Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mr. Smith The dcc goes to Washington Albany

A group of Reform Jews from around New York spent yesterday in Albany as a part of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York State's annual Advocacy Day. From the Sages of the Talmud to leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, the Reform Jewish Movement has a long history of and commitment to Social Justice. While I wouldn't put myself in any category with sages or civil rights leaders, I am a member of the Steering Committee of the RJV, so at least I get a cool title.

Over the years we have worked in our congregations and our Nation's Capital to advocate for progress. So yesterday a bunch of us took our message to our State Capital. Joining forces with Interfaith Impact, RJV touched on issues of Marriage Equality, Reproductive Choice, the Role of Good Government and the always imperative pursuit of Economic Justice. You can read about our position papers online.

The event went well and we got to speak with allies, enemies and everyone in between.

But the thing that got my goose was that the New York State budget wasn't finished. Long ago, when RJV was planing this event, we choose not to talk about budgetary issues because the budget should have been done, closed and printed months before our day in the Capital. Oops.

I suppose it makes sense that I love to know how sausages are made, because I feel better knowing how laws are created. However, I don't think I would choose to eat sausage made in the Upper Hudson River Valley at this point.

New York State government is so messed up, I am ashamed to be known as a politically active New Yorker. Not just the scandals (and we sure have plenty of that) but the lack of leadership is just sad. Yesterday, a prominent member of the legislative branch stood up and said that the corruption laws (the weak ass ones on the books) were keeping him from attending evening events, most of which are payed for by lobbyists. He actually told a group of religious activists, that he was not able to connect to his constituents because he couldn't attend black tie dinners bankrolled by special interest groups. And he is one of the good guys!

We need the people who are actually getting stuff done to choose to take a risk. I believe that Senator Liz Krueger (who is my State Senator) could be one of those leaders. I do hope that she continues her active leadership on issues like reproductive rights, marriage equality and economic justice, but perhaps she could also be the leading voice on making Albany work again. In our meeting with her yesterday, her no bullshit attitude was refreshing. While clearly a seasoned politician, she actually believes that the State should work well for the people. Novel as it may be, this point of view should be held by all of our representatives.

I met with lots of people yesterday, all of them nodded and agreed (or looked at me like I was crazy as I asked if their right-wing Republican boss could support marriage equality the next time it comes up for a vote...) Many of the meetings ended with huge thank yous and please come agains but I got to say for the most part, I was just pissed about the budget not being passed.

We were pushing for the promised 10% increase to the basic welfare grant outlined in the 2008-09 FY budget. This clearly was cut and pushed around and made to be the political hot potato we all know welfare can become in an election/economic disaster year. No matter what we said, it always came back to where are we going to find the money. All I know is that without REAL leadership we will won't find the money.

It is disheartening to see such incompetence, but perhaps, just maybe, even a little bit, our work yesterday and our continued efforts in the months and years to come, will start to make a difference in the horrific way our State is run. Maybe we will see true leadership taking risks to make the system work. But if we don't see someone get up and take real risks, we will get no where and we will be stuck.

But rest assured, the RJV and other value based progressives will not stay quiet while Albany sits back and does nothing. As frustrating as it may be, we have a responsibility to speak truth to power. While they might not understand this thing called truth, if you keep at it, after awhile, even New York State politicians may even start to believe it.


Adam said...

Interesting. Among Orthodox Jews and even Conservative Jews, you will find a mix of political viewpoints.

Yet it seems more and more clear to me, that only progressives and/or liberals are welcomed within the Reform community.

Of course, the Orthodox Union does have policy points and has similar functions to the one that you attended - but the OU doesn't control all of Orthodoxy. It is one view.

In fact, the OU does not run a single rabbinical ordination program. As a result, rabbis of Orthodox congregations come from a wide variety of yeshivot, which may have varying political slants, or none at all.

In contrast, the URJ is THE body of all Reform Judaism. ALL Reform clergy are educated in HUC. So when a Reform Jewish group lobbies a state government - in the name of Reform Judaism - that seems to alienate any politically conservative or even moderate Jew that might otherwise want to join a Reform congregation.

If signing on to a progressive political outlook is a prerequisite for joining the Reform movement... ...do URJ and HUC deserve tax exempt status?

Are these organizations primarily religious or political?

Would a politically conservative Jew feel welcome at an oneg shabbat, if political subjects arose, and everyone else in attendance presumed that they all agreed?

dcc said...

I don't know why a politically conservative person would feel comfortable in a progressive religious setting...but that is me. Here is a big but: There is significant diversity in political affiliation in the rank and file of the Reform Movement and anyone telling you otherwise really isn't paying attention.

However, RJV (like the other advocacy groups in the Reform Movement)only speaks on positions that are taken by the lay lead bodies of the Reform Movement. This means, that when we speak, we say that we are speaking on behalf of the Reform Jewish Movement but NOT all Reform Jews.

Just like there are problems in the major American political parties for power and direction, there are often struggles within decision making bodies. However, for the most part, our stances are liberal and come from a progressive reading of our traditions. Agree or disagree, but that is how the Reform Movement engages in the community...and therefore may come across as politically motivated but it comes from our understanding of our obligations to our faith.

As to your question about tax free status, the answer is clearly yes Reform Congregations should be tax exempt, just like all of the other religious institutions in the US.