Democracy in Action
Lobby Day shows elected officials that the Jewish community cares about the direction of the state.
One major correction about last week’s story on Jewish studies at UW: Professor Mika Ahuvia was incorrectly listed as a signer of the Israel/Palestine letter. I am very sorry about this honest and stupid mistake.
The University of Washington sent over a few other minor corrections, so please refer to the web version, not the emailed version, as the most up-to-date and accurate. I did not, however, include all of their suggested corrections. For instance, the UW media office clarified that the Israel studies program was not, as I wrote, “created in 2017 with the intention of providing a less biased stance on Israel in response to the raft of professors and speakers on the lecture circuit who challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s existence,” but rather to provide “excellence in Israel studies.” This is true, but it’s also true that the intention of the advisory board and Benaroya was to balance the agenda they viewed as slanted against Israel, which is why the funding was pulled in the end, obviously. I find it hard to believe that the UW didn’t understand this.
The UW media representative (who had missed a pre-press email from me with some of these questions) also shared that the positions of Liora Halperin, Sasha Senderovich, and Noga Rotem won’t be affected by the withdrawal. While one may think it’s wrong or not like the fact that the endowment was withdrawn, none of these professors are losing their jobs. In fact, as the UW media rep informed me, donations toward the Sephardic Studies Program actually increased last year, despite threats from some community members to pull their donations. Institutions of higher learning, where critical theories are born and academic freedom is enshrined, are not under siege.
Lastly, just a note of thanks for so many words of support about this story. It is very hard to write about one’s own community, especially when it’s in the middle of an ugly cry. I do hope that Jewish studies will find a way forward and rebuild its relationship with the community, because they have always done so much good work.
Lobby Day Is Local Democracy in Action
Roland Roth thinks of himself as living in “the diaspora of the diaspora.” The Marysville-based fifth-grade teacher, along with his wife and son, are the only Jews in their neighborhood. That’s one of the reasons he felt it was important to attend this year’s Jewish Lobby Day with the Federation and Jewish Communal Relations Council.
“I think that those of us who live in the ‘diaspora’ can have an incredible voice in local and state politics,” he says. By showing up as a Jewish voice to his state representatives, District 44 Democrats Brandy Donaghy and April Berg, Roth had the chance to advocate for the bills selected by the Federation and the Jewish Communal Relations Council and show them that the Jewish community, however small, cares about the direction of the state.
In 2016, the Federation, through the leadership of now-JCRC director Max Patashnik, started leading trips to Olympia to lobby for a handful of bills highlighted as Jewish community priorities. After taking a year off during Covid, this year Lobby Day came back in a virtual format last week, on February 17. A record 71 participants from 30 legislative districts advocated with 40 state representatives and 18 senators.
“One of the beautiful things about the Federation and JCRC is that people across [the religious spectrum] were uniting around issues and bills and funding things that are reflective of Jewish values,” Patashnik says.
The entire 2022 legislative agenda was formed with the help of a community priority survey that went out last fall to nearly 600 people. It includes a range of bills addressing gun violence prevention, combating anti-Semitism and hate crimes, strengthening civil liberties and minority rights, supporting immigrants and refugees, protecting the most vulnerable, and furthering criminal justice reform and racial equity.
As part of the legislative agenda-setting process for Lobby Day, the JCRC works with local organizations to understand their priorities, then presents legislation that aligns with their goals, drilling down to the bills that will likely be alive on Lobby Day.
The JCRC chose five priority areas in alignment with local Jewish organizations: SB 5838 to subsidize diapers, HB 2048 to amend TANF time-limit restrictions, and HB 1748 to expand eligibility to victims of human trafficking (with Jewish Family Service); a Washington State Jewish Historical Society (WSJHS) operating budget request; HB 1630, to establish restrictions on the possession of weapons in certain locations (with ADL); HB 1756 to reform solitary confinement (with Jewish Prisoner Services International); and HB 2078 to establish the Outdoor School for All Program and accompanying budget request (with Camp Solomon Schechter).
Some bills, like one that would increase prosecution of hate crimes, and another that would stiffen penalties for doxing, did not make it onto the floor but remain on the legislative agenda for the year to come. “Prosecution for hate crimes is extremely low,” Patashnik says. “Almost 90 percent of hate crimes are never prosecuted as any crime at all.” But the bill fell apart in the cultural crossfire around policing, and the Federation is focused on building coalitions for 2023 and seeing what comes out of a UW study on restorative justice for hate crimes.
The bills community members lobbied for last week have all passed the House and are making their way through the Senate at this time. Already, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society budget request for $210,000 was approved. This will allow the shoestring organization to create a database for its archives, which have outgrown their storage at the University of Washington Special Collections. The goals of this collection, beyond preserving the community’s history, include increasing public access to information, serving schools, and combating anti-Semitism with historically accurate materials. WSJHS director Lisa Kranseler is thrilled and thanks the Jewish caucus — nine Jewish legislators from around the state — for lending critical support.
“I am so proud of the level of work that the Washington State Jewish Historical Society has produced and with being recognized in the state for our critical mission,” she says. “We were thrilled to work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle to help advocate for this new and important funding stream.”
Camp Solomon Schechter Executive Director Zach Duitch and Director of Operations Jef Nobbe are hopeful that HB 2078 will pass and get the requested $52 million in funding to increase outdoor school opportunities.
“The legislature finds that time outdoors helps children thrive physically, emotionally, and academically, yet over the past few generations, childhood has moved indoors,” the bill reads. “On average, today’s kids spend up to 44 hours per week in front of a screen, and less than 10 minutes a day doing activities outdoors.” The bill seeks to mitigate this by providing accessible outdoor educational experiences for all children in Washington.
Being out in nature, exploring the ecosystems, and getting a camp-style experience provides huge social-emotional benefits, Nobbe says. Passage of the bill will allow for the expansion of Schechter’s onsite partner, OSPREY, which brings students from around Washington to the lakeside Tumwater Jewish camp for short nature-immersion experiences that teach science hands-on and allow kids from diverse backgrounds to unplug and connect with one another. More funding will allow the camp to staff up, increase the number of groups it can host, and improve the overall experience.
“There are too many kids and too few programs,” says Duitch of outdoor learning across the state. “The governor really wants to eliminate barriers with less affluent districts.”
Roth, who had his representatives’ full attention, appreciated the time he got to spend with them, and even invited them to his Passover seder. He regards the experience of Lobby Day as “democracy in action.”
“I’m truly grateful to Max and the team for putting it together,” he says. “They did a tremendous job of engaging people like me. If it wasn’t for the JCRC, I wouldn’t have know about these bills.” Roth sees this as a Jewish duty and a tribute to his grandfather, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. “If he was alive, he’d be at the Russian consulate today,” he says.
“The big bills we were pushing — homelessness and drug treatment and diaper bills — those are not technically Jewish issues, but we know that when times are good, they are good for the Jews,” Roth says. “But if they’re bad, they’re really bad for the Jews. Raise the tide, all ships will rise.”
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This Week Last Year
Listen to my conversation with local author Maks Goldenshteyn on the little-known story of Ukraine’s Holocaust victims and survivors.
If you want to do something to help Ukraine’s Jewish community, consider donating to the JDC.
This week’s parasha is Vayakhel.
Candlelighting in Seattle is at 5:30 p.m.
Check out the 2022 schedule of free quarterly recovery-focused online meditation sessions sponsored by Jewish Addiction Awareness Network and hosted by the Institute of Jewish Spirituality (IJS). IJS offers free daily (M-F) Jewish mindfulness meditation sits at 9:30 am PT/12:30 pm ET, and four times a year, JAAN co-hosts these special sessions with them. They are open and helpful to anyone, whether they are in recovery or not. Our first one for 2022 is scheduled for Friday, March 11th. jaanetwork.org/meditation
Congratulations to the Northwest Yeshiva High School boys basketball team on winning the Northwest District 1 1B championship. Yoel Kintzer was named the Sea-Tac B League’s MVP (most valuable player). Go Lions! —Ty Alhadeff