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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Union’

Jewish Groups Praise New EEOC Workplace Guidelines

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Jewish groups across the religious spectrum praised Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on accommodating religious attire in the workplace.

The guidelines published Thursday are for “employers with at least 15 employees (including private sector, state, and local government employers), as well as employment agencies, unions, and federal government agencies.”

These employers “must make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow religiously-mandated dress and grooming practices unless it would pose an undue hardship to the operation of an employer’s business.”

Rabbi Abba Cohen, director of Agudath Israel of America’s Washington office, said the increasing number of religious Jews in the workplace made the guidelines welcome.

“Our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity has enabled more Jews to enter the workplace,” he said in statement. “This has, in turn, resulted in a more diverse Jewish labor force — one which requires new types of accommodations for various religious practices.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said that although incidents of religious discrimination in the workplace have declined in recent years, it was important to deliver clear guidelines.

“We must continue to foster open and accepting environments in all aspects of public life,” Schonfeld wrote in an email to JTA. ”With numerous countries around the world cracking down on forms of religious expression, we are grateful to the EEOC for their continued promotion of the freedoms that we enjoy under U.S. law.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the guide would facilitate better workplace relations.

“To have this all in one place so employers know where to go and workers know where to go, to have the balance of the needs of the employer and the needs of the employee, will lead to comity in the workplace,” he said in an interview.

In a statement, the Orthodox Union noted that the guidelines prohibited “back-rooming,” or keeping staff out of sight from clientele because of their garb. The guidelines’ hypothetical scenarios include several involving Jewish observance.

In one, Jon, a temp worker who wears tzit-tzit and a yarmulke, is made to work away from the front desk by a client of his agency.

“Because notions about customer preference (real or perceived) do not establish undue hardship, the client must make an exception to its dress code to let Jon wear his religious garb during front desk duty as a religious accommodation,” the guidelines say.

Congress Budgets $13 Million for Nonprofits Security

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Congress budgeted $13 million for a nonprofit security assistance program that mostly aids Jewish institutions.

The money was allocated in the $1.1 trillion budget passed this week by both houses of Congress.

The program, which has existed since the mid-2000s, has so far disbursed $138 million through the Department of Homeland Security, not counting the $13 million in new funding. Of that amount, $110 million has gone to Jewish institutions seeking funding for add-ons like barriers and security cameras.

The Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America have led advocacy efforts for the funding.

“Since September 11, nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” William Daroff, the JFNA’s Washington director, said in a statement. “Until nonprofit institutions are secure from such threats, The Jewish Federations will continue to strongly support the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.”

In a separate statement, the Orthodox Union praised lawmakers who champion the funding, chief among them Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

The Reform movement generally abjures the funding because of concerns about church-state separation.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed this week breaks a years-long budget impasse between the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives and the Democratic-majority Senate. It also includes $3.1 billion in assistance for Israel.

OU Reverses Position and Says Quinoa Can Be Kosher for Passover

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

The Orthodox Union (OU) has re-studied its ban on “superfood” quinoa fit to eat on Passover and now says it is perfectly all right to consume it on the holiday without fear of violating the Ashkenazi custom that prohibits eating “kitniyot,” which are grains such as rice, corn and peas.

The Kosher Today publication reported this week , ”Following extensive research and on-site investigation of cross-contamination issues by OU Kosher personnel at all quinoa growing areas…as well as the collection, washing and milling stations of quinoa, OU Kosher is recommending quinoa for Passover, when processed with special OU Passover supervision and bearing the OU-P symbol.”

What changed in a year?

The Jewish Press reported here last March, “It seems that in South America, where it is grown, a wind might blow a grain of barley into cultivated rows of quinoa. Barely, like wheat, is prohibited by the Torah for use on Passover. That is enough for the OU to rule that quinoa is not kosher for Passover.”

The Baltimore-based Star-K kosher supervisors ruled differently. “Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed posek of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume.”

Last year, Rabbi Genack said, “We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused. It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the OU for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”

Well, quinoa hasn’t changed; it still looks like a grain, but the OU apparently is basing its new policy, which just happens to bring it line with the far from lenient Star K, on OU supervisors walking in the fields in South America to make sure winds do not pick up a nasty kernel of wheat a couple of miles away and plop it down in the middle of quinoa field.

“It is only recently that quinoa has become popular outside of its high-altitude growing area in the Andean mountain region of South America,” Rabbi Genack said. “Known for its nutritional qualities, it has been referred to as a ‘superfood.’”

The United Nations proclaimed 2013 as “The International Year of Quinoa.”

More Kosher Snack Foods Coming Up for Passover

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Snack food manufacturers are increasingly turning to the Orthodox Union for kosher certification to expand their markets during the Passover holiday.

Classic Foods announced last week that the company and its branded snack products will be kosher for Passover, under the certification of the OU, which will put Kettle Classics, California Classics, and Baked Classics on the shelves in the growing category of Passover snacks.

One reason for the increased demand for kosher for Passover snacks is that a  significant segment of the kosher market is younger or made up of large families with many children.

One distributor estimated that sales of snack foods on Passover have grown by more than 30 percent in the last three years. Even brands like PepsiCo’s Lays produces a Passover chip in Israel which makes its way to the American market. Some stores that in years past had only a small section for snacks now feature entire aisles and said one retailer, “I could probably fill another.” But one retailer complained, “My problem is that I can’t do anything with what is leftover since I have few takers after the Yom Tov ends.”

Liberal Jews Praise Gay Protection Law, Orthodox

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

An array of liberal Jewish groups lauded the U.S. Senate for passing a bill that would extend federal anti-discrimination protections to gays.

“Today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is an overdue and historic accomplishment in our nation’s effort to end workplace discrimination for the LGBT community,” Reform clergyman David Saperstein, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, said Thursday.

“ENDA will extend federal workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, who deserve to be judged on the merits of their work, not on whom they love,” said Saperstein, who has for years been among those leading advocacy for such a bill.

The bill was passed 64-32, with the support of all 55 senators in the Democratic caucus and nine Republicans.

Also praising its passage were the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the American Jewish Committee.

Expressing concern about the passage was Agudath Israel of America, saying its final version “fails to adequately take into account the rights of religious entities.”

Agudath Israel noted that the bill has a religious exemption, but said “it is not clear which religious entities or activities come within its parameters.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted in favor of the final version, had offered an amendment that would have extended protections to religiously affiliated private businesses, but proponents of the bill kept it from being included, saying the loophole could ultimately exempt virtually any business.

The Orthodox Union, another Orthodox group, did not release a statement. But when asked, its Washington director, Nathan Diament, singled out for praise Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) for inserting into the bill bans on government retaliation against organizations that seek religious exemptions.

The bill now goes to the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives. Leaders there have suggested they will not bring it to a vote.

Jewish Institutions Awarded $9 million in Federal Security Grants

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Approximately 90 percent of the $10 million in funding for non-profit organizations announced by the Department of Homeland Security to help nonprofit organizations protect themselves from terrorism went to Jewish institutions this year.

The total amount of grants, announced Aug. 29, is slightly up from last year’s $9.7 million, while the total Preparedness Grant Program budget for this year amounts to $968 million.

“The Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated a great commitment to protecting at-risk communities,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s board of trustees.

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union were instrumental in making sure the Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant program was continued.

Since Congress established the program in 2005, a total of $138 million has been distributed across the country to help at-risk nonprofits acquire and install physical security enhancements and undertake preparedness training, the JFNA announced.

“Since September 11, nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks,” said William C. Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of Jewish Federations.

Kerry Briefs Jewish ‘Leaders’ (Cheerleaders?) on MidEast Talks

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry met with what the Jewish Telegraph Agency described as “Jewish leaders” to “brief” them on the resumption of Israeli-Arab Palestinian talks on Thursday evening, August 8.

Although the briefing was off the record, the JTA quoted unnamed attendants who said several things.

First, that the meeting was dominated by Kerry’s “enthusiam for the resumed talks, and the serious commitment he said [sic] saw from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”

And second, that Kerry “repeated his appeal to American Jews to endorse and support the peace process, first made in early June”.

Invited participants at the briefing were: leaders from the Conservative movement, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conservative movement, the Orthodox Union, American Friends of Lubavitch, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Federations of North America, Hadassah, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Clearly, for this State Department, as well as the JTA, Jewish “leaders” is synonymous with the entire spectrum from center to center left.  Where was the Zionist Organization of America? Where was the Republican Jewish Coalition? Where was Aish HaTorah? Where were any Jewish organizations that might point out the folly of the current talks, or the demand for horrifyingly painful concessions from one side just to start the talks at all, and none from the other side?

Oh, right, those present were the American Jewish CheerLeaders for this Administration and its Middle East efforts all of whom prove an airtight theory usually wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein: the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In fact, almost exactly four years ago, during Obama’s first term he had his first major sitdown with roughly the same set of Jewish “leaders.” The meeting was called at a time when American Jews who very uneasy about Obama’s interest in being supportive of Israel. At that meeting, one man actually did square his shoulders and dared to make a sideways suggestion to the president.

According to an account in the Washington Post, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein said to the president, “If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know that the United States is right next to them.”

The president’s response did not give Jews or Israelis the assurance they had been seeking.  Obama said to Hoenlein, ““Look at the past eight years,” he said, referring to the George W. Bush administration’s relationship with Israel. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”

In other words – being such good friends with Israel did nothing for President Bush’s ability to make progress on the peace process.  It looks like Obama’s Middle East team holds the same view the president expressed right to the faces of the American “Jewish leaders” back in 2009.   And now no one in that group is going to challenge him or his surrogates.

Jewish Schools Advocacy Bringing Hundreds of Millions in Public Funds

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

By Uriel Heilman, JTA

Each year, when Frank Halper is faced with the state tax bill for his accounting business in Providence, R.I., he has a choice.

He can write a check for the amount owed by his company or, as part of a state tax credit program, he can send a check to a foundation that provides tuition scholarships to students at Providence’s two Jewish day schools. His tax bill will be credited for 90 percent of the contribution.

For the last five years or so, his firm has opted for the latter.

“We’re in favor of supporting these schools,” Halper said. “We feel Jewish education is the future of the Jewish people.”

Tax credit programs are among the growing number of ways that private Jewish day schools and yeshivas nationwide are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars annually. The money is helping to defray operating costs, provide teacher training, assist students with tuition bills and enhance educational offerings.

A decade ago, few Jewish schools were aggressive about pursuing federal and state funding. But as day school tuition rates have climbed, outpacing inflation and the ability of recession-weary parents to pay, schools have become much more effective not only at accessing government money but in lobbying state government for more.

“The financial crisis of 2008 had a huge effect on tuition and affordability — I think that was really the game changer,” said Darcy Hirsh, director of day school advocacy at UJA-Federation of New York, which in October 2011 became the first federation in the country to create a position for day school advocacy. “Families that were able to afford day school are no longer able, and schools’ financial aid has grown tremendously over the last five years.”

Cincinnati Hebrew Day School students attending a rally for school choice in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, April 10, 2013.

Cincinnati Hebrew Day School students attending a rally for school choice in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, April 10, 2013. Photo: Agudath Israel

The Haredi Agudath Israel of America has long taken the lead in lobbying for government aid for Jewish schools. Two years ago it was joined by the Orthodox Union, which began hiring political directors in a half-dozen states to organize Jewish schools and lobby legislators.

In New York, the state with the largest day school population, Agudath Israel and the OU have been joined in their lobbying efforts by an unusual coalition that includes UJA, the Sephardic Community Federation, the Jewish Education Project and Catholic groups.

While media attention has focused on the alleged abuse of government funding programs by Jewish schools, suspect allocations represent just a trickle of the government funding flowing to Jewish schools.

The methods used by private schools to get government money differ from state to state and range from the complex to the Byzantine.

In Rhode Island, the tuition scholarship tax credit, which is available to families with incomes of less than the federal poverty level, is capped at $1 million statewide and open only to corporate donors. The credit is calculated at 75 percent for a single year and 90 percent if they donate for two, up to a maximum of $100,000 annually. The statewide cap is usually reached annually on July 1, the first day applications may be submitted.

In Florida, a similar program last year was capped at $229 million.

In New York, a lobbying effort two years ago resulted in legislation extending an exemption from a transportation payroll tax of 0.34 percent to private and religious schools — a seemingly small change, but one that saved an estimated $8 million per year.

“Figuring out how to do better at this is going to be one of the big keys to the whole tuition crisis,” said Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of SAR Academy, a large Jewish day school in Riverdale, NY, where tuition and fees can run as high as $30,800 a year. “We’re looking to provide a quality education, Jewish and secular, and I think the solution will have to be to increase revenues. Government funding is going to need to be a major piece.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/jewish-schools-advocacy-bringing-hundreds-of-millions-in-public-funds/2013/07/03/

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