The Federation's cohort on Jewish Community Lobby Day 2019

Courtesy Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle

The Jewish community chalked up three significant wins in the Washington State Legislature’s 2019 session, the result of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s strong advocacy in collaboration with partner organizations. The successes included enactment of legislation strengthening the state’s hate crimes law, creating best practices for Holocaust and genocide education in public schools, and ensuring religious accommodation for students in higher education.

Now that the new laws have taken effect, the next step is implementation. Work is underway to translate the laws’ goals into real-world impact on the Jewish community.

Amid growing concern about rising hate crimes and incidents, the Federation partnered with the ADL and groups representing the Latinx, LGBTQ, Muslim, and other communities to secure passage of House Bill 1732. The legislation increased civil penalties for hate crimes and established a broad-based advisory group to recommend best practices and policy changes for fighting hate in schools and workplaces. The advisory group’s members include Max Patashnik, Federation’s Director of Government & Community Relations.

The Latino Civic Alliance was one of the organizations with which the Federation partnered. Alliance Board Chair Nina Martinez, a member of the advisory group, says the group is studying “restorative justice” focused on offenders as well as ways to reduce harassment and bullying in schools and increase reporting of hate crimes. “The work group is a starting point to identify policies. Then, as a coalition, we’ll go back to Olympia to pass legislation,”
Martinez says.

Working as a coalition was critical to getting the legislation passed. “It strengthens our ability to move things in Olympia. Every group has different strengths, relationships with legislators, and different resources,” Martinez observes.

The Federation played a critical role in Olympia securing bipartisan support for the legislation, she adds. “That collaboration made both sides take a look,” Martinez says.

The Federation worked with the Holocaust Center for Humanity to pass Senate Bill 5612 to create best practices for public schools that provide classroom education on the Holocaust. The center is working with educators and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to carry the law out.

“We’re giving teachers tools to teach effectively,” as the topic can be overwhelming, says Ilana Cone Kennedy, the Holocaust Center’s Director of Education.

Paul Regelbrugge, an educator the center brought on board as a professional development and curriculum coordinator, says, “the key question is not whether you teach the Holocaust but how you teach it.” Every district is different, and Holocaust education has to be part of a “natural flow with what the classroom needs,” he says. 

The key to learning, Regelbrugge explains, is making the Holocaust relevant to children from a broad range of backgrounds. “Kids really get it when they understand the why, the need to be an upstander, not a bystander,” he says.

“We are teaching kids that they have a responsibility to look out for others and defend others, about the responsibilities of living in a pluralistic society,” says Dee Simon, the center’s Baral Family Executive Director.

Passage of the bill was “the result of collaborative advocacy” by the Federation and Holocaust Center, Simon adds. “We are grateful for the Federation’s continued commitment to Holocaust education as we prepare to implement the legislation in schools across Washington state through outreach, professional development, and the creation of new resources for educators.”

The Federation worked with a number of partners, including the Seattle chapter of the ADL and current students, to pass Senate Bill 5166 requiring faculty to “reasonably accommodate” postsecondary students’ absences for religious observance.

Every year, students face the dilemma of important academic events taking place on the Jewish calendar’s most important days, says Amee Sherer, Greenstein Family Executive Director of Hillel at the University of Washington.

UW finance student Amy Behar says she has faced challenges with taking tests and getting assignments turned in during the High Holidays. “It’s important to have a chance to celebrate and observe [holidays] without sacrificing my grades,” Behar explains.

UW engineering grad student Jack Kaplan says “exams can be rescheduled, and students can get lecture notes from classmates. This is the approach I took with many of my graduate classes this year.” While career fairs are not covered by the legislation’s requirements, Kaplan says scheduling of a School of Engineering career fair on Yom Kippur was a mistake. “I just want to make sure that they don’t make the same — or a similar — mistake again.”

UW law, justice, and society student Gabe Adler says the law will help “create more of an understanding on what different holidays mean.”

Behar offers “a thank-you to the lobbyist effort” that secured passage of the legislation. “This is a great first step.”

Sherer says she is very appreciative of the law but adds that significant outreach will be critical for ensuring important academic events are not scheduled on major Jewish holidays.

The 2019 accomplishments laid a foundation for the Federation’s continuing work in 2020 and future sessions on critical issues for the Puget Sound Jewish community.

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