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Recent Activities: Philadelphia

Philadelphia-area participants in this summer's Israel Institute for Labor Leaders debriefed Philadelphia JLC Regional Director Rosalind Spigel on their many positive experiences and informative meetings. Participants also met with Philadelphia AFC-CIO Council President Pat Eiding and Legislative Director Liz McElroy to report on their trip. Subsequently, Brother Eiding invited them to brief the delegates to the city's monthly AFL-CIO council meeting in October. A meeting has been scheduled with the Israeli Consul General.

In October, the Philadelphia JLC and the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation held a debriefing with the In August, PJLC reached out to area rabbis to participate in this year's Labor on the Bimah program; we suggested that they highlight one of a number of issues particularly of concern to working people, such as health care reform; handgun safety; the Employee Free Choice Act; meaningful immigration reform.

In July, PJLC hosted a book signing on July 12th with Mr. Tsvi Bisk, author of The Optimistic Jews; A Positive View of Jewish Life in the 21st Century. Mr. Bisk, an Israeli, was in the country promoting his book and to attend a conference of the World Futurist Society.

In June, for the third year in a row, Religious Leaders for Justice at Comcast made an appeal to CEO Brian Roberts at the annual Comcast shareholders meeting. Regional JLC Director Spigel joined a number of clerics in asking questions and making comments on behalf of workers who had been unfairly treated. Mr. Roberts agreed to meet with a delegation from the Religious Leaders the following month. This meeting came on the heels of a letter, signed by 10 rabbis, to Mr. Roberts, raising the connection between Passover and the theme of injustice as experienced by former Comcast employee Will Goodo, and a full-page ad in Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent, "Mr. Roberts, Does Comcast Really Care?" The delegation from Religious Leaders did meet with David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast, and Arthur Block, the company's General Counsel. Ms. Spigel participated in this meeting, addressing a variety of concerns regarding how Comcast workers were treated.

Earlier in the year, as part of her ongoing work in support of the Comcast workers organizing drive, Ms. Spigel, representing Religious Leaders for Justice at Comcast, testified at an event hosted by the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO's President Pat Eiding and the SouthEast Pennsylvania Area Labor Federation's Steve Sarno. Ms. Spigel spoke on behalf of Comcast workers who were too fearful of personal repercussions, including losing their jobs.

On May 17th, PJLC joined the second of a series of delegation visits to the Jones Apparel Group's corporate offices in Bristol, PA. Organized by United Students Against Sweatshops, the delegation - a similar group went in February (and PJLC also participated back then) - pressed JAG to end the repression of workers in Africa and Central America who were organizing for justice and dignity in factories supplying products sold by the apparel group.

In April, PJLC activists participated in the annual Workers' Memorial Day, observed to focus attention on working men and women who lost their lives on the job. Families remembered loved ones; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling delivered a moving prayer and plea for action to safeguard workers' lives and health. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka was keynote speaker at the event.

Also in April, PJLC again joined the Coalition of Labor Union Women, UNITE HERE, members of the Philadelphia City Council and others to observe Equal Pay Day in city council chambers. The Equal Pay Day ceremony raises awareness about disparities in pay for women and ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. It is observed in April to symbolically demonstrate how much into the following year members of these groups have to work to earn as much as men earn in a year.

As part of a multi-city Stand with Darfurians Rally and March initiative, JLC members joined a city-wide action in April to call for U.N. Peacekeeper protection, a sustainable peace agreement, punishment for the perpetrators of genocide, and PA divestment from Sudan.

PJLC formally joined the Pennsylvanians United for Affordable Health Care coalition in April [it was a busy month!] to make a fundamental reform to that state's health care system. As a member of coalition, PJLC participated in Cover the Uninsured Week, meeting with and attending a press conference with Governor Edward Rendell. PJLC arranged for a rabbi to speak at the April 26th meeting to briefly discuss Jewish values and health care.

Regional Director Spigel, representing the PJLC, participated in a panel on volunteer opportunities to the diverse members of Birthright Israel Alumni Association, the National Museum of Aerican Jewish History, the collaborative, the Jewish graduate Student Network, and Havarah. At this event, geared towards local Jews in their 20s and 30s looking for ways to engage as volunteers or professionals in social change and/or advocacy work, Ms. Spigel highlighted the PJLC's work linking the organized Jewish community and organized labor as well as other community groups. She noted how we work together on social justice issues such as a higher Minimum Wage, better labor conditions, health care reform, better public transportation, Medicare and meaningful immigration reform.

In March, PJLC again organized a workshop on Teaching the Lessons of the Holocaust at the annual conference of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This workshop, organized with local alumni of our internationally-acclaimed Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program, had child survivor and author Anne Fox, and alumni Steffanie Connelly, as presenters. The panel and following discussion were moderated by JLC member Professor Art Shostak.

Also in March, PJLC held our annual Labor Seder, co-sponsored with the JCRC of Greater Philadelphia. Led by JLC Executive Director Avram Lyon, the ceremony tied the story of the exodus of the oppressed Hebrew slaves from ancient Egypt with the stories of those in our midst who struggle every day for dignity and freedom, especially a measure of economic freedom. Selected individuals, lighting one each of four candles and reading specific texts, interspersed the ritual with lively discussion on the importance of freedom and delivering hope for a better day. Among the participants were leadership from the JCRC, the Shomrim [Jewish members of the police officers], the UFCW, the IBEW, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

And in March the student group Kol Tzedek, Penn Hillel and PJLC sponsored `Working for Liberation in 2007: The Tzedek Hechsher Initiative' -- a pre-Passover social justice program at the University of Pennsylvania. Our featured speaker, Mr. Lyon, explored the genesis of the Conservative Movement's new tzedek hechsher initiative, which grew out of an examination of theworking conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher slaughtering facilities in Postville, IA.

Also in March, PJLC cosponsored a presentation by British academic, Dr. David Hirsh, on Anti-Semitism in Polite Company, distinguishing between diverse types of anti-Semitism, and how anti-Semitism has become often attached to criticism of Israel. Israel, Zionism and Zionists are often portrayed as bad guys, noted Dr. Hirsh, who has been part of the campaign to combat anti-Israel resolutions, including boycott Israel resolutions, from academic unions in the UK and elsewhere, illustrated his thesis with cartoons, press and other statements. The program was organized by PJLC and co-sponsored with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the ADL, Brit Tzedek V'Shalom, and Hadassah of Greater Philadelphia.

When concern was raised about the introduction of racial prejudice into the city's mayoral race, PJLC joined with the ADL, Asian Americans United, CONGRESO, the League of Women Voters, the Committee of Seventy, and the Urban League of Philadelphia in reaching out to mayoral candidates urging them to prevent racial bias from entering the campaign.

Among our diverse local labor campaign activity, PJLC has continued to be working in support of workers at the King of Prussia Mall, as part of a multi-group campaign of SEIU 32BJ, Jobs with Justice, the Laborers, and others.

Ms. Spigel participated in a public discussion at the beginning of the year with Jewish Council for Public Affairs Director Rabbi Steve Gutow. The a wide-ranging discussion of the Philadelphia JCRC explored challenges facing the Jewish community in the areas of Israel advocacy, interfaith and intergroup relations and public policy. The local JCRC Policy Board hosted the event.