Jewish Action Long Island, May 2020 Newsletter

Welcome to Our First Newsletter

"All beginnings are difficult" — Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael on Exodus 19:5

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Long Island, which began as an idea in the minds of five volunteer leaders, has become a powerful chapter of grassroots volunteers that have made concrete, progressive changes at the local, state, and federal levels. This newsletter, which will focus on our activities, represents a new stage of growth for our chapter, adding another dimension to the digital written record of activities on Long Island.

This first issue is long, at least by the standards of an email newsletter. It highlights some of the salient events from January 2020 to the present. Future newsletters, which will appear on a monthly basis, will usually be shorter in length.

One more thing. History has thrown us a curve ball, placing us on a journey whose direction is being shaped minute-by-minute by many competing forces. As we adapt to this changed environment, I believe that our work with Bend the Arc will help us to focus our efforts towards a common goal and make us a more powerful force and voice.

Hold on tight. We’ve got a heck of a journey ahead of us.

Jeff — Editor, [email protected]
Phyllis — Co-Editor
Matthew — Co-Editor

Join Us! Upcoming "Virtual" Meetings

May Community Meeting
WHEN: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 7:00PM-8:30PM EST

Rise as One to Thrive as Many: 2-part training on racism, antisemitism, and white nationalism
WHEN: Sunday, June 7, 4-5:30PM (Part 1) and Monday, June 8, 7-8:30PM (Part 2)

State Budget & Bail Reform Efforts

This year, our volunteer base worked alongside our partner organizations and focused on two campaigns that were tied to the NYS budget process: protecting the gains we made to bail reform last year, and the Promise Package, an attempt to secure funding to support immigrant communities with legal support, refugee support, and adult literacy services.

Our work on these campaigns included joining our partners at rallies, and at lobby visits with Senators Kaplan, Kaminsky, Gaughran, and Martinez, in addition to OpEds and Letters to the Editor, call-in days, and more.

In January 2020, Bend the Arc was one of more than a dozen progressive organizations that held a rally in Mineola in support of bail reform. In brief, bail reform had the double aim of reducing the institutional racism in the bail system, while also reducing the incarceration rate for many crimes where jail is used, not because of guilt, but because a person could not meet the requirements of cash bail. Though the reform only recently went into effect, there were already loud voices, such as the Nassau Police Commissioner, speaking against the legislation. Several speakers spoke at the event, as did Bend the Arc’s Nathan, who provided important historical and political information concerning bail reform.

State Budget & Bail Reform Efforts (cont'd)

In February and March, Bend the Arc members met with Senators Martinez, Gaughran, Kaminsky, and Kaplan to lobby for bail reform and the Promise Package. Members attending the meeting with Sen. Kaplan reported that while she was on-board with supporting the Promise Package in the upcoming state budget, things became a bit heated when the discussion turned to bail reform. Our concern was that the forces aligned against the legislation would succeed in undoing the whole thing. Her belief was that that would not happen, but that the legislation still required some adjustments.

With the passage of the budget in early April, we unfortunately saw bail reform weakened by rollbacks. We were proud to have helped win partial funding for each area of the Promise Package, and we know we are moving into the future strengthened for the work ahead by our work on each of these campaigns.

National Launch of We Rise As One and COVID19

Originally scheduled as two in-person events, one in East Meadow, the other in Huntington, for March 15th, 2020, it was quickly changed into a “virtual” Zoom event. We focused on the continuing need for solidarity across all groups, most especially those targeted by the Right. In addition, we reaffirmed our commitment to work with other organizations that align with our values and, most importantly, we began to strategize how we can increase our ability to build the power of our movement so that we can win in November.

Some of those strategies were evident on April 24th at a mid-day rally held outside the Nassau Correctional Center to put pressure on officials to take action in regards to COVID19 and Nassau County jails. Bend the Arc along with the other progressive groups at this rally, called on county officials to release inmates from the East Meadow jail who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. All who participated in the rally practiced social distancing while they demanded increased testing for inmates, and urged officials to take additional steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the facility. Many who participated, which included inmates’ relatives, drove past the jail, honking horns and chanting. BtA’s Nathan was one of the key speakers at the rally.

April 2020 Monthly Community Meeting

On April 22, we held our monthly “virtual” meeting. In attendance were some of our organization’s latest Jeremiah Fellowship selectees, as well as Javier of Make the Road New York.

We discussed the partial rollback of discovery and bail reforms by Governor Cuomo and the state legislature. While it was not a full repeal, it will mean that most defendants will have to wait longer for access to the evidence against them and that more defendants will be remanded to custody because of their inability to pay bail.

The next topic was the success of Bend the Arc and its partner organizations’ lobbying efforts in regards to the Promise Package. The state budget included $1 million toward refugee resettlement, $7.8 million toward adult literacy programs and $10 million toward immigration-related legal services. While this fell short of the full amounts lobbied for, it was an important win, especially considering the projected tax-revenue shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic.