JRF supports the work of our own and other denominational rabbis and social justice advocates in the struggle to preserve worker's rights in Madison, WI and around the United States.
Below is a copy of the letter and additional resources on the issue:
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman's JTA Article: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2011/03/01/2743125/op-ed-wis-governors-plan-threatens-workers-and-jewish-values
"Jews joining union showdown in Wisconsin over gov's proposal":
RRA "Resolution to Support the Employee Free Choice Act" at http://www.therra.org/resolutions/RRA_Resolution_EFCA_2010.pdf
New Jersey Jewish News Article: http://njjewishnews.com/article/op-eds/standing-up-for-workers-and-jewish-tradition
Rabbi Jill Jacobs' teshuvah for the CJLS on workers' rights.http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/20052010/jacobs-living-wage.pdf
Interfaith Worker's Justice resources: http://www.iwj.org/template/index.cfm
Dear Rabbinic Colleagues and Friends,
Many of you have been watching what is going on in our beloved city of Madison, Wisconsin. As rabbis who live and work in Madison, we wanted to share with you some reflections on recent events.
This is an extraordinary time in Madison. We have never seen anything like it. The sheer number of people who have come to protest, testify, or attend vigils at the State Capitol is unbelievable. Through sunshine and freezing rain, we have been shocked at how long people have sustained this engagement. The overwhelming number of protesters has been respectful, peaceful, and well, downright friendly (this is the Midwest, after all!). The energy inside the Capitol rotunda is astounding. It has brought tears to our eyes to watch young people become so passionate about these issues, even sleeping there throughout the night. We have heard some grumbling about the school closures, but there could be no better civics lesson than watching strangers – young and old, workers and professors, from small towns and big cities, all holding hands all around the perimeter of the Capitol and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”
We have been very focused on the local level, but we understand that this is a national issue. The stakes are very high. They are so high because our very communities are at risk. Contrary to many news reports, this is not about greedy labor unions. If Governor Walker’s bill passes, it will destroy local economies throughout the state – and drastically reduce the quality of our public schools, universities, nursing homes, child care centers, and hospitals. Through its devastating changes to Medicaid it will jeopardize the health and well-being of the mentally ill, disabled, elderly, and poor. This will affect each of us personally and professionally, and it will spread to other states as well. Sadly, our children’s future is on the line, and Governor Walker has tried to prevent any public discussion or debate on these issues.
As rabbis we find this an affront to our values – the Jewish mandate to protect workers, as well as the poor and needy among us. It is an affront to our deep value for education, for supporting women’s rights, and for creating sustainable communities. And it is an affront to our belief that these issues should be debated openly and fairly under public scrutiny.
We humbly share the attached resources that we have compiled in the hopes that we can renew our commitment to social justice for all members of our society. What is happening in Wisconsin will likely spread to other states, and we hope that you will discuss these issues in your communities.
The organization that has been coordinating the interfaith religious response in Madison is the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. Their members are a combination of grassroots activists, clergy, laity, congregations, community organizations, and labor unions. If you would like to support their work, please visit www.workerjustice.org. The issue of cuts to health care coverage for low income Wisconsin residents is also at stake. To read more about this or to support these efforts, please visit Save Badger Care, www.savebadgercare.org.
As Rabbi Hillel once said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Rabbi Joshua Ben-Gideon
Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Rabbi Kenneth Katz
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis
Rabbi Andrea Steinberger
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman
Rabbi Renee Bauer
Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice
of South Central Wisconsin
2300 South Park Street, #109
Madison, WI 53713
Being in Madison has been an incredible experience over these past two weeks. When I arrived at a Shabbat dinner the evening after Governor Walker put forth his plan, there was utter despair among my congregants. We knew this spelled trouble. We had no idea what would happen next. Over the next few days there were some small protests. But on that Tuesday 5-10,000 people gathered at the State Capitol. It felt uplifting to gather together with others. There was much more energy than there had been before at most labor rallies I had attended, and at one high school hundreds of students walked out and came to the rally. Even so, over the next week things just exploded. The teachers called a “sick out” – 40% of them called in sick, and the schools closed. This meant that the numbers swelled to tens of thousands towards the end of the week. On Shabbat morning I officiated at a bar mitzvah. For the first aliyah I called up anyone who had taken part in a protest, vigil, or hearing at the Capitol. I expected a bunch of people to come up; I did not expect 90% of the congregation and guests to come up. (Even the bar mitzvah family’s out of town family had attended rallies on Friday.) Things have continued to be quite extraordinary here. This past Tuesday the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice (Reconstructionist Rabbi, Renee Bauer, is their director) called a press conference to amplify interfaith voices. Afterwards they walked into the Capitol chanting in a call and response form, “Tell me what religion should look like!” To which the response was, “This is what religion should look like!” The Capitol rotunda just brings tears to your eyes. There has been a continual protest there hour after hour, day after day, all day and all night. People drumming, cheering, debating, praying, meditating and testifying in statewide hearings. When the Democratic assembly members walk through there are massive cheers (the Democratic senators are still in Illinois). I heard up to a thousand people have been sleeping there. There are many students camping out, but also union members, families, and elderly people who have brought mats to sleep on. If I wasn’t 37 weeks pregnant with a toddler I would have considered sleeping there myself! People have organized workshops, meetings, yoga, and a first aid station there. The organizers are currently establishing a faith section in the Capitol where services can take place. This Friday evening area rabbis are holding Shabbat services there. The organization, camaraderie, and passion is something that I never before seen in my life.