NCJW : The NCJW Insider

Put Your Advocacy Into Action at Washington Institute!

Co-Chairs of Washington Institute 2016, Beth Mitchell and Beatrice Kahn

We’ve seen how impactful Washington Institute can be, having been to many, including several as a team. In 2007 and 2010 we went as section co-presidents, in 2013, we went as co-chairs of the New York State Policy Advocates leading the New York delegation, and this year, we’re going as co-chairs of Washington Institute 2016. The excitement starts with the training we receive on NCJW’s key issues and on the skills we use to lobby. Hearing directly from policy makers in the White House, Congress and other organizations gives us expertise and insight we couldn’t otherwise have access to.

What’s even greater than the training is immediately putting it into action during lobby visits to Congress. As NCJW advocates fan out across the Capitol, we take our Jewish values, turn them into action, and blanket the country with our message. The thrill of walking across Capitol Hill and visiting with lawmakers never gets old.

We’ve had many great experiences at Washington Institute. Standouts include realizing that our legislators know us. For example, there was the time Representative Carolyn Maloney stepped out of a House hearing because she knew we were on the Hill. She met with us in the hallway to thank us in person for supporting the issues we had come to talk about, and to solicit our advocacy support going forward.

Another great experience is the exhilaration generated when hundreds of women from across the country and across the generations come together to address the pressing issues of the day. We have fond memories of walking across the Capitol to take our message to lawmakers in a group that ranged from brave teens to intrepid 90 year olds.

Every Washington Institute is a powerful experience. There is power in numbers when we speak out together; in being embraced by a sisterhood of courageous women; in the knowledge and training we gain; in living our Jewish ideals with honesty; and in taking immediate action. If you’ve ever thought, “I wish there is something I could do about that,” then come to Washington Institute. You’ll get the tools you need to make a difference and you’ll be catapulted into action on the issues you care about. We look forward to seeing you in March.

 

 

Do You Know Anyone Who Should #GetCovered? Reach Out Today!

By Amy Cotton, NCJW Senior Policy Manager

This month, several loved ones in my life have had health scares or shared news about getting treatment. Whether I can offer a phone call or drop by in support as they manage a broken ankle, heart condition, or breast cancer diagnosis, I’m truly grateful for one thing: They have health coverage to get the care they need. They can focus their energy on healing — rather than worrying if accessing services will cost them their financial future.

Expanding access to affordable, quality coverage, the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provided this peace of mind to more than 16 million people since the law took effect in 2010. While conservative members of Congress continue trying to reverse this progress, the ACA is making a real difference for individuals and families. In several states, quality coverage is more accessible for adults struggling to make ends meet thanks to the ACA provision encouraging Medicaid expansion (which 19 states have yet to adopt). And nationwide, the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov has helped others gain private coverage that guarantees key benefits and protections. In the marketplace, 8 in 10 individuals qualify for financial help to make their monthly costs more affordable.

Millions more can benefit from getting covered in the marketplace — but a key enrollment deadline is approaching. January 31 is the last day to get covered in the marketplace in 2016. Folks who can afford to enroll in a plan but choose not to may face a fine of $695 or more when the file their taxes next year. Given the impact that health coverage can have on someone’s life, this deadline is a clarion call for each of us to help spread the word. There are many ways that NCJW members, supporters, and sections can take action:

  • Spread the word on social media. Share one of NCJW’s tweets or Facebook posts. Or share your own message about why you hope people in your life #GetCovered by January 31.
  • Send an email to friends and family. This NCJW email makes it easy to share information about the enrollment deadline as well as the benefits and protections that come with marketplace coverage.
  • Connect with your faith community. This short interfaith video featuring NCJW gives the basics about getting covered, and reminds us that ensuring access to health care for everyone in our community, regardless of income, is a value shared across traditions. If you’re part of a synagogue, ask if the video can be sent to congregants this week.
  • If you are a community leader with a “bricks and mortar” business, community center, house of worship, or other organization that gets foot traffic, publicize information on bulletin boards. For example, you can download and print this simple poster, which highlights the number consumers can call for free, 24/7 assistance: 1-800-318-2596. (Similar resources are also available in several languages.)

Spreading the word about getting covered is an apolitical community service. When more of us have coverage, our families, workforce, and economies are stronger. As a friend and family member of individuals facing health challenges today, I know we all breathe a little easier when our loved ones can focus on feeling better, rather than foregoing important services due to cost or lack of access. The ACA made historic advances to connect people to the health care they need. Six years in, we can all help build on this progress, making sure that no one who is eligible misses out on the chance to get covered.

Need 2016 health coverage? Get started at HealthCare.gov!

Applying Lessons of the Torah to Disability Advocacy

By Faith Fried, NCJW Legislative Associate

The parsha this week is Va’eira, from the book of Exodus (6:2 – 9:35). It’s a blockbuster movie of a Torah portion – packed with action, prophesy, hope, and despair – and familiar to all who participate in Passover Seders. The parsha begins with G-d’s promise to bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Seven plagues later – blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, and hail – the parsha ends on a cliffhanger. Sure, we know how it ends, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the telling of the story.

In Va’eira, G-d says to Moses, “Speak to Pharaoh everything that I speak to you.” Moses demurs, “Behold, I am of closed lips; so how will Pharaoh hearken to me?” G-d responds that Aaron, Moses’ older brother, will be his speaker. Different Rabbis have interpreted Moses’ “closed lips” differently – some say he suffered a speech impediment, others say he stuttered, or maybe he was just shy. Whatever the cause, Aaron becomes Moses’ mouthpiece and plays a pivotal role in the parsha.

I think this relationship between Moses, Aaron, and G-d provides insight into our on disability rights. Aaron is an ally to Moses, and as a team they fulfill G-d’s mission and work for the freedom of the Israelites. So too must we be allies to those in the Jewish community who are differently abled, be it physically or mentally. So too we must remember that we are stronger, and our voice is louder, when we work together. February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), where we will aim to make our voices as loud as possible.

What lessons does Va’eira teach us for the secular New Year? Rashi notes that in some places in the Torah, Moses is mentioned before Aaron, and in other places, Aaron is mentioned before Moses. Since the Torah also teaches that Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived, what can we take away from the switch up? Rabbi Moshe Feldman says that “In G-d’s eyes, achievement is measured by whether a person fulfills his [or her] personal mission. One who has a small mission but completes it is just as great as one with a big mission who completes it.” In Va’eira, Moses starts his big mission of working with G-d to free the Israelites, and Aaron starts his smaller mission of speaking for Moses. Both missions are crucial; both must happen to free the Jews from bondage. And in G-d’s eyes, the fulfillment of each is of equal measure. As allies and advocates for the disability community, we are reminded that what’s important is not the size of our mission, but whether we live up to our potential. As my former boss used to say, there are no small tasks – only small-minded people. During JDAIM next month, and 2016 in general, we must apply this lesson and work to fulfill our individual potentials.

Va’eira may be a blockbuster, but it’s also a character study that provides lessons we can apply to our work. There are no tasks too small so long as we commit to them fully, and we must use our personal strengths to help those who are differently abled, just as they use their strengths to help us. If we remember these messages from Va’eira, then we can effect change and make an impact next month and beyond.

On Leading Sex Week at Harvard as a Queer Jewish Feminist

By Megan Sims, former NCJW Legislative Intern

“I do question the amount of time and resources that went into planning and funding these events, some of which are downright vulgar, at a place like Harvard. I can’t imagine that there are not more worthwhile educational programs and initiatives to which Harvard’s resources should be devoted.”

One year ago, “right-minded” news website The College Fix published an article about Harvard Sex Week, prominently featuring the quote above as its moralistic conclusion. I was a freshman at the time, just shy of 19. I’d become involved with Sex Week at the beginning of the year, and was proud of the work we were doing.

Sex Week was founded several years ago to advance the dialogues about sex, sexuality, and sex education on Harvard’s campus. We put on a week of events every fall semester dealing with a wide range of sex-based topics. Knowing how varied sex education is across the country—nonexistent in some places—events like Sex Week provide a space for college students to ask the questions they haven’t yet had answered. Coming from a state that mandates abstinence-only sex education, I see firsthand the importance of sex education. This is why I choose to do everything in my power to advance it.

One year later, as leader of Sexual Health Education and Advocacy Throughout Harvard College, the organization that puts on Sex Week, I think about those words in The College Fix a lot. I spend time Googling pages and pages of critical articles about Sex Week, forcing upon myself the bigotry and insults. I am proud, certainly, but also somewhat haunted. There are people, like the fellow Harvard student quoted above, who will insist that Sex Week is unnecessary or even harmful.

Last year’s primary source of controversy was our “Anal Sex 101” event. On the same schedule as events like “Feminist Porn” and “Kink, Fantasy, and Fetish,” our detractors saw only a recipe for debauchery. They saw taboo words, scary words, and they attacked. They accused us of being wasteful, and worse, they accused us of being responsible for sexual assault . These people never thought about our audience. They never considered who an anal sex event might be geared toward, who we were trying to create spaces for.

I grew up in an environment of acceptance. My synagogue had members of all sorts, and I was taught as a Jew to accept people for who they were. But I also grew up in Dallas, Texas, where religious conservatives ruled. Many in my hometown would be horrified to know that I talk about sex. I thought coming to college, where I could be comfortably out as bisexual and where events like Sex Week could happen, would change things. But I’m still hearing the same tired moralizing sentiments from people far too close for comfort.

I sometimes feel that what I do is intended to be controversial. I’m openly queer, aggressively feminist, loudly Jewish, and sexually open. But this isn’t just about ruffling feathers. As the Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I may make people mad, but I’m doing it for a reason. Reaching one person is enough.

Megan Sims is a student at Harvard University and former NCJW Legislative Intern.

May Their Memory Be for a Blessing

Leanne Gale

In the Jewish tradition, when a person dies, it is customary to say, “May their memory be for a blessing.” In the seconds, minutes, and years following their death, whenever that person is mentioned, it is customary to say the same thing. Over and over again, may their memory be for a blessing.

When a grand jury failed to charge the police officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy who had been playing in a neighborhood park, this was the first phrase that came to my mind. May Tamir’s memory be for a blessing. But the words felt stone cold.

I wondered if anyone had ever done a power analysis on these words we hold so dear. When we say, “May their memory be for a blessing,” who exactly gets to be remembered, and who does the remembering? And what happens when our memories are tattered and shorn, pillaged by forces beyond our control? And how can a person’s memory “be for a blessing” when it was their very society that killed them?

I did some digging. As it turns out, the phrase has its roots in Proverbs. The original Hebrew says, zecher tzadik livracha, v’shem reshaim yirkav — the memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot. When I scanned the surrounding proverbs, I noticed that most were written in the present tense. Only a select few, like this one, seemed to be future oriented. Perhaps at the time of writing, the memories of the righteous were not yet for a blessing. Perhaps the names of the wicked had not yet been made to rot.

And so the Jewish honorific for the dead came to be rooted in a fundamentally aspirational text. The words point perpetually forward and onward to a reality that does not yet exist. A reality that, I think, we must work fiercely to create.

If Tamir Rice’s memory is to be for a blessing, he first needs to be remembered. And that means going against centuries of history in this country that have rendered black bodies nameless and faceless. We need to remember his name. His quirks. His dreams. His favorite songs. We need to vigorously remember.

If Tamir Rice’s memory is to be for a blessing, we must allow his loved ones to guide our remembering. We must honor them, and their grief, and their wishes. We must gently carry the stories they choose to share.

If Tamir Rice’s memory is to be for a blessing, we must use it to dismantle the systems of white supremacy that killed him. We must shout the blessing in the streets. We must write the blessing into new laws. We must meld the blessing into a million keys, unlocking the prisons that shackle our siblings.

It is not enough to merely notice his death. If Tamir Rice’s memory is to be for a blessing, we must cease to be the society that killed him.

Leanne Gale is the Grassroots Associate at the National Council of Jewish Women.

Washington Office Staff Picks -- Top Moments of 2015

2015 has sped by, but before we start tackling the challenges of the coming year, the Washington Office wants to share our Top Moments of 2015. Compiled by Faith Fried

 

Brenda Batts
On May 3 – 5, 2015, NCJW leaders came together in Washington, DC for a conference of learning and networking atNCJW Leaders’ Retreat 2015. Hands-on training and resources, including a comprehensive Manual for Leaders, gave current and future leaders the opportunity to boost their leadership skills. Armed with confidence and knowledge of the issues, NCJW members boarded buses for the Hill to lobby their members of Congress. It’s always gratifying to witness the culmination of hard work in the excited and determined faces of NCJW leaders about to descend upon the Hill!

Amy Cotton
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made historic advances in access to affordable, quality health coverage for millions of people across the country. Individuals and families have visited www.healthcare.gov to explore their options and #GetCovered in a plan that meets their needs and budget, despite numerous attempts by Congress to repeal this landmark achievement. In fact, about 2.1 million people under the age of 35 signed up in the marketplace as of mid-December, about 1 million more young people than had done so by the same time last year. Overall, more than 8 million people have already signed up for 2016 coverage, with more expected to enroll during the last few weeks of open enrollment, which ends on January 31. This success is thanks, in part, to volunteers and advocates coming together toraise awareness, educate, and engage their communities!

Faith Fried
The summer of 2015 included two major victories in the US Supreme Court. On June 25, the US Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell upheld tax credits provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ensuring that millions of Americans would be able to access life-saving health insurance. On June 26, in the truly historic Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the US Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional right for same sex couples to marry. These decisions were major victories for our country, and these cases, and others that will be decided in the current term, remind us that #courtsmatter.

Leanne Gale
NCJW was at the press conference announcing the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act (HR 2972), a groundbreaking piece of legislation that would end federal bans on abortion coverage. It would finally end the political interference that harms the health, economic security, and religious liberty of women and their families. NCJW was the first Jewish group to stand with theAll* Above All coalition in support of the EACH Woman Act, and mobilized more than 20 Jewish community organizations to speak out for the measure. In October, NCJW leaders joined All* Above All and over 200 other activists from across the country to advocate for the EACH Woman Act on Capitol Hill. Continuing the momentum, NCJW held a distance learning call featuring one of the bill’s primary cosponsors, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)!

Lindsay Morris
This Chanukah, our “gift” to NCJW advocates was a Grassroots Advocacy Toolbox, filled with eight resources for each of the eight nights of the holiday! Resources included the Ten Commandments of Advocacy,Tips to Having a Successful Legislative Visit, NCJW’s Facebook andTwitter handles, Tips for Writing a Letter to the Editor,Questions for Candidate Forums,Questions & Answers on 501(c)3 Activities,Registration for Washington Institute 2016, and how to sign up for the NCJW Action Center. We can’t wait to see how NCJW members and supporters use these resources in the coming year!

Jody Rabhan
Last January, anti-trafficking bills gained ground in Congress when the House of Representatives passed twelve bills aimed to improve services to victims of trafficking, promote prevention strategies, develop best practices for health care providers to respond to child trafficking, and bolster law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute buyers and suppliers, instead of victims. Though the outcomes of these bills in the Senate were mixed, it was encouraging to see lawmakers focus on this important issue.

In the coming year, we look forward to Washington Institute 2016! Join us March 13-15 in Washington, DC to address the most pressing public policy concerns related to the 2016 elections.

The Scourge of Gun Violence

This Insider Blog post was adapted from a sermon delivered at the Hebrew Tabernacle in Washington Heights, New York on Saturday, December 5, 2015.

We live in a violent society. Just this week, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered fourteen individuals and injured seventeen others at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino. They were then killed in a subsequent shootout with police officers. This is a classic and deadly example of sinat chinam — gratuitous hatred. In the name of settling a score or possibly promoting a religious ideology, Syed and Tashfeen committed murder and turned their infant daughter into an orphan.

Reflecting on this week’s Torah portion, the despicable behavior of Jacob’s sons fits into the same general category. Joseph’s older brothers resent him because of Jacob’s preferential treatment. The brothers are so blinded by jealousy and rage that they gang up on Joseph and debate whether to let him live. In the end, they throw him into a pit. While Joseph hollers and begs them to let him go, they sit down to eat bread. They finally wash their hands of him when they sell him as a slave, a classic case of depraved indifference to human life.

In the instances described above, the violent reactions are completely out of proportion to the issues at hand. This is also true for the senseless murder that recently took place at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. How ironic! While the perpetrator supposedly espoused a “pro-life” position, he expressed it by committing murder.

It is no secret that the murders in Colorado Springs occurred against a background of a major legislative assault on reproductive rights in general and Planned Parenthood in particular. It is bad enough that anti-choice politicians seek to defund an organization which disproportionately benefits people of color and women struggling to make ends meet. It is bad enough when anti-choice rhetoric demonizes the 1 in 3 American women who will have an abortion in their lifetimes, who have the unequivocal right to make their own decisions about their reproductive health and future. But when strong rhetoric is translated into murderous violence, there is something deeply wrong with our society. I call it sinat chinam, gratuitous, unreasonable hatred.

Although our history is filled with examples of Jewish communities standing up to tyranny, our tradition frowns upon the use of violence to settle scores. The Torah commands us not to hate our neighbor in our heart, and we are further instructed not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. Jacob’s sons stood by the blood of Joseph by allowing him to thrash around in a pit while they were partaking of a meal. We stand by the blood our neighbor by not protesting the strong rhetoric directed against Planned Parenthood, by not speaking out against violence against women, and by throwing up our hands in the face of gun violence.

But, even with the best of gun violence prevention policies, violent people will always find alternative ways to unleash their rage. As a member of the clergy, I strongly believe that religion has a major role to play in reducing gun violence, and all violence. Religious leaders and religious institutions must get their hands dirty and grapple with social injustice. We must create accepting and inclusive communities, which nurture the mind and heart. To do anything less, organized religion would be complicit with the transgression of standing by the blood of our neighbors.

One of the first statements coming from the Torah dramatically transformed civilization. It introduced the belief that human beings are created in the image of God. I take this to mean that we have the obligation to make sound moral decisions and assume responsibility for the consequences. We have the duty to channel our talents and resources in constructive ways. We have the power to improve the quality of human life.

The Jewish tradition emphasizes the mind rather than the clenched fist to resolve problems. In the words of the popular Chanukah song, Rock of Ages, “And Your word, broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Gale, ordained by Leo Baeck College in London, England is currently the spiritual leader at the Hebrew Tabernacle in New York City. He takes great interest in social causes and interfaith relations. He recently published a novel, The Ballad of East and West, which falls under the category of historical fiction. Although it focuses on Soviet Jewry and East West relations in the 1980s, the book is a metaphor for the coming together of diverse cultures and a plea for international understanding.

NCJW U

By Honi Marleen Goldman, NCJW member – Louisville Section.

I most heartedly agree with NCJW member Marcia Roth, who likes to say that she graduated from NCJW University. From the advocacy training at Washington Institute and the mentoring by members like Betty Jane Fleischaker, one quickly learns the skills to change the world!

The accomplishments of the hundreds of NCJW women like Marcia are endless. Personally, I have formed coalitions that held a two-month-long citywide domestic violence awareness project; implemented a women’s vote initiative; stopped a merger of the local major public hospital with Catholic Health that would have prevented all reproductive services, including emergency contraceptives; organized numerous political debates and news events; and formed a federal political action committee (a PAC) to support elected officials who safeguard women’s reproductive rights.

While there is nothing headier than to be with Sammie Moshenberg, former director of the NCJW Washington office, watching as US senators hurried out of their offices to greet her as she walked down the halls of Congress, I did have one experience that came close! One year at Washington Institute, members of the Kentucky section huddled in the outer offices of Senator Mitch McConnell, with maybe a dozen other interest groups. The door opened and the senator’s staff person announced, like the guard of the Wizard of Oz, “All go home. The Senator cannot see anyone today — except (as he turned to us), National Council of Jewish Women.” Mouths fell open in the other groups as we were ushered in to see the senator.

In today’s world, where women’s rights are being eroded across the world as well as in our federal and state legislatures, NCJW is more important than ever. I am indeed a proud graduate of NCJW University. And I urge every woman, young or old, to join. We need you to make a difference in bettering the lives of women, children, and families.

Register for this year’s Washington Institute, and become a graduate of NCJW University.

It's Time for New York to End Regressive Taxes on Menstrual Necessities

By Gina Horowitz, former president of NCJW Greater Rochester and a retired high school English teacher.

As recently as June 2015 Canada repealed its goods and services tax (GST) on feminine hygiene products. Parliament unanimously approved a motion to exclude “sanitary napkins, tampons, sanitary belts, menstrual cups or other similar products from GST.”

And for good reason. Sanitary napkins and tampons are not luxuries; they are necessities. It is not possible to conduct a normal life without them. For low income women and women experiencing homelessness, the situation can be dire. Without affordable access, women sometimes keep a tampon in use for too many hours, which can trigger toxic shock syndrome. Food pantries, shelters and emergency service organizations do not stock sanitary napkins and tampons, so must depend on donations, an unreliable and inefficient system.

Here in the United States, neither the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nor the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows the purchase of menstrual necessities. In addition, flexible spending accounts, common in many employer benefit programs, do not extend to the purchase of pads or tampons, although they do cover pregnancy tests, condoms and yeast infection products.

Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania do not tax pads and tampons. New York State does.

In May 2015 New York State Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal (D-NY) introduced a bill, A7555, which, if passed, would eliminate taxes on pads and tampons in New York State. NCJW Greater Rochester Section strongly supports this bill and encourages all New York sections to lend their support by speaking with their representatives and writing them letters of support. More than 10 million New York women of menstruating age (10-54) would benefit from not being taxed on these monthly necessities. Furthermore, according to research conducted by Ms. Rosenthal’s office, neither New Jersey nor Pennsylvania has experienced budget shortfalls that have not been made up for by other state income.



NCJW Greater Rochester Section began this work two years ago when we learned that some low-income and women experiencing homelessness in our state could not afford tampons and sanitary pads. We decided to address the problem and formed the P.A.D. Project — Providing Access and Dignity to women during their menstrual cycle.

In addition to our advocacy, the P.A.D. Project is approaching this unsettling problem through philanthropy. Both a small grant and funds from our budget have allowed us to purchase enough pads and tampons to hold “kit” parties at women’s shelters, emergency service centers, schools and other related agencies. At these parties, participants assemble kits containing pads, tampons, disposal bags, (donated by our generous corporate sponsor, The Scensible Source Company), candy and helpful contact information. We are also working with groups that want to underwrite and hold kit parties on their own and donate the kits to one of many organizations in need.

Passage of Bill A7555 is an important stepping stone towards reaching the goal of access and dignity for all women during their menstrual cycle and we hope that the great state of New York will soon join its neighbors in eliminating tax on menstrual necessities.

Echoes of History in Today's Crisis

By Faith Fried, NCJW Legislative Associate

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster ride. Last week, the advocacy goals for Syrian refugee resettlement were “more people” and “more money.” This week, the political landscape totally changed, and the fight shifted to simply accepting any refugees at all.

The catalyst of this change was, of course, the terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Paris. I don’t have cable, so last Friday night was spent constantly refreshing BBC on my phone while the situation seemed to get worse.. Even today, as events continue to unfold, the violence is hard to believe and impossible to comprehend.

As the news and political cycles began on the East Coast on Monday, it became clear that the narrative around refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq had changed. A very real and understandable fear of similar violence in our own country manifested itself in a number of ways: declarations that refugees were no longer welcome, legislation that would essentially halt refugee programs, and a general feeling that we in the US weren’t equipped to handle that threat. There was worse rhetoric too — statements that were blatantly Islamaphobic, anti-Arab, or anti-immigrant. Suggestions of interning refugees, or even people from Syria already in the country, were floated on social media and in the news.

As someone who grew up keenly aware of the voyage of the SS St Louis (a family friend managed to survive the ship and what came after), I couldn’t help but wonder — was this what it felt like to be in America in 1939 when that ship sailed by? Did my grandparents feel as helpless and angry as I feel today, listening to elected officials — people with actual power to make policy — talk about men, women, and children fleeing violence like they didn’t matter, or are terrorists themselves? I asked my grandmother this very question, and she rightfully pointed out that the comparison is imperfect. But I can’t help but feel that there’s truth to my emotion.

Being an American in a post-9/11 world is inherently risky. The values we cherish draw hatred and attract violence by those who hate. There are some days I can shrug off yet another suspicious package on my block, and some days I just can’t. But to me, being a progressive, Jewish, American woman requires putting these values into action. The millions of people fleeing for their lives need help – our help — and closing our hearts and our borders does not work for me as a response.

The story will continue to evolve. As I write this, I am not sure what Congress will introduce tomorrow, which Governors might announce that their doors, too, are closed, or even what could happen in the world or here at home that could once again change everything. But in the meantime, I draw strength from the work and support of NCJW members, sections, and SPAs around the country, and I am inspired and guided by the work of our partners in the faith and refugee communities, like HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and Church World Service, who do this work every day. Together we are strong and our voices will lift up those who cannot speak for themselves.

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