[Cross-posted from the Religious Action Center blog, where you can also find posts about other Fain Award-winning programs and the work of the RAC.]
This post is part of a series highlighting the amazing work of our 2013 Irving J. Fain Award winners. Continue to check back to learn about the inspirational projects at Reform congregations across North America.
The commandment “Justice, justice shall you pursue” wisely comes with no expectation that the results will be immediate. To the contrary, Rabbi Tarfon reminds us, “It is not incumbent on you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)The task of achieving marriage equality nationwide is not yet complete, but at the state level there have been several hard-won victories over the past year. In Seattle, the members and clergy of Temple Beth Am (TBA) played an active role in the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition and helped make Washington one of four states that supported marriage equality at the ballot box in November 2012.
TBA had been on the record supporting LGBT rights since 1994, when the membership voted at an annual meeting to oppose anti-gay initiatives that were then circulating in the state. Shortly after he was hired in 1995, Rabbi Jonathan Singer began performing same-sex commitment ceremonies, and over the years he spoke from the pulpit and at the state capitol in favor of LGBT rights, domestic partnership and marriage equality. By the time the freedom to marry campaign came to Washington in 2012, our congregation was on board and, frankly, wondering what was taking so long.
Outreach to faith communities was an important element of the campaign, and TBA members were involved both in interfaith efforts and also as part of the Jewish Marriage Equality Coalition. The Coalition grew to comprise 28 Jewish organizations statewide, including nine of the 17 Reform congregations and the Jewish Federation. The Orthodox community could not explicitly support marriage equality, but they were persuaded that the measure protected religious freedom by allowing individual clergy to personally decide which weddings he (or she) would perform – and therefore agreed not to publicly oppose it.
There were myriad ways for TBA members to get involved, and we leapt in with both feet. Among other things:
We fielded a contingent in the Seattle Pride March, carrying banners for marriage equality;We offered community service hours for youth group members who participated in the Pride March;
We hosted a training session for the Jewish community on “How to Have a Jewish Conversation About Marriage Equality;”
One of our members curated an exhibit of same-sex ketubot, called “Equal Vows,” which was the subject of a cover story in the JT News, our local Jewish community paper;
We hosted phone banks in the synagogue office and social hall one or two nights a week for the Washington United for Marriage campaign;
We joined with numerous other congregations and individuals for a “Faith Ballot March” to demonstrate the range of faith communities’ support for marriage equality; and
The shul was a distribution center for buttons, yard signs, and other campaign materials.
As we pursued justice together, we also learned much about each other. The campaign centered on having “courageous conversations” about what freedom to marry meant to each of us. For some, it was finally being able to say “I do” to a partner of many years; for others it was the chance to dance at a child’s wedding; and for still others it was simply being part of the civil rights struggle of our generation.
Shelly Cohen is a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, WA.
On Wednesday, October 2, Mark McDermott will contribute to our forum on living wages and economic justice at TBA.
Mark is a lifelong activist working for economic, social and racial justice and peace. He has been an active member of the Machinists, Washington State Federation of State Employees, and Steelworkers Unions. He has served as Assistant Director at the Department of Labor and Industries, Senior Labor Policy Advisor for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Policy Analyst on the State Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee, and Chief Deputy Insurance Commissioner. He retired in 2010 after serving as U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ Regional Representative.
In his private life, Mark has served in Washington State on the boards of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, One America, Washington State Living Wage Movement, Seattle Worker Center, Washington Association of Churches, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action and the Program Committee of the statewide Faith Action Network.
Register for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility luncheon on May 30th.
Temple Beth Am table captains include:
- Shelly Cohen
- Jessica Trupin
Thursday, May 30 – Noon
The Westin Hotel 1900 5th Ave, Seattle
Many TBA members work for the state of Washington. Many MORE TBA members depend on the work done by Washington state employees like teachers and nurses. Please read this information and make a phone call or email on behalf of our friends who work part time for the state.
Please call your State Senator to oppose Washington State Senate Bill 5905.
Provisions of SB 5095:
1) State employees’ health insurance coverage would be cut by eliminating coverage for state employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week. These employees would then need to purchase insurance on the state health care exchange.
2) State workers who must purchase on the exchange would see:
- monthly premium cost as much as TRIPLE
- elimination of dental and vision benefit
- more out of pocket expenses for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance
The Senate passed this bill on the outrageous assumption that it would save $90 million by eliminating state health coverage for part time state employees. These savings would come directly out of the pockets of state employees.
Please contact your legislators and tell them that SB 5905 is unfair and immoral. Call your Senator or Representative at (800) 562 6000 or email to first name.last email@example.com
Thank you from the TBA Health Care For All Committee!
Members of Temple Beth Am will join with others in Olympia on March 28 for Caring Across Generations Lobby Day, 10-3:30 in the Columbia Room in the Capital Building.
Caring Across Generations is a national movement to respond to the growing need for quality home care for aging baby boomers as well as increasing numbers of disabled persons opting to live at home. It supports programs and policies to better meet the financial needs of seniors and others through a long-term care benefit and other strategies and promotes quality home care through career training, immigration reform and fair pay and health benefits for home care workers.
Over 400 people from 43 of Washington state’s 49 Legislative Districts, from diverse faith traditions, came together in Olympia on February 20 to speak out with one voice for more just, compassionate state policies and laws.
Rabbi Jonathan and members of TBA at FAN’s 2013 Interfaith Advocacy Day February 20 in Olympia.
Attending From left to right Rabbi Jonathan Singer, Linda Harris, Ronnie Shur, Dina Burstein, Diane Baer, Margo MacVicar-Whelan, Jo Merrick, Tom Buchanan, Fred Diamondstone, Gail Nicholson, Jonis Davis; front row: Jacqueline Sorgen
Legislative briefings, workshops and district caucuses were held in the morning at the Church followed by meetings with district legislators in the afternoon at the Capital Building.
43rd Legislative District meetings Dina Burstein and Fred Diamondstone, together with upwards of 30 43rd Legislative District members met with State Senator Ed Murray as well as Representative Jamie Pedersen and House Speaker Frank Chopp. The message they carried focused on support for legislation to end Gun Violence, to support Budget and Revenue policies to protect social and health programs in the state, to support Medicaid expansion in implementation of the Affordable Care Act and to support $175 million for the Housing Trust Fund in the 2013-2015 biennium to help meet Affordable Housing needs of our state residents.
On February 20 we joined together with 400 members of diverse faith communities in support of legislation and policies to address gun violence, economic justice for struggling families and wage earners, implementation of the Affordable Care Act to ensure affordable health care for all, immigration reform to provide opportunity for undocumented young people to access university education.
Many of the bills that were discussed are still viable and it’s important to contact our legislators now either thru email (find contact information at leg.wa.gov) or by leaving a message at 1-800-562-6000.
Fiscal Bills – these need to be passed out of committee by Friday, March 1:
- HB 1338 – early review and second chance for juveniles sentenced to life without parole
- HB 1440 – wage theft prevention
- HB 1651 – second chance for juveniles via prohibiting the dissemination of their court records
Following four policy bills are in the House rules committee and need to be voted on by the House by March 13:
- HB 1413 – voting rights act
- HB 1429 – allows state funding for higher education programming in prisons (a second chance act)
- HB 1588 – establishes universal background checks for all firearm sales in our state
- HB 1817 – Washington state DREAM act, allowing all college-bound students in our state to be eligible for state financial aid
Call 1-800-562-6000 or email your legislators. Updated status on these priorities is reported regularly by FAN
Contact Diane Baer for information about Faith Action Network legislative agenda.