NCJW

On the Steps of the Supreme Court

By Chloe Bakst, NCJW Legislative Intern (pictured middle)

As nine justices revealed their latest interpretations of the “Law of the Land,” I stood right outside on the US Supreme Court steps, huddled with my friends and constantly refreshing the SCOTUSblog’s live updates. Many of my colleagues camped out all night in order to get seats inside the courtroom, and I’ve been told stories of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (better known as RBG!) pearl jabot and Sonia Sotomayor’s fiery dissent. Although I didn’t arrive at the court at 1:00am like the others, I still felt the excitement of being a part of this pivotal moment in American politics and law: the final session of the Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 term. The energy outside was dramatically different than it had been in previous years; there was no Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt or Obergefell v. Hodges to inspire joy or outrage by those gathered on the steps, but the quieter atmosphere did not bother me. In my mind the smaller crowd made me feel even more like a D.C. “insider,” which from an intern’s perspective is always a thrill. One by one, certs (petitions to the court to hear a case) and decisions were released, and media interns dashed from the building in their sneakers and dress clothes to deliver the papers to their outlets. Meanwhile, I looked at updates from my phone and tried to decipher the differences in post-conviction rights in appellate and trial courts as determined by Davila v. Davis.

Although some of the decisions read today should have come with a Google translate button, it was fairly obvious which was the most highly anticipated: Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, the core of which questioned the separation of religion and state by considering whether Missouri had the right to deny the church from applying for a state grant to help pay for its public playground. The only “protesters” at the court today were a group of eight or so women and their children supporting the church. Upon hearing the decision of the court, which held that Trinity Lutheran has the right to compete with secular institutions for public grants, they began chanting “fair play won the day!” in celebration. This decision piqued my interest for a different reason, however. Although the opinion was joined by the well-known conservative Justices Thomas and Alito, Justice Elena Kagan also voted that the church had a right to receive state funds. As a Jewish woman myself, I found it strange that Justice Kagan, who has been open about her identity as a Jewish woman, would weaken the separation of religion and state. Although the decision included a footnote to clarify that it applies only to seesaws and swingsets, it seems as though the decision helped chip away at the wall between religion and state; a wall that I believe has helped religious minorities more than it has hurt religious majorities. My definition of “fair play” seems to be different from that of the women with their signs and slogans.

While working for the National Council of Jewish Women, I have been given the opportunity to engage with the legislative and judicial branches of government in exciting ways. I’ve attended Senate Judiciary hearings and lobbied my Congressman; I’ve summarized SCOTUS decisions and written action alerts. Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court today, giddily watching the world react to each decision, I was the most inspired when the justices announced the cases they will hear during the 2017-2018 term. These cases address issues like the constitutionality of Trump’s travel ban, and whether or not private businesses can deny LGBTQ individuals service. The decisions of the court on these cases will be hugely impactful and important, and I realized that although my summer in D.C. is quickly coming to an end, my passion for advocacy and its intersection with law and social justice is deeply rooted and only just beginning. I hope to be back on the Supreme Court steps next year when these opinions are read, once again a part of something greater than myself — a part of democracy at work.

Where Does Intersectionality Stop and Anti-Semitism Start?

By Nancy K. Kaufman

 

Where to begin? The uproar over the actions at the Chicago Dyke Collective March is hardly the first time that bottom line principles of allies haven’t meshed. And it is not only allies in this case, but different identities merged in the same person. I am a Zionist — one who supports the existence of Israel, albeit one who sometimes criticizes its government, just as I consider myself an American patriot and often criticize our government. I am also an ardent feminist. I advocate personally and professionally (on behalf of NCJW) for women in both Israel and the United States. I believe in a two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in peace and security. And I refuse to yield my support for Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people in order to be an active feminist anywhere.

As Jews we believe we are commanded to seek justice anywhere and everywhere — in the US, in Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza or in the streets of Chicago. As progressive Jewish feminists, we must seek justice and acceptance and indeed love for those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or queer, white or black, Mizrachi or Ethiopian, Palestinian or Israeli. But we expect to do it with our values of B’tzelem Elohim (we’re all made in the image of God) and K’vod Habriot (we all deserve respect and dignity) clearly intact. And we have to acknowledge that it will messier than we’d like.

In practice, we aren’t going to agree, for example, with those who oppose same sex marriage, or are anti-abortion, or those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions platform, but we welcome them in to fight with us against hunger, inequality and lack of affordable healthcare. What about the nuns who march in anti-abortion rallies and then board the bus to raise awareness about budget cuts that endanger mothers and children? We can and will agree to disagree, but we still treat each other with dignity and respect because we are all made in the image of God.

Reproductive justice is about as bedrock an issue as most feminists can think of, but as part of a broader movement for social justice, we have learned to make coalitions with others of different views, maintaining unity on an immediate goal even when we disagree fundamentally on a different issue. We can do this because we are able to respect the deep-held beliefs of people on both sides of the argument as long as we all engage in a civil discourse.

What does all this have to do with Chicago? Whatever the backstory of this particular march may be, the reality is that what the world saw was someone evicted from the march because she was holding a rainbow flag with a Jewish star at its center. The long painful history of anti-Semitism in Europe led to the death of six million Jews. It is hardly surprising that we, as Jews, have hyper-sensitive antennae when Zionism and Israel are bandied about. We also know that symbols matter, be it a Jewish star or a rainbow flag. Not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic; but not all pro-Zionism is anti-Palestinian. The ascription of individual characteristics or beliefs to an entire group of people is the essence of anti-Semitism and racism. What we expect from our allies is no conflation of being Jewish with any particular position on the solution to Middle East quagmire.

Today’s generation did not grow up in the era of polite postwar anti-Semitism or develop a nose for the whiff of it. We need more discussion and education on that odious smell, just as we join to achieve shared goals of justice. We, as Jewish feminists, are going to continue to assert our right to be the conveners of respectful discussions, opportunities for learning and teaching, and the constant pursuit of the common good.

Rise Up Against the Pharaohs of Our Time

Michelle Obama

By Eleanor Levie

Soon, at Passover, we will relive the bitterness of slavery and the joy of freedom. The Passover story, told generation after generation, continues to inspire and define the Jews as a people that cherishes freedom for ourselves and for all humankind.    

Today in America, our personal freedoms have never been more at risk.  

As Jews, we know what it means to have rights and liberties stripped away. As Jews, we know that we cannot afford to be silent about this attack on our Constitutional values by a president who sees himself as a demigod, like the pharaohs of old. Who gets his info from Fox & Friends. Who is under investigation for treason. And who outsources his decision-making for job posts, including the highest in the land, from arch conservative, paternalistic, white males who want to roll back our rights. It feels like the Koch brothers, the Federalist Society, Breitbart, and Fox are running the country. Oh, and his family. None of these folks have been vetted, investigated, approved, or elected. No questions asked … or even tolerated. 

Like that Pharaoh of the Passover story, our president seeks outsized power and riches for himself and for his cronies at the very tippy top of the pyramid of our society. 

This is a pharaoh of a president who rules by tossing out anti-constitutional executive actions. He surrounds himself with ego-strokers, henchmen and yes-men. He’s got rubber stamps in the majority of the Senate and the House. This is a pharaoh of a president who expects to have a yes-man in the court, too, the Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch to be his surrogate at the top of the third branch of government. Hand-picked by the far-right and to the right of Scalia in his legal views, Gorsuch is a sure bet to roll back religious freedom, reproductive justice, worker’s rights, environmental protections, and more.  

It bears repeating: a seat on the highest Court in the land is an immensely powerful position. As with pharaohs, there’s virtually no accountability, and it’s a lifetime rule.

Such an important job should be filled by someone who can win the approval of Senators in both parties. To prevent the party in power from steamrolling the advise and consent process of Court picks, we have the filibuster. To explode the filibuster with a Nuclear Option would show arrogant disdain for our American democracy such that only a pharaoh could justify. 

We have to rise up and demand fairness and justice: No nuclear option. No changing the centuries-old rules for the sake of a president whose legitimacy of rule is so suspect. We cannot be silent. We must make calls to our Senators and urge them to reject the Nuclear Option, and thereby reject this nominee. Otherwise, we just might be seeing justice, our liberties, and our hard-won constitutional rights “passover” us, our children, and our grandchildren. 

Eleanor Levie is a life member and longtime persistent advocate, serving as the BenchMark point person for NCJW—PA, a former SPA and National member, working gratefully in coalition with Alliance for Justice and Why Courts Matter-PA.

NCJW Leader Charlene Kurland speaks out for LGBTQ Equality and Why We Should #StopSessions!


On January 18, 2017, NCJW leader Charlene Kurland spoke at a press conference in Philadelphia calling on US Senators to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be the next Attorney General. The press conference was a part of the National LGBTQ Taskforce’s annual Creating Change Conference. Below are her prepared, written remarks, which may differ slightly from those delivered:

My name is Charlene Kurland. I am here today representing the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). I am one of the vice presidents of the Greater Philadelphia Section of that group. The National Council of Jewish Women is the oldest grassroots Jewish women’s organization in the country. Since 1893 NCJW has advocated for women, children, and families, including immigrants.

I am a 73 year old woman, (and I’m hoping everyone will say, “You don’t look it.”). I was born and raised here in Philadelphia. And I happen to be a member of the LGBTQ community as well. During my first life, I was married to a man. And I have two grown children (a son who is now 49 and a daughter who is 47). 25 years ago, I met the love of my life and in 2013, we were issued a Marriage license and married in Montgomery County and, thanks to both the advancements in Pennsylvania and the subsequent United States Supreme Court Decision, we were claimed legal in 2014. My wife and I share 3 grandchildren (a granddaughter age 9 ½, a grandson 2 ½ and a granddaughter who is 6 months old).

I am honored to be here as a member of the LGBTQ community representing NCJW whose mission has been so important to advancing the rights of so many in our country. NCJW is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

And most importantly, I am here today to present NCJW’s opposition to the approval of the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of our country.

NCJW’S CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said it so well when she stated:

“Senator Jeff Sessions has a record on civil rights and immigration law that is in opposition to everything that NCJW stands for. We do not believe he is an appropriate appointment as US Attorney General because we question his ability to fairly enforce the laws of the United States.”

“In 1986, NCJW opposed President Reagan’s nomination of Senator Sessions becoming a US District Court judge for the same reasons we oppose him now — he demonstrated hostility to the civil rights of African Americans and other groups protected by existing civil rights laws. His record of racist comments and beliefs was thoroughly exposed in his confirmation hearings, after which his nomination was rejected by the then-Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions was one of only two nominees rejected by the Judiciary Committee in nearly 50 years.”

The history is clear: Jeff Sessions has been hostile to LGBTQ equality throughout his career, and his record on LGBTQ equality is in opposition to NCJW’s Jewish values. Sessions used his position of authority to publicly characterize LGBTQ people and same-sex marriage and relationships as “explicit” and “dangerous” to “traditional American moral principles.” Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has worked for LGBTQ equality, including protecting transgender students. One of the most dangerous things Sessions could do as Attorney General is choose not to defend the basic civil rights of LGBTQ individuals.

Faith-based communities like NCJW need to join together and make our voices heard – Senator Sessions is unfit to be the next Attorney General! We need to tell our Senators to vote NO on Sessions.

 

 

Is There Power in Forgiveness?

NCJW Legislative Associate Faith Fried delivered this d’var Torah at the quarterly Jewish Disability Network meeting, a coalition of Jewish organizations working for the rights of people with disabilities. 

This week’s Torah portion deals with the death of Jacob, and then Joseph. But the portion, Vayechi, means “He Lived.” I found this contrast intriguing.

After Jacob dies, Joseph and his brothers journey to Canaan to bury him. After he is buried, the brothers are concerned – what if Joseph hates us for what we did? What if he was holding back until Jacob died? They go to Joseph and ask him for forgiveness, admitting that their father had urged them to do so.

Joseph weeps after they ask for forgiveness, and tells them not to fear. The parsha says that “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” This display of forgiveness – not Joseph’s first, but his first as head of his family – is striking. His brothers sold him into slavery, separated him from his beloved father, but Joseph forgives them. Joseph goes on to live to be 110 before he dies.

In thinking about forgiveness, my thoughts first turned to the 2015 massacre in a church in Charleston. Just days after her mother was murdered, Nadine Collier became famous saying “I forgive you” to her killer. A year later, the Washington Post followed up with Nadine to see whether she still meant those words. She said that she learned that forgiveness wasn’t easy – it’s work every day. “Forgiveness is power,” says Collier. “It means you can fight everything and anything head on.”

Forgiveness also makes me think of this election, and the impact it has had on families across the nation. Before Thanksgiving, I read numerous articles about how to survive a meal with family members who voted differently in this election. Now not all families are the same – opposing political viewpoints in one family is different from hateful rhetoric in another. But the thought of losing family or friends over the election makes me profoundly sad. Perhaps like Joseph and his brothers, the strength of our familial ties and emphasizing what values we do share can eventually bring us back together. As Collier points out, there is power in forgiveness, even if the power is as small as the ability to break bread together for just one night.

In her forgiveness, Collier finds strength to live each day without her mother. And in our forgiveness in the aftermath of this election, we may find strength too. Perhaps Joseph found a similar strength when he forgave his brothers after the death of his father. And maybe that’s why the Torah portion for this week means “He Lived.” In the years between forgiveness and his own death, Joseph’s forgiveness allowed him to truly live, facing everything and anything head on.

NCJW Inspired Me to Get Out the Vote

By Ahuva Sunshine

One year ago I began my journey through law school. I spent virtually all of my time as a first-year law student diving headfirst into legal casebooks and arguments, learning how to navigate the complexities of law school and the law itself (or at least how to at least keep my head above water).  

During my spring break I had the immense privilege of attending NCJW’s Washington Institute for the first time.  At the conference I was able to take impactful political action on many of the issues I had recently studied and become passionate about. Along with the Ohio Delegation, I visited the offices of both of my senators as well as my representative in the House.  Together we fought to restore voting rights protections, increase funding to provide critical services to survivors of human trafficking, and ensure abortion coverage to women enrolled in federal health plans and programs. We also urged our senators to support holding a hearing for Judge Garland.  

Taking concrete political action with a group of progressive Jewish advocates at Washington Institute reinforced why I enrolled in law school in the first place: to use law as a tool to create progressive change on an individual and societal level. 

NCJW’s focus on political action inspired me to empower others to take political action of their own; this past summer I volunteered to register people to vote.  Conversing with strangers on the importance of making their voices heard and persuading them to register was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.  The excitement inherent in becoming involved in our democracy’s political process for the first time is infectious; people gathered around to cheer on and congratulate individuals registering.  

The stakes could not be higher in this election. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) has protected voting rights around the country for the past 50 years, it was gutted by the US Supreme Court in 2013 in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. States and local governments have since passed and implemented restrictive laws threatening access to the polls for millions of eligible voters, disproportionately impacting voters of color, women voters, young voters, low-income voters, voters with disabilities, and voters who rely on languages other than English. This will be the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

That’s why we need to get out the vote. If we care about our democracy, we need to make sure that everyone has a voice in our political process. With so much at stake, from criminal justice reform to abortion access to judicial nominations, everyone deserves to be heard. I’ll be doing my part as a law student, and I know NCJW advocates across the country will be doing their part as well. Join us.

Resources to Get Out the Vote:

  • Check out NCJW’s voter video to inspire your work!
  • Volunteer to be a poll monitor.
  • Share state-specific election information on social media using these handy graphics.
  • Make a plan to vote! Ask this question to friends, family members, and people in your community. Make sure everyone you ask has a plan to vote early, vote absentee, or get to the polls on November 8.

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Ahuva Sunshine is a second-year law student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  She is President of the Jewish Law Students Association and Vice President of Marketing and Communications of the Women’s Legal Society.

On Succot and Strong Women at the Table

By Dani Kogan, NCJW Community Outreach and Communications Intern

As far back as I can remember, the holiday of Succot was my favorite to celebrate. Even though it takes place as the weather starts to get colder, being outside in a small succah outside full of family, friends, and hot soup was an antidote to the chilly fall  temperature. It struck me as funny how, despite Passover being the meal where Jews are to welcome guests who need a meal, Succot turned into the day where I was told to bring my friends over after services. I have so many vivid memories of me and my middle school girl friends sitting around in our yards, eating the brownies we made before chag, leftovers, and whatever else we could find in our respective pantries – we raided each other’s like they were our own. We sat on the ground playing monopoly and talking until it got dark, and then made plans to do it again the next day.

We had a built in system encouraging us to do this. One of the most beautiful traditions of Succot is that of the Ushpizin: welcoming in “guests” into our succah – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Aaron, Moses, and David. Even better, there has been a tradition around since the medieval ages to invite women guests into our succah. It is less clear amongst Jews who these women are, though the list usually includes Eve, Miriam, Sarah, Hannah, Esther, Deborah, Ruth, and Leah. 

All of the fictional guests are based off of the idea that each one brings with them a quality or characteristic that we want to bring into our lives. The tradition ties back to the idea that there are seven divine characteristics, roughly translated as Love, Strength, Truth, Endurance, Splendor, Connection, and Leadership. Though I may be somewhat biased, I find that each of these biblical women capture multiple divine characteristics – far more than the men. However, no individual woman seems to fully encompass every single characteristic, in much the same way that I don’t shine in every one of these qualities myself. What I felt and still continue to feel sitting in the succah with all of my friends is that we all bring our own best parts to the (literal) table – and that makes for a balanced and deep conversation.

One of the beautiful things about being a college student now, as opposed to a seventh grader, is that I can tell my strengths from my weaknesses. And knowing your strengths is key. I think the same lesson can be applied to how we approach making broader change in society, especially in the upcoming election with women’s basic rights at stake. If we unite as women and bring our collective strengths to the (figurative) table, we create something incredibly powerful. We also must keep in mind that we should embrace every woman in the fight for our rights, regardless of race, sexuality, ability, class, age: each brings her own characteristics and strengthens the whole that much more. And with that bold vision for women’s unity comes a future that looks brighter than ever, where we can use our individual strengths in ways we never dreamed of.

Advancing Abortion Access to Ensure Religious Liberty

By Rabbi Jeffrey Gale*

Ever since the US Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion in the United States, anti-abortion activists have been working hard to restrict access to abortion care. From coverage bans to mandatory waiting periods, states have enacted over 1,000 abortion restrictions in the 43 years since Roe. Of these, 288 have been enacted just since 2010. 

Just a few months ago, in its ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court overturned two Texas restrictions which sought to limit access to abortion by requiring that doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and render themselves ambulatory outpatient surgical centers. Because most of the clinics could not meet either one or both of these requirements, only ten clinics would remain. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the law imposes an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.   

The Roe v. Wade decision emphasized that the theological beliefs of a specific group of people cannot be imposed upon an entire, diverse population. It states:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. 

Much of the crusade against abortion is posited on the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation whose mission is to promote one specific interpretation of Christian values. Many social conservatives would argue that if the founding fathers were here today, they would tell us so.  

Here’s John Adams in the treaty of Tripoli: [T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

And here’s Thomas Jefferson: Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.  Jefferson further stated: It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

I am deeply concerned when a specific religious theology becomes the cornerstone of public policy. As we all know, back alley abortions have caused untold suffering to thousands of women, not to mention all those forced to carry pregnancies to term against their wishes.  

Sadly, September 30th marked the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment. First authorized by Congress in 1976, Hyde bans abortion coverage for individuals enrolled in Medicaid. It is explicitly designed to deny abortion access to low-income women, disproportionately harming women of color, immigrant women, young people, and transgender or gender nonconforming individuals. Our government should support women’s health and offer the full-range or pregnancy related care, including abortion.  

By restricting access to abortion and, at the same time, not providing adequate services for women who choose to give birth, our government espouses the belief, de facto, that life begins with conception and ends with birth. Instead of politicians defining what the ideal family should look like, they would do well to support all family constellations.  

The separation of church and state emphasizes religious co-existence. It is the moderate path between religious warfare and the imposition of a single theological system upon an entire country. Strongly held religious views strictly belong within our respective faith communities. 

In the New Year, 5777, may we strive to echo the values of our ancestors – to proclaim the message of pluralism, tolerance, and dignity.

*This blog was excerpted and adapted from Rabbi Gale’s Rosh Hashanah sermon at the Hebrew Tabernacle in New York City.

 

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.

Loving the Stranger is Just the Beginning

By Faith Fried, Legislative Associate

Judaism teaches us to love the stranger, for once we were strangers in the land of Egypt. I’ve drawn from this teaching over the past year, as refugee resettlement became highly controversial. However, recent advocacy efforts this past summer reminded me that the reasons to support refugees go beyond the biblical.

On August 28, 2016, NCJW, as a part of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, co-sponsored the DC Rally for Refugees, an event that took place on the National Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument. I tabled in the resource tent for the first two hours, and then was free to experience the rally. As I found a spot in the shade, musicians, poets, advocates, speakers, and dancers took the stage to express their support for refugees. Some were refugees, others were the sons and daughters of those who had fled to the United States seeking better lives, and others simply supported the cause. I was moved by Lubana Al Quntar, the first Syrian opera singer and refugee, who treated us to a Metropolitan Opera caliber performance for free. I clapped and cheered as Sham Hasan, a refugee from Iraq who worked for the US Army as an interpreter, shared his story coming to the US in 2014. And I couldn’t help but tap my feet to the catchy Running (Refugee Song), featuring Gregory Porter, Common, Keyon Harrold and Andrea Pizziconi.

Reflecting on the rally, I realized that welcoming the stranger might be the first reason why we, progressive Jews, should welcome refugees to our country. But it is not the last. The writers, poets, dancers, and singers who performed were examples of how my own life is enriched — how the fabric of our nation is enriched — when we open our arms to refugees from around the world.

Watch the full DC Rally for Refugees here.

Lift Hyde, Because Every Human Being is Made in the Image of God

By Jenna Shaw

As a child of a gynecologist, I was raised to reject the stigma surrounding women’s health and reproductive rights. Words surrounding these issues were not taboo — dinner conversations frequently covered topics ranging from the anatomy of the female body, to the newest methods of contraception, to Judaism’s views on abortion and sex. I grew up with an awareness of the complexities of women’s health and the dire need for access to coverage. But I also soon realized that the conversations to which I had grown accustomed were a rarity.

Medically accurate information and non-judgmental discussion of women’s health and reproductive rights are often silenced and stigmatized. Access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare is limited based on socioeconomic status. And while everyone has the right to make their own decision about their body, life, and future, this is often not the reality.

One way our country limits access to reproductive healthcare is the federal Hyde Amendment, which denies access to abortion coverage for women enrolled in Medicaid and most other federal health plans and programs. Hyde is most harmful to people already struggling to make ends meet, who are disproportionately people of color, young people, immigrants, and transgender and gender nonconforming people. September 30, 2016 marked its 40th anniversary.

As I think through the horrific legacy left by Hyde, I can’t help but think back to one of the many lessons I learned from my dad. He would constantly reiterate the importance of never turning anyone away from care. I feel a call to action rooted in my commitment to following in my dad’s footsteps.

I am also called to action by my commitment to living out the values of Torah. The Torah portion we read on the 40th anniversary of Hyde was Ki Tavo (When You Enter). The Israelites were about to enter the land of Israel when Moses, who was not joining them, provided a list of commandments they were to obey in their new home. One such law was to regularly give their surplus produce to “the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so they may eat to satiety in your cities.” (26:11-12)

The Israelites were strangers in the land, and yet they were still commanded to ensure that the marginalized amongst them had everything they needed to survive and thrive. This was not simply about the produce; it was about solidarity and connection.  As is constantly mentioned in the Torah, no person is beneath another, as all human beings are made in the image of God.

In 21st century America, connection is about opening a conversation and providing others with the power of knowledge like my father gave to me when I was younger.  It is about access and humility and the understanding that every person deserves equitable opportunities and resources. The movement to lift the Hyde Amendment and all bans that deny coverage for abortion to low-income women is opening up a conversation that has been silenced for too long, and will ultimately provide access to healthcare to thousands who have been denied.

As a Legislative Intern at NCJW I’ve been honored to watch the opening of such conversation. I have seen as 36 faith based groups have called on Congress to pass the EACH Woman Act, a bill that would end bans that deny abortion coverage to individuals based on their income or insurance. I have participated in a flash mob in front of the White House to raise awareness. I have read through names of petitioners from every state in the union calling on Congress to lift Hyde, and witnessed as college students have raised their voices to educate their peers. People of all ages are coming together to open this conversation and ensure access for every person to the health care and information they deserve.

Bio:

Jenna Shaw, originally from Chicago Illinois, is a senior at American University double majoring in Economics and Judaic Studies. Her passions lie within the intersections of gender, justice, and religious law and she hopes to pursue a career in the Rabbinate after graduation.  She is the current Legislative Intern for NCJW.

Pronouns: She/her/hers

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