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Dear Reader: History & Herstory

Photo by
Ian Spanier

At Chanukah time in most Hebrew schools you often hear a lot of talk about the courageous Judah Maccabee, but much less, if anything, about another great warrior hero of the Maccabean revolt—Judith, whose slaying of the Seleucid Greek general Holofernes resulted in victory and the rededication of the Temple. We owe our liberation to brave women as well as brave men. Yet it is not only might that we celebrate this season; it is also spirit—the light both men and women bring to the world by acknowledging each other’s dignity and worth.

In our own day, U.S. servicemen and women who return from the battlefield in defense of liberty and freedom do not always receive the medical care they deserve. Women, especially, are at a disadvantage because of the high incidence of sexual assault in the military. An estimated one in three servicewomen faces sexual assault sometime during her service (and that percentage may be even higher because this crime often goes unreported). Yet, under the U.S. military health plan known as TRICARE, a woman in the armed forces or a female family member of a military service person facing an unwanted pregnancy is denied access to abortion services in a military facility, even if she offers to pay with her own money. TRICARE will pay for an abortion only if the mother’s life is in danger—no exceptions for rape or incest.

And upon reentering civilian life, these modern Judiths will earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men of comparable education and experience. Over a lifetime (47 years of full-time work), this gap amounts to a loss in wages of $700,000 for a female high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate, and $2 million for a professional school graduate. To remedy this inequality, the Paycheck Fairness Act was introduced in April 2011 in the Senate, only to be defeated a year later by eight votes short of the required 60.

Our conscience and our tradition demand that we pursue justice for all men and women—whether warriors or civilians—who are denied fairness and equality.

As we kindle the chanukiah this year, may we recall the inspiring stories of both Judith and Judah, and remember those who, through strength and courage, have brought justice to our world.

May the light of freedom and equality burn brightly at this season and through the years ahead.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
President, Union for Reform Judaism

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Union for Reform Judaism.