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Recent Women’s League Activities

Posted on December 20, 2013

Women’s League partners with many organizations in the areas of social action and public policy. As partners, Women’s League participates in advocacy that is consonant with our resolutions and mission. In the past month we have participated in these activities.

Through our representation on the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, we signed a petition to ensure that Iraqi Jewish artifacts are returned to the Iraqi Jewish community and not to the Iraqi government in order for the artifacts to be properly cared for. To view the petition, follow this link.

As part of a diverse group of organizations, we joined an amicus brief filed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the Sevcik and Jackson cases in the 9th Circuit. According to the ADL, our collective voices emphasizing that there are many different religious views on marriage – and that no one religious understanding should be used to define marriage recognition and rights under civil law – make a real difference.

Women’s League is a member of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life(COEJL). This year has been designated a Year of Action aimed at achieving a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September 2014, the next Shmittah (sabbatical) year.  COEJL launched their Jewish Energy Guide to provide resources to achieve this goal. In addition, Jewicology provides a list of actions to save energy.  These resources can be used to inform your members and encourage them to work to improve our planet.

As a member of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), Women’s League representataives sit on this council. JCPA President and CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow released the following statement on November 23, 2013 regarding the interim agreement reached in Geneva between the P5+1 countries and Iran regarding that state’s nuclear program:

Though Iran has done little to deserve our trust, diplomacy is preferable to military action. At the same time, we support President Obama when he says that no option should be taken off the table. Thus, we believe the interim agreement reached in Geneva today has the potential to serve as a valuable stepping stone to a final agreement that can serve the long term security interests of the United States, Israel, the Middle East and the entire international community.  Such a final agreement, which should be negotiated in a tight time frame, must not leave Iran in a position to continue its drive for nuclear weapons capability, or to be able to restart it with ease anytime in the future. The menace of a nuclear armed Iran needs to be eliminated once and for all.

We also believe that it is important to maintain strong economic pressures on Iran until a satisfactory final agreement is reached as well as the strict inspection and verification mechanisms to ensure compliance with today’s interim agreement.  Economic pressures caused Iran to come to the negotiating table, and they will contribute to the effort to reach a final agreement.  Intrusive inspections can help ensure Iran does not continue to development of nuclear weapons while negotiations for a final agreement continue.

The JCPA and Jewish Federations of North America hosted two teleconference briefings on the interim agreement. When we get the talking points from those meetings we will share them.

January 16- 23 is the 6th annual Fighting Poverty with Faith mobilization. For further information click here.

U.S. Update

Posted on December 20, 2013

Since the Supreme Court began its session, the Justices have heard oral arguments in Americans United’s Challenge to official town board prayers in Greece, NY.  At the same time, the town council in Brentwood, MD, decided to stop saying the Lord’s Prayer to open its meetings. The latest copy of Church and State from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, can be accessed here.

The issue of availability of contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act has had many challenges. The Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the owners of for-profit companies can assert religious objections to deny their employees insurance coverage of contraceptive services and supplies in employer-sponsored health plans. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) guarantees that most private plans will have contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing for patients. Churches and other houses of worship are exempted from this requirement and an accommodation is in place for religious nonprofit organizations.

However, the administration has determined that private, for-profit businesses cannot claim to be religious employers and are not exempted from providing contraceptive coverage (the U.S. Senate affirmed this decision by rejecting a measure known as the Blunt amendment that would have granted for-profit corporations extensive “conscience” rights). The Court’s decision, if it were to grant for-profit corporations an exemption from covering contraception, could have significant negative effects on affected employees and their dependents – interfering with their ability to reap the well-documented health, social and economic benefits of contraceptive use.”  For further information on this topic, click here.

U.S./Israel Relations: The Year in Review

Posted on December 20, 2013

Israel is a vital factor in the United States government’s overall policy in the Middle East. Congress has placed considerable importance on the maintenance of a close and supportive relationship. The main expression of congressional support has been foreign aid. Since 1985, the US Congress has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel.

In the past year, two pieces of legislation reflect the primary concerns of most American Jews today, regardless of their political affiliation or their agreement or disagreement with the current Israeli government. They are preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability and supporting  security aid for Israel.

In February, the House introduced the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act- House Resolution 850, which authorizes the president to impose sanctions on any entity that maintains significant commercial ties to Iran and expands sanctions for Iranian human rights violations. There was full bi-partisan support for this significant and important legislationand the House passed the bill on July 31, 2013 by a vote of 400 to 20.

By a resounding vote of 99-0, in May the Senate passed a resolution (S. Res. 65)declaring that: (1) prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon remains American policy; (2) it is essential to step up enforcement of sanctions against Iran; and (3) the United States will stand by Israel should the Jewish state feel compelled to take military action in its own defense against Iran. The resolution was co-authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

The second piece of legislation is the request to urge members of Congress to support the US annual commitment of $3.1 billion in security assistance to Israel for fiscal year 2014. This is part of a 10-year agreement to provide Israel with the resources to defend itself from rising threats in the region including a potential nuclear Iran, Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Again there is large bi-partisan support. The president has requested $220.3 million in additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (H.R. 938 and S. 462)designates Israel as a “Major Strategic Partner of the United States” and seeks to strengthen the partnership between the two countries to confront threats in the Middle East and expands their cooperation in defense, intelligence, energy, trade and more.

Despite ongoing budget woes, it is vital that the United States live up to its aid commitment to Israel. As our one reliable Middle East ally, Israel serves critical national security objectives. Any reduction in that aid would send the wrong message to Israel’s – and America’s – enemies.

World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel

Posted on December 20, 2013

The Conservative (Masorti) Movement is represented at the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) by MERCAZ/Masorti Olami.  At the beginning of November, the managing Vaad HaPoel of the WZO and JAFI both met.

Women’s League was represented in the delegation by past presidents Janet Tobin, (current president of MERCAZ USA), Gloria Cohen (recipient of the MERCAZ Olami award), and Evelyn Seelig (former president of MERCAZ USA) as well as Marilyn Wind, MERCAZ USA Vice President.

The strength of our delegation is directly related to the number of delegates that we elected to the last World Zionist Congress. Both meetings dealt with how to get more young people involved in Zionist leadership and how to combat the negative response that the word “Zionism” provokes.

There were two resolutions of particular interest to us. The first urged the government of Israel to adopt the Sharansky proposal for the Western Wall with these specific requests:

  1. The expansion of the site to include a third large egalitarian prayer section standing beside the men’s and women’s sections
  2. A common entrance to the three sections
  3. Access to the egalitarian section 24 hours a day, every day of the week, free or charge
  4. Joint management of the Western Wall site by representatives of all streams of Judaism.
The second resolution called upon the government of Israel to pass legislation allowing for freedom of marriage including civil marriage for couples coming from different religions and for same-sex couples and recognition of religious marriages by all the streams. These two resolutions passed after much discussion by at least 75% of the voting delegates.

Women of the Wall

Posted on December 20, 2013

The Women of the Wall voted to “lead the Jewish people toward change” by accepting three equal sections at the Western Wall as the response to their request to be allowed to daven in an egalitarian manner.

Anat Hoffman, one of the WOW leaders, said:  “We are not leaving the women’s section right now and we reserve the right to pray freely at a public holy site. However, we are prepared to be the catalyst and leaders of building a new, equal third section for all Jews to pray and celebrate at the Western Wall. When that is completed to our satisfaction, we will pray there.”

The central mission of Women of the Wall is “to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”  On November 4, 2013, they held a Rosh Chodesh service at the Wall followed by study sessions at the Fuchsberg Center in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of pluralistic davening at the Western Wall.  BaOlam Editor Marilyn Wind, Nativ students and staff, and students and staff from the Conservative Yeshiva were among the 1000 people in attendance. According to Marilyn, “It was a day of incredible celebration since we were able to daven according to our own customs and I was able to wear tallit and tefillin without being harassed.  Since it was Rosh Chodesh, we chanted Hallel and we did with incredible spirit and kavannah.”

Netanyahu at the UN

Posted on December 20, 2013

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly on October 1, 2013, although coverage of the address was largely eclipsed in the US media by the Federal government shutdown.

Netanyahu made it clear that Israel was prepared to act on its own, without the US, to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons. He also made it clear that were Israel to act alone, it would be acting for the good of all. Access Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address here.

Some Thoughts on the UN from our representatives:

We would like to tell you that even though the UN gets a bad rap because the General Assembly and Human Rights Commission automatically bash anything that Israel does, we also must realize all the good that the UN does accomplish.

In September 2000, Member States adopted a declaration committing their countries to reduce extreme poverty and promote basic human rights. The Millennium Development Goals had major victories. Although they fell short on many counts, there are a billion fewer people living below the international poverty line. Child mortality rates have decreased by more than 30 percent and Malaria deaths are down 30 percent.

Much more needs to be done, and the UN is now formulating a post 2015 agenda. Among the areas of interests on this agenda are the rights of women and children as well as maintaining sustainable energy and promoting peaceful and stable societies  to achieve lives of dignity for all.

Sandy Koppell, Lucy Becker and Barbara Glass
Women’s League UN Representatives  

About Ba’Olam

Ba'Olam: The International and Public Affairs Newsletter of Women's League for Conservative Judaism

The articles on these pages are presented to inform and to encourage thought and discussion.

Ba’Olam Staff

Dr. Marilyn Wind

Public Policy
Dr. Marilyn Wind

Dr. Reva Gershen Lowy

United Nations NGO
Sandra Koppell, Lucy Becker, Florence Wolpoff

Canadian Public Policy
Randy Schwartz