NCJW : The NCJW Insider

Put Your Faith into Action: Spread the Word to #GetCovered!

Amy and Lindsay advocating for the ACA at the SCOTUSHave you heard the one about the Catholic, the Muslim and the Jew who walk into a Methodist building…?  
While it sounds like the start of a good joke, this actually happened in Washington a few short weeks ago. In late December, I was proud to represent NCJW at a gathering of interfaith advocates — clergy and lay leaders alike — at a meeting with Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, head of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), The meeting was hosted at the United Methodist Church building on Capitol Hill.

I joined leaders from American Muslim Health Professionals, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, among many others, to speak with and hear from the Secretary about the health insurance marketplace. Created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the marketplace (or “exchange”) is the new way to enroll in affordable, quality health insurance at

If there is one thing that folks of all religious traditions and beliefs can get behind, it’s the importance of getting covered. And we have no time to lose in spreading that message — because this Sunday, February 15 will mark the last day for most people to sign up for coverage in the marketplace this year. 

Thanks to the ACA, the marketplace is giving women greater access to health care without jeopardizing their economic security. Before health reform, simply being a woman could force you to pay higher rates than men for the same coverage. A woman could be denied care if she had survived domestic or intimate partner violence, or given birth via C-section. Most health plans didn’t offer maternity coverage. Most women, and especially young and low-wage women, couldn’t afford basic preventive care. 

Today, when women get covered in the marketplace, the landscape is a whole lot better. Here are a few of my favorite improvements: 

Young women can stay on their parent’s health plan until they are 26. 

Maternity coverage is a standard health benefit in all marketplace plans. 

A range of preventive health benefits are available without co-pays — including birth control, annual doctor’s visits, cancer screenings, HIV and other STD testing, breastfeeding support and supplies, screening for intimate partner violence, and other services.

No longer is “being a woman” considered a pre-existing condition, and no longer can insurance companies deny you coverage for having a pre-existing health condition

What’s even better is that, along with financial help, the ACA has advanced health equity; many more women are able to access these benefits withoutDon't forget to get covered having to choose between caring for their health and paying for their rent, groceries, or childcare. Recent data from HHS shows that women make up more than half of the millions of adults who have signed up for coverage in the marketplace so far this year. And, most people — 4 out of 5 — are finding they’re eligible for financial help to afford the cost of their coverage. With that financial help, many individuals are able to sign up in quality plans that meet their needs for $100 or less.

But unless people know how and by when to get covered, they may have to continue relying on faith alone to stay healthy. At the interfaith meeting those few weeks ago, it was clear that regardless of our diverse religious traditions, we could all support the basic value of ensuring access to health care.

You can do something to help spread the word by February 15. In this homestretch of the marketplace open enrollment period, make a commitment to act. 

Need ideas? Send a loved one an early Valentine’s Day message about getting covered, to show you care about their health and well-being. Or, check out NCJW’s 18 ideas to take action for health equity, including speaking to a friend over Shabbat dinner; sharing an NCJW palm card with a neighbor or local business owner; making an announcement at a community meeting; or posting a message on Facebook. Whatever it takes to spread the word, show your faith in the future by taking action. 

Visit to learn about your options for coverage and financial help. Most individuals must sign up by February 15 to avoid a fine of $325 or 2-percent of their income, whichever is greater.

Protest and Civil Disobedience in Our Nation's Capital

Young Jewish men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their non-Jewish counterparts. While Jews constitute 13.1% of the nation’s population, they make up nearly 40% of the prison population. Jews are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, and more likely to be seen as criminals in the eyes of the public.

Of course, we know this situation to be untrue. If it were true, we certainly hope that Congress would be working tirelessly to address the issue. It is painful to even read the scenario above, feeling deeply our own history of persecution and anti-Semitism. But the above
statistics are true for another historically oppressed community — the black community in America. As black people continue to die, Congress has done little to take up the mantle of racial justice. This is why, last week, NCJW joined Bend the Arc, Auburn Seminary, and faith leaders from across the country gathered to perform an act of civil disobedience in the Longworth Congressional Cafeteria. As a Jew, a woman, and an ally to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I was honored to represent NCJW at the action.

The plan was very simple. We were to enter the cafeteria, position ourselves by the cash registers, and lie down on the floor. In many #BlackLivesMatter protests, participants lie on the ground for four minutes and thirty seconds, representing the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was left bleeding in the street. And so we did — many of us wearing clerical collars and Jewish prayer shawls. As Congressional staffers gathered around to snap photos, police officers loudly threatened arrest.


It is worth noting that the act of protest runs strong through the veins of our tradition. It was Abraham who so courageously argued with God, begging that the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah be spared. It was Moses who demanded, in his quaking voice, “let my people go.” And in 1908, it was Emma Goldman who said, “The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul.”

Speaking of a woman’s right to her soul — last week was also the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic Supreme Court decision affirming every woman’s right to make her own decision about abortion. While the occasion should have felt like cause for celebration, I could not help but feel deflated by the passage of an extreme abortion coverage ban in the House, the introduction of countless anti-choice bills in states across the country, and the flurry of anti-choice activists who descended upon Washington, DC for the annual so-called “March for Life.” Here, too, I was moved to protest.

NCJW staff joined a peaceful, feminist demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court. We carried signs declaring, “Advance Reproductive Justice” and “Keep Abortion Legal.” Amidst thousands of anti-choice marchers, I watched an ultra-Orthodox woman stand up and chant “My Body, My Choice” into a megaphone.

I’ll admit that I felt violated by many of the anti-choice marchers. I felt violated when groups of men began chanting, “We Love Babies.” I felt violated when an older woman whispered in my ear, “I’m praying for you.” And I felt violated when I saw a sweet little girl, no older than three, carrying a sign with a picture of a bloody fetus. Sometimes, in those situations, it can be hard to remember that 7 in 10 registered voters believe that abortion should be legal.

The struggle for racial justice and the struggle for reproductive justice are connected. Both are a demand for human rights — the basic freedoms to determine the destinies of our own bodies and lives. And indeed, there can be no reproductive justice when black people are targeted with police violence, black women imprisoned for resisting domestic violence, and black women deprived of access to basic reproductive healthcareReproductive justice means that every person deserves the power to make their own informed decisions about their body, sexuality, and future regardless of race, income and class, sexual orientation, immigration status, or any other factor.

In these urgent times, it is not enough to look back to our rich Jewish history of protest. Will recounting our history end mass incarceration in the United States or re-open abortion clinics in Texas? The time is now to draw on our vast reserves of solidarity and strength, and show up in protest. That is the truest honor to our tradition.


Black Lives Matter

Don't Judge Me Till You Walk in My Shoes

Advancing Reproductive Justice in Tennessee 

By LaQuita Martin, NCJW Tennessee State Policy Advocate

When Roe v. Wade was decided, I was still in high school. I was just learning about the Pill and sexuality — my one date at the time ended with a kiss on the cheek. I learned more about the importance of Roe when college friends and sorority sisters needed abortions to continue their academic lives. Although an unplanned pregnancy never entered my medical history, I was glad to know the option of choice was available.

Fast forward to 1998. I was happily married with a three-year-old. Wanting to grow our family, my husband and I underwent six rounds of assisted fertility before learning we were pregnant again. Everything progressed fine until my 19-week ultrasound, when we learned the fetus had three heart defects, any one of which was incompatible with life outside the womb. After consulting four physicians, two rabbis (one Reform and one Orthodox), family members, and friends, it became clear the pregnancy needed to end. In the days that followed, I found myself vacillating between anger at G-d and overwhelming grief.


"Je suis Elsa"

by Linda Geller-Schwartz, Florida State Policy Advocacy Co-Chair

Linda Geller-SchwartzEurope and America are still reeling from last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris and seeking solidarity and defiance through the declaration of “Je suis Charlie.” The brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo appeared to be a direct threat to the liberal, secularist, humanist societies we have created.  Whether the cartoons were racist or legitimate satire was beside the point when the response was cold-blooded murder.


The National Voter Registration Act, Fundamental to Civil Rights

By Robin Leeds, NCJW, Inc. Board Director

Robin Leeds HeadshotAt NCJW, our mission is to advance social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, andfamilies. What people may not realize is that the linchpin in this equation is simple – showing up at the polls on Election Day and casting a ballot. But rather than put up roadblocks to registration and voting, as the Supreme Court is now allowing in states across the country, the US government should empower every eligible citizen to participate in elections.


Showing Up for Racial Justice

By Michelle Erenberg, NCJW State Policy Advocacy Chair, Louisiana 

Michelle Erenberg“We who have seen the slaughter of six million of our brothers can only shudder in cognizant agony at the thought that our Negro brothers are still dying to purchase the same freedom for which we too have bled and died.”
-Rabbi Robert Marx with Dr. King at Soldier Field in 1966

Last month I attended Facing Race, a national conference organized by Race Forward to advance racial justice movement building. I learned of this conference through several social justice colleagues in New Orleans. There were so many workshops each day it was difficult to choose which to attend. But because I was there mostly to learn more about how I could better serve my New Orleans community in my capacity with NCJW, I focused on sessions that would build my understanding of the important role that faith leaders and white people could play in addressing racism in our society.


Inequality is Unhealthy. Literally.

By Leanne Gale, NCJW Grassroots Associate

It was a chilly 8:00am when I set out to Capitol Hill for my first lobby day. Leanne Gale

As I passed by throngs of tourists and joggers, I anxiously went over the basics. The Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA, HR 5294) is a comprehensive, broadly-supported bill designed to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. The Congressional Black Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Hispanic Caucus all champion the legislation as a crucial step forward for their communities. The bill includes important provisions for women and children, including comprehensive sex education, compassionate care for survivors of sexual assault, and easier access to contraception. I knew my talking points.


Pregnant and Penalized

Madeline Shepherd Rally Peggy Young had been a UPS driver for seven years when she successfully underwent in vitro fertilization in 2006 and became pregnant. A few months into her pregnancy, she gave her supervisor and the UPS occupational health manager a note from her midwife recommending that she not lift over 20lbs. Because her job delivering air-mail rarely entailed heavy lifting, Young explained that she was willing to stay in her regular job or switch to light duty. At that time, UPS policy offered light duty for workers with on-the-job injuries, who had disabilities, or who had lost their driver’s license. However, Peggy Young’s manager said her pregnancy did not warrant the same consideration, and that she could not continue working in her regular job. As a result, Young was forced onto extended unpaid leave during which she lost her health insurance coverage.


Victory in Seattle: Acting to End Bans on Abortion Coverage

By Cheryl Berenson, NCJW Washington State Policy Advocate

In all of my years advocating for progressive issues, only a few instances have produced success in such a short period of time!

Last November, I flew from my home in Seattle to Washington, DC, to represent NCJW for the launch of the All Above All campaign to eliminate the Hyde Amendment (“Hyde”). This harmful policy was first anchored to the US budget in 1976 and has been reaffirmed by politicians in Congress every year since then, continuing its destructive impact on women across America. Under Hyde, women serving in our military, those enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare, federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, women in prison, and our American Indian communities are all blocked from accessing insurance coverage of abortion — simply because they are poor or obtain their health care through a federal program. This is discrimination. And, making abortion more difficult to obtain, this policy erodes a woman’s moral and bodily autonomy; it denies her the ability to make her own faith-informed decision about whether to end a pregnancy, become a parent, or choose adoption.


Voting Rights for the District of Columbia: It's About Time

by Brenda Batts, NCJW Washington Office Manager 

Brenda BattsI am a native Washingtonian—a rare breed.  Born and raised in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, I have lived through and witnessed many a change in my lifetime.  More recently, population shifts have dramatically changed DC’s landscape.  Salaries have increased and average $40K for an administrative assistant, to $101K for a project manager or IT personnel (Pay Scale/Human Capital).  The number of homes with a value of less than $250,000 fell from 63,645 in 2000 to 17,640 in 2010. The median price of homes currently listed in DC is $449,900 while the median price of homes that sold is $502,796. The median rent price in Washington is $2,250 (Zillow). There is change everywhere in DC, including bike lanes, booming businesses and brisk patronage at the many new restaurants here. Also, there has been an increase in new and innovative public charter schools—DC public charter schools enrolled 160 students in 1996. Today, more than 38,000 students are enrolled at over 100 campuses. (FOCUS)


More Entries