Make a Difference: Environmental Action for your Home & House of Worship

 

Pictured: Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, St. Louis JEI Chair Susan Mlynarczyk, St. Louis JCRC Domestic Issues Director Gail Wechsler and Jared Bierbach of the JCPA. Photo by Philip Deitch.

On Thursday evening July 31, close to 140 people attended the event “Make a Difference: Environmental Action for your Home & House of Worship” at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. The event, co-sponsored by JCRC’s Jewish Environmental Initiative (JEI), the US Green Buildings Council, Missouri Gateway Chapter (USGBC) and Missouri Interfaith Power & Light (MO IPL) featured keynote speakers meteorologist Mike Roberts and civil rights and environmental leader Rev. Gerald Durley. Both speakers emphasized the importance of acting now to reduce the impact of climate change by reducing carbon pollution. After the keynote addresses, participants attended two concurrent breakout sessions to learn about specific ways to Green their homes and houses of worship. This event was supported by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

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Interfaith Calls

In the third in a series of interfaith calls designed to provide perspectives to non-Jewish leaders on aspects of the current conflict in Gaza, participants heard a frank assessment of the situation from Yossi Alpher on July 30, 2014.

Alpher outlined the regional backdrop against which the current operations are unfolding, and the current goals of both actors in the conflict. He noted that neither side in the Gaza conflict has had a decisive victory. The Israeli public is united in support of Operation Protective Edge, even as a growing humanitarian dimension is causing a segment in the international community to question some of the Israel’s military decisions. Alpher warned of a host of dangers occasioned by the current “ugly, asymmetric war” and hoped for an outcome that would be an improvement over the status quo ante. 

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National Leadership Assembly for Israel

 On Monday, July 29 more than 600 top leaders gathered representing Jewish federations and community relations councils from over 50 communities joined leading members of the Conference of Presidents for an event demonstrating the Jewish community's unity and steadfast support for Israel. The group heard from National Security Advisor Susan Rice, House Speaker John Boehner, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and other congressional and faith leaders. The speakers were each clear in their affirmation of Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks, the unshakable bond between the U.S. and Israel.  

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Environmental Action For Your Synagogue

 

This Thursday, the Jewish Environmental Initiative (JEI) a committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis along with Missouri Interfaith Power and Light and the U.S. Green Building Council will co-host an action-oriented program designed to help save energy in homes and synagogues. The event is supported by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

The program, Make a Difference: Environmental Action for Your Home & House of Worship will feature award-winning meteorologist Mike Roberts and Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, a national board member of Interfaith Power & Light, former pastor of the Providence Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta, and an inductee into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Break-out sessions will include discussions for greening your home and greening your house of worship. Suggestions will be provided of how to get started in the process of reducing energy use. 

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Welcoming the Stranger

Avi Poster, from the Nashville CRC and Chairman of the Coalition for Education About Immigration, attended the White House Conference on Immigration Integration this month and has written the following report. 

In direct contrast to the critical conversations that frequently take place between immigration advocates and Washington DC policy-makers, a unique event took place at the White House this month. More than 200 representatives from over 60 U.S. cities gathered to share their best practices at embracing and integrating immigrants into their communities. The purpose of the conference was to highlight the most successful non-profit and municipal welcoming initiatives and, even more importantly, engage in substantive conversations with high ranking government officials about how the federal government can better support local integration efforts.  This conference was co-sponsored by the White House and Welcoming America and was supported by partners including the National Partnership for New Americans, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and Americas Society/Council on the Americas.  Featured speakers included Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Felicia Escobar, Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Karl Dean, Mayor of Nashville, Richard Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, David Lubell, Executive Director of Welcoming America, Alejandro Mayuras, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, and many other leading voices.  

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JCPA convened several calls last week in response to the ongoing crisis in Gaza

 

First, CRC professionals came together with the JCPA and IAN staff in a conference call to discuss the situation on the ground and their communities’ actions to stand with Israel. The call provided a valuable opportunity to brainstorm, clarify our community positions, and acknowledge successes and challenges. Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the JCPA, kicked off the call, explaining that the current challenge is twofold: creating soft messages reflecting our collective concern about the death toll on both sides while simultaneously taking a strong stance against Hamas and its tactics. He also stressed the importance of solidarity within the Jewish community. To that end, JCPA is working with partners to arrange a “fly-in” to Washington for the national Jewish community leadership.  Discussion focused on how to translate our messages to the non-Jewish community, and how—and whether— to create local solidarity events and to respond to local anti-Israel events. 

Then, on Wednesday, July 23, interfaith and intergroup leaders from around the country participated in a conference call featuring Dr. Tal Becker, a leading Israeli scholar on issues surrounding the current conflict. Dr. Becker is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a senior member of the Israeli peace negotiation team.  He serves as Principal Deputy Legal Adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and works at the forefront of many of Israel’s most pressing diplomatic, legal, and policy challenges. He was a lead negotiator in the Annapolis peace talks, and he served as the Vice-Chairman of the United Nations General Assembly’s Legal Committee. He is the author of Terrorism and the State: Rethinking the Rules of State Responsibility, which won the Guggenheim Prize for best international law book. Dr. Becker holds a doctorate from Columbia University, and lectures widely throughout the world.

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Jewish Community Support for Israel

On Monday, July 21, hundreds participated in a joint JCPA-JFNA call to hear about the work of our partners on the ground in Israel aiding Israelis during this difficult time. A range of actions is being undertaken, including providing respite and psychological counseling to affected families, tailored and individual care to at-risk communities, and camps and activities for children who have been stripped of a sense of normalcy and a day-to-day routine. By the time of the call, the JFNA had already allocated millions to these groups during the current crisis, and leaders speaking on the call outlined their accomplishments and strategies.  Monies collected by JFNA are being fully dedicated to programs on the ground, not to administrative overhead.

The callers heard from: Alan Hoffman, Director General of the Jewish Agency for Israel; Eliot Goldstein, Deputy Director, Global Resources of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Tali Levanon, Director of the Israel Trauma Coalition; Rakefet Ginsburg, Kehillot Development Director of the Masorti Conservative Movement in Israel; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; Avital Govrin Chief Development Officer of World ORT; Grace Rodnitski, Director of International Relations for the Ethiopian National Project; and Ilan Halperin, Director of Resource Development and Missions at the UJA Federation of NY.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is providing one-day respite trips for tens of thousands of children, supplying medication and emergency funds for victims of terror, and delivering psychological counseling to families and staff. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is helping at-risk communities including the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, and economically at-risk families. Caseworkers tailor aid to each individual’s specific needs, whether it is portable toilets or hot meals, and provide safe getaways to individuals and families. Israel Trauma Coalition is providing a “social Iron Dome,” including psychological care for families of soldiers fighting in Gaza and evacuees. Among other things, the group provides local counselors to the Bedouin community. Masorti Conservative Movement in Israel has provided an opportunity for 600 children from the southern areas of Israel to go to camp in the north, where they can take emotional refuge, and has provided day camps for children so their parents can go to work. Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism is sending volunteers to community centers in the south and hosting families with special needs at kibbutzim for respite trips. World ORT is creating activities for children in shelters and families of soldiers, and the Ethiopian National Project is conducting respite camps. The UJA Federation in New York is crafting activities for residents closest to Gaza.

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Iran Talks Extended

On July 18th, it was announced that the negotiations with Iran would be extended for six months. In exchange for additional stocks of nuclear material being diluted or turned into fuel, Iran will get access to $2.8 billion in frozen assets. When negotiations began in January, the JCPA supported diplomacy as “preferable to military action.” In a statement following the July 18th extension, JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull said, “From the outset, we have demanded action to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon - and we have also called for patience to allow sanctions and diplomacy to work. Since the diplomatic process is proceeding, we support the extension. The timeline cannot be indefinite, though. Iran must negotiate as a serious partner and not use this extension to continue their work towards a nuclear weapon that can be used to threaten their neighbors, the U.S., or our allies. We hope Iran will finally value the wellbeing of their people more than they value aggression and a nuclear weapons program.”   

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National Jewish Call on Unaccompanied Minors

In the last nine months, over 50,000 unaccompanied children—predominately from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- have crossed the southern border of the U.S., fleeing increased violence and transnational organized crime in their home countries. This Wednesday, there will be a National Jewish Conference Call from 3-4 pm EST. We will be joined by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) and Jewish community members from around the country who are working to respond to the growing numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. To participate, call 805.399.1000 and enter passcode: 403065#. Feel free to help us spread the word and invite others who might be interested in joining the call.

On Monday, July 7, the JCPA signed onto a Jewish community statement urging President Obama and Congress to protect those unaccompanied children and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.  The statement, which was drafted by HIAS and signed by 20 national Jewish organizations, urged the Administration to promptly address the humanitarian crisis. The statement noted that “the only long term solution to this crisis is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for children in the countries of the Northern Triangle,” complementing increased border security with “measures to ensure that all migrants in danger of persecution have access to a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum.”   

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Hamas Rejects Ceasefire, Resumes Attacks

Israel began Operation Protective Edge with the goal of stopping the indiscriminate rocket attacks on its population. Egypt brokered a cease fire agreement that was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas, which opted to continue the conflict, endangering lives in both Israel and Gaza. After Hamas rejected the cease fire agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a ceasefire in which Egypt and Israel worked together, that the international community strongly supports.”

As this conflict continues, the Senate will vote -- possibly as soon as today -- on a resolution reaffirming US support for Israel’s right to defend itself and demanding that Hamas and other terrorist groups immediately stop their attacks. Senate Resolution 498, introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), currently has 57 cosponsors. Click here to see if your Senators have become cosponsors of this resolution. If they have not, we encourage you to contact your Senators and urge them to become cosponsors and vote for Senate Resolution 498.

As part of our commitment to keep the Jewish community informed, the JCPA and The Jewish Federations of North America hosted a call for Jewish community leaders with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer on Monday to discuss the events in Israel. And today, Professor Michael Walzer, an expert on the ethical dimensions of asymmetrical warfare and one of America’s foremost political thinkers, briefed a call that was open to our non-Jewish neighbors. Walzer discussed the complex moral decisions facing nations and armies when dealing with conflicts involving irregular forces that use unconventional methods, such as human shields, with a particular focus on the current conflict in Gaza.

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Unaccompanied Children at the Border

In the last nine months, over 50,000 unaccompanied children—predominately from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- have crossed the southern border of the U.S., fleeing increased violence and transnational organized crime in their home countries.

On Monday, July 7, the JCPA signed onto a Jewish community statement urging President Obama and Congress to protect those unaccompanied children and refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border.  The statement, which was drafted by HIAS and signed by 20 national Jewish organizations, urged the Administration to promptly address the humanitarian crisis. The statement noted that “the only long term solution to this crisis is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for children in the countries of the Northern Triangle,” complementing increased border security with “measures to ensure that all migrants in danger of persecution have access to a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum.”   

The statement also urged the Administration to maintain its commitment to resettling refugees from the rest of the world and expressed opposition to “any plans to ‘reprogram’ funds that had been budgeted to pay for refugee resettlement services.” 

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Tell Congress to Raise the Wage

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was five years ago, on July 24, 2009.  The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which translates to an annual salary of $15,080—an income that makes it nearly impossible for many working families to make ends meet and stay out of poverty.
 
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) have introduced the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223/H.R. 1010).  The Minimum Wage Fairness Act would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2015 in three increments of 95 cents. The bill would also provide for annual increases in the rate in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living. And for the first time in 22 years, the bill would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from its current low rate of $2.13 by 95 cents per year until it is 70% of the regular minimum wage.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), 30 million workers would see a boost to their income if this bill were passed. In addition, the bill would generate more than $32 billion in new economic activity, translating to 140,000 new full-time jobs and assisting local economies and communities.

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Israel Launches Operation Protective Edge

With the launching of Operation Protective Edge, which has come in response to scores of rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli cities, we stand in solidarity with the people of Israel and pray for their safety during this difficult time. The JCPA, together with our partner organization The Jewish Federations of North America, will be sharing information, analysis and action recommendations in the days ahead.

According to the IDF, over 450 rockets have been launched towards Israel from Gaza since the beginning of the year, with more than 130 rockets hitting Israel in just the past day. More than 40,000 Israeli reservists have been put on alert as part of Operation Protective Edge, which the IDF says is “in order to restore quiet to the region and stop Hamas terrorism.”

In addition to the attacks from Gaza, Israel is still reeling from the murder of three teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel, who were kidnapped while walking near Hebron. “We are torn to pieces with sadness,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow in a statement on the murdered teens. “Our grief is matched by a resolve to support the effort to find those whose are responsible and expeditiously bring them to justice.”

That effort, however, cannot include vengeance, as appears to be the case with the murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair, a sixteen year-old Palestinian. “We implore both Israelis and Palestinians to resist the temptation to take justice into their own hands. Revenge is not justice. Tragedy is never an excuse for lawlessness. More than ever, humanity demands that the violence end before more children are lost and more families devastated," said JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull.

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Support the Gillibrand-Murkowski Summer Meals Act

On Wednesday, June 25, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) introduced the Summer Meals Act (S. 2527), which would help feed low-income children during the summer months by enhancing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program.

The Gillibrand-Murkowski Act would help more children access healthy food by lowering the Summer Food Service Program’s eligibility threshold, reduce the paperwork burden for private-public partnerships, provide transportation to the summer meals sites, and provide additional meals for children who attend evening programs. “Many children receive their only meal at school during the year, and when school is out for the summer, they go hungry,” said Senator Gillibrand.  “Every child who is hungry should have food year round.”

“A basic truth about too many vulnerable young Alaskans is that when school is out, their hunger doesn’t go on vacation  For them, summer means the sound of a growling belly, not the sounds of play and laughter,” said Senator Murkowski. Nationwide, 31 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals, but only one in seven of these children has access to meals during the summer break. 

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Climate Change and National Security

Understanding that we are stewards of creation, the Jewish community has been vocal about the need to combat climate change and protect the environment. Climate change will not only have environmental and economic costs, but national security implications as well. This was the message of Rear Admiral David Titley when he addressed a gathering in Pittsburgh at an event on Wednesday, June 25th,  cohosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Pittsburgh and the JCPA. Rear Admiral Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State, served in the navy for 32 years and was the founder and leader of the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. In an oped written to accompany the event, Rear Admiral Titley wrote, “Climate change affects military readiness, strains base resilience, creates missions in new regions of the world and increases the likelihood that our armed forces will be deployed for humanitarian missions.” This event is part of a series of events cohosted by the JCPA with future events being held in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis.

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JCPA Heartbroken by Murdered Israeli Teens

Just over two weeks ago, three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel, were kidnapped while walking near Hebron. On Monday, we were heartbroken to learn that the IDF found the three boys dead. “This is the saddest possible news for the families of these young boys, Israelis, and all of us around the world who have been praying for their safe return since they disappeared two weeks ago,” said JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull in a statement following the news.

“All of us today are mourning for Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “They were just boys. They had their futures inhumanely robbed from them. We are torn to pieces with sadness.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "In the name of the entire people of Israel, I wish to say to the dear families – the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the sisters and brothers – that our hearts bleed, the whole nation cries with you.” His comments were mirrored by religious, political and community leaders from around the world. President Obama said, “As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing.  The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the murders as well, saying “There can be no justification for the deliberate killing of civilians.”

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Supreme Court Rules Against Protecting Women’s Health Choices

Closely-held corporations owned by people with religious objections are not required to provide their employees with health insurance that includes contraception coverage, as the Affordable Care Act mandated, according to a Supreme Court decision announced on Monday. The JCPA called the decision in the case, Kathleen Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a disappointing setback for public health and the rights of women. The JCPA joined with the American Jewish Committee in an amicus brief that supported the mandate as an appropriate balance between religious liberty and the state’s compelling interest in equality and public health.

"The Hobby Lobby decision poses a threat to the well-being of many Americans whose health care is now subject to the whims of their employers, not their doctors, increasing the chance of negative health care costs of unintended pregnancies or invasive abortions" said JCPA Chair Susan Turnbull.  "That is the opposite of an effective health care delivery system.  Women deserve the right to make informed health care decisions for themselves, not have them dictated by an employer based on religious beliefs they may not share. Moreover, that choice must be available to all women, regardless of means, which is what the ACA is intended to do. Allowing exceptions for employers like Hobby Lobby will weaken the benefits of a universal healthcare system.”

In a different case last week, McCullen v. Coakley, the Court struck down Massachusetts's law establishing a 35-foot buffer area around abortion clinics, ruling it a violation of the first amendment. While the JCPA is passionately dedicated to freedom of speech, we believe that very narrowly tailored laws, ones that will pass constitutional review, continue to be necessary to protect other constitutionally-protected interests.

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Support Child Nutrition

On Wednesday, June 25, the JCPA joined 43 other national organizations in endorsing the Summer Meals Act (S. 2527), introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). The bipartisan Gillibrand-Murkowski Act would help feed low-income children during the summer months by enhancing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program.

Nationwide, 31 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals, but only one in seven of these children have access to meals during the summer break.  The Gillibrand-Murkowski Act would help more children access healthy food by lowering the Summer Food Service Program’s eligibility threshold, reduce the paperwork burden for private-public partnerships, provide transportation to the summer meals sites, and provide additional meals for children who attend evening programs.

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JCPA and IAN Outraged by Presbyterian Divestment Vote

The biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three American companies because of their sales to Israel, by a very narrow margin of 310-303. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), together with the Israel Action Network (IAN), an initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the JCPA, created to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy, issued the following statement:

“The decision by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three U.S.-based companies because of their sales to Israel is outrageous. We are deeply disappointed, hurt, and saddened. But we are not surprised, given the deep animus that a determined core group of church officials has demonstrated against both the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church (USA). We hold the leadership of the PCUSA accountable for squandering countless opportunities, not only to act responsibly to advance prospects for Middle East peace, but also to isolate and repudiate the radical, prejudiced voices in their denomination.”  
 
IAN Managing Director Geri Palast remarked, “It is troubling and tragic to see the Presbyterian Church (USA) choose to reject partnership in favor of partisanship, ignoring the entreaties of every major organizational voice in the American Jewish community, including over 1,700 religious leaders from the four movements and all fifty states. The publication of ‘Zionism Unsettled,’ an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel congregational guide, connected the dots between this church action and efforts to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel. The only path to a just peace is a two-state solution. Divestment and BDS are the tools of division and a one-state movement.”

“We are deeply grateful to hundreds of Presbyterians who tried to lead their church in a more positive direction,” said JCPA Vice President and General Council, Ethan Felson, who attended the entire proceeding. “We recognize that the General Assembly has not concluded and there can be other motions to reverse this result. Unfortunately, the problems in the PCUSA run very deep and individuals who support both Israel and Palestinians, as well as relations with the mainstream Jewish community, have been silenced.”

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Justice for All

Wednesday, June 25, marks one year since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which weakened the Voting Rights Act and took away key protections for voters across the nation.  As part of that inauspicious anniversary, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on voting rights and The Voting Rights Amendment Act, S.1945: Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder.

In January, Congress took an important step towards restoring voter protections by introducing the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act (H.R. 3899/S. 1945).  This legislation is meant to repair the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the Shelby decision by offering a modern, flexible, and forward-looking set of protections that ensure an effective response to racial discrimination in voting in every part of the country.

Since introduction of the bill in January, there has been little action until the announcement of tomorrow’s hearing.  For decades, the JCPA and the Jewish community have been dedicated to promoting civil rights and social justice in the United States. We urge Congress to act quickly to maintain and preserve civil rights by acting now to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

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Climate Change and Middle East Conflict

On Wednesday, June 25, Rear Admiral David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State, will speak to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh about the connection between climate change and national security. The Rear Admiral served in the navy for 32 years, and was the founder and leader of the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. He is also a co-author of National Security and the Accelerating Risk of Climate Change, which Secretary of State John Kerry has been quoting widely. This report, published last month by the nonprofit group CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board, asserts that global warming in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflict over food and water, escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions. The JCPA and COEJL are pleased to be co-sponsoring this event with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Click here for more information on the event.

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To Our Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, known to many as Yitz Greenberg, is one of the seminal transformative Jewish thinkers and teachers beginning in the 1960’s through today. His works on interfaith relations and why they are brave, cutting-edge, and brilliant. Like many of us in the Jewish community who value our interfaith relationships, Rabbi Greenberg is deeply concerned by some of the proposed actions by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in their upcoming General Assembly. Below is a letter to members of the PCUSA.

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To Our Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters

This letter is written with pain and regret - and hope.

In recent decades, we have been the beneficiaries of an historic turn to love and respect between Jews and Christians. After the Holocaust, Christianity’s leaders in the West, Catholic and Protestant alike, determined to end 2000 years of Christianity claiming to have replaced Judaism. They disowned demonizing Jews as deicides. They rejected depicting Judaism as mandating evil, murderous actions against Christian children. They put a stop to portraying Judaism as a soulless, legalistic religion of no spiritual value. The ensuing dialogue, mutual learning and cooperation has warmed our hearts and lifted our souls.

We believe that the new spirit has given great comfort to God who sent two covenantal communities, with children from the same family, side-by-side, to reach out to the world with love, and with the message of God’s presence and care. The Lord hoped that we would, singly and together, proclaim a call to a life of tikkun olam - to bring a world full of life, upheld in all its dignities, into being. We believe that God suffered deeply that these two communities either persecuted or rejected each other, fighting instead of partnering for two millennia. All the more, we have treasured our new era of cooperation.

However, some recent actions of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church are eroding this friendship. This letter is written with anxiety that confronting the issue may lead to a rupture and an end to our era of good faith. But we have no choice. Your actions are assaulting our very being as a people. We pray that for the sake of heaven and earth, you will reconsider and change this path.

In recent years, the Presbyterian Church has explored and partially joined in a process that seeks to delegitimate the state of Israel and that strengthens those who seek to end its existence. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has sought to recruit the Presbyterian Church to join in a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions in which legitimate business with the Israel Defense Forces (protecting the Jewish state against terrorism and military threat) is deemed ipso facto illegitimate. There are calls to sanction such businesses – and by implication the state of Israel – as an illegal state with no right to exist or to defend itself. To criticize or disagree with any of Israel’s policies is legitimate. To join the delegitimation campaign which seeks to end it, is not. It is a reversion to the worst policies of the past 2000 years – policies which decent Christians everywhere now regret and express repentance 

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Half of world Jewry lives in that state. It is the only country in the world where Jews are guaranteed admission and haven from persecution or death.  Any elimination of Israel would inexorably doom its Jewish citizens – and undermine the existence of the rest of the Jews in the world. Aiding or abetting an attempted destruction of a people is not compatible with love. For the sake of our friendship, we must speak out.

The recent climax of the delegitimation campaign has been the issuance by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) of a congregational study guide called “Zionism Unsettled”. This publication presents itself as a fair-minded exploration of the issues between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people. It is in fact a publication totally devoted to bearing false witness against Israel and the Jewish people. It adopts and presents in a flattering light an extremist, one-sided narrative of the issue that leaves no room for the existence of the Jewish state. It actually is calling for a one state solution, i.e., an Arab Palestine which (unacknowledged, nay covered up, in this publication) would have no room for its Jewish inhabitants..

This narrative is so mendacious that it cannot allow itself to utter the central truths of this whole matter. We list only the most blatant omissions (and some gross distortions).

1. The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was formed. Here they wrote most of the Bible. Here Judaism grew into its own right and gave birth to Christianity as well. The Jewish state was destroyed when the land was militarily conquered by the Roman Empire; subsequently most of the Jews were exiled. Yet Jews never stop living in Israel. The Romans were succeeded by Byzantine, then Islamic, later Ottomanic conquerors who ruled over the land, while persecuting the Jews who lived there. Yet the entire Jewish people, wherever it lived, never broke its daily spiritual connection to the land or stopped its yearning and prayers to go back.

2. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Zionism grew out of millennia-old Jewish culture, memory, and prayers. It became a political movement, functioning alongside numerous other national liberation movements – including Arab, Asian and European hitherto suppressed national minorities. Most of them won their nationhood, as did Israel, in the 20th century. The Zionist cause developed particular resonance due to the growth of anti-Semitism in modern Europe. The urgency of immediate sovereignty was confirmed by the unprecedentedly brutal, total annihilation of the Jewish people attempted in the Holocaust. This genocide in the making was essentially unchecked by the Allies and desperately needed haven for the Jews was widely refused. To now deny only this people its right to exist as a nation is blatantly discriminatory. It is recrudescent anti-Semitism, cosmetically covered up by the claim that it is ‘only’ anti-Zionism.

3. The Arab population of Palestine has every right to want to live in their own state. The United Nations recognized that the only resolution that could do justice to the needs of the two peoples in the Holy Land was to partition the land. The Jewish population accepted this humane compromise solution (while promising “complete equality of social and political rights to all …inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex.” [Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel])  The Arab nations and the Palestinians did not accept. The armies of six nations invaded Israel in 1948, proclaiming their intention to destroy the state and/or drive the Jewish inhabitants into the sea. Israel barely survived and lost 1% of its total Jewish population in the war. The net result was a Naqba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians - but it was self inflicted.

During 1948 – 1967 when the West Bank was under Arab control, a Palestinian state was not established. Nor was the Jewish state recognized. Arab leadership determined to keep the Palestinians everywhere as refugees, segregated in refugee camps. They were not allowed to relocate or to become citizens in the Arab countries where they were. This was a cruel policy, designed to use the refugees has an inflammatory factor to prevent making peace. In a burst of ethnic cleansing, the Arab states overwhelmingly expelled their Jewish populations (This is sanitized in Zionism Unsettled as “escape [by Jews] from the actual violent blowback or fear of blowback… as the region became inflamed at the perceived injustice of the enforced partition of Palestine…”). Most of the Jewish refugees came to Israel where they were given full citizenship and enabled to make new, dignified lives for themselves. Starting with the handicap of being immigrants, they have risen to be the largest sector of Israel’s population and are represented or leaders in every area of society.

5. In 1967, the Arab nations, unreconciled to Israel’s existence, went to war against the state, starting with expelling United Nations peacekeeping troops and blockading Israel’s shipping lifelines. Again, leaders such as Abdul Gamal Nasser of Egypt and Ahmed Shukairy of the nascent PLO announced that the goal was to wipe out the Jews and their state. Israel won the war of self-defense which is how it came to occupy the West Bank and Gaza. Israel offered to return the territories in exchange for a negotiated peace.. The Arab nations replied: no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.

6. Since 1970, the Palestinians have taken charge of their own destiny. Unfortunately, they have used terrorism in Israel and against Jews abroad as a central policy. There have been negotiations on and off. In 1993, Israel recognized the Palestinians. Israel’s Prime Ministers since then, including Benjamin Netanyahu today, have affirmed the principle of two states for two peoples. They insisted only on a secure peace for Israel. The Palestinians have never given up the terrorism tactic. Hamas, the group which governs Gaza, proclaims, as its unchanged goal, the destruction of the state of Israel.

7. The vast majority of the procedures which disturb the Palestinians and supply the basis for the criticism and delegitimation of Israel – checkpoints, some separate roads on the West Bank, the separation barrier – constitute security protections to prevent terrorism and block the unrelenting infiltration attempts to assault life inside Israel. The separation barrier was built after a flood of terrorist attacks killed hundreds of Israelis and threatened to make life unlivable in the country.  In fact, terrorist attacks dropped over 90% after its construction. This was a remarkable life saving tactic; the purpose was to avoid attacking the terrorists in their home base amidst the citizen population which sustains them, in order to prevent civilian casualties. Zionism Unsettled inverts this truth and alleges that the Israelis practice apartheid and segregation. Yet all these practices would be removed were the Palestinians to genuinely embark on a policy of nonviolence. Again, their suffering is real - but self inflicted.

8. The Israeli settlements on the West Bank are supported by many Jews as a return to biblical lands. Many – perhaps most -Jews are critical of this enterprise. But the settlements are not a permanent obstacle to peace settlement. In the most recent peace offer by an Israeli government, Israel asked to keep 6% of the West Bank land on which more than 80% of the settlers live. In return, Israel would give an equivalent area of land from within the present borders of Israel to the Palestinian state – as well as evacuate all the other settlements. The only reason that this offer has not been implemented is that the majority of Israelis – including the majority which would halt settlements or would give them up – does not believe that the Palestinians are ready to give a secure peace to Israel. 

9. Far from being an apartheid racist state, Israel remains the only democracy in the Middle East. Its Arab population enjoys the highest standard of democracy, education, health and religious freedom in the entire area. Like all democracies, Israel is imperfect. Its Arab population lags the Jewish population in many areas – but it is catching up, aided by government investment and affirmative action. Furthermore, as Justice William Brennan said decades ago, Israel is the only country in the world (including the United States)  in which, despite being under siege for 60 years, civil liberties for all – including minorities – have been expanded throughout the period.

This also explains another essential statistic, totally omitted in Zionism Unsettled. Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population has swelled, doubled more than once, in the past six decades. In all the Arab neighboring countries – including the Palestinian Authority – Christian populations are shrinking significantly, due to restrictions on religious expression (or outright persecution). These hostile conditions are frequently driven by aggressively Islamicizing governments or groups

The only state in danger of becoming ethnically cleansed in Palestine/Israel is the Palestinian Authority’s projected state. President Mahmoud Abbas has already declared that there is no room for any Jews in the future Palestinian state. And Christians on the West Bank, in such places as Bethlehem, are drawing their own conclusions and leaving. Again, Zionism Unsettled bears false witness by blaming Israel for the phenomenon of Christian flight.

10. Israel is not faultless and one may criticize or totally disagree with any of its policies. Contrary to the lies in Zionism Unsettled, there is a robust debate on Israel/Palestinian issues inside Israel and in the American Jewish community. The critics of Israel are neither silenced nor suffering. Nor are we asking Presbyterians to silence their consciences or stop criticism of Israel. We are asking that they stop abetting intended destruction.

The ultimate injustice in Zionism Unsettled is that by disseminating this extremist, one-sided narrative, it encourages the worst tendencies among the Palestinians. Thus it undermines the chances of peace with a resulting dignity and sovereignty for Palestinians. By covering up the existence of profound, long-term, legitimate roots for Jews in the land of Israel, by demonizing Zionism and implying that the Jewish state is illegitimate and so evil that it is unworthy of existence, it encourages Palestinians and others who are unreconciled to Jewish sovereignty in an area once ruled by Islam. The Palestinians would have long ago given up ideas of revenge. Their radicals would have given up on a policy of eliminating Israel, if their allies had not given them hope that the elimination narrative could be sanitized and then adopted by Christians of goodwill and by the nations of the world.

NOTE: Some Presbyterian leaders have sought to avoid responsibility by suggesting that Zionism Unsettled is not a formal declaration of the General Assembly. This evasion is disingenuous. The Presbyterian Church would not tolerate a Jewish religious organization circulating a scurrilous pamphlet (taken from the medieval polemic) by an extremist group, stigmatizing Jesus as an illegitimate child and Virgin Mary as a slut. Then the church or its boards should not be distributing a publication demonizing Zionists/Jews as ‘crucifying’ Palestinian children or poisoning the wells of civic society in Palestine. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” Zionism Unsettled and the Sabeel Center with whose larger publication this guide is coordinated – has revived tropes of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism from the darkest days of medieval persecution. They have repeatedly evoked these tropes to discredit the state of Israel. Such false witness and suborning of hatred should be repudiated not circulated.

We close with a plea to our Presbyterian brothers and sisters. Turn from the path of delegitimation and abetting elimination. Join us in working for a just peace, based on dignity, equality and security for two peoples in two nations (with full rights for all minorities). Help us strengthen the better angels of our nature in both our religions, rather than fortify a new ‘teaching of contempt’. The last era when such tropes dominated ended catastrophically for the body of Jesus’ family, the Jewish people –as well as  for the moral health of Christianity and the West. We are determined not to let it happen again. Let us work together for tikkun olam, with justice and dignity for all in the Middle East and throughout the world.

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MLA Membership Rejects Anti-Israel Resolution

The Modern Language Association (MLA) announced last week that the MLA’s membership failed to ratify a resolution criticizing Israel for “denials of entry to the West Bank by U.S. academics” traveling to Palestinian universities. The Israel Action Network (IAN) applauded the membership for “choosing to honor academic freedom and integrity by refusing to ratify this baseless and discriminatory resolution.”

Given the stature of the MLA as a major academic association, which boasts nearly 24,000 members around the world, the resolution’s adoption would have had far-reaching consequences. Its endorsement would have allowed it to be used as a bridge toward a future boycott resolution against Israeli academics and institutions, a topic of conversation at a formal pro-boycott panel at a previous MLA annual meeting in Chicago. A boycott resolution could still arise at the MLA at its next meeting in January 2015, but the recent failure to ratify a comparably milder resolution bodes well for those advocating against boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in academia.

Accusations made within the resolution, which called upon the United States Department of State to contest Israel’s alleged “denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities,” were not only problematic and divisive, but factually inaccurate. In response, over 450 MLA members from around the world signed a petition opposing it. The petition was organized by the MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights (MMFSR), a group of MLA members who came together to oppose this resolution and other efforts that undermine academic freedom.

IAN lauded the work of MMFSR and the MLA members who exercised their right to vote against the resolution. “This troubling resolution was based on false information and misrepresented facts refuted by opponents, specifically regarding allegations that Israel prevents the freedom of movement of American academics,” IAN Managing Director Geri Palast said. “IAN commends the academic community for coming together to uphold principles of academic freedom and fairness, and for setting the record straight on this complex issue. Israel does not violate academic freedom, but rather, implements reasonable security measures expected of any country. The vote announced today was a validation of both principle and decision-making based on facts.”

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A Powerful, New Tool for Fighting Hunger in Our Schools

On May 28, the JCPA hosted a webinar on Community Eligibility featuring Madeleine Levin, Senior Policy Analyst from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).  Established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Community Eligibility is a new option that allows schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to offer meals through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to all students at no charge.  

Also on the webinar was Norah Deluhery, Acting Director, US Department of Agriculture’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  "Community Eligibility is an important provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, providing kids in low-income areas access to free breakfast and lunch in up to 22,000 eligible schools around the country,” Deluhery said.  “This will help as many as 8.8 million children eat healthy meals at school while reducing administrative burdens for households and school districts."

School districts have until June 30, 2014 to opt into Community Eligibility for the 2014-15 school year.

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Landmark Rule to Cut Emissions

This week, we are excited to announce some significant environmental developments. First, the Obama Administration today announced a landmark rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30%, a rule the JCPA praised as a serious step in addressing pollution and climate change. “A reduction in the carbon pollution caused by the production of energy from coal is absolutely needed today in America,” said JCPA President and COEJL co-chair Rabbi Steve Gutow in a statement. The rule will require states to find cleaner ways of producing power or implement other reforms in energy use that will help to keep them below the new cap.

“Understanding that we are stewards of our environment, the Jewish community has advocated for less pollution and cleaner energy. This rule will give us both,” said JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull. “Limiting the amount of carbon pollution we can release into our air is an acknowledgement of our responsibility to and dependence on the environment.”

And reflecting our personal responsibility to be stewards of the environment, the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental initiatives previously convened by COEJL, is releasing Gleanings from Our Field, a new "state of the field" study exploring the growth, scale, focus and challenges facing today's Jewish environmental field.

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Take Action for Stronger Background Checks

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to approve a funding measure that would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals such as felons, domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill. The Thompson-King Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act for FY 2015 (H.R. 4660), passed by a bipartisan vote of 260-145, provides an additional $19.5 million in grants to states to ensure that the records of prohibited firearm purchasers are provided to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS). Now it is time for the Senate to act as well and help us to keep our country safer from gun violence.

The NICS database is critical to keeping guns out of the wrong hands. The addition of over 2 million mental health records since October 2011 has resulted in a 65% increase in federal NICS denials, according to a report by Everytown. However, the NICS system is still missing millions of records, as states lack adequate resources to manage and automate the reporting of accurate records.  In FY2014, the U.S. Department of Justice received more than $78 million in grant requests from states but was unable to meet 25% of the requests due to lack of funding.  

It is time for Congress to take responsible action to make our country safer by stemming the tide of violence that puts us all at risk.

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Calling all Rabbis and Cantors! Sign the Letter in Pursuit of Peace to Presbyterian Church (USA) Commissioners

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will meet for its biennial General Assembly in Detroit from June 14-21. Delegates will consider several overtures calling for divestment, boycotts, branding Israel an Apartheid state, and re-examining support for a two-state solution.  In response, leaders of the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox movements along with Jewish organizations including JCPA, AJC, ADL, JFNA, are encouraging rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical and cantorial students to sign the Letter in Pursuit of Peace to Presbyterian Church (USA) delegates.

The Letter in Pursuit of Peace emphasizes that Jewish leaders are deeply concerned that these proposed policies would oversimplify a complex conflict, place all the blame on one party, and diminish the prospects for peace.  It also speaks to the incendiary anti-Zionist congregational study resource, “Zionism Unsettled" that is being distributed by the PCUSA.  We wish to express a message of concern and let delegates know that we are partners for more peaceful approaches. 

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All Children Deserve Healthy Meals

Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee moved forward with legislation that would exempt some schools from lunch nutritional rules under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a bill the JCPA worked hard to help pass.

The Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies approved language requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to temporarily waive requirements to serve fruits, vegetables, and low-sodium and low-fat foods for schools who could show that their lunch programs are losing money. This would undermine the effectiveness of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which reauthorizes and extends current child nutrition programs by providing an additional $4.5 billion over ten years to improve the nutritional quality of the meals served and to improve access so more low‐income children can benefit from them.  

As part of the mission to ensure that all of our students have access to healthy meals, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act also established the Community Eligibility Provision to allow schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to offer meals through the national School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to all students at no charge. The option is now available nationwide to schools or school districts for the upcoming school year, and we want to make sure as many schools as possible are taking part. School districts have until June 30, 2014 to opt into Community Eligibility for the 2014-15 school year. The Jewish community has a tremendous opportunity to help increase access to meals. Find out how.  

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Calling all Rabbis and Cantors! Sign the Letter in Pursuit of Peace to Presbyterian Church (USA) Commissioners

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will meet for its biennial General Assembly in Detroit from June 14-21. Delegates will consider several overtures calling for divestment, boycotts, branding Israel an Apartheid state, and re-examining support for a two-state solution.  In response, leaders of the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox movements along with Jewish organizations including JCPA, AJC, ADL, JFNA, are encouraging rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical and cantorial students to sign the Letter in Pursuit of Peace to Presbyterian Church (USA) delegates.

The Letter in Pursuit of Peace emphasizes that Jewish leaders are deeply concerned that these proposed policies would oversimplify a complex conflict, place all the blame on one party, and diminish the prospects for peace.  It also speaks to the incendiary anti-Zionist congregational study resource, “Zionism Unsettled" that is being distributed by the PCUSA.  We wish to express a message of concern and let delegates know that we are partners for more peaceful approaches.

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European Countries Must Act to Confront Hate

Following two anti-Semitic attacks in Europe last week – a shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels that left four dead and the severe beating of two Jews leaving a Paris synagogue – the JCPA issued a statement condemning the violence, mourning the losses, and calling on the governments of Europe to take action. “These heinous crimes come against the documented backdrop of a disturbing escalation of anti-Semitic violence and intimidation against Europe’s Jews. The prompt responses of Belgian and French government officials are encouraging, but they must be followed up with systematic and intensive efforts to address the hatred that gives rise to such wanton violence,” said JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull and JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

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It’s Time to Fix the VRA

We believe that every American deserves the opportunity to participate meaningfully in our democracy. In fact, a strong future for our country depends on protection of this basic civil right for every group. But with last year’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, one of our best tools to ensure that right, the Voting Rights Act (VRA), has been weakened. By invalidating the preclearance formula of the law that protected voters in states with a history of discrimination, the decision has made many voters vulnerable to having their right to vote denied.

There is good news though. A bipartisan fix has been introduced that would restore the vital protections of the VRA, and you can help us to pass this into law. Members of Congress need to hear from constituents like you urging them to support the bipartisan fix to the VRA. The Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR 3899/S. 1945) provides a modern, commonsense update to the Voting Rights Act that will provide the federal government with important tools to protect the right of all to vote.  

The struggle to maintain and preserve civil rights has been an ongoing one, requiring eternal vigilance. Nothing could be more threatening to the health of a representative society than prohibiting specific groups from participating in the democratic process.  Now is the time for the House Judiciary Committee to make the VRAA a priority for debate and to move it forward for House consideration. Now is the time for a hearing, a “mark up,” and a real congressional process. But this will not happen without each of us doing our part. Join us today by TAKING ACTION and urging Congress to support the VRAA.

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Divestment Battles Heat Up

The school year is coming to a close but not without a healthy dose of BDS controversy. In recent months, several schools across North America proposed resolutions aimed at divesting from Israel with mixed results.

While there have been plenty of defeats - UCLA, UCSB, UC Davis, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and San Diego State University student governments all resoundingly rejected divestment – other campuses stand divided. Divestment resolutions remain tabled or pending at schools such as Arizona State University, UC Santa Cruz, Cornell University, DePaul University, and the University of Washington, while pervasive pressure and biased processes resulted in passage at UC Riverside, University Michigan (Dearborn) and Wesleyan University.

Other schools such as Loyola Chicago initially passed divestment, as no pro-Israel students were present to oppose it, however the measure was later vetoed by officials. Click here for the Loyola student government association president’s statement. Similarly, on May 10, the University of New Mexico Graduate and Professional Students Association voted 11-10 to rescind a divestment resolution passed last month.

Unfortunately, North American college campuses are increasingly playing host to targeted efforts to assault Israel’s legitimacy, becoming a hub of activity for pro-BDS groups on campus. And while most students support a negotiated two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, several such groups regularly use campuses as a forum to promote policies that demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State. From resolutions, to anti-Israel conferences and annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” events, these occurrences not only undermine Israel’s right to exist, but threaten real chances for peace.

In response, IAN actively fosters campus-community partnerships, backed by a broad coalition of pro-Israel groups, in order to positively lead the conversation about Israel on campus. Our work to mobilize communities to work with campus partners at the state and local level is crucial to defeating delegitimization and promoting an open, nuanced dialogue that represents multiple viewpoints and narratives on Israel. By promoting a pro-peace agenda that recognizes both sides, pro-Israel students will be able to vastly improve the overall atmosphere for students of all faiths, the effects of which will be felt long after a divestment resolution is presented.

IAN will continue to support campus-community strategies and offer rapid response assistance to address immediate problems as they occur. We will work with Federations, JCRCs and member agencies to identify solutions and share best practices that build on our collective intelligence.

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The Fate of Ukraine’s Jews

Perhaps even more than the rest of Ukraine’s people, the Ukrainian Jewish community faces an uncertain future. Already, the increased tension there has created space for resurgent anti-Semitism. Many fear that the Jews will be treated as scapegoats if the political and economic turmoil continue. On Monday, June 2nd, at the JCPA Spring Meetings in New York City, we will be hosting an important conversation on the issues facing Ukraine’s Jews and what we can do from here.

Join us at the Spring Meetings for this important conversation with two senior officials from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Will Recant and Shaun Goldstone. We will also hear from Mark Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia.

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Senate Fails to Raise Minimum Wage

On Wednesday, April 30, the Senate failed to pass a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  The Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223), introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (IA), was defeated 54 to 42.  The bill would not only raise the federal minimum wage, but would index it to keep up with inflation.  Currently, tipped workers are paid a minimum wage of $2.13 per hour.  Sen. Harkin’s proposal would increase the base rate for tipped workers by $0.95 per year until it is 70% of the regular minimum wage.

The federal minimum wage has not been raised since July 2009.  Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would raise the wages of about 30 million workers, lifting millions of workers out of poverty.

In an article for Zeek, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said the Senate’s failure to raise the minimum wage was a frustrating disappointment that ignored our moral responsibility to our workers.  He wrote, Jewish law has a particular emphasis on the importance of work as a means to reduce poverty. “Maimonides considered it the highest form of tzedakah to give somebody a job, and with it, the means to take care of themselves.” However, without an increase in the minimum wage, many of our workers will not be paid enough to support themselves and their families.  

The effort to increase the minimum wage is not over. You can still TAKE ACTION with us to encourage your Senators to support this bill.

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Supreme Court Decision Erodes Bill of Rights

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided to allow sectarian prayer at public meetings. In a statement, the JCPA said the narrow 5-4 decision “was an erosion of the Bill of Rights and its protections.” The case, Town of Greece v. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, involved a small town in upstate New York which has, according to the JTA, “since 1999 opened meetings with prayer, almost always by a Christian clergyman who at times proselytized.” The JCPA filed a friend of the court brief along with the American Jewish Committee in opposition to the Town and in support of existing precedents regarding separation of religion and state.

“A guiding principle in our democracy is that no group or individual feels that the government prefers one religion over another.  The First Amendment protections are intended to ensure just that. Beginning our public meetings with a sectarian prayer can make some feel excluded. It is not the way to achieve a strong, dynamic, and inclusive union,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. Expressing concern about the repercussions of the decision, JCPA Chair Susan W. Turnbull said “The Court today opened the gates to reconsidering years of legal precedents and court decisions. We are concerned that this could mark a turn towards more religion in the public arena which could discourage the participation of minority groups.”

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Register for Spring Meetings!

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is once again debating divestment, inequality is growing in America, and children are being trafficked for the sex trade. What connects the dots on these issues? Our partnership with Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. At our board meeting June 1, we will have a chance to hear from and dialogue with the Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, an ordained Presbyterian minister and the President of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. Founded almost 200 years ago, Auburn today is deeply involved in many of the issues that are high priorities of the JCPA. They are a leading voice in interfaith relations, equipping religious leaders from many faiths to be effective messengers for change. Be a part of this important conversation and help shape the future of Jewish community advocacy. Join us June 1st from 2-5 as we discuss and many other issues.

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Senate Set to Vote on Raising the Minimum Wage

On Wednesday, April 30, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223).  This legislation would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2015 in three stages. The bill would also index the federal minimum wage to inflation, providing for annual increases in the rate so the minimum wage can keep pace with the rising cost of living.  Tipped workers would also receive a yearly raise of $0.95 from the current low rate of $2.13 until the base salary is 70% of the regular minimum wage.

Right now, the federal minimum wage is at a historic low when accounting for inflation. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, a minimum wage worker would earn close to $11.00 per hour today.  Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would keep a family of three above the poverty line.

The JCPA has supported raising the minimum wage and tying it to inflation since 2000.  A resolution passed at the Plenum last March advocates a federal minimum wage of at least $10.10 per hour, tied to inflation, with an increase for tipped workers.  The resolution also asks Jewish organizations to commit to paying a $10.10 minimum wage for their employees and contractors’ employees.

Jewish tradition repeatedly calls for social justice, demanding that we not only feed the hungry, but also help those in need become self-sufficient and treat workers fairly. According to Deuteronomy 24:14-15, "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer ... but you must pay him his wages on the same day, … for he is needy and urgently depends on it….”

Click here to read our resolution in support of raising the minimum wage

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A New Approach to Israel Engagement

Israel has become the most volatile wedge issue in the American Jewish community, and this has had a range of negative impacts on Israel engagement for young American Jews. Young Jews who are not yet engaged, but who might otherwise be curious, often grow indifferent in part because the Israel conversation seems too fraught to “go there.” Young Jews who do engage often feel they need to do so through escalatory debate and argument. Many others who already care about Israel meanwhile disengage and stay on the sidelines for fear of the minefield.

Last November, the JCPA announced the selection of 23 young Jewish leaders to be fellows for Resetting the Table, representing a wide political and religious cross section of New York’s Jewish community. As part of our ongoing Civility Initiative, expert trainers Eyal Rabinovitch and Daniel Silberbusch have intensively trained these young leaders to facilitate and convene a series of programs supporting young Jews to dialogue and deliberate with one another about social and political issues in Israel. This spring, they have designed a range of programs for next generation Jews, tailored to open meaningful conversation both within and across a range of communities and networks, from Russian to Reform summer camps to young Orthodox to social justice and environmentalists.

The UJA-Federation’s tremendously generous investment in this project has meant we have been able to create a “gold standard” for systematic, strategic interventions in building communal infrastructure and leadership capacity in Israel engagement for this age group.  We are deliberating over many possible directions for expansion, from deepening partnerships with individual institutions in NYC to expanding and replicating the processes created by Conveners to replicating the Fellowship in other cities.

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Register for Spring Meetings!

Registration is open for the reformatted JCPA Spring Meetings in NYC, this June 1-2. This year, we are doing the meetings a little differently. With our board and community leaders together, we will be discussing the JCPA’s agenda for the next several months and seeking your input. This will be more of a working discussion of our agenda, so bring your ideas and your passion for changing the world and advancing the Jewish community’s agenda.

The Board Meeting will take place on Sunday from 1-5, and the Task Force Meetings will be Monday from 10-2. We also be joined by Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson. Be a part of this important conversation and help shape the future of Jewish community advocacy. Register today for the Spring Meetings.

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Happy Earth Month from COEJL

Through our rituals, the Jewish people are deeply tied to the Earth and its cycles. Our holidays are fixed to seasons. On Sukkot we mark the harvest and sleep in view of stars, on tu b’shevat we celebrate trees, and on Passover, which ended yesterday, we put a green vegetable on our seder plate to mark the arrival of Spring.

Fittingly, yesterday’s conclusion of Passover fell on Earth Day, a reminder – like the karpas of Passover – of our connection to the planet and its ecosystem. We celebrate the renewal of the Earth, but through our actions, we threaten its future. Without good stewardship of the environment, as is our responsibility, future springs will bring a diminished world as seas and temperatures rise.

At the JCPA, we know that it is our religious and moral responsibility to take action. Earlier this year, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) gained attention for circulating a petition encouraging President Obama and Pope Francis to discuss climate change. And we do not act alone. We joined an interfaith coalition of groups who wrote to President Obama on behalf of the religious community that, “global climate change presents an unprecedented threat to the integrity of life on Earth and a challenge to values that bind us as human beings.”

The risks of climate change are real and serious, and it is in our power to stop them if we act nationally and individually. COEJL and the JCPA will continue to work with national and religious leaders to protect the Earth. Will you join us?

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Register for Spring Meetings!

Registration is open for the reformatted JCPA Spring Meetings in NYC, this June 1-2. This year, we are doing the meetings a little differently. With our board and community leaders together, we will be discussing the JCPA’s agenda for the next several months and seeking your input. This will be more of a working discussion of our agenda, so bring your ideas and your passion for changing the world and advancing the Jewish community’s agenda.

The Board Meeting will take place on Sunday from 1-5, and the Task Force Meetings will be Monday from 10-2. We also be joined by Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson. Rev. Dr. Henderson, an ordained Presbyterian minister, is the President of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City.  Founded almost 200 years ago, Auburn today is deeply involved in many of the issues that are high priorities of the JCPA including combating poverty, fighting discrimination, fostering positive and genuine interfaith relations, and advancing Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.  Rev. Henderson will discuss the groundbreaking work that Auburn does building social justice movements and campaigns - and how we can grow our already impressive partnership.  

Be a part of this important conversation and help shape the future of Jewish community advocacy.

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EASA Condemns ASA Boycott

The Eastern American Studies Association (EASA) has decided to reject a boycott resolution against Israel academic institutions adopted by its parent body, the American Studies Association (ASA), in December 2013.

The EASA, which represents ASA members in Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, chose to reject this assault on academic freedom and join the growing list of significant institutions and bodies that have condemned this policy, including the American Council on Education (an umbrella of 1,800 institutions), the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (that represents 62 top institutions in the U.S. and Canada), the American Association of University Professors (that counts more than 48,000 members), and over 250 universities and colleges.

Unlike the ASA, the annual Eastern ASA conference will not bar Israeli scholars who receive support from their local institutions from attending their national conference. As an inclusive organization committed to furthering the field of American Studies, the EASA’s statement against the boycott makes it explicitly clear that they reject, and will not comply with, the ASA’s misguided boycott, which not only prevents Israeli academic participation, but also seeks to enact a comprehensive boycott against both Israeli individuals and institutions.

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JCPA Hosts National Hunger Seder

Last Wednesday, the JCPA and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger hosted the sixth annual National Hunger Seder in the U.S. Capitol. Joined by Members of Congress, representatives of the Obama Administration, anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates, members of the faith community, and school children, we interpreted the ancient traditions of Pesach in to learn about the stark modern day reality of hunger.

At the seder we discussed the fact that millions of our fellow Americans still go hungry. This is especially true for seniors.  Nearly 5 millions of our nation’s seniors are currently struggling to put food on the table, due to a complex mix of financial instability, devalued investments, and increased costs for medical care, fuel, food, and other basic necessities.   

At the National Hunger Seder we called on Members of Congress to protect nutrition programs that are funded by the Older Americans Act (OAA).  Such programs include Meals on Wheels, congregate meal programs and other services that enable vulnerable seniors to remain healthier and independent in their homes – saving significant taxpayer dollars on health care and long-term care costs.  

If you would like to host your own Hunger Seder, materials are available at www.hungerseder.org, including a special Haggadah, a seder planning guide, and a two-page Haggadah insert (in case you cannot participate in the full Hunger Seder but still want to incorporate this important message into your celebration). If you plan to hold a Hunger Seder we would love to know! Please contact Robin Rubin.

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Eritrean Community Leader Visits JCPA

Zebib Sultan, an Eritrean diaspora leader in Tel Aviv and Director of the Eritrean Women’s Community Center visited the JCPA offices in New York last week.  Speaking to representatives of JCPA national agencies, and JCPA professionals, Sultan advocated for the needs and rights of African asylum seekers in Israel primarily by sharing her own story. A blacklisted community advocate in Eritrea, she took a yearlong journey through South Sudan, Sudan and Sinai. In Sinai she was held in a Bedouin camp, witnessed the starvation suffered by other refugees, and was kidnapped and held for ransom.  Arriving in Israel in 2009, Sultan remained in the Saharonim detention facility for nearly three months before volunteering at and becoming head of the Community Center in 2011.  

Of the estimated 54,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, nearly 35,000 come from Eritrea, which has been under dictatorship since achieving independence in 1990.  Nearly all Eritrean adults are conscripted into military service, which in many cases can be for life.  In Israel, asylum seekers from Africa were previously held in prison for up to three years before deportation.  In the wake of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling last year, new laws limit this stay to up to one year in an “open” facility. Sultan said that with check-ins required, those imprisoned there are unable to work or lead a normal life.  Asked how the American Jewish community can help the African community in Israel, Sultan responded that “we need to change the dialogue where Eritreans are referred to as a ‘threat.’  We are not a threat, we are seeking asylum.”

Thanking Sultan, Rabbi Steve Gutow acknowledged the incredible hardship that Sultan and other African asylum seekers have had to endure in order to seek freedom in Israel. In February, Rabbi Gutow signed a Jewish community letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging Israel to reform its policies on asylum seekers and refugees.

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National Poverty Summit

On Wednesday, April 2, JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow took part in the National Poverty Summit. Hosted by Catholic Charities USA, the National Poverty Summit brought together academics, policy makers, and non-profit leaders for a substantive and engaging discussion on innovative solutions to poverty.

Rabbi Gutow spoke on a panel with CEOs of eight of the country’s largest human service and advocacy organizations. The panelists highlighted major initiatives that have the potential to transform the landscape of social services in the U.S. At the end of the panel, Rabbi Gutow suggested a city-by-city interfaith conversation on poverty. He said that by highlighting the imperatives to help the poor shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we can ask people in God’s name to move their hearts and their votes to alleviating poverty.

The summit was part of the 6th annual Fighting Poverty with Faith Mobilization, spearheaded by the JCPA and Catholic Charities. Once again, the mobilization is bringing together nearly 30 national faith organizations for a weeklong initiative that leverages the organizing power of the faith community to take action on behalf of the more than 46 million people in this country struggling to make ends meet. In addition to the poverty summit, activists across the country are invited to participate through hunger seders and asked to commit to taking action and educating the public about the everyday challenges of the most vulnerable in our society.

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Senate Votes to Declassify Torture Report

After years of advocacy to shed light on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation program" and prevent U.S. sponsored torture, the JCPA was pleased by last week’s vote by the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to release a summary of the Committee's report on the CIA program that included techniques like waterboarding and stress positions.  The full report is 6300 pages long and was years in the making.  Those familiar with the contents say that the report concludes that harsh interrogation practices like waterboarding provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.   The release of the summary will allow us to confront the realities of the program. As JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a 2009 op-ed on the need for a torture commission, “Torture is one of those sins that needs a different lens. Like genocide or mass murder, torture must be confronted with great force and right now.”

The report must still be reviewed by the Administration to prevent the disclosure of national security secrets. Sen. Feinstein has said she hopes for a partial declassification within the month.

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Criminal Justice Reform

Last week, the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee brought together untraditional partners to speak about the ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Specifically, they focused on the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) introduced by Senators Durbin and Lee. The Act would retroactively apply the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act to prisoners convicted before it was passed, cut mandatory minimum drug sentences in half, and grant judges more discretion in mandatory sentencing cases. JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow was the only Jewish leader invited to speak at a meeting of the Committee. He spoke about the JCPA’s policies in support of criminal justice reform and the capabilities of the organized Jewish community as a network to help Congress build support for the bill. At the 2009 Plenum, the JCPA approved a resolution on criminal justice reform that said “the operation of a morally and legally sound criminal justice system” is “one of the most profound responsibilities of any government.”

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Jews from Middle East Take Umbrage at PC(USA) Guide

Last month, the Presbyterian Church (USA) started selling a congregational resource that fabricates a narrative about Middle Eastern Jews - and they have taken notice.   The document claims that “Jewish life is alive and well in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  It goes further to state that Middle Eastern Jews had a history of “harmonious integration and acculturation” throughout the Middle East.  An Iranian Jew wrote an op-ed in the Times of Israel that the statement on Iran’s Jews is a “point blank lie!”  One Iraqi Jew took notice and penned an Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church telling the church the statement on Jews living harmoniously “is totally misleading and wrong” sharing his experience of depravation and discrimination.  Another wrote an op-ed  in the Huffington Post about the 1 million Jews who fled their ancestral lands and the fact that the “Presbyterian authors have barely a word -- and no word of sympathy -- for these Jews, sent packing with a single suitcase.” And a Libyan Jew who came to the US as a refugee says, “The publication denies the history of over 800,000 Mizrahi Jews who suffered persecution and expulsion.”

In addition to Jews from the Middle East, many Presbyterian leaders have pushed back against “Zionism Unsettled” as well. In a letter to the Presbyterian church, Rev. Chris Leighton, a Presbyterian Minister and the executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, said the study guide “betrays the Church, the truth, and the spirit of reconciliation to which we are called. Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of New York’s Auburn Theological Seminary said it “expresses demonization, distortion, and imbalance.” And JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow called it “worthy of a hate group” for its distortions and anti-Zionism.

Engaging with Christian friends is the best way to push back against the guide, Rev. Leighton told the JTA. We encourage you to read and share each of these articles to help encourage more truth-telling about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the Middle East’s Jewish communities.

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Christian and Jewish Leaders Achieve Breakthrough

Last week, the heads of Jewish and Christian organizations and denominations met in an unprecedented summit in New York City to discuss strategies to strengthen and maintain relationships even in the face of significant disagreements. The gathering to discuss relationships and how we treat each other was the first to bring together these groups since a letter was sent on October 5, 2012 by Christian groups calling on Congress to investigate Israel’s use of U.S. military aid.

At last week’s meeting, participants made a commitment to developing an effective and ongoing national dialogue of Christian and Jewish leaders.

“We affirm a strong commitment to continue working together on domestic and international issues of common concern. We will aspire to genuine and ongoing dialogue related to Israeli-Palestinian issues, seeking to identify and discuss, in respect and humility, areas of real or potential disagreement and of real and potential cooperation.”

“As people of faith we enter the holy season of Easter and Passover to celebrate the gift of our renewed relationship and look to the future to enhance our closeness and our commitment to serve the common good.”

The group of top leaders, which included JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow, committed to meeting at least annually and to reconstituting the traditional Jewish-Christian roundtables that were suspended in October of 2012.

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Hunger Seder

Next Wednesday is the 6th annual National Hunger Seder in the US Capitol. Once again, leaders from the JCPA and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger will be joined by Members of Congress, delegates from the White House, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and representatives of faith and anti-hunger groups to tell the story of the Exodus with a special emphasis on the moral imperative to end hunger in America. In addition to the National Seder in DC, there will be over 20 other Hunger Seder events taking place in communities around the country.

This Passover, we encourage you to incorporate messages of hunger and food security into your seder as well. You can download our special Haggadah to use in your Seder and help educate others about the prevalence of food insecurity. This year, dozens of cities and thousands of individuals representing a broad spectrum of faith communities will come together at local Hunger Seders to raise awareness about the particular challenges for seniors struggling to put food on the table and advocate to protect nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act.

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