web analytics
April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘advocacy’

Two Jewish Social Action Groups Join White House Faith-Based Forum

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Leaders of two Jewish social action groups addressed a White House forum on faith-based social innovations.

Shawn Landres, the founder of Jewish Jumpstart, and Jon Rosenberg, the CEO of Repair the World, were among 13 leaders of faith-based groups and three government officials who participated Wednesday in a Faith-Based Social Innovators Forum convened by the White House.

Landres described a generational shift from Jewish social action advocacy addressing Jewish needs to cultivating Jewish activism in the wider community.

“The primary engine for innovation no longer is found in centralized communal institutions working to meet collective Jewish needs,” he said in his address. “Today, that energy has shifted outward to independent grass-roots initiatives, many of which seek to express Jewish values through service, education, and social and civic advocacy.”

Stigma: A Barrier To Rewarding Relationships

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Frailty and differences in other people often scare us. Why? They scare us because we see a reflection of what we fear in ourselves or because we just don’t know how to respond. Since we can’t live with this discomfort for too long, we make assumptions about and apply labels to those we fear. Now that we have come to a fabricated understanding about, labeled, and summarily discounted them from the inner circles of our lives, we can relax. There’s no need to spend time or energy discovering who these people really are, and confront the uncertainties that they represent. Then, we share our “knowledge” and labels with others and collectively build social fences to keep “undesirables” out. There. We have created a “stigma.”

Two Lives: Two Responses

Let’s look at how stigma works through the comparison of two lives.

Yitzchak, 22 years old, is the picture of competence and health. Everyone knows he’ll be successful in whatever he chooses to do. He is a choice shidduch prospect and has easily found his ideal kallah. Oh, Yitz might act impetuously now and then; but that can be seen as zerizut. He frequently texts or calls his kallah to find out where she is and what she’s doing. He’s a great catch and the phone calls show how much he cares. Time passes and we discover that this exemplary young man often demeans his wife and beats his child behind closed doors. Shocking! No symptoms, no reason for him to seek help, and no psychiatric diagnosis. Neighbors wonder, “How can such a personable and successful man do such a thing? What did his wife do to cause him to act this way?”

Then, there’s Estie, a 27 year old freelance writer with exemplary middot. She loves to read Michtav M’Eliyahu. Twice a week, she shops with Frady, a 75-year-old widow. Thursday is one of their shopping days. Estie checks her watch more often on Thursdays than on Mondays; she wants to be sure not to miss her psychotherapy appointment. You see Estie has been living with anxiety and depression since she was 15. A studious girl, she continually endured snide remarks by the high school “in crowd.” It could have been worse. Facebook and Twitter weren’t around in those days. Though hospitalized at 17 for 10 days, Estie has done quite well since the age of 22 with weekly therapy appointments, a decreasing dosage of anxiety medication, and a well balanced diet.

So, Estie’s doing fairly well now. Ah, one problem. The “nasty secret” about her hospitalization and subsequent treatment is known by some in her community and by shadchanim. No one would imagine presenting her as a viable shidduch for a talmid chacham who would appreciate a marriage partner who will eagerly join him in exploring the depths of Rabbi Dessler’s works. So, every Shabbos, Estie curls up with her Michtav M’Eliyahu, as she prays that maybe, one day, she will find the man to whom she give love in the very way that Rabbi Dessler upholds as the highest form of loving.

Who should we fear – Yitchak or Estie? With whom would you rather share life’s wonders, pleasures, trials and tribulations? Why should a 10 day stay in the hospital’s psychiatric ward (10 years ago), successful weekly therapy sessions, and a couple of pink pills prevent her from meeting her bashert, who may or may not have any labels attached to him?

The Mark of Cain

People who are known to have received or are receiving mental health services are stigmatized and painted with one broad swath of paint signaling “avoidance.” It’s like the “mark of Cain” if you will. Therefore, they often feel compelled to vigilantly hide a part of themselves in order to be matched up, hired, or called upon for community service.

It’s a catch-22. If one reveals his history and condition, he may be avoided or treated differently. Yet, if he hides it, then, by definition, he conceals his authentic self from others. The social pressure to hide his mental health condition effectively perpetuates the very stigma that he decries and against which he struggles. Ultimately, it can’t be fully hidden, for it’s a part of him and the ways he perceives, understands, interacts with, and contributes to the world around him. Some of teachings of the revered Rebbe, Rabi Nachman of Breslov were inspired by his own battles against depression.

‘They’ Are Not All Alike

As indicated, stigma places people into convenient categories and justifies exclusion. Many people will not even consider meeting fine shidduch candidates with mental health service histories. Even those who have their own shidduch-related challenges will often discount candidates with known mental health disabilities. Their family, friends, and community leaders often support or promote this position. While this article’s author understands their concerns, she is troubled by the categorical assumptions that are made and the resulting prejudices. Mental health conditions differ in kind and in degree. Many people with mental health conditions have learned how to live with their disabilities, have become supports to others, including their spouses, and raise insightful children with wonderful middot. Stigma, based in fear, is a destructive barrier to potentially fruitful relationships.

What Can You Do to Deconstruct Stigma?

· Become inquisitive about others and their lives.
· Approach a person you usually avoid.
· Get to know each other at a comfortable pace.

What about that person do you really appreciate?
What do you share in common?
· Ask them for their help or advice.
· What can you learn from each other about meeting life’s challenges?
· Tell another friend what you’ve learned from that person
· Keep possibilities for shidduchim as open as possible.
· Explore humility. What is it? How can you use it in your encounters with others?

No Politician Cares About Funding Private Schools

Friday, January 20th, 2012

There are two types of politicians we encounter when advocating to relieve our community’s tuition burden through the use of government funding: those who claim to be 100 percent behind us, and those who claim to be 100 percent against us. What’s interesting is that politicians in both categories do not seem to understand what “100 percent” means.

Those against us are adamant that no dollar should be spent for private schools since they argue that it takes away money from the public schools and that it’s unconstitutional. It certainly is constitutional, and we at the OU are happy to share a wide variety of opinions and Amicus briefs on the matter. But this argument stems from a politician’s desire to not even think about this issue. As for the detriment to public schools, even if we show them that a tax credit program is often built with triggers to save the state money, this doesn’t appease such a politician. Our community supports the attainment of excellent educational opportunities – both private and public – for all.

These politicians, though, have an antiquated view of our community’s requests, and believe that we are only going after vouchers that, in their view, will eventually close down all public schools. Vouchers obviously won’t close down public schools; even charter schools didn’t wipe out public schools. These types of politicians require a laundry list of other issues important to Jewish education, which don’t scream voucher and ones they could support. When we have engaged such politicians on special education, they can’t deny that such an expenditure is worthwhile. When we have engaged them on safety issues for our children, they obviously can’t say no to such a request. When we have asked them for even the most basic requests, e.g. textbooks (even used), their initial stone-cold opposition has melted.

The politicians who are for everything we do are surprisingly not that different. I met last year with two different political leaders in state legislatures who are pro-private school funding on paper, on the campaign trail, and in nearly every public speech. But their actions didn’t match their words when it came to our actual requests for support regarding voucher or tax credit funding. Both politicians froze when asked specific details about their public support, questions they didn’t seem to expect from anyone. They quickly created a variety of excuses (political caucus issues, for one) for why they couldn’t support our requests.

Politicians like the ones I’ve described get by for many years by flashing their ideological credentials and never expecting anyone to call them out on what they’ve actually done for our community – or what they plan on doing in the near future. When we have remained in contact with these politicians, demanded specifics from them, and lobbied for many more voices to ask the same questions that we solicit, they have acted.

Both types of “100 percent” politicians are of no use to Jewish education if they are not properly engaged. We need to show those who choose to be completely against us why we agree on many things, and although there is opposition in some cases there are opportunities for support in many others. Those who choose to be completely for us must be moved from delivering lip service to doing something substantive – actions that impact our community in a positive way. That will turn these politicians from talking heads to real champions.

Maury Litwack is the director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union. Prior to his work with the OU, he served on the government advocacy team of Miami-Dade County, one of the largest counties in the country.

School Excitement Vs. Parental Excitement

Monday, December 26th, 2011

It can’t be emphasized enough how important grassroots involvement is to political action. Serious unified support can impact the tuition crisis by making our community and its school choice allies an impenetrable voting bloc that must be listened to and that demands consistent results. How we get to “unified” is a challenge.

When I was on the receiving end of advocacy in the educational world, it always came from one source: the teachers unions. I worked for congressmen who weren’t particularly close to these unions but we didn’t ignore them. How could we? Principals, school board members and teachers are a loud and unified voice that an elected official feared annoying, due to the potentially organized and vocal response they’d get in return. Our community has a long way to go to achieve this type of political unity.

Part of the problem is information. We know we want an elected official to support our schools but we don’t know what to ask. In the coming columns I hope to articulate some of this missing information. But even if we know what we want, the voices of support are in two different camps: schools and parents.

Schools can receive a host of funding on the federal, state or local level. Federal funding, such as the approximately $75,000 a school can receive from Urban Areas Security Initiative grants, is only the beginning. State funding, in the way of energy efficiency funding for a new HVAC system or local funding for textbooks or other school supplies, is another source of revenue intake that can aid a school’s budget.

Parents can directly access funding opportunities as well. Depending on where you live, they can come in the form of a tax credit or voucher. Vouchers are available in certain states based on income level and could be accessible in larger states such as Texas or Florida in the next few years. Corporate scholarship tax credit programs have made scholarships available to schools in Pennsylvania and Florida, and are awaiting decisions by legislatures in states like New Jersey and Maryland.

But the school funding doesn’t necessarily excite the parental body and the parental funding doesn’t necessarily excite the school leadership. Although the goals are the same, namely lowering the cost of Jewish education through government funding, each party will often take a different approach to this goal. Parents are frequently not excited about direct infrastructure funding even though it may prevent a tuition increase, as building costs are lowered as a result. Similarly, schools can’t wait around for a scholarship tax credit program or vouchers, items that often take a few years, when they have the potential to advocate on existing grant funding that helps them balance the budget today but is not a game changer to a parent.

These differing goals on the advocacy front force our community into a challenging situation before friendly elected officials who want to help. If a school is coming to back its view and a group of parents are coming to support theirs, how can a legislator seriously consider such different requests from what is a comparatively small group of constituents?

Public schools are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. A school superintendent has different goals than a group of public school teachers, but they are united on the overall goal of maximum funding for public schools and complete opposition to private school funding. We, too, must craft unity built on an understanding that funding that goes to any stream of Jewish education will aid everything else we seek. The goal is government funding opportunities for Jewish education. Once that goal resonates with legislators as a unified position, other opportunities will follow.

This is like any good lobbying entity. Being “pro-Israel” is an often-used phrase, and many groups and individuals define its meaning differently. When I meet with legislators, they tell me they are “pro-Israel,” but what that means for them on a dozen specific details is unknown. However, they know that the unified majority of Jewish voices are pro-Israel, and that’s where they want to be on the issue. Political realities such as who controls what legislative body and what the political climate is for getting things done are factors that impact what a unified lobby actually receives.

Schools and parents must share united goals vis-à-vis government funding for Jewish education. That at least puts us on the chessboard to decide what our next move will be.

Maury Litwack is the director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union. Prior to his work with the OU, he served on the government advocacy team of Miami-Dade County, one of the largest counties in the country.

Israel’s Derfner Affair

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

            One of the most bizarre controversies concerning freedom of the press and freedom of speech has been afflicting Israel in recent days.  The basic question is whether there exists some sort of natural right to advocate the mass murder of Jews.

 

The affair began when Larry Derfner, a left-wing columnist for the Jerusalem Post – probably the most pluralistic and balanced newspaper in Israel, giving ample room for opining by writers right, left and center – justified the killing of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists.

Derfner’s comments were actually published on a blog not connected with the newspaper, and it was his response to the mass murder perpetrated by Palestinians and some Egyptian collaborators near Eilat a few weeks back.
 
Derfner’s posting began: “I think a lot of people who realize that the occupation is wrong also realize that the Palestinians have the right to resist it – to use violence against Israelis, even to kill Israelis, especially when Israel is showing zero willingness to end the occupation . But people don’t want to say this, especially right after a terror attack like this last one that killed eight Israelis near Eilat . I think it’s time to overcome this reticence because this unwillingness to say outright that Palestinians have the right to fight the occupation, especially now, inadvertently helps keep the occupation going.
 
He went on: “But if, on the other hand, we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified  - what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful.  If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t.”
 
Of course Derfner failed to volunteer himself and his own family to be murdered by Palestinian terrorists resisting Israeli occupation.
 
Derfner’s comments triggered a firestorm. Hundreds of Jerusalem Post readers cancelled their subscriptions. Within days the editor of the Post announced the paper would no longer employ or publish Derfner.
 
Derfner issued a “clarification” and a sort of apology, but he remained fired. He then took to the pages of the Forward to try to spin his advocacy of murder into something less offensive.
 
While Derfner was being denounced for his advocacy of murder, leftists in Israel and around the world were defending him. Leftist blogs denounced the Post and its editor for engaging in the suppression freedom of speech, using words like “fascists” and “McCarthyists.”
 
Firing Derfner had nothing to do with freedom of speech. No one is stopping Derfner from standing on the street corners of Zion and advocating the murder of Jews. Actually, open advocacy of murder is against the law in Israel and is decidedly not regarded as protected speech, but that law is never applied against Israeli leftists.
 
Nevertheless, the Left is outraged that the Jerusalem Post “suppressed diversity of opinion and pluralism” by sacking Derfner. This is amusing coming from leftists, who are at the forefront of the campaign against freedom of speech and pluralism of ideas. For the radical left there is one single correct set of opinions – and democracy means only people holding those opinions should be entitled to express them in the media.
 
The most interesting defense of Derfner appeared in a blog entry published in the Huffington Post. It was written by Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz, Israel’s leftist daily newspaper.
 
            In his posting, Burston complained that pluralism and diversity of opinion at the Jerusalem Post were jeopardized by the canning of Derfner.
 
Burston happens to be employed by what is probably the most non-pluralistic newspaper in the Western world. The levels of pluralism and diversity at Haaretzare similar to those found in Pravda during the Brezhnev era.
 
Haaretz is a monolithic engine of propaganda in which virtually no non-leftist opinion is permitted. Its editorial pages are uniformly far left and anti-Zionist. Once a week a token right-winger is allowed to publish an op-ed – obviously so that editors like Burston can roll their eyes whenever anyone says Haaretz has no pluralism or diversity.
 
The propagandizing at Haaretz fills the paper and is not restricted to the editorial page. News stories are distorted to give them leftist ideological themes, twists and messages. Book reviews are invariably leftist and ideological.
 
So here we have the spectacle of an editor for a newspaper that suppresses diversity of opinion – and that imposes its political bias even on the most minor news stories – whining about the Jerusalem Post’s alleged lack pluralism and diversity.
 
Burston writes that the “management of the Jerusalem Post has caved in to what amounts to a political boycott.” No it hasn’t. It simply maintained fundamental standards of decency. Unlike Haaretz.
 
Burston is suddenly all in favor of pluralism and diversity. But never, Stalin forbid, at his own newspaper.
 
Leftists like Burston are  proclaiming Derfner some sort of free-speech martyr. Because freedom of speech for leftists means the right to agree with the left but never the right to denounce it, disagree with it, or mock it.
 
 

Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com.  He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Rabbis, Time To Flash Your Badges

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

“Officer, what’s your badge number?”

I’ve been asked that question countless times over the last 26 years. Almost always, it followed an unpopular decision. Always, it was accompanied by an unspoken message: “I’m letting you know I will hold you accountable for this decision.” And always, I answer that question in a direct, simple way: I give my badge number.

In fact, I’ve shared the right answer to this question with hundreds, if not thousands, of subordinates over the years.

After all, correct decisions may be unpopular, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. So, I’ve found that my deft response to that question – mandated by NYPD policy – also helps me convey the unspoken message that I welcome scrutiny of my actions. The specter of being held accountable, by anyone, not only doesn’t threaten my self-image but it has always been part and parcel of my day-to-day values – an embedded value.

Accountability for one’s actions came to mind as I read a flyer full of bluster and threats that was recently circulated in Lakewood, New Jersey, against a hitherto respected rabbi. His crime? He chose to report the sexual abuse of his son to the police.

Let me not digress. It is lamentable that many still pounce on parents who seek to protect their children and our community from dangerous predators, but that is not the focus of this discussion.

Rather, I am particularly irked by the letter writer’s request that his reading public “excuse [him] for not signing this letter.” After all, he writes, the victim of his polemics may seek to have him prosecuted. Aveira goreres aveira (sin begets more sin), we are told, so readers are asked to understand how necessary and proper his cloak of invisibility is – a selfless act of self-preservation.

Not to me it isn’t.

Perusing the flyer, clearly written for haredi readers, one finds numerous comments pertaining to the honor of our Torah, the respect due today’s rabbis, the specific legal areas of our Shulchan Aruch allegedly violated, and the awesome desecration of God’s name caused by the abuse victim’s family. It decries their prosecution of the crime, and threatens additional censure and embarrassment of the family should the prosecution proceed.

Yet, with all the religious “weight” behind him, the letter writer prefers anonymity. Why?

Officer, what’s your badge number?

That question, or a permutation of it, should be asked by every individual who held this flyer in his hands. If the muscle of Torah backs this smear campaign, why the incredible lack of accountability? Surely, brilliant Torah minds can devise a micha’ah – formal objection – that makes the point without fear of prosecution.

Wouldn’t we all respect a well-constructed argument, coming from some of the stellar minds of the Lakewood yeshiva community? Isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Or is it instead about thuggery, threats, and intimidation? Do we dare allow a mob mentality to reign, even when dressed up as a defense of Torah? Let us all recoil in horror when witnessing tactics more appropriately used by underworld figures than Torah scholars.

In a recent e-mail exchange with a shul rabbi I know and respect, I was told that rabbis in leadership positions today “do not usually put their opinions out there, for fear of being overwhelmed with emotional backtalk.” I wondered how such individuals could be considered “leaders” at all. Isn’t leadership about ownership, about taking responsibility and accepting accountability?

Or is it about this Lakewood gangster, who can only print his diatribes from the shadows? Is this how we want to see Torah defended in an increasingly unsettled world?

If Torah is the ultimate truth – and as Orthodox Jews we believe it is – I hope I am not the only one who has difficulty understanding the lack of accountability that seems to permeate the haredi world today. Lakewood is known as the premier makom Torah in the nation. Why is this odious anonymous circular needed? Aren’t there sufficient rabbinical leaders in that city who are certain of their actions and willing to stand up and be accountable for them?

If this father is to be religiously censured for choosing a course of action he felt would best protect his child and community – and to be clear, I believe he is a hero and guiding light to us all – let Lakewood’s great rabbinic minds come out and say so openly. That may be an unpopular position outside the Lakewood community, but if Lakewood’s rabbis believe it’s the right one, then so be it. Let’s start seeing leadership and accountability, rather than some cowardly rabble-rouser preaching about chillul Hashem while lacking the courage to be accountable for his words.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/rabbis-time-to-flash-your-badges/2010/08/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: