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Teens Lobby Congress for People with Disabilities and on Stem Cell Research

Rabbi Julia Weisz brought three teens from Congregation Or Ami to Washington DC for the L’takein Weekend of Learning and Lobbying, at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. After days of learning about the intersection between public policy issues and our Jewish values, our teens went to Capitol Hill to lobby their Congressional leaders. They prepared and delivered these lobbying presentations on Disability Rights and on Stem Cell Research. Article in the Acorn Newspaper.

Disability Rights

by Lisa Friedman and Chase Rocker

Hello my name is Chase Rocker, and I am from Calabasas, CA. Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us today. We are in Washington with hundreds of other teens from the Reform Jewish Movement to participate in the L’Taken seminar an intensive four day program focused on Jewish values and social justice sponsored by the Religious Action Center which is the legislative office of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews and the Central Conference of American Rabbis whose membership includes over 2000 Reform Rabbis. We would like to discuss the issue of Disability Rights.

Hello once again, my name is Lisa Friedman. From just looking at me, you may not realize that I am disabled. In 5th grade my back started to hurt, so I went to a couple of doctors who told me to do physical therapy. I started doing physical therapy but my pain did not go away. After about half a year of physical therapy, I decided to stop. In 7th grade my back started hurting even more than before. My orthopedist found scoliosis and I started physical therapy to get rid of this condition. After about 6 months of physical therapy, we saw improvement. My physical therapists made my program more intense after seeing this improvement. Everything went downhill from this point on. All of a sudden, my knees started to hurt. I suddenly had issues running and even walking. I soon could not play sports and do things my friends could do. The focus shifted from my back to my knees at that point.

After about 15 doctors appointments, multiple MRS’s, blood tests, x-rays, land and water therapy, and more, no doctor could find any sign of anything wrong with me. I then was recommended to go see a doctor who specializes in biomechanics and had a large grant from USC for lots of High Tech equipment. At the lab, they put many sensors all on my body and videotaped me walking, running, and doing many other exercises. The doctor and his team also tested my hip and leg strength. After the testing was done, the doctor concluded that I have significant strength deficits in my hip extensors and hip abductors. On a basic level of concept, I have 35% hip strength. From looking at the walking analysis done at the lab, we concluded that my physical therapists retaught me how to walk the wrong way, so now I had no strength where strength is really needed.

My life changed that day. I was put into a very intense physical therapy program that was focused on strengthening my hips. In the middle of that process, my back got worse and worse. After many tests and no issues found, a very bright rheumatologist at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia. To this day, I am in pain every second of every day, and I am still doing physical therapy six days a week. This makes it very difficult to function as a normal human being without a disability and also as a normal teenager would. It is sometimes very difficult to do different things than everyone else is doing and have limitations and not have much flexibility.

Hello once again, my name is Chase. If The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD is ratified by the Senate it would put America in a leadership position globally to help support people with disabilities. An estimated one billion people in this world and 56 million in America live with some form of a disability, like Lisa does. In developing countries, 90% of children who have disabilities do not attend school. In the US, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is nearly twice the national average. The CRPD represents an international effort to bring the world closer to achieving the goals of equality, full participation and independent living and self sufficiency for people with disabilities. The CRPD will also provide benefits here in the US as well. It would make traveling and working abroad much easier for persons with disabilities in America, especially those who do so frequently such as, Veterans with disabilities and military family members with disabilities.

Lisa: My Jewish faith teaches the importance of respecting those living with disabilities. One of the main texts that Jews study is: “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind,” from Leviticus chapter 19 verse 14. Stumbling blocks come in many forms, from less-than-accessible buildings, services on the Sabbath, prayer books and web pages to health care that is harder to access or isn’t sufficient for people with disabilities. Helen Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” The Union for Reform Judaism does as much as possible to help Jews gain this vision. As Jews, we are obligated to remove all of these stumbling blocks. This is why Reform Judaism cares so deeply for the rights of people with disabilities.

Chase: One hundred and fifty one countries have already ratified the CRPD. Regarding this information many people outside the US believe that this topic is important to be ratified.

We would like to thank you for your support and encourage you to vote for the ratification of CRPD.

Stem Cell Research

by Dawson Litt

Hello, my name is Dawson Litt, and this is Chase Rocker and Lisa Friedman. We are part of Congregation Or Ami from Calabasas, California. Thank you very much for making time in your schedule for us today. This weekend, Chase, Lisa and I have been staying in Washington with hundreds of other teens from the Reform Jewish Movement to participate in the L’Takein seminar, in an intensive four-day program, focused on Jewish values and social justice. This program is sponsored by the Religious Action Center, which is the legislative office of the Union for Reform Judaism. The Religious Action Center consists of 900 congregations across North America, which ultimately encompasses 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. We would like to discuss several different issues with you today. Chase and Lisa will be sharing information with you on why disability rights in this world are important. My topic is about why Stem Cell Research should be further funded.

I know that you have been a supporter of Stem Cell Research in the past, and I would like to thank you. In my opinion, Stem Cell Research could affect my life, and other American families. Several of my cousins have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The process my cousins go through at every family meal devastates me. I have to sit there acting as if they have a small cold that will eventually go away. But its not like that; after reading the effects stem cells could potentially have on diabetes, I was astounded. I knew this topic could change many families in America.

As a Jew, I believe human beings are charged with doing everything possible to save another person’s life. Our tradition requires this and that we utilize all of our knowledge and abilities in order to heal the sick. (Shulchan Arukh Yore De’ah 336:1).

Stem Cells are a revolutionary piece of science that can potentially develop into any kind of cell, tissue or organ in the body. As of now, Scientists are experimenting with ways to prompt the stem cells into becoming whatever type of cell is needed to fix or replace damaged cells. Many patients who need treatments for different ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and certain types of cancer along with other serious conditions could potentially be cured with Stem Cells. The power Stem Cells will have in today’s medical services would revolutionize treatments and cures, causing millions of people with drastic diseases to again be considered as a normal human being.

Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research is vital to advancing this research and ensuring it is used for the public good. President Obama has allowed embryonic stem cell research to proceed by Executive Order, which does not allow for permanent research and funding of Stem Cells. Yet a law passed by Congress can ensure the research can continue over the long term, and as presidents change. With research and money funded for an extensive amount of time on stem cell research, we can potentially revolutionize humankind.

As this act could potentially further evolve science and strengthen human immunity to disease I urge you to co-sponsor H.R. 2433—the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2013. Thank you for your time.

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