Posts by: Ben

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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April 02, 2014: Faith Organizations Unite to Focus Communities on Ending Poverty


Washington, D.C. – For the 6th year-in-a-row, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Catholic Charities USA are spearheading this year’s “Fighting Poverty with Faith” mobilization, bringing together nearly thirty national faith organizations for a weeklong initiative that leverages the organizing power of the faith community to action on behalf of the more than 46 million people in this country struggling to make ends meet.

Taking place the week of March 31, 2014, participants across the country are invited to participate through one or more of the following:

  • Host a Hunger Seder: During the week-long mobilization interfaith and anti-hunger advocates will host Hunger Seders in several communities
  • Sign the Pledge: as well as urge others to commit to EDUCATING the public about the everyday challenges facing the 46 million people living in poverty in America today; highlight INNOVATIVE solutions to poverty by connecting local practitioners with national leaders; and pledge to ACT to reduce poverty in communities across the country using newfound knowledge and techniques.
  • Attend the Poverty Summit:  On Wednesday, April 2, people across the country will convene in D.C.  for the  National Poverty Summit, which brings together academics, policymakers, and non-profit leaders for a substantive and engaging discussion about ending poverty in the United States. The Summit will be available via a live webstream. In addition to featuring compelling panels and discussions, it will also showcase the innovative approaches and passionate commitment to strengthen our nation so that everyone, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

By coordinating our message, holding joint events, and promoting partnership among our faith groups, this year’s mobilization aims to take on the challenge President Johnson made 50 years ago when he said, “For the war aganst poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office from the courthouse to the White House.”

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Progressive Leaders Tour Israel

This week marked a milestone for the Israel Action Network as its Managing Director, Geri Palast, and Deputy Managing Director, David Dabscheck, departed New York to lead IAN’s first progressive leaders’ study tour to Israel.

The eight-day itinerary will include visits to local communities, meetings with government officials and discussions on key issues regarding economic development, security, high tech start-ups, sustainability, immigrant inclusion, LGBT and women’s rights and much more.

The group will visit cities such as Caesarea, Nazareth, Jaffa and Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as various towns in the north, and meet with speakers from the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, the United Nations, members of Knesset, NGO leaders, social activists and others.

Seeing and learning, while raising questions and seeking answers, are essential in enriching the conversation about Israel, Israelis and her neighbors in a positive and productive manner. This is another step in building an understanding of the democratic, Jewish State of Israel and the importance of advancing the goal of two states for two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, so that they may live side-by-side in peace and security.

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Caring for Creation

President Obama and Pope Francis will meet on March 27th. TAKE ACTION with the JCPA and COEJL by signing the petition to let the White House know we hope that President Obama will raise the importance of caring for Creation with the Pope.  Protecting the environment is an interfaith priority. As the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign declaration states, “enlightened stewardship is not only a religious and moral imperative; it is a strategy for security and survival.”

Both leaders have spoken out on this issue already. “My administration will keep working with the [oil and gas] industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities,” President Obama said in his 2014 State of the Union address. Pope Francis has stated that we should be “protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."

Please join our effort and encourage your friends, family, and colleagues to do the same.

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Hunger Seder

Every spring, Jews celebrate the holiday of Passover, declaring at our Seders, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” In our modern world, this invitation is more symbolic than literal, but this strong anti-hunger message makes Passover an ideal time to promote food security for all Americans. This Passover, we encourage you to incorporate messages of hunger and food security into your Seder.

Using a special Haggadah, more than 50 communities across the country have participated in Hunger Seders, educating their neighbors about the prevalence of food insecurity, deepening their engagement in anti-hunger work, and advocating to protect nutrition programs in the national budget. This year, dozens of cities and thousands of individuals representing a broad spectrum of faith communities will again come together at local Hunger Seders to raise awareness about the particular challenges for seniors and to advocate to protect nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act.

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