“A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of faith.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

When Washington’s 147 elected legislators go into session in Olympia every January, they spend the next several months deciding on thousands of bills that touch people’s lives, covering critical issues from public safety to education, from health care to human services. Likewise, local and state ballot measures can make a big difference in the strength of our communities and the quality of our lives.

To ensure Jewish community priorities have a voice when those decisions are made, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle serves as a community advocate — working collaboratively with other Puget Sound Jewish organizations to lead support for legislation and ballot measures that strengthen human and civil rights, help people in need, support Israel, and provide resources to Jewish communal agencies.

 

The top 10 ways Federation advocacy made a difference over the past 12 months

LEGISLATIVE SEDER

The Federation held its fifth biennial Legislative Seder on April 5, a gathering that drew 80 lawmakers, legislative staff, state agency employees, and Jewish community leaders. The Legislative Seder is one of the best opportunities available to educate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about the Jewish values that are the foundation of the community’s advocacy priorities. At this year’s Seder, Jewish Family Service and Hadassah spoke to lawmakers about the ongoing immigrant resettlement work vital to their respective organizations here and in Israel.

JEWISH COMMUNITY LOBBY DAY

Legislators pay attention when their constituents visit. On March 16, Jewish Community Lobby Day, 65 Jewish community members — a 50 percent increase
from 2016 — met with 42 legislative offices to speak up for legislation to prevent discrimination, strengthen voting rights at the local level, and to protect state funding to fight homelessness.

ADVOCACY TRAINING

In response to the huge uptick in community members interested in advocacy after the 2016 election, the Federation gave six “Judaism and Advocacy 101” trainings across the Puget Sound region. Attendees were trained on the basics of grassroots lobbying and the importance of Jewish values in advocacy — empowering them to get involved. Trainings were held for Congregation Beth Shalom, Endless Opportunities, Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, Kavana Cooperative, the Jewish Federation’s PAVE, and Temple Beth Hatfiloh.

HELPING JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS

The Federation organized lobby days for community members to urge their lawmakers to support Jewish Family Service’s human services budget priorities and Camp Solomon Schechter’s request for capital funding to replace aging infrastructure. The final proposed state capital budget includes $200,000 for the Schechter project, but the Legislature has delayed passage of this budget pending agreement on a separate water rights issue. The final funding amount awaits a compromise 2017-2019 capital budget. 

HUMAN SERVICES

Federation advocacy helped secure a 2.5 percent budget increase for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Grant, a program critical to many Jewish Family Service clients. The Legislature maintained funding at current levels for two other critical human services programs for low-income adults: the Aged, Blind, and Disabled grant, and the Housing and Essential Needs grant.

ACCESS FOR ALL

The Federation endorsed King County Proposition 1, Access for All, an arts, science, and heritage funding sales tax levy on the August 1, 2017, primary ballot. Had Access for All passed, it would have provided $67 million per year to over 350 organizations across King County to support free and reduced-cost arts, science, and heritage experiences, with an emphasis on underserved communities and on schools with high numbers of students from low-income families. Five Jewish community organizations would have received a collective increase of almost 1,500 percent in county funding over the next seven years — the Holocaust Center for Humanity, Music of Remembrance, Seattle Jewish Chorale, Stroum Jewish Community Center, and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. The Federation galvanized supporting organizations, sent out e-blasts, and organized phone banks to get out the vote on this important measure.

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION

A new state law, enacted with strong community support, strengthens safeguards keeping firearms out of the hands of people already barred by law from owning them. The law requires firearms dealers to notify law enforcement when a person tries to buy a firearm but fails a background check. In addition, the law requires notifying domestic violence survivors protected by court orders when an abuser attempts to buy a firearm.

The Jewish community was at the forefront of support for Initiative 1491, the successful November 2016 ballot measure that allows law enforcement and families to ask a court to suspend temporarily a person’s access to firearms if that person is a serious danger to themselves or others. I-1491 has saved lives.

HELPING FAMILIES

The Federation supported Washington’s new paid family leave law, which gives employees paid time off to care for newborns, recover from serious illness or injury, or care for
family members facing a serious medical condition. The Federation also worked for passage of legislation requiring employers
to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, such as greater flexibility in work schedules.

HATE CRIMES

The Federation helped the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) participate in a work session to educate the Washington State House Public Safety Committee on what makes a strong hate crime law. There have been efforts across the country to weaken or water down hate-crimes legislation. The ADL, a national expert on such legislation, played a critical role in keeping Washington state’s law one of the strongest in the nation.

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