In the six months since Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal communities in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the Reform Jewish community has rallied to support the rebuilding effort, our synagogues, and the millions of people who were – and continue to be – impacted by the storm.
Although much of the Reform Movement’s work has been behind the scenes – raising and allocating funds, coordinating volunteers, and keeping abreast of the rebuilding efforts two of our synagogues are undertaking – our members have risen to the occasion. Countless volunteer hours have been applied to the cause, entire trailers of donated goods have been sent by our synagogues to some of the hardest-hit communities, and the URJ’s Disaster Relief Fund, which opened just after the storm passed, raised nearly $1 million for relief efforts.
Here’s are 10 ways the Reform Movement has aided in relief efforts during the last six months:
- To date, we’ve allocated $142,000 to Reform congregations affected by the storm. Among the allocation are $90,000 to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY; $20,000 to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, NY; $7,500 to North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, NY, to provide meals to displaced families; $5,000 to Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY, to help families replace lost Judaica; and the remaining $19,500 to congregations with families who were displaced or whose homes were severely damaged.
- We provided special assistance to West End Temple in Neponsit, NY. This congregation in the Far Rockaways section of New York suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. The URJ collected funds on behalf of West End Temple until their electricity was restored and their online donation system functional. In addition to our monetary donation to the congregation, the Men of Reform Judaism’s Reform on Campus grantees donated $500 in the form of Target gift cards to West End Temple.
- We established a Youth Scholarship Fund to help affected young people remain connected with the Jewish community. At a time when their belongings and homes may be damaged or lost, this fund removes financial barriers that could keep displaced youth from engaging with their faith community when they need it most. The Women of Reform Judaism contributed $10,000 to this fund.
- The Central Conference of American Rabbis sent more than 400 prayer books to storm-ravaged synagogues. New copies of Mishkan T’filah, the Reform Movement prayer book, went to West End Temple, as well as to Temple Sinai in Massapequa, which also suffered severe storm damage.
- We supported Congregation Beth Elohim’s efforts to help their neighbors. The Brooklyn congregation, which provided meals and organized volunteers after the storm, served as a hub for a diverse group of people from varying religious, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds to help those most in need. Our $50,000 allocation to them supported these efforts and more.
- We sent $50,000 to New York Legal Assistance Group, which provides free civil legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford a private attorney. NYLAG continue to help victims with FEMA applications, public benefits, housing issues, insurance and other immediate legal needs. The organization also trains lawyers unfamiliar with this kind of work to help their neighbors.
- We sent money and volunteers to NECHAMA, the Jewish Response to Disaster, to build additional response capacity. NECHAMA personnel arrived in New Jersey less than 18 hours after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, worked through the snowstorm that occurred the following week and deployed their entire staff to manage volunteers, assist individuals and organizations with clean-up and preparation for rebuilding. Our $50,000 grant is helping the organization increase human capital and their inventory of tools, equipment, supplies and vehicles on the ground.
- We provided grants to organizations doing on-the-ground rebuilding, allocating $60,000 to Friends of Rockaway, which hires unemployed Queens residents to properly gut homes destroyed by the storm. Michael Sinensky, co-founder of Friends of the Rockaways, said of the group’s work, “[We] are one of the only local groups in Rockaway not only doing relief, but rebuilding.” We also sent $25,000 to help rebuild the Broad Channel Athletic Club, a community center that provides extracurricular activities – including an after-school teen club and summer sports leagues – to New York communities.
- We’re helping local groups focus on long-term rebuilding. We sent $25,000 each to the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group and the Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group, located in storm-ravaged New Jersey counties where Sandy had massive and widespread impact. As recently as March, more than 1,500 families and individuals in Monmouth County remained displaced, and another 1,000 inhabited homes unfit for living due to a lack of heat, hot water, or a growth of mold on the premises. These groups are working to coordinate services and resources to help address the long-term needs of residents.
- Reform congregations all over North America pitched in to help. Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, IL, sent 300 lbs. of toiletries to Temple Shalom in Aberdeen, NJ. Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan donated 2,500 cans of soup, hundreds of pounds of cleaning supplies, and more than $29,000 to aid those in need. Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL, sent warm clothing, water, food, and emergency supplies to hard-hit areas in Staten Island and New Jersey. Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore dispatched six trucks of food, clothing, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, and more to affected areas. And the list goes on.
The responses seen across the Reform Jewish community are powerful. Hurricane Sandy brought about terrible destruction and stories of despair – but within the last six months have emerged stories of hope, partnership, and peoplehood. In a time of great need, the organized Reform Movement and congregations across North America came together to show that we are, indeed, a movement.
Last week, Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) spoke to attendees at the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience about the urgent need to stop gun violence. Yesterday, Congressman Nadler took this important message back to his district by speaking at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. We are thankful for the important work of Congressman Nadler in advancing this important cause.
The Congressman’s full remarks are below:
Rep. Jerry Nadler
Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
Preventing Gun Violence
April 29, 2013
Good evening, and thanks so much for inviting me to speak with you here tonight. Thank you, Rabbi Hirsch, for your great service to this community. And thank you all for joining us tonight as we discuss an issue that is of the utmost importance to our nation today: how do we do better as a society to prevent gun violence.
The utter horror of the murderous shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut remains in all of our minds and has rightly propelled us into a critical dialogue that we hope will produce real action after so many years. And the problem has been with us for many years. Much of the time, families and communities – especially in our inner cities – have fought on the front lines against gun violence without much attention from the rest of society. Now, with the alarming and increasing regularity of mass shootings – every couple of years it seems – like those in Newtown and Aurora, it should be clear to all of us that gun violence is our collective problem as a nation, and must be addressed in all of its forms.
According to a report from Slate, since the shootings in Newtown, there have already been more than 3,500 gun deaths across America. Other industrialized nations cannot fathom our level of gun violence. In one year, Germany had 158 homicides by firearm; Canada, 173; the UK, 41; and, Japan…11. The United States? More than 10,000. Even adjusting for population, we are still exponentially more prone to gun violence. No one can dispute that such violence is an epidemic, and it is one that we must confront head on.
As you all know, earlier this month, in a terrible and shameful display, the Senate voted against a series of amendments designed to address various areas of gun control. The Senate even voted down the bipartisan Toomey/Manchin compromise to expand background checks – a piece of legislation that already fell short of making background checks universal or of plugging all of the many loopholes exploited by criminals to get firearms. Even that modest compromise could not pass.
Wednesday’s votes were a truly outrageous display of Congress at its worst. The level of hypocrisy and propaganda was extraordinary. Part of it we can explain by pure political cowardice; or, put more charitably, by cut-and-dried political calculations in which Senators believed their votes would determine whether they would hold onto their seats in the coming elections.
But, of course, what we saw was the NRA, and other pro-gun organizations, flexing their muscles, and lying, and exploiting fears in order to gain leverage. This is a textbook example of self-serving interests using political pressure to betray the will of the majority, and it’s truly unconscionable – both for the interests bucking the will of the people, and for legislators succumbing to that pressure.
The fact is that most people agree that we should not allow felons and the mentally disturbed to buy guns. Nearly 90% of Americans support universal background checks, including most members of the NRA.
But, let’s be clear: this is not about hunters, who don’t need semi-automatic rifles with huge-capacity clips. This is not even about millennialists who imagine that their armed-to-the-teeth militias will be the only line of defense against an inevitable invasion by government forces – they are too small a minority, even if they are a particularly vocal one.
And it’s not even a question of strict interpretation of the 2ndAmendment. After all, in 2008, when the Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban, Justice Scalia wrote in the majority opinion that:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.
The 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.
Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
That is to say that, even the current Supreme Court would not back an absolutist view of the 2nd amendment.
No. The reality is that the recent lobbying blitz was not directed by the vast majority of NRA members or gun owners or 2nd Amendment absolutists. It was directed by gun manufacturers, whose only aim is to make profits selling guns, to hell with the consequences. The Senate voted to protect the profits of the firearm industry instead of the lives of the American public.
Well, where does all of this leave us now, as we are still stung by an ugly defeat, with the memory of Newtown and so much senseless violence fresh on our minds?
Call me naïve, but I still have real hope.
We now have a President who is on the right side, who is as outraged as we are, and who is willing to expend precious political capital to get something done.
What’s more, the elections of 2012 showed the NRA to be somewhat of a paper tiger, a force whose legendary influence over elections may be partly myth. Clearly, last week’s vote shows the perception of the gun lobby’s strength, but recent electoral numbers suggest that they may no longer have the mass support to back it up.
But, we are now in a moment of regrouping and reassessing, and we must settle in for a long battle to make the real change that the American public demands, and that our safety requires. The national campaign to create reform must now make good use of our powerful allies, of the large majority of Americans who want change, and of the rising gulf between the NRA and its rank-and-file members. And we must abolish the Senate filibuster once-and-for-all so that a minority does not hold sway over the majority on each and every vote. Then we will have an opportunity to get more than just the minimum compromise that is acceptable to gun manufacturers.
Here are the most important bills that we must continue to vigorously push:
· The Assault Weapons Ban, which would ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of semi-automatic assault weapons: a ban on the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices. No one needs a 30-round clip to hunt deer.
· We need a system of Universal Background Checks so that, no matter where someone buys a gun – from a store, from a dealer, from a gun show, online – they will be subject to a thorough review. It’s estimated that 40% of gun buyers do not go through background checks at all, which is like having four out of every ten people choose whether they want to go through airport security. This lets felons, domestic abusers, and those prohibited because of mental illness easily bypass the criminal background check system and buy firearms at gun shows, through private sellers, over the internet, or out of the trunks of cars.
· The Fix Gun Checks Act would specifically prohibit the sale of firearms to all individuals listed in the National Instant Criminal background check System, and would require a background check for every firearm sale – including at gun shows and online.
· The previously-mentioned Assault Weapons Ban also includes a buyback provision, which would allow the use of Byrne Grant funds to compensate individuals who voluntarily surrender semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices under buyback programs. This would be the government paying to get these weapons – and there are an estimated 250 million guns in this country – off of our streets.
· A gun buyback program was successfully used in Australia a few years back, following a mass shooting. The Australian government bought back 650,000 guns, entirely eliminating mass killings in the 14 years since, and reducing deaths by firearms overall. There have been many smaller scale buyback programs in the United States.
· The Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act, which would require all ammunition dealers to be licensed.
· I have introduced a bill to prevent child sex offenders from using guns. That, believe it or not, is not against the law now.
And there’s a lot more we can do. We can crack down on straw purchasers and trafficking; improve school safety and mental health services; restore real enforcement powers to the ATF; require liability insurance for gun owners; make gun manufacturers and gun dealers liable for negligence for the destruction that their products inflict on innocent people; and so on.
If you ask me, every one of these measures is a necessary and commonsense step to protect Americans – on our streets, in our schools, in the workplace, at home – from preventable and tragic gun violence. Our job now is to continue to educate our colleagues, friends and neighbors about the need for legislation to prevent gun violence, to counter the stranglehold of the NRA on vulnerable legislators, and to pass the strongest legislation we possibly can.
It’s our duty as responsible Americans who want to live in a peaceful, safe, and truly free society. Frankly, people around the world look at our society and wonder how we, the United States of America, can tolerate 10,000 gun deaths per year. And we should wonder the same thing.
Thank you. And now I’d be very happy to take any questions.
Image courtesy of Congressmen Nadler
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Throughout its history, Women of Reform Judaism has supported the next generation of the Reform Movement. In celebration of WRJ’s Centennial and the significant role that WRJ has played in the life of NFTY, the current National Board members and a staff member of the North American Federation of Temple Youth share their reflections on this vital relationship.
Evan Traylor, NFTY President: Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) was instrumental in the founding of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) in 1939, and since that date has continued to provide enormous financial and moral support to the organization. WRJ has made it possible for generations of Reform Jewish teens across North America to engage in and create meaningful Jewish experiences with their unwavering support. On any given weekend throughout the year, hundreds – often thousands – of Reform Jewish teens gather with their local Temple Youth Group or NFTY region to engage in Jewish activities and events. They have the opportunity to understand their Jewish identity, create powerful relationships, and contribute to the present and future of Reform Judaism. Through enormous partnerships between temple youth groups and URJ congregations, these teens will learn from and develop relationships with vital role models.
Jordan Rodnizki, NFTY Programming Vice President: For the past three summers, I have had the pleasure of attending the URJ Kutz Camp. In my two years as a participant, I witnessed engaging programming, grappled with tenets of my Jewish identity, and formed relationships that will last a lifetime. In 2012, I had the opportunity to help provide this meaningful experience for a new batch of camp participants as a staff member. The program would not be possible without the help of Women of Reform Judaism and its YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund Grants, which help to support teens needing financial assistance to attend. Over the past thirty years, WRJ has made it possible for nearly 5,000 teens to attend my beloved Kutz camp. I am forever indebted to the remarkable generosity of my sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors – for without them, I wouldn’t be the involved Jewish adult I am today.
Joy Nemerson, NFTY Social Action Vice President: I am privileged to not only have gone to one URJ camp, but two. I have called both Crane Lake Camp and Camp Eisner my homes for many summers. There are numerous people who are involved with supporting these wonderful establishments, and WRJ is one of the most ardent of supporters. Without their fervor for bringing the meaningful environment of Jewish camp to as many children as possible, the URJ camp community would be definitively less vibrant. Even through my high school years in NFTY, WRJ has provided many teens with opportunities similar to a camping experience by making scholarships available to events like Convention and Biennial. We are so lucky to have the WRJ as collaborators with NFTY.
Jacob Georginow, NFTY Religious and Cultural Vice President: At the recent NFTY Convention in Los Angeles, CA, I was highly impacted and inspired by the exciting and dynamic musical performances. Through WRJ’s gracious donations and contributions, NFTY Convention was able to pull out all the stops and create incredible musical experiences that united over 1,200 NFTYites and youth professionals in song and dance. Music plays a key role in almost every aspect of NFTY and to encourage young people to explore their musical identities as Jews is a true Mitzvah. Thank you to the WRJ for sponsoring their concert series at our major gatherings. You can watch footage of the recent concert here!
Marlee Ribnick, NFTY Membership and Communications Vice President: WRJ programs have made a significant impact on my experience at my home congregation – Temple Israel of Minneapolis, MN. The women who were part of the Sisterhood at my synagogue always supported my TYG and our efforts in creating social, purposeful Jewish programming. In just the past year, the Women of Reform Judaism have given over $85,000 to NFTY and the Campaign for Youth Engagement in order to continue expanding and creating the opportunity for young Jewish individuals to explore and thrive. I’m deeply thankful to WRJ for laying the groundwork for such collaborative and supportive programs for Jews of all ages to be involved in.
Rebecca Wolchok, NFTY and Kutz Program Associate: When I think of Women of Reform Judaism, fond memories of my childhood at my hometown Synagogue of Beth Emeth in Albany, NY come rushing back. The Sisterhood was regularly responsible for the most cheerful, enjoyable activities of the year. Everything from Hamantashen baking to organized day trips to see off-Broadway shows – the Sisterhood was the driving force of all the fun. While I realize now that they create a diverse array of programming that far exceeds my memories as a child, in my youth I associated their presence with warmth, fun, and very often times, delicious food.
Throughout my teenage years, WRJ began to take on a different meaning in my life. Suddenly I was enjoying the full scope of their work, which included volunteer opportunities and sponsored cultural events. I spent all four years of high school as an active member of my Temple Youth Group, the support of the Sisterhood never wavered. They provided scholarships to aid many in attending our regional events, and enthusiastically volunteered as chaperones for our overnights. The presence of WRJ was felt in so many positive ways throughout my years in NFTY.
Now that I am a young adult working in the Reform Jewish world, I see the Sisterhood in a new (but equally endearing) light. I am overjoyed to be privy to the impact WRJ continues to have on the youth of the Reform Movement. On behalf of myself as well as the thousands of teens whom WRJ continues to enthusaistically support, thank you. Thank you for working tirelessly in your quest to engage and enhance Reform Judaism for people of all ages. It is difficult to convey just how lucky we are as a movement to have a backbone as strong and resilient as you are – and we are excited to share a small glimpse into the many impacts you have made on NFTY and its leadership
On behalf of the NFTY Leadership, our more than 7,000 current members, and our countless thousands of alumni over the past 75 years, we wish Women of Reform Judaism a Happy 100th Birthday! Here’s to the next 100…
Last week, the Jerusalem District Court determined that the recent detention of Women of the Wall members for their activities at the Western Wall was unjustified. The decision was met with applause from Reform Leaders.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, explained, “We were especially pleased to hear the judge state that the Law of Holy Places, which gives visitors to the Kotel the opportunity to pray according to ‘local custom,’ does not mandate that these be Orthodox customs. We expect local authorities to respect the court’s decision and let non-Orthodox Jews pray at this holy site according to their own customs without fear of police detention or restraint.”
Similar sentiment was shared by Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, who expressed, “Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) is optimistic about the court’s decision today to guarantee the right of women to worship freely at this most holy site.”
Barbara Kavadias, Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), joined in saying, “We believe this ruling enhances Natan Sharansky’s proposal to provide for egalitarian prayer at an expanded Kotel site and look forward to the day when all people are free to pray at the Kotel according to their own customs.”
Image courtesy of Women of the Wall
JHV: What sort of narrative, if any, drives the Reform Movement today?
Jacobs: What drives our narrative is this incredible moment in Jewish history. We are currently the largest movement in Jewish life in the United States. What are we going to be as we go forward?
The early founders of the movement articulated something so compelling, that there was a change and uniqueness to the Jewish narrative. It was about shaping a more just and fairer world, where we placed an emphasis on ethics over ritual. It was a narrative that said we are, in our essence, a religious community, not simply an ethnic group. And, they believed honestly, with all their hearts, that they were on the verge of this new, almost messianic time.
Of course, we know that in the 20th century, we experienced something so dark and overwhelming. No one in the 19th century could have imagined the Shoah. At the same time, no one who had emphasized religious community over peoplehood could have imagined the State of Israel coming into being.
So, for us, we live in a time of freedom and opportunity in North America. We have to articulate what we uniquely bring to the Jewish world. The expression of Reform Judaism today is serious in its learning. It is spirited in its spirituality. It is deep in its commitment to social justice. It is committed to the State of Israel. And, it is evolving, because it believes change and innovation is the hallmark of the Jewish tradition. There are many different pathways to living a life of Jewish purpose.
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by Ryan Fishoff
Camp is not just what happens inside the red gates for 2 months during the summer. It is a community, both physically and spiritually, that exists 365 days of the year. This was never more apparent than this past fall in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as many members of the Crane Lake community, both past and present, found themselves affected by the devastating storm. The Crane Lake Camp community, with the aid of the URJ, rose to the occasion and immediately helped with relief and recovery efforts.
Crane Lake Alumni had previously planned on gathering in New York City in the middle of November, and immediately decided to do their part in aiding those affected – this time, with the shirts off their backs (literally). With the wonderful assistance and generosity of stitch’T, the alumni who attended the gathering donated t-shirts that stitch’T made into quilts that were donated to the Red-Cross Relief effort. The quilts are symbolic of camp; memories and bonds that are stitched together from different towns and backgrounds over the course of the summer.
As we look to the future and creating more memories in camp (including many in our brand new dining hall), stitch’T would like to offer a 25% discount to everyone in the Crane Lake community off their first stitch’T purchase. A stitch’T blanket is the perfect Mother’s/Father’s day or graduation gift; it is also the perfect layer to stay warm on those chilly Berkshire nights. For more information, please contact Jason Friedman at email@example.com or 212-860-7029.
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