Interview with Rabbi David Saperstein - Part 1
The North Peninsula Jewish Community is honored to welcome Rabbi David Saperstein, a passionate spokesperson for social justice, as our 2014 Scholar in Residence. Rabbi Saperstein is Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, representing the Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration. In 2009 Newseek Magazine named Rabbi Saperstein as the most influential rabbi in the country and the Washington Post described him as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill.”
Rabbi Saperstein was kind enough to give us this interview so that our community might get to know him better.
Q: As a lobbyist on Capitol Hill representing the Reform Jewish Movement, what do you think are the most pressing issues facing the Jewish community today?
“There are over 30 national religious denominations represented in Washington and they are all among the quintessential multi-issue organizations, offering perspectives on many important domestic and foreign policy issues. While it is hard to rank which issues are the most pressing, three clearly would be among our top tier. For almost every religious faith group, the question of how we care for and sustain the poor, the vulnerable, the children, the elderly, the sick is the core moral litmus test of any society. The significant cuts in the food stamp program, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the growing rate of children in poverty, and the efforts to curtail Medicaid (that is indispensible to the ACA program that provides medical care to millions of people, that is one of the largest sources of income for the disabled and for our Jewish, and other religious, community’s nursing homes), all challenge the reality of justice in our society. Secondly, the urgency of global warming and the need to take action now, before it is too late, raises profound religious and political challenges to humanity. Finally, the dangers to Israel from the destabilization of the Middle East region (Syria, Egypt, Lebanon), the constant danger of Iran’s effort to obtain military nuclear capability and the uncertain prospects for an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement (at a moment when almost everyone agrees that this will be the last chance in a generation for such an agreement) provide crucial and urgent challenges to our community”.
Q: What have been your greatest challenges?
“The challenges are, of course, endless. But two groupings spring to mind. In the 20th century, almost every great cause that mobilized the Jewish community (the labor movement, the civil rights Movement, the environmental movement, the women’s rights movement, the great society programs, the Soviet Jewry Movement, the pro-Israel Movement) happened because of a bipartisan coalition of decency on Capitol Hill and a multiracial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition of decency in every community in the country. That bipartisan cooperation has evaporated, with devastating consequences to our nation on some of the most crucial issues we have ever faced. It is just so much harder to make progress on core issues of moral concern. The second great challenge is that we have seen (in part because the National Jewish population surveys of 1990 and 2000 did not ask question about social justice as an organizing principle of Jewish identity) many of the so-called “mega-donors” failed to invest in efforts to build on the social idealism of our young and unaffiliated as a way to lead them to a richer Jewish life. That has greatly impeded the challenge of resisting assimilation that our community faces. The massive Pew poll of the Jewish community released this October reaffirmed this insight into the role social justice plays in the lives of Jews”.
Rabbi Saperstein comes to speak in the Bay Area in January as the North Peninsula Scholar in Residence.
See his lecture schedule at www.pjcc.org.
Read the second installment of this interview next week.