The Social Justice Vision at Stephen S. Wise Temple

Our congregation will see Social Justice as a calling that derives from our sense of God and the imperative of Jewish Tradition. The Stephen S. Wise Temple community will use our influence, power and compassion to be a force for positive, meaningful and effective change in the quality of life on behalf of all the citizens of Los Angeles and the world.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Monday, October 15, 2012

Non-Partisan Voter Guide from KCET

I just completed my mail in ballot and found this very useful site hosted by KCET.  Find it here. Make sure that you take the time to vote!  Remember, you can apply for permanent mail in ballot status by checking the box on your sample ballot and you'll never have to remember to send back anything but your completed ballot again. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Tamar Galatzan cordially invites you to attend a town hall event on Prop 30 and Prop 38.

DATE: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 6:30 PM
LOCATION: Cleveland High School
8140 Vanalden Avenue, Reseda, CA 91335 (in the Multi-Purpose Room)
On-site parking will be available.

Town Hall will provide a venue where you may hear directly from Superintendant John E. Deasy, proposition experts, and ask your questions so you may be a well-informed voter.  November elections are fast approaching and it’s very important to understand how the propositions will impact public education and students.          

Spanish translation will be available.  Please click here for more details.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Get Out The Vote Drive -- PICO, LA Voice

Do all you can in support of efforts to pass Proposition 30--securing revenue for Public Education.  Find out more about the Proposition here.

Make phone calls to encourage voter registration and voting at LA Voice.  Find out more here.

Rabbi Stern is going Sunday, October 9th at 12:30 to make calls. Will you join him?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Voter Guide from the Religious Action Center and the Union For Reform Judaism

Click here for the voter guide. There are also many useful links in this publication that will take you to additional resources. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reed Lawsuit Appeal Verdict

As readers of this Blog might know, members of our Education Advocacy group signed on to the Reed Lawsuit as friends of the Court.  We felt that advocating for teacher retention (despite seniority rules) was an important position to take in the face of high turnovers in the most under served schools.  We know that this has implications for teacher tenure but recognize also that extraordinary needs require extraordinary measures. Here is the result of the suit as reported in the LA Times:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Stephen S. Wise Freedom School Makes KTLA News and Website!

At Stephen S. Wise Temple we are so proud of our volunteers and staff who have worked together to make our Freedom School a remarkable success.  We are grateful to KTLA reporter and Temple member Eric Spillman for taking the time to produce this report and getting it on KTLA!  Click here to see it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

LA Voice in the news

The Power of Interfaith-Based Community Organizing, by Zach Hoover

This article was written by the Executive Director of LA Voice.  LA Voice is our interfaith organizing network committed to organizing faith communities around social justice issues facing the city, our state and the nation.  Our work with our sister congregations enables us to raise our voice as part of a faith based collective voice for meaningful social change. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Stephen S. Wise Freedom School is set to open in June!

These are the "Servant Leaders" for the Stephen S. Wise Freedom School.  The Staff is hired, Temple High School kids will be our "CITs" and 50 children are set to spend six weeks in an exciting, fun and inspiring literacy program on our campus.  The press release is below:

Stephen S. Wise Temple Initiates First West Coast
Jewish Freedom School
On June 25, Stephen S. Wise Temple will open the first Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School sponsored by a Jewish organization on the West Coast, and only the second nationally. Fifty children from Stanley Mosk Elementary School in Winnetka will attend a six-week program of literacy training, mentorship, and enrichment activities on the Stephen S. Wise campus. All costs to fund have been contributed or raised by Stephen S. Wise Temple from its members as well as from family foundations and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.  The program will be run and staffed by Stephen S. Wise Temple adult and youth members, other individuals from the Los Angeles community, and Temple members will volunteer their time for various enrichment programs every day. The teachers will be committed college students with a passion for social justice and a love of children. Students in the program will enjoy resources that the Stephen S. Wise Temple campus offers, including beautiful classrooms, open playgrounds, and a pool. In addition, students will take several field trips to cultural sites around the Los Angeles area, including the Skirball Cultural Center and the Getty Center.

Temple member volunteer and Project Director, Andrea Sonnenberg and professional Site Coordinator, Jennifer Smith recently traveled to Clinton, Tennessee for the Children’s Defense Fund national training. There, along with 250 Freedom School staff from across the country, they acquired essential skills for Freedom School management. As ambassadors for the Jewish community to the overwhelmingly African American Freedom School staff, they were enthusiastically embraced by participants and were able to share Jewish values and teachings with them. Quoting one of the participant’s comments about how much they respected Jews, Sonnenberg recounts, “they [Jews] care, because they are dedicated to education, and because they are motivated by their values.” For Sonnenberg, she notes that this experience “was one of the most transformative moments in my life.”

Rabbi Ron Stern, the Director of Social Justice programing at Stephen S. Wise Temple, adds, “this program establishes Stephen S. Wise Temple as a leading synagogue for creating meaningful and enduring connections with the broadest spectrum of the Los Angeles community. In order for this project to succeed, we coordinated our efforts with LAUSD board member, Steve Zimmer and Principal Barbara Friedrich of Stanley Mosk Elementary School. Through this project, Stephen S. Wise Temple has devoted its superior facilities and skilled professional resources to address inadequate educational opportunities for under-served children.  It is our hope that other religious institutions throughout the Westside will be inspired by our efforts and create their own Freedom Schools. Stephen S. Wise Temple stands ready to offer our support.” 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Responsible Banking Ordinance Passes City Hall!

PICO and LA Voice and their affiliated congregations (Including Stephen S. Wise) have been working to pass an ordinance that will require banks doing business with the city to provide a report card of their re-investement in the city.  See the article here.

See the full ordinance here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Calif. religious leaders endorse Brown's tax plan. 
Rabbis Medwin and Stern joined with 250 religious leaders from across the state in support of a "Land of Opportunity" in California.
Read more,  click here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

They Myth about Who (does or doesn't) Pay Taxes. The Truth? Nearly everyone.

All too often, popular wisdom maintains that many Americans get away without paying taxes. More often than not, this misrepresentation is directed at the lower economic class. Often we hear that "everyone should pay his/her share." The article that you can access here provides  fact based analysis by the Brookings Institution of who pays taxes and in what form.  It is an important piece of information as we debate America's economic future. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

California Revenue Increase Ballow Intiative

In the box below you can see the latest version of the Ballot Initiative to increase revenue for the California State Budget. It was achieved through a compromise between the Governor and representatives of various other organizations and legislators. Far from perfect in many ways,it seeks to balance the clear need for income with the appropriate sources of that income. PICO California endorses the initiative, the Education Advocacy Group of Stephen S. Wise Temple has not yet taken a position on this initiative. Ballot Intiative PICO Summary

Monday, April 2, 2012

Meeting with LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy

by Kathy Kantner

On March 29 a meeting with LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy was attended by members of SSWT Social Justice, LA Voice, and PICO of San Diego, Orange County, Inland Empire, Stockton, Sacramento, Placer County, San Jose, and Oakland to learn about the historic LAUSD Local School Stabilization and Empowerment Agreement finalized last December. Rabbi Ron Stern began the meeting with a Faith Reflection on the meaning of Passover and facilitated the discussion.

Dr. Deasy’s goal during his first year has been for every student to graduate on time and college-ready. He promotes three key points:
1) Human Capital - who has the right to teach and lead our schools?
2) Performance Management - setting benchmarks to track student achievement from year to year
3) Choice - families should not be limited to an under-performing school as their only option; all students have the right to a quality education.

The Agreement will allow schools, over the next three years, with a majority teacher vote, to apply to become Local Initiative Schools. In order to apply as an LIS, school communities will develop a unique plan for each school. The agreement will allow schools to waive rules that previously existed in earlier UTLA/LAUSD contracts. Schools will have more autonomy to: select a particular focus and re-design the curriculum accordingly (for example, to focus on humanities, or science, etc.); to hire and assign staff without considering seniority; to determine how often and which kinds of assessments will be used, etc. As long as schools follow state and federal laws, and implement a rigorous curriculum, the district will stay out of their way. Hiring Committees at schools will need complete consensus to select staff. Any teachers who are not hired will remain in the long-term substitute pool.

An astonishing 77% of UTLA members voted to approve this Agreement -- according to Dr. Deasy it was the highest percentage ever on a UTLA vote. And in fact, more schools want to apply for LIS than the district currently has the capacity to assist through the process. The district is creating videotapes to train staff in developing well-rounded school plans. The lowest performing schools will be the first to apply for LIS. Dr. Deasy is committed to sending 95% of the LAUSD budget directly to schools. Recently the LAUSD Board of Education resolved to introduce a parcel tax election this coming November to ask voters to increase funding for our local public schools -- funding that is urgently needed if schools are to provide a well-rounded, enriched curriculum that includes the arts and A.P. classes.

School districts throughout California and the U.S. will be watching closely to see if real, demonstrable improvements result as changes at schools are phased in. As Dr. Deasy says, “the pressure is on to get it right.” For more information about the Agreement, visit

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stephen S. Wise Temple Education Advocacy Group Joins Rabbi Stern for Meeting with Mayor Villaraigosa

Laurie Bahar, Allison Goodman, Diane Kabat, Barbara Margolis, Bill Kleiman, Zita Fortman, and Judy Niver joined the mayor and representatives from eight congregations of all faiths for a frank conversation about education with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. All participants were members of the LA Voice/PICO organizing community. At the meeting, Rabbi Stern spoke about the Talmudic principle that the world is sustained by the breath of children as the inspiration for our advocacy for public education. Laurie Bahar told the mayor about the difficult decision not to enroll her children in public Middle and High School and the reasons for that decision. Other congregational leaders spoke of their own difficulties with LAUSD. The mayor responded to their words and told of his own commitment to improving our public schools. He spoke movingly about his own mother and the priority that she placed on education and the result it had on his highly successful family. He noted the importance of people from the West Side of Los Angeles (our synagogue and members of IKAR) reaching out to join forces with those from the east and south sides of the city to tip the scales of reform in the right direction. We are proud to be participants in this important effort and recognize that as members of LA Voice we are making a powerful statement about our partnership with our entire city for the betterment of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Reed Brief Summarized

Here's a "lighter" version of the Brief if your legalese is impaired (as mine is. . .). 

Reed Brief FAQs

Monday, March 5, 2012

What is Advocacy for Educational Reform?

The question above anticipates the Legal brief that you may access here (or below) because there might be some who feel that attaching support to a legal suit against UTLA is not advocacy. I'd like to suggest that among the ways that we can advocate for meaningful change is to be agitational.  In the parlance of community organizing, that means making waves, provoking a response, and exercising legal means as well as public pressure to drive change.  This lawsuit, managed on a pro-bono basis by our Temple member Jeremy Rosen, seeks to do just that.  It challenges seniority rules that force schools in minority communities that are already under-served to lay off their effective teachers because they might have lower seniority than other teachers in the entire LAUSD system.

Though it only affects about 50 schools we (who are listed as amici curiae) believe that though layoffs place a harsh burden on teachers (and we deeply regret that burden) concern for the well-being of teachers cannot be the only factor driving decision about who is laid off.  Because the teachers with the least seniority are often placed in the most troubled schools, they are often the first to go.  This creates a high teacher attrition rate in schools where consistency is sorely needed. Why should these children bear the burden of failed educational policies?

Ultimately, major changes must occur in LAUSD as well as the educational system in California.  There are many organizations working for those changes as well as advocates seeking to pressure the legislature, the school districts and the teachers' unions to make those changes.  Some of the ideas are good, some are less so.  However, without pressure nothing will change.

You will notice that the list of amici curiae draws from across the political spectrum.  Thus we feel that our support is in keeping with our commitment to non-partisanship and yet, makes as strong statement about the need for serious reform.  

In addition, in some of his conversations with Educational Advocates, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy indicated that sometimes, suits are the best avenue to affect change in a moribund system overburdened with arcane and obsolete legislative restrictions.

The majority of members of our Stephen S. Wise Temple Educational Advocacy group signed on to this law suit to add our names to those who are pressuring the system to change.  We hope that joined by the voices and actions of many in our state, the officials and leaders whose decisions influence the quality of public education will ultimately make the necessary to improve our schools.

2012-03-01 ACB Reed v. United Teachers [HL]

Friday, February 17, 2012

Involvement of Jewish Groups in the Abortion and Contraception Debate

While we hope that the access of all women to contraception remains a national right, pressure from various religious groups has challenged that assumption.  Read about the involvement of Jewish groups in negotiations with the White House here

Thursday, February 9, 2012

See the linked document below for LAUSD Budget Challenges from the Board of Education.  Provided to us by our Advocacy Partner: Educate Our State

Click here.

I Love my Iphone..but I have a moral dilemma.

By far, the best smart phone that I have ever used is my Iphone. I've been using it for 2 months now and I am astounded by its versatility, effectiveness, and smoothness of operation. I am a power user -- loads of productivity apps, no games.  No "Angry Birds" on my phone.  Quite simply, it does everything you can imagine it to do and more, and it does it well. 

Why the advertisement for the Iphone?  Because I have a moral dilemma.  As much as I love my phone, I have a real issue with the circumstances under which that phone is manufactured.  Apple makes a tremendous profit from its sales and expects to make $32.5 billion, which is a 124% increase over last year! Nothing wrong with making a profit from a stellar product, but the question that we Iphone users have to ask ourselves is at whose expense?  Conditions in the factory that manufactures the Iphone are atrocious.  Apple pays $10 in labor for each phone and the phone itself uses about $190 worth of components.  Even with that, Apple deserves to make a profit just for the design alone.  No question about any of that.  But the question is: can Apple use its clout not only to whittle down the cost of manufacturing to such an extent that Apple shareholders and Apple execs make big bucks, which is, of course the goal of all businesses;  but also to make conditions for workers in China more humane?

Take a look at this report from CNN.  And this one from The New York Times

Here's the question for all of us to ponder:  Can we push Apple to demand better conditions for its Chinese workers?  I believe that we can.  If you agree with me, sign the petition here at

Monday, January 23, 2012

The New American Divide: The ideal of an 'American way of life' is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray on what's cleaving America, and why.

Click here to see an intriguing article from the Wall Street Journal brought to my attention.  What is most compelling about this article is that it presents an understanding of the challenges facing America where conservatives and liberals can actually find common ground.  From this place of non-hyperbolic conversation we can explore solutions that will work for this country. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Latest update from Educate Our State: Ballot Intiative Called Off.

Greetings Camp Educate attendee and EOS supporter!

Thank you, to all of you who attended, for your time and energy at Camp Educate.  Since our November convening in Los Angeles, the Educate Our State Leaders have been hard at work continuing to organize the parent voice.  We wanted to give you an update and a sense of where we are headed for the rest of the year.

Educate Our State Led Ballot Measure Update
After careful consideration, we have postponed our work on an Educate Our State led ballot measure in 2012. If you have been following the initiative landscape, you are aware that the field has become increasingly crowded.  See below for a review of the current proposed initiative measures.  We believe that to ensure that our kids are put first, all interested parties should come together to support a single ballot measure in November.  We are evaluating how we can best support a process that creates the opportunity for this to happen.

The Mission of Educate Our State
The mission of Educate Our State is to be the voice of parents demanding real, meaningful change for our state's public schools. Our goals have always been simple--do what is right for all of our children and our schools. We have organized parents to speak up and speak out, we have connected with other grassroots groups engaged in supporting schools, and we have supported people, positions and efforts that will bring about change.  We will continue this work in the year ahead, and we look forward to your engagement and support.

Moving Forward in 2012--Initiatives and More
There are many opinions among education and political experts about which of the initiatives outlined below is best for students and our state. Unity discussions continue between the three groups that may result in a collaborative effort under one initiative. We will be actively following this process, and we will continue to bring the parent voice to the table.

We Are Strong and Getting Stronger
Over the past year, Educate Our State has grown to 40,000 strong supporters in every legislative district in California.  We have continued our efforts through successful campaigns to send the message to Sacramento that parents and concerned citizens are paying attention and want our elected officials to hear what we have to say about improving our schools.

Camp Educate
Camp Educate was a milestone in our ongoing campaign and has helped springboard us to where we are today.  This leadership and organizational training weekend empowered parents and gave them the skills to lead the grassroots work: be involved in discussions with key groups across the state, evaluate candidates for various races, hold house parties and information sessions, and build a motivated parent-led infrastructure to go to the ballot box and fix education now and for the future.

We cannot do this work without you. The fight for high-quality public education in California is fueled by your generous donations. Our all-volunteer team runs a lean operation with 100% of all donated funds going to the efforts of Educate Our State. Please donate if you can. Together we can unite the voices of Californians in support of high-quality public education and demand real change. 

Thank you for taking a stand for California’s children, and thank you for your support!

The Educate Our State Team