Unhappy Readers

We find your new changes in the JT very unpleasant and disappointing. We could live with your changing the paper stock, but the letters are too small in the articles. A lot of your readers are seniors. We cannot read it with just our glasses; we now need a giant magnifying glass. If you cannot make the letters bigger, you may lose a lot of your faithful readers.

For This Jew, No Mourning Scalia

As a proud American Jew, I do not mourn the passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia  (“Large Shoes to Fill,” Feb. 18).

Contra Sen. Ted Cruz’s Facebook posting, Justice Scalia was anything but “an unrelenting defender of religious liberty.”  His contempt and disdain for our Jewish faith is a matter of public record.

As an individual, the justice was entitled, of course, to hold any religious beliefs he chose; but he was not entitled to exploit his exalted federal platform to enshrine them in U.S. jurisprudence.

Parade example: In the Mojave Desert Cross case (Salazar v. Buono), under Scalia’s tutelage, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the Christian cross was a universal symbol and therefore appropriate to adorn a memorial for fallen soldiers, including Jews! Yes, the same cross under whose aegis the Crusaders massacred Jews throughout Europe.

A towering figure with towering prejudices, Justice Scalia combined Trump-like bluster with Georgetown social circuit bonhomie, charm and wit. Pundits may have extolled his intellect, but being smart is only half the job. For a good Catholic, why did he so reek of hubris and sparkle with such swaggering self-righteousness?

The authentic Torah-true response to the death of this jurist is, first of all, to extend condolences to his family, and then, in consideration of his professional legacy, to rejoice that he is no longer around to weave his bonfire invective and obstreperous bigotry into the fabric of American jurisprudence.

What Is Disability Inclusion?

February is Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. Which prompts the question: What is disability inclusion?

Is it not “inclusion” when a program is organized for people with disabilities around the time of the Jewish holidays so they can learn about their heritage. But it is “inclusion” when a mitzvah program is developed in which teens of all abilities come together for discussions and learn about philanthropy and social action through fundraising, grant writing and giving of their time. And it is inclusion at a summer camp where teens of all abilities work together to help someone else.

Inclusion, in other words, is when people with disabilities are encouraged to participate just like everyone else. It is when the person with a disability is not the mitzvah project.

That may be the most important takeaway from this year’s disability awareness effort. Inclusion activist Pamela Rae Schuller elucidates the point well in an op-ed making its way through social media. “Sometimes I hear people talking about how much of a ‘mitzvah’ they are doing by opening their doors to people with special needs in their community,” writes Schuller, whose Tourette syndrome was particularly disabling in her adolescence. “Maybe they allowed a child with autism in their youth group or religious school or hosted an ‘inclusion’ service.

“But here is the thing: It is not a mitzvah to let me in the door. It’s not. Opening your door to those with disabilities is not enough,” she continues. “Because there is a critical difference between tolerance and full inclusion. If we are practicing full inclusion, our communities should be celebrating each person and what they bring to the community, not just what they demand of it.”

There’s a political element as well. Many disabled people need caregivers to help them navigate through daily life. Last week, advocates went to Washington to support two bills that would ensure fair treatment of all people living with disabilities and their caretakers. The Transition to Independence Act (S.1604) promotes fair wages and opportunity by supporting integrated employment programs. The Lifespan Respite Care Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 3913) funds essential respite care programs that provide needed services to caretakers and their loved ones.

The Jewish community has made progress in some areas toward disability inclusion over the past year. We hope we can report even more progress a year from now. But above all, we know that if we are going to create lasting change, it will only be when we treat everyone as equals.

And when you think about it, that’s the real mitzvah.

Grow with Farm Camp

Thank you so much for highlighting Pearlstone Center’s Family Farm Camp in the JT’s Feb. 12 Insider story, “A True Vacation,” As the board president and a Family Camp participant, I can attest to the transformative power of the program. I would encourage interested families to sign up for this year’s Family Farm Camp, which will be held from June 30 to July 4, 2016, by visiting pearlstonecenter.org/signature-programs/family-camp/.

I would also like to extend gratitude to the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund for Jewish Education for its seed funding to launch the first two years of the program and to the Charles Crane Family Foundation for its ongoing investment in this special community program.

Jewish Disability Awareness

As we approach the midpoint of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Jewish Community Services applauds the JT for highlighting the often overlooked value that people with disabilities bring to employers and businesses (“The Ability to Succeed,” Feb. 5).

In addition to the various programs noted in Justin Katz’s article, we would like your readers to know that in our local Baltimore area, JCS offers comprehensive vocational services for people with disabilities. Through the JCS Career Center, individuals receive vocational assessment, job-readiness training, career coaching, placement assistance and follow-up support including job coaching.

JCS is certified by Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration, Division of Rehabilitation Services, and Behavioral Health Administration to provide specialized services that help individuals with disabilities find and maintain employment. In addition, we assess eligibility for state and subsidized funding and help families and individuals access these resources.

For young adults, ages 18 to 22, with special needs, the JCS Career Center offers Learn to Earn. This job-readiness program helps young adults with special needs transition from school to work, increasing their competitive employment skills and potential for independence.

For more information about the JCS Career Center and employment services for people with special needs, call 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbaltimore.org.

Puzzled

It appears you’re not running crossword puzzles. Admittedly, for the last year the puzzles have been a lot tougher, but I did enjoy them. I’d like to see them run again.

Climate Change Is a Jewish Racial Justice Issue

ftv_RechtmanLiyaFebruary marks Black History Month, an opportunity to learn about and share African-American history and consider how we, as a Jewish and an American community, can continue pursuing racial justice in the coming year.

We also read Parshat Mishpatim, which expounds on the earliest Jewish laws, including how and when to set both Israelite and non-Israelite slaves free. In some ways, this is one of those sticky portions that reminds us our tradition was part of the historic system of slavery. However, read an alternate way, the parsha insists on treating disempowered slaves as humans, also created in the Divine Image. Mishpatim is a mandate to act with respect and dignity to all.

What does this mean in 2016? In the age of rising rates of asthma and cancer among black Americans as well as unequal impacts of extreme weather disasters on communities of color, the fight for racial justice is multifaceted. Climate change is a racial justice issue, and, as Jews of all colors, we must advocate for climate justice.

Decreased air and water quality and extreme weather events have lead to illness and disability, physical displacement, cultural erosion, food insecurity and criminalization, according to the NAACP Climate Justice Initiative.

The American Jewish community plays a valuable and well-documented role in standing up for our African-American neighbors from marching with black church leaders in the 1960s to participating in the NAACP’s Justice Summer for equal rights and protection under law. So too must we advocate for equal access to clean water, clean air and a habitable planet.

This Black History Month, the Jewish community should speak from its historic position of support to our black church brethren and also in spirit of inclusion of Jews of color by acting on climate change, and so should we move our communities to action.

Allocations for the Green Climate Fund are included in the 2017 budget announced by President Barach Obama this month, a resource to help vulnerable developing nations adapt to rising sea levels and other negative impacts while mitigating root causes through sustainable development. We need the Green Climate Fund in order to help reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions and stem the tide of our changing climate.

This Black History Month, tell your elected officials that you support the Green Climate Fund and that, as a Jew, you care about climate justice.

Liya Rechtman is a manager at the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and a policy associate at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Connecting Our Jewish Teens

ftv_Himmelrich_ZoletLast week, hundreds of community leaders, philanthropists, teen professionals and teens converged in Baltimore for the Summit on Jewish Teens to discuss how to engage the next generation. The ideas they generated were dynamic, the teens were passionate, and the opportunities to be innovative were encouraging. It was amazing to see such energy and creativity in one place.

Unfortunately, the group of teens in attendance at last week’s events represented only a small number of Jewish teens in our communities. There are so many others we are not reaching through our current engagement platforms.

According to the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, commissioned by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, from the 6,700 non-Orthodox teens (ages 10-17) in the Baltimore Jewish community, about two-thirds are either not connected or have limited connection to a Jewish teen program.

To counter this, The Associated created a Teen Connection Task Force to investigate ways to deepen teen Jewish connections. We engaged a wide range of stakeholders, from teens to professionals to lay leaders, and brought in national experts to talk about trends and listen to teens’ concerns about what was lacking.

First, it appeared that current programs primarily attract teens whose families were already engaged. We needed to broaden our reach to teens who are on the periphery.

Second, we realized the best approach was a year-round holistic concept that harnesses teens’ natural inclination for creativity, their interest in peer-to-peer interactions, their desire to craft projects and their commitment to social justice.

Thus, the Center for Teen Engagement was born. This communitywide program, funded in part by a matching grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation, will be directed by and housed at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC.

Initially, programs include a Baltimore Jewish Teen Innovation Internship, which will provide teens with social innovation training and Jewish content and feature parallel social innovation experiences for teens in Baltimore’s sister cities of Ashkelon, Israel and Odessa, Ukraine.

There will also be a Jewish Teen Professionals Fellowship to deepen the skills of professionals who work with teens, and the Lay Teen Advocates Program will train lay leaders and board members effective advocacy for programs supporting teen Jewish education and engagement.

When we expose teens to meaningful Jewish connections, they are more likely to sustain a commitment to the Jewish community as adults.

Ned Himmelrich and Morry Zolet served as co-chairs of The Associated’s Teen Connection Task Force.

Modulate the Outrage

It is well known that Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is soliciting and receiving support from evangelical Christians. And if it turns out that some of them are blinkered and offensive, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Every group has its crazies.

Cruz is being supported by Kansas evangelical Pastor Mike Bickle, who intimated in 2011 that Jews will be hunted and put in death camps before Jesus returns. Bickle also runs a project whose goal is “partnering with Messianic Jews for the salvation of the Jewish people.”

It is clear that Bickle does not live in the same world as most Americans or most American Jews. But what may be more important is the response to Bickel of Cruz himself and the campaign he oversees. Asked whether Cruz embraces the pastor or repudiates him, Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to the senator’s campaign, told Washington Jewish Week, “This whole thing is being used by people who are predisposed to oppose our campaign, when there really is no comparison to this being a Rev. Wright moment.”

The mention of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s controversial former pastor who the then-candidate was forced to renounce, might indeed be gratuitous, as it is only relevant to people who were disposed to oppose Obama. But it is unfair to demand a candidate condemn every questionable theological view of those who are supporting him. At the end of the day, it is pastors such as Bickle who are endorsing Cruz, not the other way around.

And when reaching a judgment about the man who won the Republican contest in Iowa and came in a dead heat for third in New Hampshire, what should be considered are his record and positions. Cruz believes that life begins at fertilization and is opposed to abortion in the case of rape and incest. He advocates overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. He is “fully committed to repealing every single word of Obamacare” and famously conducted a 21-hour filibuster against the Affordable Care Act during which he read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” None of that has anything to do with Bickle, and if you agree with these and other Cruz positions, you should vote for him.

There will always be Pastor Bickles on the right and the Rev. Wrights on the left — just like there will always be people like Ted Nugent, author of last week’s other outrage du jour. The gun-toting rocker (and board member of the National Rifle Association) shared a graphic featuring images of 12 Jews branded with images of Israeli flags below the words: “So who is really behind gun control?”

Outrageous — but fleeting. Let’s hold our powder dry, and save our outrage for debates that really matter.

Large Shoes to Fill

This year’ s presidential primaries have been intense. There is, of course, a lot at stake. And while some may have hoped that the shouting, finger pointing and recriminations might abate as the field of contestants narrows, the sudden passing last Saturday of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia changed all that. Scalia, an iconic figure of great intelligence and influence, was a leader of conservative jurisprudence throughout his colorful tenure on the court. He prided himself in being “an Italian kid from Queens,” but he was much more than the first Italian-American appointed to the Supreme Court.

His passing leaves a void that will be felt for a long time, but the opportunity politicians in Washington now have to mold the court by appointing a successor cannot be ignored. And it isn’t clear just how it will all play out.

Barely an hour after news of Scalia’ s death spread across social media, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made a bold pronouncement, warning President Barack Obama against nominating a replacement for the late associate justice. “The American people? should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Apparently, McConnell forgot that the American people did have a say: In 2012, they re-elected Obama by a wide margin. Two years later, the same American people granted control of the Senate to the Republicans. So what the people have set up is a checks and balances reality whereby the president and the Senate will have to work together to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

We urge both sides to work quickly to appoint Scalia’ s replacement. Doing so would demonstrate trust in a value Scalia himself held dear: the rule of law. As a strict constructionist, Scalia knew what the Constitution says about Supreme Court vacancies. He would have laughed at the suggestion that the country should wait until a new president is elected for a replacement to be nominated — even though he would have been very aware of the political calculations in the suggestion.

Once the president makes his nomination known, we hope the Republican-controlled Senate will take its job seriously, rather than react with knee-jerk opposition or follow Donald Trump’ s suggestion of “delay, delay, delay.” Instead, they should vet the nomination fairly and honestly. With a host of consequential cases pending before the court, a 4-4 split among justices isn’t in anyone’ s interests.

While the likely heated political process that will follow Obama’ s nomination will create great theater, it will threaten good government. And it is anyone’s guess which segment of the electorate will become more antagonized by the opposition’ s actions. Wouldn’ t it be ironic if in a push to replace the iconic Scalia with someone just as conservative, Republicans unwittingly galvanized the electorate to vote for a Democrat for president?