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Comment made to the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding a new restriction on the SNAP (Food Stamp) advocated by the Department (comment made at a vote of the attendees of the 2018 Hunger Seder):

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the USDA’s Advanced Notice on requirements and services for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents.

We are a faith-based organization advocating for food and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  We had a Passover Seder on the 6th night of Passover, that we call a Hunger Seder.  At the Seder, we took a vote and decided, unanimously, to comment on these requirements and make the point that we strongly oppose any action by the Department that would expose more people to the cutoff policy that would stop their SNAP benefits.  Under the current law, states have the flexibility to waive the time limit of three-months in areas within the state that have experienced higher unemployment.

Even having an individual exemption policy, as suggested by some, does not justify weakening states’ ability to waive the time limit in areas of higher unemployment.  Our state’s ability to exempt certain individuals from the rule is important but is totally inadequate for the problem that exists — higher unemployment in areas of the state and the many people who might be affected.

Moreover, the policy as it currently exists is harsh and unfair.  It penalizes people who are having a harder time getting a job because of market conditions, whether the unemployment is elevated or just a “normal” amount of unemployment.  It harms vulnerable people by denying them food benefits at a time when they most need it.

Please do not make this policy even harsher and more unfair.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Signed: the 90 attendees of and advocates at the Hunger Seder, Atlanta, Georgia

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President: Harold Kirtz

Vice-President: Jon Barash

Vice-President: Ellen Nemhauser

Vice-President: Lois Frank

Secretary: Leah Harrison

Treasurer: Marc Schwartz

Immediate Past President: Harvey Rickles

At-large: Leslie Anderson

At-large: Mindy Binderman

At-large: Sandy Cutler

At-large: Matt Weiss

(!/31/17) The Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta (JCRCA), the local organization in the Jewish community relations field, opposes President Trump’s executive orders that would restrict entry for refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, halt federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” and expand detention for immigrants and asylum-seekers.

David Bernstein, President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), our national umbrella organization, stated “We are deeply concerned about President Trump’s actions on immigration and refugees, and the callous decision to take such action on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. These pronouncements not only severely restrict immigration, they instill fear among existing immigrant populations that they are not welcome and may be at risk. . . . . . The ‘sanctuary cities’ provision, especially, threatens to seriously compromise the police’s ability to keep communities safe by undermining trust and communication between police and immigrant populations.”

The executive order suspending immigration from seven majority Muslim countries is intended to “keep America safe”. However, we believe that a policy which closes doors to millions of legitimate travelers in order to prevent a small number of travelers who intend to harm Americans will fall short of making our country safer. This policy runs counter to nondiscrimination, equal treatment and welcoming the stranger; all core Jewish and American values. Further, if implemented will only alienate our relationships in the Muslim world, harm cooperation with allied countries in the fight against radical Islamic terror and only serve to make our country more vulnerable.

The Jewish people know firsthand the consequences of turning away those fleeing persecution. Based on our own immigrant experience and Judaism’s imperative to “welcome the stranger,” the JCRC is advocating on behalf of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers who hope to build a better life for themselves and their children. Resettled refugees have consistently boosted the economy, and enriched our culture and pluralistic ethos. 91% of refugees are self-sufficient within 180 days of arrival to the United States. Not one refugee has committed a fatal act of terrorism post-9/11 in the U.S.

As the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of refugees, we take this executive order very personally.  The United States currently has one of the most stringent vetting policies in the world (taking 18-36 months) and should continue this careful review in order to keep our country safe. But we are facing a severe international refugee crisis and cannot let our concerns about radical Islamic terrorists undermine another core national purpose—providing a home for immigrants. The American immigrant experience is one of the country’s greatest sources of strength.

BY DAVID BERNSTEIN, President and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)

The Movement for Black Lives platform calling Israel an apartheid state guilty of “genocide” sent shock waves through the Jewish community. It should not have come as a surprise.

I remember seeing scattered signs proclaiming “From Palestine to Ferguson” at protests in Ferguson, Mo. last year. I naively thought that protesters would view such signs as brazen manipulation. I was wrong. A year after Ferguson, a YouTube video on Black-Palestinian solidarity called “When I See Them I See Us” garnered tens of thousands of views. And just a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter was among several groups protesting for Palestinian rights outside a Hillary Clinton fundraiser hosted by Israeli-American Haim Saban. The link between these two seemingly disparate causes is now undeniable.

There are a number of reasons for this perceived intersection between the plights of African-Americans and Palestinians, but none more salient than the organized Jewish community’s detachment from today’s civil rights movement. Notwithstanding our self-image as modern-day activists walking in the footsteps of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the community has been largely absent from today’s civil rights tables. It should come as no surprise that we have little influence on a movement we are not involved with. It is past time we re-engage.

Re-engaging will not be simple. It was undoubtedly easier to mobilize Jews in the 1960s against segregationist laws and blatant injustice than it will be confronting today’s structural challenges. While the “new Jim Crow” may not be as explicitly segregationist as the old Jim Crow, the current inequities in our society — particularly our criminal justice system — disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities and wreak havoc in the inner city.

Today, the United States incarcerates more than 2 million people, more than any other nation. Among this population, people of color are vastly overrepresented. One out of every 15 black men is currently in jail and one in three will be incarcerated during his lifetime. African-American men and women are far more likely than whites to be harassed by police, and subjected to excessive use of force. They are less likely to receive adequate legal representation from a desperately underfunded, over-extended public defender system. Draconian drug laws put many productive people in jail for long prison sentences. Upon reentry, former inmates are disqualified from many jobs and services and often end up back in jail.

The Jewish community, which prides itself on its historic commitment to social justice, has every reason to join the cause of helping America live up to its own ideals of equality. And if the community wants to have any influence on how today’s civil rights activists view Jews and Jewish issues, it must show up to the planning meetings, press conferences and protests. Moreover, unlike many other social policy issues, criminal justice reform enjoys bipartisan support and should be less divisive within the Jewish community.

How can we mobilize the Jewish community to engage on civil rights?

First, we must do our homework on today’s civil rights landscape. We have to educate ourselves on the issues and identify the people already doing the work. Our traditional partners from civil rights 1.0 are no longer the only voices driving civil rights 2.0. 

Second, we must relax litmus tests that make it harder for us to re-engage. Alan Dershowitz argues that “until and unless Black Lives Matter removes this blood libel from its platform and renounces it, no decent person … should have anything to do with it.” He does not say, however, what we should do after they inevitably refuse to repudiate the platform. Is he suggesting that the Jewish community stay away from civil rights meetings where a Black Lives Matter representative is present? Such litmus tests are a prescription for Jewish isolation, not greater influence over the direction of the movement.

Third, we must help empower Jews of color and young people. Many Jews of color have connections to today’s civil rights movement. Not only can they help their fellow Jews navigate the external challenges, they can aid the community in developing the inner capacity to engage. They can help us talk to ourselves about race before we talk to the outside world.

Fourth, we must find our own voice on civil rights. It will not be easy integrating the Jewish community into civil rights coalitions, some of which hold very different political sensibilities. Young activists routinely invoke phrases like “white supremacy” to describe America’s prevailing power structure, and this may sound extreme to many mainstream Jews. Rather than feeling obliged to use these terms, however, the Jewish community can develop its own social justice vocabulary and come to the table in its own voice.

History will not wait for Jews to come around on our own schedule. We need to jump headfirst into the issues that matter now. It’s time to find our voice and make sure Americans — particularly African-Americans — hear it.

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Why is Alan Gross still in Cuba?

Alan Gross has been languishing in a Cuban prison since 2009.  An active member of the Potomac, Maryland Jewish community, Alan was working in Cuba as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), attempting to provide internet access to the 2,000 members of Cuba’s Jewish community.  Alan was arrested and convicted on charges that he was a spy and that his USAID work undermined the Cuban government.

The JCRCA is joining with the JCPA to urge Atlanta’s Jewish community to join the growing national movement asking President Obama to secure Alan Gross’ release from his Cuban prison cell.  Last year a bipartisan group of 66 senators wrote to President Obama to ask him to take meaningful steps to secure Alan’s release, and recently 300 rabbis from every denomination wrote to the White House to plead for help.

We need to do more.  And we need to do it quickly because Alan’s situation is dire and getting worse.  He spends 24 hours a day in a small cell with two other prisoners.  He has lost 100 pounds and is getting weaker and weaker.  Alan recently lost vision in his right eye and no longer can walk due to severe hip pain.  His emotional health is also deteriorating rapidly.  Being separated from his wife, Judy, and their two daughters, Shira and Nina, has been devastating.  Alan’s mother died in July, and shortly after her death, Alan declared that his life in prison is not worth living.  He has said goodbye to his family and now is refusing visitors.

The picture on the left shows Alan before incarceration, and the one on the right is his most recent photo.

Alan Gross BeforeAlan Gross After

 

He has 10 years remaining of his 15 year sentence.

We ask that you please click HERE and sign a letter to President Obama asking “Why is Alan Gross still in Cuba?“  It will take you less than a minute, and it may help to save someone’s life.

1. Temple Sinai
2. Temple Kol Emeth
3. Temple Kehillat Chaim
4. Congregation Or Hadash
5. Congregation Gesher L’Torah
6. Anshi S’Fard Congregation
7. Congregation B’Nai Torah
8. Congregation Dor Tamid
9. Congregation Or Veshalom
10. Congregation Ner Hamizrach
11. Congregation Beth Tikvah
12. Congregation Beth Shalom

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