NJSJR Position Statement on Mass Incarceration

“You are slow to anger and quick to be appeased. For you do not desire the death of the condemned, rather, that they turn from their path and live and you wait for them until the day of their death, and if they repent, you receive them immediately.” (Machzor, Unetane Tokef)


“The United States incarcerates almost 25 percent of the prisoners in the entire world despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population. Hundreds of thousands of people are locked up not because of any dangerous behavior, but because they could not pay off a fine or were convicted of a nonviolent drug or property crime. These people are disproportionately poor people and people of color.

Racial bias, both implicit and explicit, keeps more people of color in prisons and on probation than ever before. One in three black men can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime. Compare that to one in six Latino males and one in 17 white males. The effect of the War on Drugs on communities of color has been tragic. At no other point in U.S. history have so many people—disproportionately people of color—been deprived of their liberty.

Drug arrests now account for a quarter of the people locked up in America, but drug use rates have remained steady. Over the last 40 years, we have spent trillions of dollars on the failed and ineffective War on Drugs. Drug use has not declined, while millions of people—disproportionately poor people and people of color—have been caged and then branded with criminal records that pose barriers to employment, housing, and stability.

Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness are more appropriately addressed outside of the criminal justice system altogether. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success. It’s time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities.

Incarceration triggers a cascade of imperiled rights not only for former prisoners, who face disenfranchisement, denial of housing, the inability to find work and food insecurity, but also for their dependents. Mass incarceration of people of color have devastating and debilitating effects on communities of color.”

NOTE: This text is copywritten, so any references to it should be attributed to the American Civil Liberties Union.

NJSJR Position Statement on Diversity

“All the words have being given by a single Shepherd, one God created them, one Provider gave them, the Lord of all deeds, blessed be He, has spoken them. So make yourself a heart of many rooms and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare [certain things to be] unclean and the words of those who declare [those same things to be] clean.” (Tosefta, Sotah 7:12)

Nashville has long been a warm and welcoming community. Some trace its history of hospitality back to Civil War times. Nashville Jewish Social Justice Roundtable supports diversity in Nashville. Judaism teaches us to welcome the stranger. The commandment to love and protect the stranger is repeated 36 times in the Torah, more than any other commandment. Additionally, stories in the Torah give us guiding examples. The commitment to diversity is especially meaningful today in Nashville because it defines the character of the city. Community leaders embrace the commitment. They make a point of appearing everywhere without regard to race or religion of the constituency. NJSJR applauds this on-the-ground commitment. People who follow this precept get elected. Conversely, NJSJR condemns racism and bigotry as antithetical to Jewish values and dominant Nashville values. We pledge to back efforts supporting diversity and oppose discrimination of any kind.

NJSJR Position Statement on Public Education

The more sitting [and studying], the more wisdom.” (Mishna Avot 2:7)

For decades, every major city has attempted to reduce the disparity in educational achievement between those in poverty and the more affluent. Nashville Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is eager to support efforts by Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and others in the community to address the issues. School districts have been trying, but progress has been limited. A well-educated population would be a boon to every community. With the number of technical job openings in Nashville increasing, education must be a high priority. Those without a good education will remain mired in poverty which often leads to trouble in school, drug involvement and other crimes.

Several programs are in place to address challenges and opportunities. Academies of Nashville completely overhauled the programs and the curriculum of every comprehensive high school to offer learning addressed to career paths as well as to college preparation. MNPS is collaborating with Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in an extraordinary Pre-K program with learning centers at Ross, Bordeaux and Casa Azafran. Community Achieves brings wraparound services to schools, which serve as a hub for the community the school serves. In 2014-15, 14 schools served 11,865 students. Five more were to be added this year. Mayor Barry has committed to tripling the number of Community Achieves schools. PASSAGE, Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity, addresses the disparity in discipline between white and minority children in schools. NJSJR encourages the continuation and expansion of forward-looking initiatives that strengthen public education in Nashville.

NJSJR Position Statement on Teaching Religion in Tennessee Public Schools

Every argument that is for the sake of heaven, it is destined to endure.” (Mishna Avot 5:17)

NJSJR agrees with the Tennessee Department of Education that objective discussions of world religions are essential components of the world history curriculum for Tennessee students. An understanding of history and culture helps students make sense of their world. It would be impossible to separate studies of the major religions from meaningful studies of history, government, literature or current events.

It is not the role of public schools to promote or proselytize any religion. It is our belief that curriculum guidelines as proposed by the Tennessee Department of Education can be effectively implemented without compromising the belief systems of individual students and families.

NJSJR Position Statement on Insure Tennessee

You shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbor.” (Leviticus 16:16)

There are approximately 280,000 Tennesseans without access to health care coverage. They do not qualify for TennCare/Medicaid or Medicare and do not earn enough to qualify for income tax credit subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, they cannot afford insurance through that program. With no access to health insurance, people go without other necessities to afford care or wait until their situation becomes catastrophic. Medical debt is the most common cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

NJSJR supports Insure Tennessee, the plan crafted by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Under Insure Tennessee, people aged 19 through 64 who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid and have family incomes that do not exceed 138 percent of the federal poverty level, could qualify for assistance that would enable them to obtain health insurance. This plan would be paid for through the federal match under the Affordable Care Act. Should federal contribution be reduced below 100 percent, the gap would be covered by the Tennessee Hospital Association. Thus the state would pay nothing for this assistance. Since Jan. 1, 2014, Tennessee has forfeited over two billion dollars in federal assistance and continues to forfeit $2,700,000 per day.  NJSJR considers it to be unconscionable that Tennesseans continue to suffer, when our legislature will not pursue a remedy at hand.

NJSJR Position Statement on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)

The Jewish experience as immigrants spans the history of civilization. Many of us are only two or three generations removed from the arrival of our own families in the United States. NJSJR believes that only bipartisan cooperation can ground and sustain our country’s core values of economic opportunity, refugee protection and family unification. For this to happen we must fix the broken and confusing American immigration system that adversely affects immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

As do virtually all Americans, NJSJR believes that we must safeguard our borders to protect the security of our nation, maintain the rule of law and create equitable entry opportunities into our country. But this is not enough. We need to create a streamlined legal immigration system that respects human dignity and human rights while responding to the economic needs of our country. We also need a pathway to legal status for the 11 million undocumented residents who, daily, fear separation from their families through deportation. Until such time as Congress moves to fix our broken system, we support President Obama’s relief efforts, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents).

NJSJR Position Statement on Affordable Housing

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:7)

Population growth, higher land costs and the gentrification of core neighborhoods have combined to raise the cost of housing in Nashville to an unfordable level for the average family. More than 54,000 Davidson County households earning less than $40,000 per year are paying more than 30 percent of household income for housing expenses, as are half of all renters and homeowners in Davidson County. Our current housing inventory shortage requires an immediate addition of 20,000 affordable units and another 20,000 workforce units.

Nashville needs to address this shortage through intentional housing and land use policies that will increase our housing supply and create reasonable affordable options. NJSJR believes that inclusionary zoning best practices will result in socio-economically diverse neighborhoods. Our city must significantly increase our investment in the Barnes Housing Trust Fund, which provides monies to build affordable housing for those who earn 60 percent or less of the average median income. The fund should be brought to the level of other proactive intermediate-sized cities which will result in the creation of affordable housing for the least among us.

NJSJR Position Statement on Reduction of Poverty

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

NJSJR believes it is the fundamental responsibility of both our federal and local governments, supported by the private sector and our citizens, to fund social programs that will result in a significant reduction in poverty.

Locally, poverty is at a critical stage.  According to Metro Social Services, we reached an all-time high last year with one in five Davidson County residents (approximately 130,000) living in poverty. Davidson County’s poverty rate of 19.9 percent was higher than that for Tennessee and the United States.  Local requests for food assistance increase every year.  There is a long wait for placement in Section 8 Housing (federal rent subsidized private housing units)  (14,491) with an additional 3,189 on the waiting list for government-built public housing (for very low income and disabled individuals).

We believe poverty must be addressed and reduced nationally and locally through a broad range of policies and programs that focus on:

• The availability of reasonably affordable housing
• Food insecurity and availability,
• Workforce development and opportunity
• Criminal justice disparities
• Education improvement and opportunity
• Fair wages, and
• Access to healthcare.