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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Read Department of Justice’s Roadmap to Reentry

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Book your ticket soon!

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

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

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

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

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

click here to RSVP! 

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Celebrate an Earth Day Passover

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

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Conference Call on Intersectionality

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

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

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

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Terror in Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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JCPA2016 - Early Registration

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

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

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

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

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

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

click here to register!

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COEJL Webinar on the Green Climate Fund

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

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Early Bird Registration Extended!

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

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

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

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

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Esther's Choice

 By Hanna Liebman Dershowitz

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

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

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

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

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COEJL and JCPA speak at Panim El Panim

 Over the weekend, Jewish youth flocked from all over the country to Washington for BBYO’s Panim el Panim seminar. COEJL Manager Liya Recthman and JCPA Policy Associate Krissy Roth engaged these young people in conversations on two of today’s hot topics: U.S. engagement with international climate negotiations and clean energy, and human trafficking. Participants met in small groups to discuss these topics. They learned the background to the issues, what makes them Jewish, how they are controversial to some, and what legislation exists for addressing them.

Students learned about the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is intended to help developing and vulnerable countries confront the challenges and negative impacts of climate change. These include flooding, sea level rise, drought, and decreased crop production. They also discussed the key role the interfaith community played last year at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN COP21)  international climate negotiation in Paris on the GCF. 

More than 30 countries, including the United States, pledged $10.2 billion to establish  the fund. At COP21, GCF also received $500 million in initial funding for 2016. As projects in developing countries ramp up for sustainable growth and climate change adaptation, students discussed how continuing to provide assistance to the world’s poor and vulnerable through GCF is a fundamental Jewish value. 


Roth engaged with students as they learned about the $150 billion criminal industry in human trafficking that enslaves nearly 21 million people worldwide. Participants spoke about the Passover reminder to recall their own experiences as slaves in Egypt as a reminder of the Jewish obligation to help others, including those who may be suffering within our community. 


Discussions focused on trafficking of minors, a problem for more than 1.6 million homeless youth every year in the U.S. Participants learned about the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), enacted some 40 years ago, that is often seen as our nation’s best response to runaway and youth homelessness. RHYA programs provide street outreach services, temporary and long-term shelters, family reunification, counseling, education and job preparation services. Students were also challenged to consider the moral imperative of providing adequate and appropriate services to LGBT youth, estimated to compose about 40% of the homeless youth population.   

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Make JCPA2016 Yours and Participate in Our UNCONFERENCE

 Register before 3/18 for Discounted Rate!

JCPA2016 will be groundbreaking in many ways, including holding our first-ever Unconference on Monday, May 16. What's an Unconference? We're glad you asked! Unconferences are events run by participants. Attendees set the agenda for what’s discussed, lead the sessions and workshops that fill the schedule, and create an environment of innovation and productive discussion. This means that you plan the Monday morning of the JCPA2016 Conference!

At the Unconference, you'll tell us what you're interested in learning more about and then vote with your feet. You'll discuss topics you're most interested in, highlight innovation in the community, and identify best practices. The Unconference makes it possible to include everybody in constructing agendas and addressing issues that are important to them. Having co-created the agenda and feeling free to follow their passion, people will take responsibility very quickly for leading their own sessions or participating in whatever strikes their fancy.

Letting go of central control of the agenda and putting it in the hands of all the participants generates commitment, action, innovation, and follow-through. We can't wait to see your creativity unleashed. 

The early registration discount expires on March 18, so sign up now! 

Discuss and debate the big ideas – political, social, and organizational – that will define our world and our work.  Build skills from governance to strategic planning, making OUR communities more effective.

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

click here to register! 

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Urge Ambassador Power: Stop Iran’s Missiles!

 Last week, the Iranian government launched several missiles; two of them, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency, were marked in Hebrew with the words “Israel must be erased.”  These launches are just the most recent of Iran's repeated violations of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which specifically bans the country from testing ballistic missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. In response to the tests, the US imposed sanctions in January on eleven people and companies involved in the ballistic missile program, but, so far, they haven't deterred the Iranian government. These missile launches are clear provocations and threats to Israel. They must stop.   

Urge  Ambassador Samantha Power and the UN Security Council to enforce their words.  Iran can't be allowed to threaten the region or spread these dangerous weapons.

click here to take action! 

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Act Now: Protect the Fund’s Future!

 Funding has been cleared for 2016, but the fight for continued Green Climate Fund support has only just begun. As projects in developing countries ramp up for sustainable growth and climate change adaptation, we need to continue providing assistance to the world’s poor and vulnerable. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes 750 million for the Green Climate Fund. Tell your representatives that you care about acting on climate and support the Green Climate Fund. Sign the action alert here.
click here to take action! 

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Super Tuesday with Bill Schneider

 The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington invite you to join us for an analysis of Super Tuesday election results with leading U.S. political analyst Bill Schneider.  

On March 1, voters in 12 states across the country will vote – both in primaries and caucuses – for their party’s Presidential nominee. Super Tuesday’s contests award more delegates than any other single day in the nomination process, making it a critical point in the 2016 elections.  Join us for live analysis from Bill Schneider about the outcomes of the contests and the impact of Jewish voters in the presidential election.  


March 2, 2016

3:00 pm (eastern)

Call in: (641) 715 – 3580

Access Code: 560917 

Bill Schneider, a leading U.S. political analyst, is Visiting Professor of Communications at UCLA for 2016 and Professor of Policy, Government and International Affairs at George Mason University.   He is also a contributor to Al Jazeera English, Huffington Post and   He was the Cable News Network’s senior political analyst from 1990 to 2009.  

Schneider has covered every U.S. presidential and midterm election since 1976 for the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic Monthly, CNN and Al Jazeera.  He has also covered elections in other countries (U.K., Germany, Mexico, Israel, Japan).  Schneider has been labeled ``the nation's electionmeister'' by the Washington Times and ``the Aristotle of American politics'' by the Boston Globe.  Campaigns and Elections Magazine called him ``the most consistently intelligent analyst on television.''  He was a member of the CNN political team that won an Emmy for its 2006 election coverage and a Peabody for its 2008 coverage.

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COEJL Talks on Volunteering

 What does it mean to volunteer? How can we do it in more impactful, meaningful ways?

This weekend, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) Manager Liya Rechtman spoke on a panel at Temple Rodef Shalom, in Falls Church, Virginia as part of a series titled “Social Justice and American Jews.” The panel centered on volunteerism, as well as opportunities to contribute to social justice causes that extend beyond volunteering at a soup kitchen or planting a community garden. Representatives from Virginia’s Jewish Community Relations Councils, HIAS, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and the National Council of Jewish Women, along with several others, joined COEJL on the panel.

Rechtman spoke about connecting members of the congregation with local organizing efforts, like Virginia’s Interfaith Power and Light and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. These local efforts are important ways to engage with local government, state legislatures, and national representatives. Writing letters to the editor, bringing in speakers to the community, and communicating with elected officials are critical avenues towards progress. Further, Rechtman recommended that all congregations and private homes consider installing solar panels if possible.

The event was held in Virginia and dealt with state-specific issues. However, the question of how to effectively volunteer is one with which we all grapple. If you’re interested in doing more in your state, contact for ideas!

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A Range of Perspectives

 By Joel Schwartz

While we were on the Frank Family Leadership Mission in both Poland and Israel, we may have been lacking sleep, but we were never lacking a different perspective.


After touring the museum at Auschwitz, we had the quietest lunch that eleven people can  possibly have – until one of us asked our tour guide, Basha,  what schools in Poland teach about the Holocaust. She then told us that most of what students learn comes from everyday life, not in school.  

The next perspective that we saw was that of both Jews and non-Jews working at the Krakow JCC.  This JCC is only eight years old and serves the growing Jewish community of Krakow.  The perspective that I found fascinating here  was that of the non-Jews who came to the JCC to volunteer and/or work because they wanted to help this community thrive.  As non-Jewish Poles grew up and learned about what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, they finally found a way to learn more and to give back at the same time.

When we landed in Israel, the number of different perspectives became even more abundant.  In the six jam-packed days that we were in Israel, we heard from Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Israelis and many different cross-sections of those groups.  

On the political front, first we heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Senior Advisor, Jonathan Schachter.  Later in the week, we met with a professor of political science, Reuven Hazan, who gave us the lay of the land of the Israeli political system.   A few days after that, we went to the Knesset and met with leaders from the Yesh Atid, Zionist Camp, Kulanu and Joint List Parties.  Between these meetings alone, we got the perspective of five different political parties.  


On the religious front, we observed a panel on religious pluralism in Israel with individuals representing the secular, Reform/Progressive, Conservative/Masorti and Orthodox communities.  After Shabbat ended, we met with Americans that were in Jerusalem as part of the Muslim Leadership Initiative.  We met in small groups with these young Muslims and talked about how the Jewish and Muslim communities can work together to begin to build bridges between the communities. 

The mission also took a day and went to the West Bank to hear a few more perspectives.  Here, we first met with Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, which is the urban center of Gush Etzion.  He talked to us about what it is like to lead a Jewish town surrounded by Palestinian communities.  Next, we learned from the leaders of Shorashim, a NGO promoting the co-existence of Jews and Arabs.  One was a rabbi who was a Jewish settler and the other was a Palestinian pacifist and activist.   Also on the topic of the West Bank, we heard from a business man who was building the first planned city for and by Palestinians: Rawabi.

The amount of knowledge that I gained on this trip can’t be quantified.  It seemed that I left every meeting saying some variation of “Wow, that was amazing.”  I never could have imagined how many perspectives and viewpoints that we would see and hear.  These perspectives helped me gain that knowledge, and, when put together, tell the story of two wonderful places: Krakow, Poland and Israel.

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Join us at JCPA2016 as we explore diverse perspectives

 With the emergence of an expansionist ISIS, an aggressive Iran, and the continuation of a ruinous Syrian civil war, Middle East states are in crisis. What challenges and opportunities lay ahead for American and Israeli foreign policy makers as well as the American Jewish community?

Join us at JCPA2016 and hear from our special panel of experts:

Elliott Abrams
 is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. He served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.

Tamara Coffman
 Wittes is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. Wittes served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from November of 2009 to January 2012.

Ami Eden
 is the CEO and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He joined JTA as editor-in-chief in 2008 and was appointed CEO in 2010. He will serve as moderator.

click here to register

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Why climate change is a Jewish racial justice issue

 By Liya Rechtman

Originally published in the Washington Jewish Week

February marks Black History Month, an opportunity to learn about and share African-American history. Further, Black History Month is a moment to consider where we, as a Jewish and an American community, can continue pursuing racial justice in the coming year.

In the first week of Black History Month, we read Parshat Mishpatim, from the Book of Exodus. Mishpatim is the oldest stratum of Torah (famously parallel to the Code of Hammurabi). The portion expounds on the earliest Jewish laws, including how and when to set both Israelite and non-Israelite slaves free. In some ways, this is one of those sticky portions that uncomfortably remind us that our tradition was part of the historic system of slavery. However, read an alternate way, the section of Mishpatim grappling with slavery insists on treating disempowered slaves as humans, also created in the Divine Image. Mishpatim is a mandate to act with respect and dignity to all.

What does this mean in 2016? In the age of rising rates of asthma and cancer among black Americans, as well as unequal impacts of extreme weather disasters on communities of color, the fight for racial justice is multi-faceted. Climate change is a racial justice issue, and, as Jews of all colors, we must advocate for climate justice.

click here to read the full op-ed by Liya

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JCPA Staff Retreat

 This week, JCPA staff gathered in New York for a JCPA "first": a two-day retreat focused on teambuilding and organizational strategy. In addition to building a marshmallow-and-pasta tower to develop teamwork, and learning about Israel through a viewing of the sitcom “Arab Labor,” the group began important conversations about our team values and  our roles and responsibilities. Participants also addressed program strategy development and the best methods for identifying our audiences. On the second day, the staff was joined by Cheryl Fishbein, Chair of JCPA’s Administrative Committee, for a session on planning and strategy.   

This retreat is part of a longer-term strategic planning process that includes a nationwide “listening tour” and will incorporate a comprehensive visioning session at JCPA2016. Keep watching for more details in future editions of JCPActs!

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Protect the Arctic!

 Tell President Obama and Members of Congress to protect the Arctic! The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unprecedented in its wildness, ecological integrity, and beauty. This sacred landscape is also the home of the Gwich'in, an Alaska native people who depend on the Porcupine caribou herd for their daily subsistence. The possibility of oil exploration in the Refuge jeopardizes the ecological integrity of the space and the way of life of the Gwich'in people. As Jews, we believe that we must not only protect our planet, but also “champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:9) who are most vulnerable in our national community.
The Arctic Refuge needs the strongest possible protection. Join the interfaith movement to protect and preserve the Refuge for this generation, and generations to come. Sign the action alert here. 

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Jewish Disability Advocacy Day 2016

 Last week, more than 150 advocates from around the country came to Washington for the 6th annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD). The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC). Staff and lay leaders from the JCPA were joined by community relations professionals from Florida, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, DC, Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as many other Jewish professionals who work on disability issues. 

This year, advocates took to the Hill to ask for legislators’ support for respite for caretakers through the RAISE Family Caregiver Act (H.R.3099) and the Lifespan Respite Care Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3913). Advocates also heard firsthand from Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), sponsor of H.R. 3913 and a person who lives with a disability, as he shared the significance of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act twenty years ago and its impact on his life in public service. 

It is shocking to note that 28% of all disabled Americans live in poverty, so advocates also pushed legislators to support the Transition to Independence Act (S.1604), which addresses the need for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Employment can be empowering, and having more job opportunities in an integrated setting allows greater opportunity for economic self-sufficiency.

Before their engagments with Members of Congress, advocates were joined by Maria Town, Associate Director of Public Engagement at the White House,  Jennifer Sheehy, the acting Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment, Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, and several members of Congress. All of the panelists shared their personal experiences with disability and how enacting the changes laid out by these pieces of legislation is a crucial step toward improving the lives of those with disabilities. 

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It’s complicated

By Harris Konter

Virtually every briefing with every speaker started the same way: “It’s complicated,” the speaker would begin before delving into the specific topic. And, by and large, they were correct. Even a topic that seems simple, like being able to choose the Rabbi who presides over your wedding, is layered and complex. “We can certainly understand the validity of the Conservative and Reform movements and agree that those Rabbis should be able to preside over a wedding…but what if that authority is abused by one person and used to give citizenship to people who only want to change the nature of Israel away from being a Jewish state?”


 What once seemed simple can quickly become murky.


This is to say nothing of complex issues like, oh, I don’t know: let’s say the peace process with Palestine. Even its simplest of concepts, the idea of having two states, is complicated when you start discussing what would be on either side of the border (wherever the border is). Everyone we met with could agree that on one side of the border was Palestine,.. Yet the representatives from the Palestinian Authority and the Joint Arab List, with  whom we met would not agree that on the other side of the border would be Israel, a Jewish democracy. They agreed with the name of Israel and the democracy part but were unwilling to acknowledge the state as Jewish. A complex place to start a peace negotiation, to say the least. 


I constantly espouse a layman’s version of Occam’s razor: “The simplest explanation is most often correct.” So you can understand my frustration at learning that every issue in Israel, from every side of that issue, is, in fact, complex. When I came home and shared this frustration with my wife, she said something that clarified everything I had experienced. She said: “That’s why I think it’s more important that we support Israel today than it has ever been before.” Truer words may not have ever been spoken.


In fact, every speaker followed saying “It’s complicated” by saying “Right now is a very difficult time in Israel.” Sadly, this is also true, but, as Jews, we’re used to difficult times, and one might argue that it’s where we excel.


I’m grateful to Lois and Larry Frank as well as to the JCPA for sending me on this mission. My resolution from the trip is to be a stronger supporter of Israel, in its simplest form, as a Jewish democracy. The most important point is to support Israel’s validity to exist and to thrive as a Jewish democracy. Perhaps if we can unite under this simple concept, we can find solutions to some of the most complex problems. 

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JCPA 2016!

 Discuss and debate the big ideas – political, social, and organizational – that will define our world and our work.

Build skills from governance to strategic planning, making OUR communities more effective.

Join with leaders around the country as we set strategic and policy priorities, working together to build our network of JCRCs and National Organizations.


Why Cleveland? It is home to a robust Jewish community, many of whom will be joining us and sharing their experiences. And, while you're here, you can take advantage of a true walking city and see the sights, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! 

Come for the policy, enjoy the fun!

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

Register before March 18 at and enjoy an $80 discount on your registration! 

Please join us May 14-17 for JCPA 2016. The early registration discount expires on March 18. Sign up now! 

We can't wait to see you!

click here to register! 

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JCRC of Rochester Annual Legislative Lunch

 Last week, Jared Feldman, JCPA Vice President and Washington Director, joined Rochester’s Community Relations leaders and elected officials for their annual Legislative Lunch.  Jared spoke about the Jewish community’s commitment to refugees and the federal, state, and local advocacy opportunities for the Rochester community.  At the lunch, the community leaders and elected officials also heard from Dr. Michael Scharf, Chief of the Division of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester, on mental health issues, and Larry Fine, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, on the importance of Israel and tackling anti-Semitism.  Dozens of elected officials and staff members were present to hear about the local Jewish community’s priorities and policy perspectives.  

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Muslims and Jews Act Together on Climate Change

 How can we use acting on climate change as a peace-building and interfaith strategy? 

This past weekend, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life Manager Liya Rechtman joined with Muslim environmental consultant and former Green Muslims Board Member Asma Mahdi at the Howard University Divinity School Interfaith Leadership Summit. Together, they led a focus group and workshop titled “Acting on Climate Across Lines of Difference.” With a group of Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist, and Humanist community leaders, they examined the problems facing the environmental movement and the ways in which faith-based advocacy can help.

They determined as a group that the inherent universality of environmental degradation caused by climate change is sufficient to bring disparate communities together.  These communities also have particular reasons that they respond to calls for environmental action. Our Jewish tradition tells us to care for the earth and consider it a gift from God. In Leviticus 25:23, we read: “The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is Mine; you are strangers and sojourners with me.” Muslim scripture teaches the same environmental values. Muslims study Nahj al-Fasahah, which emphasizes the imperative to prioritize the earth: “If Resurrection is starting and one of you has a sapling in his hand which he can plant before he stands up he must do so.”

However, the group also concluded that people of faith –Jews and Muslims in particular – had more in common than, as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical “Our Common Home.” The challenge of climate change is one that uniquely impacts Jews and Muslims because of the effect climate disruption has on economic prosperity, radicalization, and security in the Middle East. Many Jews care about climate change and clean energy because we care about Israel. Similarly, our Muslim brothers and sisters also want to work for peace and security in the region.

The conversation concluded with the following understanding: Climate change is a unifier, highlighting our shared values across our differences as people of faith. Climate change is also a national security concern, and a place of shared political priority between Jews and Muslims. Thus Jews and Muslims can work together to act on climate as an environmental, interfaith, and peace-building tactic.

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JCPA Welcomes Expanded Egalitarian Prayer Space at Western Wall

 On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet voted to upgrade an egalitarian prayer space in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In response, the JCPA issued the following statement: 

February 1, 2106, Washington, D.C., - The decision by the Israeli cabinet to approve an expanded egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall is a welcome step toward improving relations between Israel and the Diaspora and supporting increased participation at Judaism’s holiest site.

The JCPA applauds the determination of concerned denominations in Israel and North America, as well as other dedicated participants, particularly the Women of the Wall, for their unwavering commitment to the realization of this goal. We also recognize the efforts of the prime minister’s office, Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky for developing the proposal, which will allow for a larger egalitarian prayer space with a more prominent entrance under the control of a pluralistic committee. 

According to David Bernstein, President and CEO of the JCPA, “This decision is a testimony to a spirit of compromise and partnership that is vital to the relationship between Israel and Jews around the world. It is imperative that we work to end those conflicts that lead to sinat chinam, baseless hatred, between those who are part of the global Jewish community.”

“This is a great day for those women and men who have yearned for the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall in the way that is most meaningful to them,” said Susan W. Turnbull, JCPA Chair.

In the aftermath of this significant decision, the JCPA also asks that all those who are involved in the issue go forward in a spirit of civility and commitment to klal yisrael, the community of Israel.

click here to read the official statement
click below for more on the agreement

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Frank Fellow Reflections on Leadership Mission to Israel

 By Marc Schwartz

Honored. That is how I felt when I was selected to be a Frank Fellow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). Looking around at the seven other Fellows, I saw people from all over the country, with successful careers and active community involvement. One member recently had to get confirmed by the state Senate for her current full-time job – so that's full time public service on top of being a volunteer. Being with this crowd meant I had to be at the top of my game just so I had a chance to keep up.

Traveling together in tight, cramped spaces from JFK through Frankfurt to Kraków meant that we all knew a lot about each other – whether we wanted to or not – by the time we exited the plane in the subfreezing Kraków winter. Those tight, cramped spaces included a 15-minute bus ride from the Frankfurt airport terminal to the plane parked some 5 miles away (or at least it seemed that long) yet still somehow on the airport campus.

Spending two days together in Poland reminding us of how our people were humiliated, embarrassed, enslaved, murdered, and treated as property was another shared bonding experience. The Auschwitz weather seemed appropriate as again it was subfreezing and snowing, with the sky seemingly only 10-feet off the ground. We were shivering in two layers of socks and boots, reminding ourselves the prisoners wore nothing but nightgowns. 

Getting to know each other in such a short period of time benefited us throughout the entire trip. It enabled us to do several things. First, not that we were bashful to begin with, there was clearly no hesitation in asking any type of question during presentations, whether just amongst the Fellows or within the larger JCPA mission group, for fear of being laughed at for asking a dumb question. Second, it led to great no-holds-barred honest dialogue and debate between sessions about how we felt about everything from mission organization to our latest program/speaker. I found some of these discussions to be more intense, enlightening, and rewarding than many of the formal programs. Again, direct discussions were only possible because we had spent such intense time together at the trip's beginning. I also think it showed what a good selection of Fellows was made in that every single person was able to hold up his or her end of an argument and everyone was able to keep an open mind as we moved forward.

Frustrated, ideally leading to appreciating different perspectives: that is how I felt at certain parts of every day. Everyone had a differing viewpoint, from our internal JCPA group to the various outside persons we met, ranging from members of Knesset from widely varying political parties (including an Israeli Arab), settlers, Palestinians, government advisors, to others we met on the street. Perhaps my favorite was a store manager who deputized Joel (another Fellow) and me to watch the store for 20 minutes as she ran down the street to find us the perfect gifts to bring back home. Unfortunately, we didn't get an employee discount as Hadara (another Fellow) suggested. The shopkeeper had some specific thoughts on President Obama, his religion, his beliefs, his view of Israel, and other topics that surprised me, which is saying a lot given that I live in the heart of the south and hear some pretty nasty things on a daily basis.

More daily frustration was seeing the different lives the Palestinians and Israelis were living and knowing it is a shame and a travesty that there is not an effective movement toward peace from all sides.


The trip was an undeniable success. I met new people and learned new things every single day. That same success made the reentry process to normal daily life in Atlanta difficult, at best. It took me about a week to get back into my rhythm. Thank you for including me on the trip, and I look forward to continuing to stay involved with both the Frank Fellows and the JCPA.

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Jewish Climate Justice during Black History Month

 In the first week of Black History Month, we read Parshat Mishpatim from the Book of Exodus. Mishpatim is a mandate to act with respect and dignity to all. What does this mean in 2016? In the age of rising rates of asthma and cancer among black Americans, as well as unequal impacts of extreme weather disasters on communities of color, the fight for racial justice is multi-faceted. Climate change is a racial justice issue, and, as Jews, we have a role to play in advocating for climate justice. 

click here to read more

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Frank Fellows

 Eight emerging leaders hailing from San Francisco, CA; Indianapolis, IA; Atlanta, GA; Mount Laurel, NJ; Virginia Beach, VA; St. Louis, MO, and Pittsburgh, PA traveled to Poland to study Jewish history and Israel to join the JCPA leadership mission.  In Poland, the fellows visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi camps and explored Kraków's Jewish history.  In Israel, the journey was packed with exciting meetings, for example with former President Simon Peres and with a group of Palestinian and Jewish settler peace-builders.  The travelers learned about all angles of the complex Palestinian-Israeli situation and Israeli politics.

The Frank Fellowship program was established four years ago by former JCPA board chair Lois Frank and Larry Frank of Atlanta to foster young leadership in the community relations arena.  The 2016 cohort of fellows will be selected in summer 2016. If you are interested in nominating someone, please stay tuned for calls for nominations, or contact Hanna Dershowitz at

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2016 Frank Fellow Reflection

By Deborah Price

On January 25, 2016, I curled up on my couch in my downtown St. Louis loft and flipped open my laptop to skim the news.  A story in the Times of Israel entitled “Israeli Man Fights off Palestinian Stabbers with a Supermarket Cart” caught my eye.  It featured an Israeli man named Mordechai Shalem who reportedly fought off two Palestinian terrorists who were brandishing knives.  

I was struck both by how preposterous the scenario seemed, yet also how frighteningly commonplace it had become.  However, it was Shalem’s description of his experience that ultimately captured my focus.  He said, “[y]ou see two people facing you with their knives raised. I saw the hatred in their eyes, the anger. I knew I had to stop them from getting in.”  As I reread his words, I could feel the Palestinians’ hatred and anger, and I immediately empathized with Shalem and wondered if this insane violence would ever end. 

Prior to participating in the Frank Family Leadership Institute Mission, I am sure my reflections about this stabbing would have ended with that thought.  I likely would have shook my head and turned the page.  Instead, I found myself wondering what the terrorists’ lives were like before that day and what personal experiences led them to this decision.  I realized that they would likely be remembered both as hateful terrorists and as freedom-fighter martyrs, no matter how irreconcilable those descriptions seemed. 

Ultimately, I realized I agree with the assertions that Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awwad made when we visited him in the West Bank at the location of his initiative for peace.  After sharing his difficult personal story, Awwad told us that “both sides have truth and reasons they are right, but each is only a partial truth.” He emphasized that “falsehood is a partial truth masquerading as complete truth.”  Doubtless, the ability to view a conflict from an opposing perspective is a critical step toward moving closer to common ground and, hopefully, peace.  
The invaluable opportunity to learn about and see other perspectives is only one of several ways that my participation in in the Frank Family Fellowship Mission to Poland and Israel impacted my life for the better. On January 3, 2016, I was fortunate to join seven Jews from various parts of the US, along with an energetic and enthusiastic JCPA staff, as we embarked on the 2016 Frank Family Leadership Institute Mission.  The Frank Fellows ranged in age from early 30s to 40s, and proved to be dynamic, intelligent, interesting and compassionate. We began the trip in Krakow, where we toured Auschwitz-Birkenau in frigid temperatures. Two days later, we travelled to Jerusalem, where we joined an experienced generation of members participating on the JCPA Leadership Mission. We also had the pleasure of connecting with Lois and Larry Frank, the benefactors who made the fellowship possible.  Although we would quickly learn that the members of our group had very different perspectives and opinions, we were fundamentally connected as American Jews who want to learn because we care about the safety and security of Israel.

Initially, I was unsure what the overall goal of the trip was or whether we would be expected to promote any specific political agenda.  Fortunately, it quickly became apparent that the Franks and JCPA designed an itinerary that granted us unfettered access to a variety of high-ranking officials from a variety of backgrounds, including professionals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Knesset, and the Institute for National Security, as well as former President Shimon Peres. We also spoke with professors, journalists, a real estate developer in the West Bank, and a former Palestinian Minister. 

In addition to the various security-related matters, we discussed religious pluralism, Arab/Israeli relations, and the degradation of Israel’s stature around the world.  As we learned about the dramatically different perspectives on these issues, we were encouraged to ask critical questions and respectfully push back when necessary.   Ultimately, Lois and Larry Frank, along with the JCPA staff, led us through an intense learning experience that left me with a newfound confidence in my basic understanding of the major issues facing Israel, the region, and Jews around the world. 

Despite the intensive travel and meeting schedule and related mental and physical exhaustion, I know I was not the only person who actually felt energized and re-connected to a strong sense of purpose.   Despite the complexity of the issues Israel faces and despite being in the thick of the conflict where many perspectives left me feeling frustrated and hopeless, I ultimately found an unwavering belief that peace in Israel is possible.  As former President Shimon Peres said when we met with him, “the choice is not between the left and right, but instead the past and future….we must teach our children not how to remember but how to dream….and we must make the future a better place for all people of all nations.”  I am grateful for the opportunity to play even a tiny part in that effort. 

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Waters of the U.S.

Administration stands behind Clean Water Rule, after Congress sought to repeal  

Thank the White House for protecting clean water with this action alert!  Access to clean water is a fundamentally Jewish value.  The Clean Water Act is a key piece of legislation that regulates our water resources, ensuring that all Americans have equal access to water, free from pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers put forward the Clean Water Rule to ensure that the Waters of the Unite States (WOTUS) are kept safe.  Last fall, Jewish community leadership came to Washington D.C. to speak to their elected officials about the importance of clean water.  Last week, however, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in voting to overturn the rule.  The White House then vetoed the Congressional vote, ensuring that we will be able to enact the Clean Water Rule.

You can read COEJL's statement on the vote here

Rabbis and Cantors advocate for clean water

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2016 JCPA Leadership Mission to Israel

 Although it might be called the worst of clichés, those who attempt an in-depth understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and realities faced by the state of Israel often say the same thing: it’s complicated. Participants in the JCPA’s recent leadership mission to Israel may well have reached the same conclusion after an intense and informative trip that took place last week.

A few of the highlights of the itinerary:

           JCPA Chair Susie Turnbull in conversation with former President of Israel Shimon Peres: this exclusive audience with one of the most distinguished political figures of the post-World War II era took place in the main auditorium of the Peres Center, with the setting sun on the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop.

           Intense and honest exchanges between participants and Members of Knesset Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp), Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), and Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List).

           A panel at the Van Leer Institute on religious pluralism in Israel with Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg (Orthodox), Rabbi Gilad Kariv (Reform/Progressive), Adv. Yizhar Hess (Conservative/Masorti), and Dr. Ruth Calderon (Secular).

           A discussion with Oded Revivi, Mayor of the town of Efrat in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

           A presentation from and dialogue with Amir Dajani, developer of Rawabi, a new, planned Palestinian city in the West Bank.

In the coming weeks, participants in the mission will share some of their impressions of the trip in JCPActs. Until then, perhaps Nobel prize winner Saul Bellow’s reflections in his personal account To Jerusalem and Back will serve as a fitting placeholder:

“Here in Jerusalem, when you shut your apartment door behind you, you fall into a gale of conversation—exposition, argument, harangue, analysis, theory, expostulation, threat, and prophecy . . . I listen carefully, closely, more closely than I’ve ever listened in my life, utterly attentive, but I often feel that I have been dropped into a shoreless sea.”

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Implementation Day

 In the context of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program, January 16, 2016 was “Implementation Day.” The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran had completed all of the steps outlined in the deal, which means that  sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear activities will be temporarily lifted or waived. However, U.S. sanctions relating to Iran’s support of terrorist activity; human rights abuses; destabilizing intervention in regional hot spots like Syria and Yemen; and development of ballistic missile technology and conventional weapons will remain in place.

To gain sanctions relief, Iran had to:

  • Reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by about 98 percent (25,000 pounds)
  • Dismantle and remove two-thirds of its centrifuges (leaving a total of 5,060 centrifuges)
  • Remove the core of its heavy water reactor at Arak (Iran’s source of plutonium production)

For a timeline of the JCPOA that puts Implementation Day in a larger context, click here

For a detailed description of the types of sanctions that will be lifted, click here.

In related news, a prisoner swap took place that freed four Americans imprisoned in Iran in exchange for the United States pardoning or dropping charges for seven Iranians accused or convicted of sanctions violations. A fifth American was released in a separate deal, but Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since 2007, was not part of the exchange. 

Click here for more information about this story.  

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Tu'Bshvat - The Jewish Holiday for the Trees

 The Jewish holiday for the trees falls on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, which coincides with January 25th this year. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has created a whole collection of resources for celebrating this major Jewish environmental holiday. COEJL has sermon starters, source sheets, and articles that can help you spread the word about this holiday! Many families and congregations host a special Seder for Tu’BShvat. Host a Tu’Bshvat Seder this year using the COEJL Haggaddah by Rabbi David Seidenberg.

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Purple State Strategies

 By David Bernstein, JCPA President and CEO 

With growing challenges to Israel’s legitimacy and American pluralism, we need now, more than ever, a strong and focused Jewish community relations movement. In the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, much of the Jewish community viewed the community relations agenda – public advocacy and relationship-building on behalf of the Jewish community – as central to Jewish security and wellbeing.

During this golden age of community relations, according to Steven Windmueller, a scholar and former practitioner, the Jewish community widely embraced a notion of the common good. In this view, Jewish wellbeing depended upon American pluralism. If society treated all minority groups well, it would treat Jews well too. Jewish community relations organizations thus fought for the rights of all people not just out of a commitment to social justice but as a means to protect Jews from intolerance.

Beginning in the 1990s, things began to change. Philanthropic priorities shifted and Jewish civic life fragmented. American Jews felt safer than ever before. Many abandoned the notion of the common good in favor of a narrower view of Jewish self-interest focused on combating assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and threats to Jewish communities abroad.

Windmueller explains that the Jewish community relations field split into “red state” interests concerned primarily with Israel and anti-Semitism, and “blue state” interests still devoted to the common good. Red staters founded “boutique” operations outside the traditional community relations establishment. Many were highly critical of blue state groups for diluting their agendas, while blue state groups were equally critical of red staters for parochializing theirs.

But there are merits and shortcomings in both schools of thought. It’s time that the Jewish community relations movement reconcile these seemingly contradictory approaches and adopt a “Purple State Strategy.”

click here to read more

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Let’s work together to #EndHumanTrafficking


Let’s work together to #EndHumanTrafficking

January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Thursday, January 14th is Jewish Community Day of Action to #EndHumanTrafficking. In 2014 the National Human Trafficking hot line received over 21,000 calls reporting suspected human trafficking yet, the Department of Justice brought just 208 federal human trafficking prosecutions. Within the U.S. women, men, teenagers, and children (both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) can fall prey to traffickers.  

Over 40 years ago Congress passed the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) creating programs and services that help runaway and homeless youth gain stability, reconnect with their families, and prevent them from becoming chronically homeless. Last year’s RHYA reauthorization, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S.262), included street outreach programs to help build relationships and provide for vital services; temporary housing and transitional living, including education, job preparation, and health services; and funds for a national study to collect additional data on the needs of runaway and homeless youth.  For the first time, the bill also included civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Research has shown that upwards of 40% of all American homeless youth identify as LGBT and are at increased risk for sex trafficking. 

Join JCPA, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Hadassah, The Jewish Federations of North America, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Jewish Women International, Project Kesher, The Workmen's Circle and Association for Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies for Jewish Community day to #EndHumanTrafficking.

Take action! Write your Senators and tell them to ensure the passage of the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act!

See the Jewish Community Day of Action to #EndHumanTrafficking social media kit and resources here.

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Welcome Message from David Bernstein

 It is with great excitement that I join the JCPA team this month. I am truly honored to work with a fantastic staff team, a committed group of volunteer leaders, and a dynamic Jewish community relations movement. The JCPA has been at the forefront of advocating for Jewish concerns. It has played a critical role in strengthening local Jewish community relations efforts, which have been a driver of social progress and enhanced understanding of Israel. And it has built consensus among Jewish groups at critical junctures in our history. 

I doubt there has been a time in modern American Jewish history when there's been a greater need for effective community relations. There are new and powerful threats to American pluralism and to Israel's security and wellbeing. Both at the national and local levels, community relations work is indispensable. We must be at our best.

I have a lot to learn in my new role. I will start off by scheduling dozens of conversations with varied stakeholders, from JCRC staff and lay leaders to partner organizations to current staff and lay leaders. What can the JCPA do to strengthen the Jewish community relations movement and advance both our domestic and international agendas?  What does a 21st Century community relations strategy and agenda look like?

I hope you will help me answer these questions in the coming weeks and months and that together we can take on these challenges. 


David Bernstein
JCPA President & CEO 

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POTUS Action on Gun Violence

 Today, Jared Feldman, JCPA Vice President and Washington Director joined victims of gun violence and their families, law enforcement officials, and advocates to hear President Obama announce his new firearm safety policies. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school, over 90,000 Americans have been killed by guns: in the streets, in movie theaters, in churches, and at home. The President, joined by Vice President Biden, described an integrated approach that includes strengthening the instant background check system, enforcing current laws, increasing access to critical mental health services, and spurring new gun safety technologies. The JCPA has been a leading voice in the need to for comprehensive policy address gun violence. In 2013, right after the shooting in Newtown which killed 20 first graders and six of their educators, the JCPA launched its #EndGunViolence Campaign. Since that time, over 10,000 individuals have joined the effort.    
click here to read the 2013 JCPA Resolution on Mass Violence

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Celebrate Tu B'Shvat with COEJL!

 Tu B’Shvat is just around the corner! The Jewish holiday for the trees falls on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, which this year coincides with January 25th. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has created a whole basket of resources for celebrating this major Jewish environmental holiday. Many celebrate Tu B’Shvat by hosting a Seder with fresh fruits and prayers for our earth. Check out COEJL’s Simple Tu B’Shvat Seder that you can host at home or in your congregation. Tu B’Shvat is also an opportunity to study the connection between Judaism and the environment. COEJL has sermon starters, source sheets, and articles that can help you start the conversation!

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All the voices at the table: a message from JCPA chair Susan W. Turnbull

 At the end of this tumultuous year, I want to remind you why JCPA’s work is critical. The work we do matters to our communities, to Israel, and across the world. I am constantly reminded why I am proud to be part of JCPA. JCPA is dedicated to safeguarding human rights here and around the world — and to the safety and security of the state of Israel. We want to keep responding, but we can’t do it without your help.

In 2015, JCPA provided assistance to over 100 communities like yours on literally dozens of issues. We organized missions that brought non-Jewish leaders to Israel. We were at the forefront in responding to boycott and divestment efforts in churches, on campuses, and at companies. We responded to anti-Semitic incidents in several states, navigated church-state separation issues, and helped foster better relations with our Christian neighbors. And we continue to help communities restore civility to debates on Israel, immigration, and the contentious issues of our day. With your support we will enhance our efforts to restore civility in all discourse, counter the delegitimization of Israel, and raise awareness and advocate to combat poverty in America.  

JCPA stands for all the voices at the table. We organize and provide the tools for communities across our country. JCPA weaves together all elements of social justice work, and that makes JCPA a unique and necessary institution. We can’t do it without you.

There is much more work that needs to be done, and we are the people to do it together. Whether we are looking back to our history — or to the future, the American Jewish community needs JCPA’s voice. This is what we do at JCPA. We need your support to help us do just that.

Your gift will strengthen our bonds with our allies and move an agenda that originates in our communities. Whatever you can give will make a difference.

-Susan W. Turnbull
 JCPA Chair 

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Webinar on climate change

 This month, we saw the global community take major strides toward emissions reductions to combat climate change at the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. Additionally, Angela Barranco from the White House Council on Environmental Quality joined the Washington Interfaith Staff Council for a webinar on the next steps beyond the Paris negotiations as we look forward to 2016. COEJL Manager Liya Rechtman spoke on the webinar about her experience as the Jewish community representative in Paris, where she led women’s interfaith prayer vigils, and also on the Coalition’s climate finance advocacy. You can watch the recording here.

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Congress passes bipartisan funding and tax package for 2016

 Last Friday, Congress passed a $1.8 trillion funding and tax package.  House and Senate leaders were able to compromise and implement a November agreement, which eased some of the spending sequester cuts.   

The package included improving and making permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of JCPA’s Confronting Poverty Initiative's priority policies. These combined tax breaks lift about 16 million Americans, including 8 million children, out of poverty (or help them come close) each year. Further, the bill included extending tax incentives for renewable energy that will help build a modern energy system and reduce carbon pollution, a priority for the JCPA's environmental initiative, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. 

The parallel appropriations bill provided funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which supports millions of expectant mothers and young children.  Further, the legislation invested in critical opportunity programs for children, including Headstart, Preschool Development Block Grants, and Childcare and Development Block grants.

With respect to foreign affairs, the funding bill provided support for our allies through foreign assistance programs, allocated additional funding for refugees and displaced persons, and resourced defense programs such as tunnel detection and anti-missile systems in Israel that can help protect against terrorism and save lives. Members of Congress have now headed home for recess, with the House and Senate back in session by January 11, 2016.

Read JCPA’s Press release on the Bipartisan Appropriations and Tax Compromise

Read how the new tax deal may benefit you  

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COEJL Celebrates Climate Agreement

 The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) joins the global celebration over the signing of an international agreement to combat climate change! The agreement was finalized Saturday, following two weeks of negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. COEJL Manager Liya Rechtman was in Paris as a representative for the Jewish community. Following the agreement, COEJL Chair, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, issued the following statement that you can read here.
COEJL will be speaking on two interfaith update calls this week in response to the agreement in Paris. You can tune in on Wednesday at 1PM EST (712) 832-8330, access code: 2307680 for a conversation with Interfaith Power and Light. You can also sign up here for a webinar with the Washington Inter-religious Staff Council on Friday at 10AM EST.

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Combating Human Trafficking Starts With Us

 On December 8, JCPA and JFNA convened a call with community relations and Federation professionals to detail the national landscape of human trafficking, defined as the illegal movement of people for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. The call was joined by Keeli Sorensen, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy for Polaris Project, who discussed the three types of human trafficking: minor, sex, and labor. 

Polaris Project operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline. Between January and September of 2015, the hotline received 16,678 calls reporting 4,168 cases of human trafficking. Unfortunately, some victims of labor trafficking are people we may engage with regularly, without knowing their plight. Labor trafficking occurs most commonly among domestic workers, traveling sales crews, agricultural and animal husbandry workers, restaurant and food service workers, and health and beauty services professionals.

This country’s most significant commitment to ending human trafficking came in 2000 with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which increased prosecution of traffickers, established guidelines for preventing future trafficking, and provided services for victims and survivors. The TVPA also established the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which produces the annual Trafficking in Persons report that ranks every country’s efforts to end this billion-dollar criminal industry. 


Our Congressional representatives still have much work to do to address this matter, and it is crucial to support their efforts and show our commitment to ending what amounts to modern-day slavery. January marks Human Trafficking Awareness Month; join us for a Jewish Day of action to #EndHumanTrafficking on January 14, 2016.

For more information and forthcoming resources for a Jewish day of action to #EndHumanTrafficking contact JCPA Policy Associate Krissy Roth -

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Anti-Semitism in Hungary

 Last week, JCPA held an informational conference call with community relations professionals and lay leaders because the Hungarian town of Székesfehérvár plans to erect a life-size bronze statue in honor of Bálint Hóman, a Nazi supporter and leading advocate for the anti-Jewish laws that led to the persecution and deportation of nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Hóman was a minister of religion and education in Hungary’s government before and during the war.

The call featured Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for the US State Department, and Samantha Dubrinsky, Director of Community Impact at the Birmingham Jewish Federation. Birmingham has a sister city relationship with Székesfehérvár. 

Some members of the private group that raised the funds for the statue, the Bálint Hóman Foundation, are linked to the far-right Jobbik party. The group has also received both state and municipal funding for the statue, which will be located in the town of Székesfehérvár, a city of 100,000 inhabitants located about 37 miles southwest of Budapest.

For more general information and background on this issue, click here. To learn more about Birmingham’s actions to condemn the statue, click here.

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JCPA announces David Bernstein as new President and CEO

 The JCPA has completed an extensive national search for its next President and CEO. Long-time Jewish advocacy professional and Washington DC-area resident David Bernstein has been appointed to the post. 

“We are delighted that David will come aboard as our next President and CEO,” stated Larry Gold, chair of the executive search committee and immediate past Chairman of the Board. “David brings a wealth of experience in the community relations field, tremendous advocacy experience, and a proven track record in building and transforming organizations.” 

For the last year, David has traveled across the country working with Jewish Federations and national foundations as the President of CultureSolutionsLLC, which offers a range of services designed to help organizations adjust to the demands of a 21st-century economy.

From 2010-2014, Bernstein was the Executive Director of the David Project, which works to improve Israel’s image on college campuses across the country. Bernstein transformed the organization from what was widely considered to be an ideologically-charged, right-of-center operation to a more nuanced, centrist group focusing on relationship-based advocacy. 

Prior to his time at the David Project, Bernstein held a series of senior roles at the American Jewish Committee and was the director of the organization’s Washington regional office.  Bernstein also spent more than three years working at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, where he did community and government relations on behalf of the 60,000 Jews living in Northern Virginia.

click here to read the JCPA statement on the announcement 
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COEJL celebrates Hanukkah!

 The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life celebrates Hanukkah this week as the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) continues in Paris. The UNFCCC is now in its second week, and international negotiators are determining whether they will be able to come to an agreement on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Interested in reading more? Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb reflected on Parshat Vayeshev last week. Interfaith Power and Light’s Yaira Robinson wrote on finding light amidst the darkness of climate change. Finally, COEJL Manager Liya Rechtman sent word from Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral on the power of hope and prayer.

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Standing up to gun violence in America

 University of Michigan student and Central Student Government representative Easy access to firearms and the accompanying violence has taken a terrible toll on America. On December 2, our nation faced yet another senseless mass shooting when two assailants gunned down 14 people and injured another 17 at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. This marks the second shooting in the last few weeks: just after Thanksgiving, a lone gunman killed 3 people and injured another 9 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. We must end these incidents of mass violence.   

No one should have to live in terror, knowing that a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle could walk into any public place and kill dozens. A July 2015 Pew Study showed that 48% and 70% of adults identifying as Republicans or Democrats, respectively, were in favor of a ban on assault weapons. Now is the time for our public officials to take action. Without enacting stronger policies on background checks for all gun purchases and instituting a mandatory waiting period, how can we expect to feel safer in our communities and end these tragedies?    

While opinion polls indicate broad support for governmental regulation on firearms, state legislatures and Congress have all too often been hesitant to enact much-needed gun safety legislation. No community or segment of society is safe from gun violence. Join us in urging President Obama, Members of Congress, and every citizen to take direct and unequivocal action to stop the outrageous and unacceptable violence that is destroying the fabric of our society. 

Tell our nation’s leaders and elected officials to pass legislation to stop gun violence

Read the July 2015 Pew Study on bipartisan support for expansion of background checks

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This is what the JCPA does:

 “The world is a scary place. It is hard not to feel vulnerable...and even angry. People are retreating into bubbles. That just makes it worse. We MUST meet, know, and discuss who we are, what we believe, and how to work together.  The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) does that. JCPA creates dialogue between various religions and amongst ourselves.”

-    Jane Schiff, Naples, Florida

“JCPA takes a leading role in coordinating Jewish interfaith efforts.  Dynamic new programs like Interfaith Partners for Peace bring Jews and Christians together in cities across America.”
-    Rabbi Leonard Gordon, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

“Poverty isn’t a disease. It isn’t a tropical storm. And it isn’t a terror threat. It may not be in the news, but it hasn’t gone away… through its (the JCPA) network of 125 Jewish communities, JCPA is the pre-eminent Jewish advocate for programs that give hope to the poor.”
-    Warren Wolfson, Cleveland, Ohio

These are just a few words from three of the tens of thousands of JCPA supporters throughout the United States.  No one can do it alone.  From combating anti-Semitism to confronting poverty, promoting civility, and protecting Israel, the JCPA is connecting our communities to take action together. And we have a lot of work to do. Join us as we strengthen the Jewish community and bring people together to address the most important issues of our time.  

Today, on #GivingTuesday, join in our work and contribute $18

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Live update from Paris

 Nations framework convention on climate change began yesterday in Paris. COEJL manager Liya Rechtman is attending as a delegate with Religions for Peace USA in order to advocate for an equitable agreement that protects the most vulnerable countries and communities around the world. Rechtman is joining with other young female faith leaders from around the world to cosponsor a series of interfaith prayer vigils to advocate for a strong and ambitious agreement. More to come on!

click here to read more about COEJL

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