The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

A Faith in the Future. A Belief in Action.

Washington Institute Archives

SOME IMPRESSIONS: WASHINGTON INSTITUTE 2013 DELEGATES

L-R Roz Altman, Carole Benson, Phyllis Betancourt, Ilene Wechter, Ellen Jacobs, Elaine Bieger, Shelly Winner, Gladys Laden

L-R Roz Altman, Carole Benson, Phyllis Betancourt, Ilene Wechter, Ellen Jacobs, Elaine Bieger, Shelly Winner, Gladys Laden

bag-ladies

L-R Roz Altman, Gladys Laden, Ilene Wechter, Elaine Bieger, Phyllis Betancourt, Shelly Winner, Nita Gottesman, Carole Benson. (Bags proudly sponsored by Bergen County Section in honor of our 90th Anniversary.)

ilenecaroleshellyelaineinbillpascrellsoffice

With Congressman Bill Pascrell on the Hill. L-R Ilene Wechter, Carole Benson, Congressman Pascrell, Shelly Winner, Elaine Bieger

With Congressman Scott Garrett on the Hill. L-R Roz Altman, Congressman Scott Garrett, Gladys Laden, Phyllis Betancourt

With Congressman Scott Garrett on the Hill. L-R Roz Altman, Congressman Scott Garrett, Gladys Laden, Phyllis Betancourt

ROSELYN ALTMAN

It was an honor for me to attend the plenary in Washington, D.C. with the NCJW.  I enjoyed learning about all the exciting programs that council endorses, heard inspiring speeches from very intelligent and dedicated women, and bonded with the members from our New Jersey coalition.  We should all be proud of this organization which has been a leader in advocating for change and improving life for 120 years. read more >>

GLADYS LADEN

The Washington Institute lived up to all my expectations. It was an exciting, informative experience attended by enthusiastic and knowledgeable women.  There were many moments, speeches and presentations that will be hard to forget.  However, there was one presentation on religion-state separation involving a hospital merger that could have resulted in medical restrictions based on religious ideology that was especially memorable for me. It was a perfect example of how grassroots enthusiasm and energy can prevent an action that would lead to reduced medical services for women, and would have imposed restrictions on very personal life and death family decisions. Leadership was provided by an NCJW member from the Philadelphia Section, who worked in coalition with local suburban organizations and unaffiliated residents. Their success in preventing the merger showed that grassroots coalitions can be very effective. It was an exciting story to hear. Also speaking on the panel was the Domestic Program Director of Catholics for Choice. She made us all aware that there is a large segment of the Catholic community that is very supportive of the pro-choice movement.

ELAINE BIEGER

Being chosen to attend Washington Institute 2013 “boot camp” was a privilege.  It was not only an incredible learning experience but the camaraderie and looking out for one another among our own seven delegates was astounding.  My meeting with Congressman Pascrell and his aide, to discuss comprehensive immigration reform and how undocumented immigrants contribute to our economy, was the icing on the cake.

SHELLY WINNER

I have returned from my trip to the Washington Institute with renewed vigor, energy, commitment and enthusiasm for the Advocacy Issues that we at NCJW support.  I heard many dynamic, eloquent and assertive women speak with passion about three of these issues.  They were Gun Violence Prevention, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Restoring Equity in Access to Abortion. These women educated us, informed us and touched our hearts. The participants in the institute included NCJW leaders, high-level government and congressional leaders as well as Rabbis and Senators. At the end of two days of intensive and informative meetings and workshops we were ready to meet our Congressmen on Capitol Hill and lobby for our causes. The visit to Congressman Pascrell was one of the highlights of my trip. I finally understood the power that we as citizens and constituents have and how we can use this power.  By becoming involved, active, and informed we can influence the agenda of Congress and the Administration.  Social change may take a long time to achieve but it can be done.

PHYLLIS BETANCOURT

There we were – a group of 400 NCJW women from as far away as California and as close by as Essex County and NYC.  We bonded over issues on Gun Violence Prevention, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and Restoring Equity in Access to Abortion.  Our “sisters”, as we now referred to ourselves, were well informed and shared their many ideas with us as we learned from each other.  With Gladys Laden and Roz Altman, we visited our local representative, Scott Garrett and shared our passions with his Legislative Aide.  We then had a great surprise when Rep. Garrett came by to join us in a chat and a photo. I’ve come back from this experience as a new person; more educated and much more aware.

ILENE WECHTER

I’ve visited Washington, DC many times in the past. This trip was different for me. I felt like a participant in government rather than an observer. Not only does my vote count – but now so does my opinion.  I took great pride in meeting like-minded women from all over the country. I found them informed, articulate and anxious to change the status quo on social issues.  It was wonderful to hear women speakers address crucial issues that face women, children, the disabled, minorities and the poor.  And finally, I was moved by the willingness of so many women to confront these difficult issues.

CAROLE BENSON

This is Women’s History month and, let me tell you, we were change-makers and made history in Washington DC this March. Seven of us were among 400 NCJW women from all of the US who, in three intense days, made a difference at NCJW’s Washington Institute triennial public policy event. Our section’s delegates were Elaine Bieger, Shelly Winner, Ilene Wechter, Phyllis Betancourt, Gladys Laden, Roz Altman and Carole Benson.  We were ready, prepared, informed by experts, inspired and excited, when, on our last day there, we went on the Hill to meet face to face with our decision-makers. These were Congressmen, Bill Pascrell and Scott Garrett and Senator Menendez and the Chief Aide to Frank Lautenberg. We talked about just some of the issues that we are concerned and passionate about. They each of them in their own way expressed how important and helpful it is for them to see us in person and hear from our own lips how WE feel. Our focus this time was on Gun Violence Prevention, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and Restoring Equity in Access to Abortion.  We came home elated and powerful in the knowledge that we had made our voices heard loud and clear. Being heard is a WONDERFUL feeling?

Also making her voice heard for women, children and families in Israel, NCJW’s Director in Israel, Shari Eshet, flew in from Jerusalem to speak with fervor about Israel’s social problems, its successes, its social and its hopes for the future. See our website www.ncjw.org  for photos and more about Washington Institute 2013.

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Telling Our Stories, Taking Action: Day 1 At Washington Institute

Despite a gray and rainy day in DC, the first day of NCJW could not have been brighter and more inspiring. A number of panels and speeches spoke to the power of personal storytelling in enacting wider social change. NCJW members throughout the day brought up the Passover exodus story to recall the Jewish connection to issues we hold dear: exile and immigration, personal freedoms and the right to control our own bodies and lives.

We convened for an opening plenary that called rapt attention from a room of 400 people, as gun violence prevention advocate Lori Haas spoke to an awed and silent crowd. She chronicled the pain of learning about her daughter’s injury at the hands of the Virginia Tech gunman, and her agonizing drive to the campus behind emergency response vehicles. Although too many tragedies — whether mass shooting like the one that touched her own life or everyday gun violence in city streets — have occurred without enough change in gun laws, Haas said she was optimistic that everyone in the room could raise her voice and “save a life,” making a dent in the American epidemic of “children killing children.”

Another intense testimony came from the courageous DREAMer and immigrant rights activist Julieta Garibay, who is “undocumented and proud.” With audible emotion, Garibay told the story of her realization, when she was approaching high school graduation, that despite being “college material” her immigration status prevented her from applying to schools. She returned to Mexico but found herself yearning for the US, the homeland where she felt she belonged. Eventually she came back and enrolled in a pilot program at a college in Texas and became an advocate for those like her, caught between worlds in a broken immigration system. The crux of the issue, she said, is so much greater than just the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act or the President’s deferred action plan (which only affects those younger than she is), embracing the dignity of all who want to make this country their home. “This is our country too,” she said.

During the afternoon, NCJWers got to attend breakout sessions on issues they were passionate about, such as social justice in Israel, LGBT rights, human trafficking, domestic violence, gun violence prevention, reproductive justice, immigration, and church-state separation. Tweets from the sessions revealed lively, inspiring speakers and dialogues, which we hope will continue on the discussion boards created for the topics on myNCJW.

The closing event of the day was also the opening meal we ate together. After a beautiful motzi and some noshing, we welcomed three young reproductive justice advocates to award as Champions for Choice. The activists each wowed the audience in turn, an audience of “rambunctious women” according to Sandra Fluke, the first honoree to speak. Fluke, who came to prominence (after years of previous activism) by being attacked for her stand on insurance coverage for contraception, “you’re honoring me for doing what you do every single day.” She spoke of the reproductive justice framework, which honors parenting and contraception as well as abortion rights, as being a way to connect to people on values transcending political ideology.

Next up was the amazing Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Rights and Health, who explained the swelling support for women’s rights, LGBT rights, and progressive causes among Latinas–emblematized by the campaign “soy poderosa:” I am powerful and I have a voice. She also detailed the looming threat to reproductive rights posed not only by the spate of recent state laws chipping away at Roe, but by the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, and immigration laws that intimidate Latina women from getting the health care they need. She narrated the harrowing story of Rosie Jiménez, who died from a back-alley abortion after Hyde, the amendment which prohibits medicaid-funded abortions, was enacted. She reminded us that are no abortion rights without access to service and care.

Finally Kierra Johnson of Choice USA addressed us about the experience of young people, often from marginalized groups, whether they identify as LGBT or people of color, who have found their feminism through the work of reproductive justice. To truly affect lives and see reproductive justice becoe a reality, Johnson said, we can’t just change policy, we need to change attitudes. For instance she relayed the story of a young woman who revealed that the fear of being labelled promiscuous, more than miseducation, was preventing her from practicing safe sex.

The message of the evening was clear:  the right to choose is connected to a panoply of other rights and issues, including immigration, sexuality, poverty, racism, and identity. We must attract young people and unexpected voices to the cause — and we have to be allowed to tell our stories, in all their variety and uniqueness.

Posted by sarahms on Mar 17, 2013 10:36 PM US/Eastern

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Daring To Seek Justice: Day 2

NCJW members spent their second day in DC fueling up on the issues and the stories that will enable them to be the fiercest advocates possible when we arrive on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Our issues breakfast featured “briefings” by three seasoned experts. Speakers from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the National Council of La Raza, and the Center for American Progress came to encourage NCJWers to speak out to their elected representatives.

First we heard from Brina Milikowski of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who are lobbying for the closing of loopholes that allow people to purchase guns over the internet and at gun shows without background checks–an enormously popular method of gun violence prevention that has been met with the force of the gun lobby. She pointed out that guns will still be available legally if this step is taken: There are more licensed gun dealers in America than McDonald’s, Starbucks and post office branches combined,

Clarissa Martina deCastro of the National Council of La Raza urged the audience not to pay too much heed to the media narrative that says immigration reform is not possible: it is. In fact, she noted though there has been moral urgency on this issue for a long time,the record number of deportations in recent years has brought even conservative people of faith to understand that solutions must be found: pathways to citizenship, humane and just enforcement of laws, and fixing the legal immigration system.

Finally Jessica Arons of Center for American Progress spoke to us specifically about the effort to repeal the odious Hyde Amendment, which keeps abortion care for low-income women uninsured, and leads to a double-standard. Hyde, Arons told us, amounts to government coercion in women’s reproductive choices, and we know that NCJW women are not fans of the government being involved in such personal decisions.

Members split off into their state caucuses where they spent time preparing to meet with their individual representatives and senators to advocate for these very issues, and they left their sessions ready to take their advocacy to the Hill.

After such an invigorating morning, it was appropriate to celebrate “Women Who Dared,” at lunchtime. We were treated to a visit from the enthusiastic Tina Tchen, who works for both the President and First Lady and advocates for many of the same issues NCJW does. She told us not only about the White House seder tradition and assured us that White House agenda includes protecting women’s health through implementation of the Affordable Care Act and enacting gun violence prevention and immigration reform.

Our CEO Nancy K.Kaufman addressed the crowd, connecting many “women who dared” from biblical heroines Shifrah and Puah to our founder Hannah G.Solomon to Rosa Parks, Emma Goldman, and the Women of the Wall in Israel. Then TV host, columnist, professor and public intellectual Melissa Harris-Perry took the stage to receive her Woman Who Dared Award from past president Nancy Ratzan. Her warm and thoughtful remarks traced her own American family, Mormon and African-American, progressive and rooted in faith, and the JCCs and Hillels where she and her family have found themselves over the years. She spoke about her shock that so many feminist battles were still being fought and ended by exhorting the audience to remember poverty whenever they advocated, because so many of America’s poor don’t have the resources to advocate for themselves.

It was the perfect send-off to an afternoon of sessions focused on economic justice from education to nutrition to paid sick leave and healthcare. Continue the discussions at myNCJW’s new discussion boards.

With a day so focused on preparing to take action and believing in the possiblity ot change, it seemed appropriate that we also saw many individual NCJW members get awarded for their courageous social change activism. Read about Outstanding Advocates Cindy Amberger and  Laura Lipschultz and Enduring Advocates Judi Wolf and Judy Traub and our Section Champions St. Louis and the South Florida Coalition at their myNCJW profiles and leave them a message of congratulations.

Finally, we were treated to an electrifying plenary on Israel with speeches from our own Director of the Israel Office Shari Eshet and Uri Regev of Hiddush, both addressing how important the separation of religion and state was for the women of Israel. Regev ended with a vow that the future of Judaism must not be a return to the past, but forward to a place where women have full and equal participation.

Today, NCJW learned, practiced and prepared. Tomorrow we will all be women who dared and step into the offices of power to ask that justice be done.

Posted by sarahms on Mar 18, 2013 3:31 PM US/Eastern