OUR WASHINGTON INSTITUTE EXPERIENCE

By Barbara Shipnuck and Cynthia Gordon, Co-VPs Advocacy and Legislation

In April five members of NCJW Long Beach, Barbara Shipnuck, Cynthia Gordon, Sharon Brannon, Bobbi Horowitz and Natalie Swit attended NCJW National's Washington Institute.  The Institute, held every three years, focuses on NCJW'S advocacy agenda, which strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families, and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

 

The focus this year was on preserving reproductive rights, protecting and expanding voting rights, supporting measures that would decrease gun violence, and ensuring an independent judiciary.  With those issues in the forefront, two outstanding women received awards, Cecile Richards for her many years of leadership of Planned Parenthood, and former U. S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, whose courageous vote against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the factor that most likely cost her re-election to the Senate.

 

Both women gave stirring talks about the need to stay involved and to stand up for the issues you believe in. Sharon said, “The highlight of my experience at Washington Institute was to understand the relationship between our section and National, and the importance of National as a voice for Jewish women’s issues. There’s strength in numbers. National makes us visible in Washington, as demonstrated by speakers such as Cecile Richards and Heidi Heitkamp.”

 

Our delegation met with Representatives Alan Lowenthal and Harley Rouda, to impress upon them the importance of supporting NCJW's positions on our priority legislation. They both indicated their support.  We were impressed that Congressman Rouda brought up the anti-semitic incident which had occurred in Newport Beach. He expressed his concerns about the rise of hate crimes and his desire to address the issue. We indicated our willingness to work with him on a forum in his district.  

 

In addition we left information for Representative Katie Porter and participated in meetings with the staffs of Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Dianne Feinstein.  In Bobbi’s words: “NCJW's Washington Institute was an experience of a lifetime. We spent several days learning details on the issues for presentation at our Capitol Hill meetings.  Once we got to the Senators’ and Congressional offices, it was thrilling to realize they actually cared about what we had to say.  I learned that our NCJW voices truly do make a difference.”

 

There were many learning opportunities at the Institute.  A group of 17 Israeli feminists attended as part of NCJW’s new initiative entitled: Connecting for Impact: Strengthening the Feminist Ecosystem in Israel. This was a unique group of leaders, including Israeli Russians, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Mizrachi, LGBTQ, Haredi, and more. A panel of four members of this group highlighted the challenges they face in creating a feminist movement in Israel, and what strategies they use. They openly discussed real life issues that they face, such as the threat of a Haredi woman losing her children in a divorce, and the fear that Palestinian women live with daily.

 

There were workshops on Gun Violence Prevention, Health Care, Immigrants and Refugees, Reproductive Rights, Sexism, and Anti-Semitism to name a few. Barbara attended the workshop on Anti-Semitism where a debate broke out after the presentations because some participants felt the presenters had focused too much on the past and not enough on the current dynamics of the issue in the United States. Cynthia attended a workshop on Reproductive Rights, where the panel of speakers emphasized the importance of building coalitions within your local progressive community, so that your strategy is broader. For her, “the workshop was an amazing opportunity to hear, not only from NARAL and the Guttmacher Institute, but also from a representative from Catholics for Choice. It broadened my understanding of who’s fighting for women’s rights!”

 

For Natalie, Washington Institute was an opportunity to learn “about the various ways in which NCJW sections around the country are advocating for social change and to share the work of the Long Beach section. Three days of hard work left me energized to return home to continue the work of Building a Movement Not a Moment.”

 

There were several tributes to Nancy Kaufman, who is retiring as Executive Director of NCJW.  Nancy's vision expanded the reach of NCJW as a "player" on the Washington stage and moved the Board to close the New York office and consolidate the entire national operation in Washington DC.  She stayed on until that was completed.  

 

All in all Washington Institute was an exciting and inspirational conference to attend. We were in the company of 500+ committed feminists, mostly women but a few men as well, all of whom are committed to advancing the causes that are so meaningful to us. Our delegation came back with new energy and new ideas for moving forward with our Advocacy priorities over the next year.