Advocacy

Save this Date: 2019 Forum on Modern-Day Slavery: 21st-Century Solutions

This event will be held on Friday, September 27, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Seton Hall University. The keynote speaker on Friday afternoon is Nadia Murad, 2018 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous work speaking up and fighting human slavery. Ms. Murad was captured and enslaved by ISIS, and her mother and sisters remain in captivity. You can attend the morning or afternoon sessions if you cannot attend the full day. The event is free of charge and you can purchase lunch for $20.

For more information and to register, visit www.njhumantrafficking.org.


Washington Institute 2019: NCJW’s 125th Year of Advocacy for Women, Children and Families….

Over 500 NCJW women from all over this country, almost half of them first-time attendees, converged on Washington DC the second week in April for 2 1/2 days of intense workshops, lectures, awards ceremonies, issue briefings and networking, which culminated in 150 legislative office visits on Capitol Hill.

We were awed by the organizing skills of the teens from Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School, by the determination of the Young Dreamer to fight for her right to stay here, and by the collaborative work of 19 Israeli feminists who are changing the role of women in Israel.

We gave a standing ovation for former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, and for Sally Yates, the former Acting Attorney General as they each received the Woman Who Dared Award. With characteristic Texas humor, Cecile Richards, the retiring president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Action Fund, accepted our prestigious Social Action Award.

The speakers and awardees were inspiring and energizing. And with facts, figures, and personal stories from the workshops, NCJW women went to speak to their elected representatives about four domestic issues: judicial nominations, gun violence prevention, voting rights, and reproductive choice.

And our work for those four issues does not end with Washington Institute; it has to continue at home by each of you taking action by email, phone call or by organizing a visit to the local office of your representatives.

Judicial Nominations: To federal district courts and federal circuit courts. Resources and information are on the NCJW website (www.ncjw.org). Although this is an issue only for our senators—and with the Democrats in the minority, they have limited influence on the outcome—it is important that all senators argue for judges who are qualified, independent and diverse. The president is nominating mainly white men, many from conservative law firms and institutions with little or no judicial experience. The Senate is often ignoring the recommendations of the American Bar Association, traditionally an important and impartial source for evaluating candidates, and is not consulting with, or is ignoring the will of senators in whose states those candidates will become judges. The Senate has also just reduced debate time on nominations from 30 hours to 2 hours.

What you can do: Thank your senators both of whom have been voting against the worst nominations, and urge them to keep speaking out for a judiciary that is qualified, independent and diverse.

Gun Violence Prevention: Resources and information are on the NCJW website. Finally, the House has passed three bills—HR8, calling for background checks for all gun sales, with a few exceptions; HR 1112, which gives the FBI 10 days to complete a background check; and VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act), which includes boyfriends, stalkers and others involved in domestic violence in the ban on buying guns. The bill to focus on in the Senate is S42, the Background Check Expansion Act.

What you can do: Both New Jersey senators are cosponsors and should be thanked and asked to work to bring S42 to the senate floor.

Voting Rights Advancement Act: HR 4 / S 561 restores voting rights to its former strength. In 2013 the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the original act, leading to many states instituting voter suppression laws across the country. This bill prevents restrictive voting laws and promotes transparency.

What you can do: HR4..Thank Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill for cosponsoring and ask Congressman Tom Malinowski to become a sponsor. Thank both senators for cosponsoring S561. Urge all to vote for these bills.

EACH Woman Act: Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance—HR 1692 / S 758. See the website for full background information. After 40 years, this act would undo the Hyde Amendment and prevent local, state and federal political interference in the decision of private heath insurers to offer coverage for abortion.

What you can do: Urge all your representatives to become cosponsors of these bills and to work for their passage.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill

1208 Longworth HOB

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202-225-5034

Congressman Tom Malinowski

426 Cannon HOB

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: 202-225-5361

Senator Cory Booker

717 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Phone: 202-224-3224

Senator Bob Menendez

528 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

202-224-4744


NCJW Moving Forward for the Next 125 Years

NCJW has consolidated its offices, by closing the one in New York and moving into new space in Washington DC. Many new, young staff have joined this office, and I had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of them when they joined the Maryland delegation visiting legislators on the Hill.  The new address and who to contact is listed on the website, ncjw.org under Contact. Our first CEO, Nancy Kaufman is retiring after 11 years with us and a new CEO will take over in June. This has not been announced yet, but Sheila Katz is joining us this summer having completed 12 years with Hillel International.


Immigration: Additional Issues

Birthright citizenship: Included in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It cannot be revoked without a constitutional amendment. The president has no constitutional role in the amendment process.

Immigration figures: In 2016 the total for all classes of immigrants residing in the US was 43.7 million, which is equal to 13.5 percent of the total population. Roughly 76 percent were legal, authorized immigrants, with the remaining 24 percent being illegal or unauthorized. In 2016 this 24 percent translated to 11.3 million, down from the peak of 12.2 million in 2007. This decline in the unauthorized immigrant population is due largely to a fall in numbers from Mexico.

Visa overstays: Center for Migration Studies (CMS) said in a recent report that two-thirds of those who joined the undocumented population did so by entering with a valid visa and then overstaying their period of admission. According to the report, in 2014, 42 percent of all undocumented persons in the US were “overstays.”

Refugees: President Trump halved the Obama administration’s FY 2017 admissions ceiling from 110,000 to 50,000, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, and limited admissions of refugees from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. The administration also set the refugee ceiling at 45,000 for FY 2018, the lowest level since the program began in 1980. A total of 53,716 refugees were resettled in FY 2017, a 37 percent drop compared to the 84,994 resettled in 2016. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Myanmar (also known as Burma) were the primary countries of nationality, accounting for 63 percent (34,028) of all refugees resettled in 2017.

DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is administrative relief from deportation, authorized by President Obama in 2012. Its purpose is to protect from deportation eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States when they were children. DACA gives young undocumented immigrants: protection from deportation and a work permit. The program expires after two years, subject to renewal. The Trump administration announced last year its plan to phase out the program, but a federal appeals court ruled against the proposal in early November, declaring that the government couldn’t immediately end the program. The fate of the program rests on lawsuits and congressional action.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: migrationpolicy.org, pewresearch.orgfactcheck.org, the atlantic.comfoxnews.com


The Economics of Immigration

The current political climate has overshadowed the fact that large numbers of us still believe that overall immigration has positive economic effects. And facts that may support this view, for example that high-skilled immigrants pay taxes and help make America wealthier, are often drowned out by anti-immigration rhetoric. A focus of this rhetoric are the claims that admitting low-skilled immigrants adversely affects native low-skilled workers and immigrants take disproportionate advantage of government assistance programs.

The first part of this anti-immigration argument is based on the economic tenet of supply and demand. When the supply of workers increases to equal or exceed demand, firms can pay workers less. Over the last 50 years, trends in wages suggest that those working groups with the most immigrants receive lower pay relative to working groups that had fewer immigrants. A high percentage of immigrants have few skills, so it is low-skilled American workers, including many blacks and Hispanics, who have suffered the most from lower wages attributable to immigration.

And their wage loss is sizable. The typical high school dropout earns about $25,000 annually. According to Census data, immigrants admitted in the past two decades lacking a high school diploma have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by roughly 25 percent and the earnings of this group of workers dropped by between $800 and $1,500 each year.

However, we don’t need statistics to see how our capitalist economy uses supply and demand. We can simply follow the news. A decade ago, Crider Inc., a chicken processing plant in Georgia, was raided by immigration agents, and 75 percent of its workforce vanished over a single weekend. Following that loss of workers Crider placed an ad in the local newspaper announcing job openings at higher wages. There have also been reports of abuse of the H-1B visa program, showing that firms will dismiss their current tech workforce when they find cheaper immigrant workers. Examples like these make economic sense to the owners of and investors in companies, and they provide fuel to the anti-immigration argument.

Further complicating the supply and demand scenario are industries with jobs that do not seem able to attract sufficient numbers of native workers These are the industries where illegal, undocumented workers are most often found. Agriculture relies the most on an undocumented workforce, with the Department of Agriculture estimating that about half of the nation’s farmworkers are unauthorized. In the construction industry, 15 percent of workers lack papers and in the service sector, jobs such as fast food and domestic help have an undocumented workforce of about 9 percent. Removal of undocumented workers would represent a major loss in these industries, with no guarantee that the openings would be filled by native-born Americans.

Whether immigrants take jobs or work where no one else will, they do contribute billions of dollars in taxes to the United States every year. Immigrants authorized to work here file the same taxes as any US native, including local, state, and federal taxes. They paid $223.6 billion in federal taxes and $104.6 billion in combined states and local taxes in 2014, the most recent year for which Census data is available. Unauthorized immigrants also pay taxes using individual tax identification numbers. Undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $11.7 billion in combined state and local taxes in 2014. Part of this tax money goes to benefits programs Americans use every day, like Social Security and Medicare, programs that an undocumented worker cannot access.

But legal immigrants do access these programs and the anti-immigration argument claims they do so at higher rates than natives. The higher cost of all the government assistance provided to immigrants and the lower taxes they pay (because they have lower earnings) is used to argue that, on a year-to-year basis, immigration creates a “fiscal imbalance.” Calculating the cost of services to immigrants compared to how much immigrants pay in taxes is complicated and depends on which factors are included, but there are sources that counter the anti-immigration argument and find the net fiscal contribution of a new immigrant and that immigrant’s children over a 75-year period is positive.

Seventy-five years is the long view of the economics of immigration while lost jobs, lower wages, the cost of benefits and education are immediate and local. We are a nation of immigrants and our willingness to welcome others comes at the expense of some native-born Americans. Perhaps instead of focusing on immigration numbers and legal versus illegal, we should be honestly asking where immigration adversely affects the economic well-being of a group or community and how we can mitigate those effects.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: Wikipedia, CNN, Politico, New York Times, Homeland Security website, factcheck.org, Washington Post, bipartisanpolicy.org, American Immigration Council, National Immigration Forum, ACLU, Council on Foreign Relations, NBC news, time.com


Immigration: Security and Humanitarian Concerns

“Our current immigration system jeopardizes our national security and puts American communities at risk.”

whitehouse.gov

Every president has used the “threat to national security” to bolster political standing and support, but this administration is doing so to an unprecedented degree, especially with the issue of immigration. It consistently claims that refugees pose a security threat, a claim that it has been kept alive by dismissing an intelligence assessment in 2017 that showed that refugees did not present a significant threat to the United States. This intelligence assessment was replaced by one supporting the administration’s claims.

In addition to the threat from refugees, they say that undocumented immigrants from Central America are responsible for the growth of MS-13. This gang originated in Los Angeles, and was formed by children of refugees fleeing El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. In fact MS-13 is not a large street gang or even among the biggest in the country. The share of undocumented immigrants in the past few years that can be linked to MS-13, is minuscule because most MS-13 members were already living in the United States and joined because of social conditions or life events.

Linking immigrants to crime, and thus making them a threat to public safety, is sometimes hard to refute as nationwide crime statistics broken down by immigration status are not readily available. This makes it easier to “cherry-pick” facts to fit an argument. One example is the administration citing statistics on violent crime committed by all non-citizens and claiming those statistics prove they are a security threat. However, these statistics do not compare the crime figures for immigrants to crime figures committed by native-born residents. Another statistic the administration uses is that one in five inmates in federal prison are foreign-born, and the vast majority of those are in the United States illegally. The nature of the crimes the majority of immigrants in federal prison have committed, however, are crimes that only immigrants can be charged with, such as illegal entry and illegal entry after removal.

A counterargument to linking immigration to crime can be found in academic literature. Robert Adelman, University at Buffalo, and Lesley Reid, University of Alabama state, “The most striking finding from our research is that for murder, robbery, burglary and larceny, as immigration increased, crime decreased, on average, in American metropolitan areas.” Similar work by Charis E. Kubrin, University of California, Irvine, and Graham Ousey, College of William and Mary, agrees with this conclusion.

Academic research, statistics and government rhetoric aside, it is a widely held belief in this country that immigrants commit more crime than native-born people, a belief that has grown with each succeeding wave of immigrants. From the Irish and Chinese immigrants, to Italians, Mexicans and those from Latin America, we have translated this belief into public policy that made crime control a leading objective of immigration regulation. This objective is enforced mainly with deportation, the physical removal of an immigrant from the country, a practice we can trace back to the history of “transportation.” And the agency responsible for enforcement is ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a law enforcement agency and a division of Department of Homeland Security.

Change in Government’s View of Immigration

ICE was formed following the attacks on September 11, 2001. Its role is to enforce the immigration laws of the United States and to “investigate criminal and terrorist activity by foreign nationals residing in the United States.” ICE’s establishment had to do with terrorism, but it also represents a change in the US government’s view of immigrants. Immigration matters once handled by the Department of Commerce, then the Department of Labor, are today the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.

Deportations by ICE increased during the Obama administration, but concentrated on criminals, national security threats, and immigrants who recently arrived illegally. President Trump’s administration also targets immigrants with final orders of removal, an order from a judge that a person can be deported and has no more appeals left. “A final order of removal is absolutely not indicative of a person’s threat to public safety,” said former Obama administration ICE chief and DHS counsel John Sandweg. “You cannot equate convicted criminals with final orders of removal.” This addition to the policy of ICE deportations has given us headlines with heart-wrenching cases of family separation, and, with no other recourse, immigrants have filed a lawsuit to keep immigration officials from deporting them while they seek legal residency.

An additional policy change seeks to “supercharge” the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in federal immigration enforcement. The administration has proposed plans to aggressively promote this around the country and threatened to withhold federal grants from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions—states, cities or other entities that prohibit or limit law enforcement from cooperating with ICE.

Focusing our attention on national security and crime allows us to overlook the security issues and threats facing immigrants. Large number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees are fleeing persecution, or gang or drug violence. They are robbed by “jackals” and are dying in transit across our Southern deserts or packed into overheated trailers. And they face family separation, discrimination and hate crimes when they arrive in this country.

The USA has for decades been unable to agree on immigration reform. There are legitimate questions and concerns on both sides of the debate, but until we stop shouting across a hate-filled divide, start bringing all the facts to the table, and treat everyone involved with compassion and dignity, we will continue to muddle along, and solve nothing.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair


Focus for NCJW’s Washington Institute

This year at National Council of Jewish Women’s Washington Institute, April 4–7 in our nation’s capital, we will be advocating on four key issues:

  • The integrity of judicial nominations. The Senate is confirming federal judges at a rapid pace, thus shaping the judiciary for decades to come. The individuals nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate are mostly partisan ideologues with right-wing agendas—not impartial arbiters committed to upholding constitutional rights for all. The Senate must enforce important procedural safeguards meant to protect the independence of the judiciary.

  • Gun violence prevention bills that would enhance the background check system by requiring a background check on almost every gun sale or transfer, as well as providing additional time to allow a background check to be completed (beyond three days) before a firearm sale.

  • The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA, HR 4/S 561) seeks to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) to its former strength after being gutted by the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder US Supreme Court decision. The bill would create a new coverage formula to determine which jurisdictions with repeated voting rights violations over the last 25 years must pre-clear election changes with the Department of Justice.

  • The EACH Woman Act (soon to be introduced in the House and Senate) would end the Hyde Amendment and related restrictions, denying abortion coverage for women enrolled in federal health programs. The bill would also bar local, state, and federal political interference in the decisions of private health insurers to offer abortion coverage.

For more information on these and other issues, visit NCJW.org.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair


The 2018 Midterm Elections:

Is This the Start of a Changing Political Landscape

across the Country?

There are many lessons we can learn from the election and presidency of Donald Trump. The first lesson is that a political outsider, with no public sector experience can run and win an election and it’s a lesson the American people took to heart and followed. From a female speech therapist in Arizona who ran and was elected as the state’s superintendent of pubic education to a Native American woman winning district 27 in the North Dakota House of Representatives, we the people have elected some very different representatives.  Here are a few more facts and figures:

More than 47 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a ballot in the midterm elections in November, according to early estimates from the United States Election Project.

About 51.7 million Democrats voted in midterm House races this year versus 47.4 million Republicans, according to data from the Washington Post.

The 116th Congress will see the largest class of female lawmakers ever.

In the states, Seven chambers changed partisan control in the November 6 elections, giving Republicans 62 chambers and Democrats 37 chambers. Democrats captured the Colorado State Senate, the Maine State Senate, the Minnesota House of Representatives, the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the New Hampshire State Senate, and the New York State Senate. Republicans captured the Alaska House of Representatives.

The 2018 results increased the total number of Democratic governors to 23 and reduced the GOP total to 27.

Seventy-six military veterans won their races

From California, former state legislator Young Kim will be the first Korean-American woman to serve in congress.

Lea Marquez Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, will be the first Latina to represent Arizona in Congress.

A former waitress, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, upset the New York primary by taking down established Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

Christine Hallquist has become the first transgender person to be nominated for governor by a major party. She defeated three candidates to win the Democratic nomination for governor of Vermont.

Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s nominee, will secure their respective seats in strongly Democratic districts following primary victories earlier this year that effectively decided their races. Tlaib is endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, a burgeoning left-wing group that also counts New York Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among its members.

Omar, in addition to being one of the first Muslim women in Congress, will also be the first Somali-American member. She came to the United States more than two decades ago as a refugee.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: Ballotpedia, Washington Post, NPR, Politico, Time


Recycling 101 . . . Part 2

I started recycling in the 1970s, when we lived in Michigan. That was before blue bins and curbside collections, and we took our glass and cans to a local yard to sort the glass by color and flatten the cans underfoot.  As the concept of recycling grew and spread, I continued to recycle and thought I was doing things right. Turns out I’m not, so I did some research and learned a few facts that reinforced the reasons to recycle and to do it correctly.

Plastic, glass, rubber, and aluminum cans are just a few examples of non-biodegradable trash. While some are recyclable, all that we throw away remain in some form for decades and longer. They clog landfills, pollute landscapes and often find their way into the ocean. About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land, and consists of plastic bags, bottles and various other consumer products. Free-floating fishing nets make up another 10 percent and the rest comes from recreational boaters, offshore oil rigs and large cargo ships, which drop about 10,000 steel shipping containers into the sea each year, full of things like hockey gloves, computer monitors, resin pellets and LEGOs. 

Recycling reduces the energy, oil and raw materials we use. It also reduces pollution and the need for landfill and prevents items finding their way into the oceans.

Recyclables always have non-recyclables mixed in and these are called contaminants, and include hazardous materials, anything soiled with food and items that are not accepted for recycling. Some contaminants can clog machinery, and must be separated out by hand. Others, like those soiled with food make recyclables unusable.

So here is a small challenge: How good is your recycling knowledge? 

Does recycling glass use more or less energy than making it from scratch?

Recycling glass takes 30% of the energy required to produce glass from raw materials. The United States throws away enough glass every week to fill a 1,350-foot building. Please note: Pyrex and other types of tempered glass are not recyclable. Colored glass needs to be recycled with like colors only. 

Why should you NOT recycle shredded paper?

Shredded paper will get mixed up with the glass and affect its quality, making the glass unsuitable for recycling

What cardboard items are NOT accepted for recycling?

Pizza boxes and other food containers contaminated with grease, making them useless for recycling. Corrugated cardboard and paperboard can’t always be recycled. Some collectors will not take cardboard or paperboard that’s wet.

What should you look for and avoid when buying cosmetics?

Microbeads. Millions of plastic microbeads are washed down the drain each year, posing a serious threat to marine life who mistake these small plastic particles for food.

Why do most recyclers refuse to take aluminum foil and foil pans?

While most recycled aluminum is in the form of cans, aluminum foil is technically recyclable, but it needs to be clean, free of food residue, as grease or food residue can contaminate the other recyclables during the recycling process. 

Can you collect your recyclables in a plastic bag to put in the recycling bin?

No, plastic bags clog machinery and must be removed by hand from the recycling stream. Non-recyclable plastics in the blue bin contaminate the entire recycling stream. Manufacturers who buy the recycled plastic will pay less for contaminated plastics, or they won’t buy them at all. For information on “12 Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Bags,” go to the Huffington Post website.

Can you recycle all plastics with the triangle and number code on them?

It would be great if plastics just had a simple code for “yes, recycle this” or “no, trash it.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Recycling codes #1 and #2 are the most widely accepted. Recycling centers have the equipment to process these plastics, and there are plenty of manufacturers willing to buy them. Ask your local facility if they accept #4 and #5 plastics. They are becoming more commonly accepted as technology improves and as the market for these plastics grows. Generally not accepted are #3, #6 and #7 plastics because of the difficulty of recycling them into other products. But check with your local recycling facility, because some cities do accept one or more of these codes and, as technology improves, more cities will do so.

What about items that are not currently accepted in our regular recycling mix?

To learn what to do with all those wrappers, razors, toothbrushes, etc. that are not suitable for regular recycling, go to terracycle.com for information.

I believe we can continue to make a difference if we are all more careful about what we put in our recycling bins, if we continue to ban single-use plastics and support efforts to clean up the beaches and oceans, and work toward a world of sustainable products and services.

 —Lesley Frost, Advocacy chair

Sources: earthday.orgplasticpollutioncoalition.orgcare2.com, npr.org, greenopedia.com, 4ocean.com,

national geographic, ecowatch.com, Huffington Post, livegreen.recyclebank.com


Voter Turnout

According to a Census Bureau report, about 64% of the US voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) were registered in 2016. Nearly 56% of the US voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, a slight increase compared with 2012 but less than in the record year of 2008. It also means that 92 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

The United States has a voter-turnout problem. Participation in presidential elections has typically been about 50–65 percent of eligible voters, and in midterm elections has averaged between 25 and 45 percent. In state and local elections it is usually lower, sometimes in the single digits. Voter turnout in the United States trails that of most other developed democracies.

Low voter turnout is not only a problem of numbers; it skews politics and policy toward the interests of certain groups, such as whites, older Americans, the affluent, and those with more education, and results in a elected officials who are not representative of the broader population of American citizens.

In recent elections, voter turnout rates for women have equaled or exceeded those for men. Among younger citizens (18–64), more women than men voted in the last six elections. While the difference in voter turnout between the sexes is greatest for blacks, women have voted at higher rates than men among blacks, Hispanics, and whites in the last eight presidential elections.

Motivating more voters to participate in elections is difficult. Governments can’t instill voters with enthusiasm, but they can make it easier for them to find information and they can remove barriers to voting. While many stories focus on those states that are instituting practices that make voting more difficult, there are states, cities and organizations that have begun institutional reforms to make voting easier, as Denver has proved.

Coloradans have a history of being enthusiastic voters, and in November 2016 Denver set a personal best: 72 percent of those registered voted—much more than in most major cities. (The percentage for Denver was 67 in 2008, and 63 in 2012.)

How did they do it? Denver mailed a ballot to every registered voter, which they could fill out at home and mail in or bring to a dropbox. Voting at home was popular and 92 percent of voters chose to do it. Those who chose to go to a polling place could do so anywhere in the city, near homes or the workplace. And people could register and vote on the same day, while voter registration changed automatically when those who moved updated their driver’s license.

New this year in many colleges across the country is a renewed effort to get information about elections, and absentee ballots into the hands of students, especially freshmen. Students can use TurboVote app, run by the non partisan organization Democracy Works. There is also a national campaign to encourage student participation ins elections called All In Campus Democracy Challenge, an initiative of the nonprofit Civic Nation.

To drive voter participation and make voting more convenient for eligible Americans, americanprogress.org has the following recommendations:

  • Streamline voter registration with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration (SDR), preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and online voter registration

  • Make voting more convenient with in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and vote-at-home with vote centers

  • Provide sufficient resources in elections to ensure that voting is accessible

  • Restore rights for formerly incarcerated people

  • Strengthen civics education in schools

  • Invest in integrated voter engagement (IVE) and outreach (IVE groups combine issue advocacy and organizing with voter mobilization to effect change within the communities they serve.)

While the mechanics of implementing some or all of these recommendations at the state level takes time and effort, NCJW could concentrate efforts in two areas—civics education and integrated voter engagement. Our proven track record of outreach to schools makes advocating for a strong civics education a natural focus. Advocacy for issues important to women, children and families is fundamental to all we do and could be part of an integrated voter engagement program. Connecting issues to people’s lives, demystifying government and helping people understand the electoral process, and inviting them to participate could help to expand the electorate and elect representatives that are more responsive to the American population.

We know what needs to be done for our state and community. This is the time to roll up our sleeves and get to it.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: americanprogress.org has a detailed examination of policies to increase voter participation; www.newyorker.com, npr.org, washington post, fortune.com, cawp.rutgers.edu, pewresearch.org, thenation.com, governing.com, nytimes.com


See Jane Run

In January 2017, crowds showed up in Washington on one day to support the newly inaugurated president and on the next, an enormous crowd of opponents gathered for the Women’s March, with women leading the way. A year-and-a-half later, support and opposition for this president have played out in the early contests of the midterm primaries.

The allegiance the president inspires among his base, as well as the outrage he has stirred on the left—particularly among Democratic women—have been two of the dominant storylines of 2018. American women of all ages, have been galvanized to organize, run for office, give and raise money, and follow politics more closely and in greater numbers than ever before.

In 2012 we saw the last big wave of female candidates running for national office, with 298 running for the House, and 36 for the Senate. This year 172 women have entered the race for the House, and 57 women have filed or are likely to file for the Senate. The majority of female candidates in 2018 are Democrats, and they show a great deal of diversity. More women of color and more immigrants are running than in previous electoral years. There are more female veterans running, and they’re representing both sides of the aisle.

Since 2017 women have achieved several wins in elections at the local, state and national level around the country. Danica Roe became the first openly transgender person to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly when she won the general election on Nov. 7, 2017, and Vi Lyles became Charlotte’s first-ever African-American, female mayor.

Female candidates are also setting records in a number of other political realms. Forty women are running for gubernatorial races around the country, an increase from a record 34 candidates in 1994. And in Texas, a record number of women are running for office, in races for congressional or local seats.

This increased engagement of women in politics matters because research shows that when women are in public office, they are more productive than men and focus more on policy issues important to women, children, and the health of families. When more women are seen in powerful positions, social attitudes also change.

What has become clear, is that women can compete just as fiercely as men. However, it is not clear whether voters will fault them for being so competitive, but in the long run this could create opportunities to change existing structures and assumptions about what women need to do in order to win.

All elections have consequences and those in play during the 2018 midterm elections include:

  • The direction of policies on health care and immigration.

  • Which party will control the all-important investigative and intelligence committees.

  • The ability of the president to fill court vacancies at today’s rapid pace.

  • Filling additional vacancies on the Supreme Court.

  • The ability of this administration to continue policies affecting, education, the environment and trade

  • In gubernatorial contests, which party controls the governors’ mansions will decide the next round of redistricting.

 More women vote than men, but their voting patterns are complex. Women don’t vote as a bloc. They vote along age, educational, professional, and racial lines. This leaves their influence on Election Day outcomes an open question. Currently only one out of every five members of Congress is a woman, and this year we have the opportunity and many compelling reasons to increase that number. In fact there are many chances to seriously consider electing women to represent us at at all levels of government. And let’s be honest: If we want change, we have to be the change makers.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: newyorker.com, npr.org washington post fortune.com, cawp.rutgers.edu, pewresearch.org, thenation.com, governing.com, nytimes.com, vox news


Wind of the Spirit to Spotlight Immigration

Theresa Markila

Theresa Markila

NCJW has been an advocate for immigrant rights since its founding. NCJW volunteers worked on Ellis Island to welcome and offer guidance to new arrivals to our country from the early 1900s until the facility closed in 1954. In that tradition, we welcome Theresa Markila, an activist and organizer, and the volunteer coordinator at the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, as the special guest speaker for our October Open Board Meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m.

The meeting will be held at a private home in Dover. The meeting is free and open to all members. We will also be voting on a new dues structure.

Wind of the Spirit is a faith-based organization for all immigrants and non-immigrants who are moved by the tradition of hospitality. Says Theresa, “We strive to create an environment free of discrimination. At our core, we are motivated to act by the challenges that immigrants in the United States continue to face. Wind of the Spirit works with immigrant communities to ensure their access to information that will strengthen their leadership abilities and will also allow them to realize their power as social and political actors.”

The organization’s mission encompasses the following:

  • Organize and train the community for social change.

  • Help immigrants and non-immigrants so that they can meet and enrich each other.

  • Educate members of the immigrant community about their rights and responsibilities.

  • Promote activities to celebrate the cultural diversity of the community in New Jersey.

  • Advocate for human rights and the dignity of all people, regardless of their immigration status.

  • Establish a deeper understanding of global conditions that relate to immigration.

  • Work together in solidarity for a world of justice and peace.

Theresa Markila, an immigrant herself (from Canada), knows the intersections of multiple issues and champions holistic, long-term organization and vision. She speaks to college, church, community, and other groups to raise awareness and support on immigration and other issues.

RSVP to stellahart@optimum.net.


Part 1: Recycling 101

Eighteen billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and stay there as it takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Ocean currents swirl this disaster into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California. This atrocity is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. It is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.

As a society we embraced the convenience of plastics and were lulled into complacency by recycling and recycled products. We have exported our mixed recyclables to other countries and closed our eyes to the enormous garbage dumps that now litter their landscapes. For decades, China, Indonesia and others have bought our recyclable material but that is now ending and the recyclables that we used to export stay here and we must deal with them.

I see two parts to this problem. First we do not really understand what can and cannot be recycled and we are not taking care to sort items properly and, second, we are not actively working to eliminate plastics from our lives. The rest of this article addresses actions we can take today and from now on to stop using some plastics. Here are a few more reasons to urge you to action:

  • One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. Forty-four percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

  • Samples from Lake Erie showed 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found 1,500 to 1.7 million of these particles per square mile.

  • Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).

  • Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the human body. Ninety-three percent of Americans aged six and older tested positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).

  • Some compounds found in plastic can also alter hormones or have other potentially deleterious effects on human health.

Now we know the reasons to act, what can we do ? We can support efforts to clean beaches and oceans of the plastic already in them, and we can all stop using single-use plastics today. These disposable plastics used once then mostly thrown away include plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging. Their are alternatives to all of them. Such as:

  • Using stainless steel or reusable water bottles and drinking cups

  • Buying beverages in glass containers

  • Bringing your own grocery bags, refusing plastic bags, or asking for paper

  • Skipping the straw and plastic stirrer, or switching to an alternative

  • Finding alternatives to plastic wrap

For more concrete examples of alternatives to plastic, go to the website 

plasticpollutioncoalition.org, scroll down and click on Live Plastic Free.

As we become activists on this issue and join others to lobby companies or our state to eliminate single-use plastics, it is useful to know who is already making changes and who needs our attention. Here is a partial list of those ending their use of single-use plastics, specifically, plastic straws and plastic bags:

  • Sea World with 12 theme parks has ended all single-use plastics
  • Seattle banned single-use plastics from all restaurants
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise line with 50 ships is ending single-use plastics by 2019
  • Ikea is ending single-use plastics by 2020
  • California is considering a ban statewide and the UK government plans to introduce a ban
  • Starbucks is phasing out single-use plastics in Europe, but is resisting a phase-out in the USA

The Plastic Pollution Coalition states that by 2017, only 1,800 restaurants, organizations. institutions and schools worldwide stopped using single-use plastics. So there is still much work for us to do. Perhaps we can start by setting the example and then lobbying NCJW as whole to pledge no single-use plastics at any NCJW meeting.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: earthday.org, plasticpollutioncoalition.org, care2.com, npr.org greenopedia.com 4ocean.com, national geographic, ecowatch.com, livegreen.recyclebank.com


Diversity Day July 8, 2018

Many enjoyed a summer day on the Morristown Green at Diversity Day on July 8.  We started with an interfaith service from 11:00 a.m. to noon. Cantor Shana Onigman of Morristown Jewish Center–Beit Yisrael participated.

The festival took place from noon to 4 p.m. We enjoyed sampling food from many cultures. We were also entertained by an array of community members, including a whirling dervish from Afghanistan and Jewish music from the talented singers from the Morristown Jewish Center.

The planning process had brought together many people in the community who might normally just walk past each other, but are now enjoying each other’s company as we get to know each other.

Our gorgeous quilted chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy).

Our gorgeous quilted chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy). Photo credit: William Neigher

As for the Jewish contribution, we displayed our beautiful quilted chuppah (see above). The other groups were very excited to see it. Volunteers helped bake rugelach back in June to be frozen and then served at Diversity Day. And volunteers also helped out at our paper quilt-making table from noon to 4.

Education in the Spotlight

The Department of Education was established by the Department of Education Organization Act (Pub. L. 96-88) of October 17, 1979. The US Department of Education is the agency of the federal government that establishes policy for, administers and coordinates most federal assistance to education. It assists the president in executing his education policies for the nation and in implementing laws enacted by Congress. The Department’s mission is to serve America’s students—to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

President Trump last year issued an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget to propose a reorganization of the federal government to “eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” With regard to education, President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos want to spend more than $1 billion on private school vouchers and other school choice plans. Their proposals also call for slashing the Education Department’s budget and devoting more resources to career training, at the expense of four-year colleges and universities.

The US Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy Devos has or is currently:

  • Rescinding Obama-era guidance on how colleges should approach sexual assault on campus. Interim guidelines allow colleges to raise the burden of proof when assessing claims of sexual violence. Critics say the guidance is biased against the accused.

  • Formalized its policy on complaints from transgender students barred from restrooms that correspond with their gender identity: it won’t investigate or take action.

  • Proposed a two-year delay of an Obama-era rule that addresses disproportionate identification of students of color for special education—and disproportionate discipline of these students.

  • Completely removed any mention of systemic investigations from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights instructions to investigators and is now telling investigators to ignore the broader context of a discrimination complaint, and has made it far easier to dismiss complaints. As of last August, the civil rights division had dismissed more than 1,500 complaints, 900 of them without an investigation.

  • Announced that state efforts to regulate collection companies—many of which have been accused of unfair consumer practices—are inappropriate and that they “undermine” federal authority, despite objections from Republican attorneys general and consumer advocates who called it a move to protect debt collectors at the expense of student loan borrowers across the country

  • Reversed Obama-era rules that allow students at colleges with a history of fraudulent and deceptive practices to seek debt relief from the Education Department, and that allow the department to revoke federal funding from for-profit colleges. The department’s inspector general’s office found that the Trump administration had not approved a single application for loan relief, even though the department received more than 25,000 claims last year. In the wake of lawsuits from state attorneys general and consumer groups, the IG’s office demanded the department’s student aid division take action on loan forgiveness—officials subsequently announced they would approve 12,900 claims, but deny 8,600 others.

  • Stopped sharing information with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and let the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools continue to act as an accreditor, even though it had certified notorious schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, which closed down in the wake of fraud investigations, leaving tens of thousands of students saddled with debt and useless degrees. The department also let for-profit colleges convert themselves to nonprofits to “skirt regulations.”

That’s some of the bad news. However, the latest federal budget, which showed that compromise and collaboration between the parties, if possible, included an ray of sunshine for education. The Omnibus Bill increased federal funding after almost a decade of stagnation. This includes more funding for K–12, a funded Stop School Violence Act, more money for black colleges and universities, Head Start, Pell Grants recipients, Impact Aid, STEM education and rural schools.

In a repudiation of Secretary DeVos, lawmakers blocked a new system that contracts out individual loan servicing tasks to different companies and her efforts to dismantle her agency’s central budget office. Also losing out were most of DeVos’s school choice proposals except that charter schools got a $58 million boost, bringing the total funding to $400 million.

The omnibus bill included an additional $8.5 million to the Education Department’s civil rights office, which DeVos has sought to downsize. Appropriators said the money should go toward staffing up the office, instead of the proposed cut of 46 positions. Appropriators also directed the department to maintain its 12 regional civil rights offices, defeating DeVos’s proposal to reduce the number to four.

After our small collective sigh of relief, we should note that many issues mentioned above still need our attention and advocacy efforts. Those who want to dismantle public education have made inroads and they are not giving up or going away.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: AP, quartz.comvoanews.com, US news, bostonglobe.com, Politico, Washington Post, Mother Jones

Gun Control

A number of our members joined the recent March for Our Lives gun-control rally in Morristown. (Photo credit: Elaine Martini)

I missed the March for Our Lives in DC, primarily because I was on a plane to Mexico, but I did read about it, saw the best of the signs, and “kvelled” with pride at the students, as if they were my own family. What those young people have achieved in a short time is amazing and if we as a nation can stay with them and keep the momentum going, we may finally see some real changes to the regulation of guns.

However, this issue is big, sprawling, complex and emotional and one short article would only touch on a small part of it. I have, instead compiled some sources that cover parts of the issue and there are many more out there on the web that present the pros and cons of some of the arguments. And that is, I think, the crux of the matter. It is an argument because we cannot agree on the fact that America has a gun problem.

We constitute less than 5 percent of the world’s population yet we hold almost 50 percent of civilian-owned guns in the world. We live in a time of partisanship, information silos, and have lost the ability to hold civilized debates on this most contentious issue. Our only counter to this is to be informed about the opposition and its playbook, know our facts and present them without hostility. I would suggest that it would be useful, in this season of elections and candidate forums, for us to develop some questions, talking points and positions as we make our case. Go to NCJW.org for their resources on gun control, lobbying and visiting legislators if you’re representing the Section. And remember to use the guidelines and resources that Judaism teaches us.

Here are some resources on the Internet:

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sexual Assault: It’s Not Just a “Women’s Issue”

Sexual assault and harassment allegations by courageous women accusing Harvey Weinstein and Bill O’Reilly, followed by the #MeToo campaign, have made America aware of the prevalence of sexual violence in our society. The #Metoo campaign, in particular, prompted an avalanche that started rolling and is exposing thousands of sexual predators locally and globally. Sexual harassment has become a hot topic.

America truly has more than a problem. Pick any industry or institution and the stories are there, indicating that there are no cultural boundaries for sexual assault and harassment. We need to do more than root out the abusers; we need to rethink our sexual culture, which makes sex objects of females and rewards men for aggression, for testing boundaries, and doing the unexpected. Men in such a culture might become predators particularly when they are powerful, famous, and protected. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said.

Culture of Silence

Sexual predation happens because men have more power than women and because they can get away with it. It’s acceptable—not by the women but by the culture of silence that permits and condones such behavior. Women are beginning to speak out, but we need men who know who is doing the harassing to stop colluding with the sexual predators and speak out, too. Collusion enabled Weinstein to continue for 30 years. This is how a rape and sexual harassment culture works.

As women come forward and the names of sexual predators circulate through all forms of media, as companies and institutions begin to enforce the rules they say they have, the aggressors will begin to face consequences. It may mean that men lose their jobs or are blackballed from jobs they want. It may mean they face the legal consequences of their actions. It may also mean that the numbers of survivors speaking out and the sheer magnitude of the problem leads to attention fatigue, and the issue slides out of focus again. And, as with domestic violence, there will be those women whose false claims cause a backlash that taint the credibility of survivors. 

We should also be aware of and sensitive to those women survivors who have not spoken out because they feel that exposure diminishes their trauma and can even retraumatize survivors. Actress Rachel Wood, who has disclosed her rape and sexual abuse, has tweeted, “Has anyone elses [sic] PTSD been triggered thru [sic] the roof? I hate that these feelings of danger are coming back.”

The media, our taste for the sensational, and the anger that drives us, must find a balance between continuing to expose perpetrators, showing solidarity with women, and respecting the due process of law.

And this really is not just a women’s issue. There are reports that 23 percent of men and boys experience sexual violence or harassment over their lifetime. The rates of rape or sexual assault are lower for men than for women, but males report that sexual coercion, which pressures or manipulates men and boys into sexual activity they don’t want, happens at a rate nearly equal to that experienced by women.

Changing the Culture

Changing the culture will take time and means investing in prevention programs that address the causes of sexually abusive behavior. Current prevention programs are usually aimed at teens and young adults, and focus on teaching girls and women how to decrease their risk of being assaulted. These types of programs are less than effective because they do not address the reality that most assaults are committed by someone known and trusted by the teens and young adults, by someone in power, such as a teacher, supervisor, close friend or family member.

We can each do our part to change the sexual culture. We can be involved in ensuring that prevention begins in early childhood and continues for life. As parents and grandparents, we can find teachable moments in our homes and we can work with educators to teach our children skills to prevent violence. Skills like these include empathy for others, communication, and problem solving that are augmented by programs that promote healthy sexual behavior, respect for self and others, and the true meaning of consent.

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sources: theconversation.com, health.com, news1130.com, vox.com

January Is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month

Many members of our Section have worked hard over the years, joining the fight against human trafficking by reaching out to our local mayors to have each town proclaim National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Day to be January 11 every year. We educated hotel workers, rallied on the Morristown Green, and advocated for the successful passage of New Jersey’s comprehensive human trafficking legislation. Then we held a Fair Trade Fair at County College of Morris and brought a rabbinic intern from T’ruah to tell us what it was like to help Florida tomato workers successfully organize for better wages and working conditions.

Our Section’s guru and sage, Lesley Frost, led us to help form the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking. The Coalition has grown from just a handful of organizations to over 150. Originally fostered by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, it has become a free-standing 501(c)3 through the dedicated work of Sue Rosenthal and Susan Waldman and the extremely generous pro bono work of Meyer Rosenthal. The Coalition has a firm foundation through its strategic plan shaped through the pro bono work of Bill Neigher.

Vibrant and bursting with activity, the Coalition has lots of committees that anyone can join, including Education, Legislation, Service Providers, Slave-Free Commerce, and the Arts.

We showcased the many facets of the Coalition’s work at a Virtual Summit on Facebook Live on Thursday, January 11, 8:00 am-3:00 pm. Each facet of the Coalition had panel discussions, taking questions from the live audience and everyone on Facebook. Susan Neigher was among the presenters. The event took place at Jewish Federation offices on Route 10 in Whippany.

We also recognized the people and organizations who have led the fight against human trafficking in New Jersey at our Liberator Awards Celebration on Sunday, January 28 at 7:00 pm at the Calvary Temple International in Wayne. Sue Rosenthal and Susan Waldman led the nominating committee to select awardees. The Founder Award was presented to Melanie Roth Gorelick and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.

Cabinet Nominees for the New Administration: Expose and Oppose

The proposed cabinet for the new administration has been described as “light” in government experience and “heavy” in wealth and business connections, although to date the numbers show a split slightly tilted toward wealth and connections. While it is no surprise that the new president’s background predisposes him to favor that tilt, it is distressing that some of the nominees, by their past actions and words, are seriously opposed to the mission of the departments they may lead, and face little opposition for confirmation.

For example, part of the mission of the Education Department is to ”ensure equal access to educational opportunity for all,” yet nominee Betsy De Vos, has no experience in public education, and espouses greatly expanding charter schools and voucher programs, programs that have not ensured equal access. Scott Pruitt, who has spent much of his tenure as attorney general for Oklahoma suing the Environmental Protection Agency, and whose career has been funded in part by the oil industry, is the chosen candidate to lead the EPA. And Andrew Pudzer, a fast-food executive with a dubious labor record who opposes minimum wage laws, is slated for the Department of Labor. The list goes on and on.

The Democrats have little hope of seriously influencing the outcome unless Republican senators are pressured by their constituents to vote against specific nominees. Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state has drawn opposition from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain, because in his 41 years at Exxon Mobil he has forged close relations with the Russian leadership and the Russian State Oil Company. Coupled with the Russian hacking scandal, this nomination is under heavy scrutiny.

Part of the confirmation process requires background checks, but only three Senate committees have the authority to require nominees to release their tax returns. Each committee can amend its rules to require this, something that most states require of their officeholders, but there is no movement toward that in the Senate. In fact, the refusal of the new president to release his financial and full medical records during the campaign upended 40 years of tradition and set an example that many in his administration may follow unless compelled to do otherwise. Unless there is full disclosure of business interests and connections, it will be impossible to know if the individual actions of the administration are truly in the public interest or whether actions by foreign entities are seeking to “curry favor.” For example, the embassy of Kuwait has held an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in the past, but suddenly cancelled this year’s contract and moved the event to the Trump Washington Hotel. Were they pressured or did they see an advantage in this?

By the time you read this article, some or all of the cabinet nominees may have been confirmed and left with the foxes guarding the henhouse. What are we to do? Expose and oppose. Be vigilant about new laws and rule changes coming from Washington, which I will follow and pass along, and monitor their effect at the local level, where you can have an impact in mitigating or overturning such changes. There is a lot of advocacy experience in the Section and the NCJW Washington office is always available for advice and help. We are only on a detour, one full of roadblocks as we continue our work for women and children, social justice and the rights and freedoms of all.

Lesley Frost

Racism in America

The amorphous hope that the election of Barack Obama had moved us into a post-racial society has totally dissipated by the events in Charlottesville this past August. There are many reasons for the rise of white supremacy in its various forms, but the truth is that racism has always been a constant in American society. Progress to reduce racism has been undeniable and there are segments of the population where there is no overt racism and they stand firmly against it. Yet we all ignore or misread the subtle racism in everyday life.

Low wages, bad housing, incarceration, substandard education–these are all forms of racism when they disproportionately affect one segment of the population and society acknowledges those issues but does not correct them.

Unfortunately, when corrections have been made, such as school integration, affirmative action and voting rights, there is a backlash that, coupled with demographic projections that “whites” will be a minority in this century, has compounded the racists’ anxiety and anger.

There is no gene that makes us one race or another and none that makes a person a racist. We all share the same basic genetic makeup, the same DNA, and are descended from common ancestors who migrated from Africa. Racism is a social construct and we learn it from the cues and attitudes around us. So if it is leaned, can it be unlearned? Yes. And there is a lot of information, support and concrete action available to us all.

NCJW has been in the forefront of social justice since its founding in the late 1800s. Go to the website ncjw.org and click on the Act button. Look for the segment “Educate Yourself about White Supremacy in America,” and click the Take Action button This will take you to a series of outside websites with information and actions you can take as individuals and as a group.

Our West Morris Section has a long history of working to eliminate bias and hate in our community. This was exemplified by the “What Prejudice Means to Me” Contest that we ran in local schools for 18 years. While reviving the Contest may not be what is needed now, the Section can use the NCJW website and other resources to explore ways to act locally. Being small in number has never deterred us in the past and if you think that you need size to have an impact, you have never been in a room with a couple of mosquitoes!

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

The Electoral College

The existence and duties of the presidential electors and the electoral college are so little known today that most American voters believe that they are voting directly for a president and vice president on election day. The electors may be well-known people, such as governors, state legislators, or other state and local officials, but they generally do not receive public recognition as electors, and, in most states, the names of individual electors do not appear anywhere on the ballot, where only those of the candidates for president and vice president appear, usually prefaced by the words “electors for.” Electoral votes are commonly referred to as having “been awarded” to the winning candidate, as if no human beings were involved in the process.

he Electoral College is a process, included in the Constitution as a compromise between electing the president by a vote in Congress and by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The process has three parts: the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for president and vice president, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

Electoral votes are allocated among the states based on the Census. Every state is allocated two votes for its senators in the U.S. Senate, plus a number of votes equal to the number of its members in the US House of Representatives. Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia is allocated three electors and treated like a state for purposes of the Electoral College. Effective for the 2020 presidential elections, the total number of electoral votes is 538 and the majority needed to elect is 270.

The electors are generally chosen by the candidate’s political party, but state laws vary on how the electors are selected. Aside from Members of Congress, and persons holding offices of “trust or profit” under the Constitution, anyone may serve as an elector. There is no constitutional provision or federal law that requires electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states. Electors can be bound by state law or by pledges to political parties. Most states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the winning presidential candidate. Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of “proportional representation.”

The Electoral College as originally devised was a failure by 1800. Amendments and the role of political parties have over time produced a patchwork version that has muddled along, but hardly represents any founding father’s vision of electors as independent actors, weighing the merits of competing presidential candidates. The irony today is that the founders’ original intent was to forestall the “elevation of someone unworthy” through a purely popular national vote.

It may be argued that the current process of primaries and the Electoral College do serve a purpose by narrowing the field of potential candidates and making sure any successful candidate is popular across different parts of the country, but there is certainly room for improvement. The climate today would seem to favor the National Popular Vote bill that would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey is one of 11 states with 165 electoral votes that has already signed this bill into law and it will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes. Working through national organizations such as NCJW to spread the word and encourage action in more states, each of us can still make a difference. For details go to nationalpopularvote.com

Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair

Sourcesarchives.gov, history.com, thefederalist.com

Cabinet Nominees for the New Administration: Expose and Oppose

The proposed cabinet for the new administration has been described as “light” in government experience and “heavy” in wealth and business connections, although to date the numbers show a split slightly tilted toward wealth and connections. While it is no surprise that the new president’s background predisposes him to favor that tilt, it is distressing that some of the nominees, by their past actions and words, are seriously opposed to the mission of the departments they may lead, and face little opposition for confirmation.

For example, part of the mission of the Education Department is to ”ensure equal access to educational opportunity for all,” yet nominee Betsy De Vos, has no experience in public education, and espouses greatly expanding charter schools and voucher programs, programs that have not ensured equal access. Scott Pruitt, who has spent much of his tenure as attorney general for Oklahoma suing the Environmental Protection Agency, and whose career has been funded in part by the oil industry, is the chosen candidate to lead the EPA. And Andrew Pudzer, a fast-food executive with a dubious labor record who opposes minimum wage laws, is slated for the Department of Labor. The list goes on and on.

The Democrats have little hope of seriously influencing the outcome unless Republican senators are pressured by their constituents to vote against specific nominees. Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state has drawn opposition from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain, because in his 41 years at Exxon Mobil he has forged close relations with the Russian leadership and the Russian State Oil Company. Coupled with the Russian hacking scandal, this nomination is under heavy scrutiny.

Part of the confirmation process requires background checks, but only three Senate committees have the authority to require nominees to release their tax returns. Each committee can amend its rules to require this, something that most states require of their officeholders, but there is no movement toward that in the Senate. In fact, the refusal of the new president to release his financial and full medical records during the campaign upended 40 years of tradition and set an example that many in his administration may follow unless compelled to do otherwise. Unless there is full disclosure of business interests and connections, it will be impossible to know if the individual actions of the administration are truly in the public interest or whether actions by foreign entities are seeking to “curry favor.” For example, the embassy of Kuwait has held an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in the past, but suddenly cancelled this year’s contract and moved the event to the Trump Washington Hotel. Were they pressured or did they see an advantage in this?

By the time you read this article, some or all of the cabinet nominees may have been confirmed and left with the foxes guarding the henhouse. What are we to do? Expose and oppose. Be vigilant about new laws and rule changes coming from Washington, which I will follow and pass along, and monitor their effect at the local level, where you can have an impact in mitigating or overturning such changes. There is a lot of advocacy experience in the Section and the NCJW Washington office is always available for advice and help. We are only on a detour, one full of roadblocks as we continue our work for women and children, social justice and the rights and freedoms of all.

Lesley Frost


Surrounded by powerful silhouettes depicting human trafficking victims and tables bursting with beautiful fair trade boutique items, we shopped ’til we dropped and had lots of fun.

Although it was a fun event, the Fair, held at County College of Morris in Randolph, conveyed a strong message. One silhouette depicted a human trafficking victim bound in ropes with the notice “not for sale.” Another showed the insides of a human body and explained that some people are trafficked to harvest their organs for transplant. The silhouette that attendees voted “Fair Favorite” was covered with broken glass, depicting the true story of a victim trying to put her life back together.

Our guest speaker, rabbinic intern Sarah Barasch-Hagans discussed how important it is in Jewish tradition to free the slave and raise up the poor and the downtrodden.

Sarah told us that most cacao used in making chocolate comes from Africa, and almost all of it is grown by people trapped in slavery. Many of them are children, even as young as five years old. Therefore most Fair Trade chocolate is sourced from Central and South America, where the cacao is grown by small farms with independent farmers who work under safe working conditions and earn a fair wage for their labors.

Sarah also discussed how the Fair Food movement began among tomato workers in Florida twenty years ago. The workers initiated a protest against wages well below minimum wage; unsafe working conditions in fields without shade, water, or toilet facilities; sexual harassment; and horrible living conditions. Aided by faith-based groups, especially Sarah’s organization, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (in south Florida) was born. In a few short years the Coalition was able to obtain the support of almost all fast food chains (with the exception of Wendy’s) and Walmart to only purchase tomatoes that were certified Fair Food. The Immokalee coalition is continuing to pressure Wendy’s to sign on to the agreement, and is now expanding their efforts beyond tomatoes to include strawberries and peppers.

Our Section is supporting the Fair Food movement by offering Fair Trade chocolate and coffee for sale. Please contact Susan Neigher (sneigher@hotmail.com) if you would like to purchase these kosher parve products.