns,” said Dayan Gross. One of the major benefits that attracted Cleveland was the ability to syndicate and share actions and e-mails. So, for instance, if JCPA prepared an online petition for the coming UDI vote in the UN, each member of ENGAGE could have access to the content of the JCPA alerts, but reformatted based on community branding. This is designed to save communities time and help to coordinate messaging.

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Celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month in DC

Jewish American Heritage Month is an occasion tailor made for community relations.  In addition to celebrating the American Jewish experience, it also provides an important opportunity to educate other communities about American Jews.  Over the past three years, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington has sponsored Jewish American Heritage Month programs designed to reach-out beyond the Jewish community.

The JCRC has partnered with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and the DC Mayor and City Council to present both the historical and present-day story that is at the heart of Jewish Heritage Month to the broader Washington, DC community. The presentation was highlighted with a luncheon that featured local officials and prominent civic leaders.

The exhibits showcased at these annual events have focused on the local Jewish stories purposefully chosen to illustrate the Jewish influence on Washington over the past 250 years and into the future.  In 2009, the featured exhibition was a series of photographs from Jeremy Goldberg. Goldberg, a local photographer, captured images of Jewish sites in DC. His work included original and current homes for synagogues and other Jewish community buildings. Using both new and vintage pictures, the program told the story of the Jewish community branching out from a small downtown cluster of synagogues to new neighborhoods and suburbs. This exhibit was an unique and powerful way for members of the broader community to experience familiar sites through an unfamiliar lens.

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On JCRC Trip, Boston Environmentalists Learn from Israel

Upon returning to Boston from her recent study tour to Israel with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Leigh Walls reflected, “At the end of the JCRC Boston trip, I think I have a much better understanding of Israel and the complexity of life in the Middle East and a better appreciation of traditional and high-tech approaches to addressing a variety of environmental challenges.”  Walls participated in the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston’s Environmental Study Tour to Israel this August, which arranged for 13 individuals from Boston’s environmental professional community to travel and study in Israel.  Over 9 days, members of the New England delegation criss-crossed the country to see and learn about Israel’s environmental successes and challenges.
Part of a larger effort to build a broader support network for Israel, the Boston JCRC organizes theme focused study tours for Boston professionals from a variety of fields. Aiming to provide a nuanced understanding of Israel, the focus on the environment provided insight into the interconnectedness of  geo-political, religious, cultural, environmental and social factors in the region. The JCRC also aims to connect participants to Israel by fostering relationships between peers in Israel and Massachusetts to encourage the exchange of best practices and the building of cross cultural networks to advance mutual goals. 
Over the past decade, Israel’s green technology advances as well as environmental policies have placed this Middle Eastern nation on the international radar, drawing attention and acclaim for such innovations as battery powered electric vehicles and  water conservation practices. Boston JCRC’s leaders thought that exposing environmental professionals from New England to this sector in Israel would be a powerful way to introduce them to the country as well and hopefully even enrich their work back in Boston.

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Saving Medicaid from Chicago to DC

Often overshadowed by the debt and deficit talks is a program at the heart of the Jewish community’s social service agenda – Medicaid. Though Medicaid provides major funding to Jewish hospitals, senior homes, family and child services, including those under Jewish auspices, it has not generated the same advocacy as programs like Social Security and Medicare. Medicaid’s value is often misunderstood even within the Jewish community. Many do not understand just how many of their neighbors are impacted and saved by it. One Jewish community, however, has made protecting Medicaid an ongoing priority. The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago through its Washington, D.C. office’s regular meetings with Senate leadership and complimentary work in Chicago is at the forefront of educating and advocating for Medicaid’s continue vibrancy.

The Chicago Jewish Federation has been using a two pronged approach of government advocacy at the federal level and local education; the latter providing the Chicago Jewish community a better understanding of Medicaid’s critical impact. In Washington, the Jewish Federation has been a consistent presence at the Capitol.  Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois, the second ranking Senate Democrat, is at the fore front of the debt, deficit, and budget debates that have been exploring various Medicaid budget saving measures. In meetings with the Senator’s office, the Jewish Federation is on the real “inside” of getting legislative updates and insights into pending developments.

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