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Utah religious leaders say ‘no more’ to deaths from gun violence

06/03/2022 04:43:27 PM


Emily Ashcraft,

A group of Utah religious leaders lit candles at First Baptist Church while naming recent mass shooting victims from Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; Laguna Woods, California; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Between each name they quietly said, "No more."

The religious leaders from various faiths on Friday asked Utah lawmakers to "heed our cries of war and to do what is right and just."

Rabbi Sam Spector, of Congregation Kol Ami, said the Jewish faith teaches that when prayers are not followed up by action, it is a sin, and a violation of duty to God. He said to politicians and leaders who offer prayers and thoughts, they should also act.

He also said the Bible's book of Deuteronomy teaches that people should take every precaution to prevent danger, which should include laws preventing gun violence.

"What would our sacred scriptures, what would our spiritual prophets and leaders say today about gun violence? We know that they say do not stand idly by when your neighbor's blood is shed and yet after Sandy Hook, we saw that our country said, 'We love our children but not as much as our firearms,'" Rabbi Spector said.

The rabbi said he was 11 when there was a shooting at Columbine High School, which led to his first active shooter training. This year, he is organizing mandatory active shooter drills for his congregation and staff almost every month. He said he spent half of Thursday on the phone with the FBI, after receiving a second death threat for the week.

"While the government has in other cases said, 'Let us keep you safe,' what they told us … was, 'Here's what you do when somebody walks into your store, your place of worship. Now we give you the tools, now you figure it out,'" Rabbi Spector said.

He said he broke down in tears while preparing a sermon for the first time last week, because he was planning to talk about the shooting in Texas and someone asked him if he was going to include the shooting in Buffalo, New York, and he had forgotten about it, just a week later.

"This happens so often here that it no longer stands out in my mind," he said.

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Opinion: Want to help Utah’s poorest families? Reinstate the monthly Child Tax Credit

05/04/2022 08:11:02 PM


By Rabbi Sam Spector, Rev. E. Brian Diggs and Rev. Scott Hayashi

Across the state of Utah and the nation at large, families are struggling to meet basic needs. As rent and food prices steadily rise, more of our neighbors find themselves on the precipice. For people already living in poverty, the view from the bottom of that cliff may be even more daunting.

There are ways individuals can help, of course, but the biggest impact could come from our federal government. One opportunity to ensure not only that families don’t fall off the fiscal cliff, but also to help those living in poverty start the long climb out, is the reinstatement of last year’s expanded monthly Child Tax Credit payments.

The CTC isn’t a new credit, but it was expanded in response to the pandemic and turned from a yearly payment to a monthly boost for families until its expiration in December 2021, amounting to $250 monthly per child ($300 for children ages 0-5). A recent study from Moody’s Analytics found that is about equal to the monthly cost of inflation for the average family. Restoring the expanded CTC — including its full availability for children in the lowest-income families — would have an immediate positive impact on 36 million families. In Utah alone it would lift 44% of Utah children currently living in poverty out of that abyss.

As a group of religious, community and labor organizations, United Today Stronger Tomorrow — Utah commends Utah Sen. Mitt Romney for his strong support of an expanded CTC. He is not alone in recognizing the value of the tax credit, not only for the financial health of his constituents but for the preservation of families across our state. Keeping a family financially stable, and thereby relieving one of the most detrimental pressures on this basic social unit of society, is a worthy pursuit.

We are encouraged by Sen. Romney’s advocacy for monthly CTC payments to people who are in poverty not because they refuse to work, but because a job alone is rarely enough to move a family above the poverty line, especially when the costs for food, fuel, housing and other needs are rising rapidly. We also appreciate that Sen. Romney’s proposed Family Security Act corrected the biggest problem with the CTC before 2021 (and today in 2022), which is that it phased in gradually so that the children of a working single mom earning less than $12,000 a year received less than the full credit — or nothing at all.

The CTC has critics, of course. Some claim it disincentivizes work, a familiar and unfounded fear based on the persistent myth that people live in poverty by choice. A recent letter to Congressional leadership signed by 448 economists from top universities across the nation, including Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, stated that “recent empirical studies suggest that the income provided through the program is unlikely to meaningfully reduce parental labor supply.”

The economic research reinforces what we who have long served people in poverty know — the vast majority of people living in poverty will do whatever they can to get out, but the barriers to success multiply rapidly and are insurmountable without assistance.

In a separate letter, 133 economists from across the political spectrum challenged a second common criticism, that the CTC will exacerbate inflation. The economists explained that “the expanded Child Tax Credit is too small to meaningfully increase inflation across the whole economy, but it will make an important difference for family budgets, especially families in the bottom half of the income spectrum.”

In short, there is no reason not to revive the monthly CTC payments, especially if we believe strong families matter to the health of our communities.

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Why do the Utah Jazz, in the Mormon capital, play ‘Hava Nagila’ after wins

04/21/2022 06:09:19 AM


By Andrew Esensten, JTA

(JTA) — A few years ago, Rachel Picado attended a Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City with Israeli diplomat Eitan Na’eh, who was visiting from Los Angeles. During the closing seconds of the game, which the Jazz won, the two heard a familiar song coming from the speakers in Vivint Arena.

“We were both looking at each other like, why on earth are they playing ‘Hava Nagila’?” Picado recalled. 

She asked the Jazz employees who were hosting her group about the musical choice, and “they were confused that we were confused,” Picado said.

“They said, ‘Well, isn’t it a celebratory song? We’re celebrating the win. Isn’t that what it’s for?’” Picado added.

Many professional sports teams play the same song after each win in their home stadiums. The Yankees use “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers serenade fans with Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” while the Clippers blast Tupac Shakur’s “California Love.” 

And, for more than a decade, the Jazz have celebrated home victories by playing “Hava Nagila,” the Hebrew staple of Jewish weddings and bar and bat mitzvah parties that seemingly has nothing to do with Utah — or jazz, for that matter.

“It’s a bit different, I’ll say that much,” said Rabbi Samuel Spector, who leads Utah’s largest synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City. “Hopefully it gives people a good association with Judaism and the Jewish community, if they associate our music with fun and winning.”

There are eight synagogues and approximately 6,500 Jews living in Utah today; about a quarter of them belong to Kol Ami, which is affiliated with both the Conservative and Reform movements. By contrast, more than 2 million residents — or two-thirds of the population — belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, according to Church statistics. (There are also small numbers of “Jewish Mormons,” Latter-day Saints who take pride in having Jewish heritage.) 

Spector characterized relations between Jews and Latter-day Saints in Utah as close. 

“They have been very generous to us, are always happy to help and have been great friends,” he said. “Even when we have differences, those are not great enough to overcome our friendship.”

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Easter, Passover and Ramadan overlap for the first time in 33 years

04/18/2022 08:41:04 AM


Carole Mikita, KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of three major faiths are celebrating holy seasons simultaneously this year. Easter, Passover and Ramadan take place this month for the first time in 33 years.

Passover commemorates God, through Moses, leading the Jews out of Egypt to freedom.

Easter is the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and promise of life eternal.

In Islam, Ramadan brings a renewal of faith in Allah or God and helping those in need.

In 2022, for the first time in more than three decades, billions of believers of these three faiths throughout the world will mark a Holy Season in April.

Three religious leaders in Utah hope the faithful will make this a time of unity.

Friday, April 15 begins the sacred observance of Passover.

“This year in particular, a lot of us will be thinking of the Ukrainians during our Passover Seders,” said Rabbi Samuel Spector."

Spector prepares new members of his Congregation Kol Ami.

“It’s been an inspirational story for us every year, reminding us that each of us has had that experience of coming out of our personal Egypt and trying to achieve a tomorrow that’s better than our today.”

The choir and congregation of Calvary Baptist Church will once again rejoice on Easter, April 17, or as they call it “Resurrection Sunday!”

“We serve a God that is risen, that has died for our sins, crucified, buried, but lives. And because He lives, we have the victory as well,” said Rev. Oscar Moses, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church.

Not all Christians today, Moses says, understand the true meaning of Easter.

“My desire for the congregation at Calvary, and for others, is one thing — to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection.”

This year, the month-long observance of Ramadan began on April 2.

Muslims often share their evening meals, called Iftar, with people of other faiths.

“We try to increase our spirituality. It is a time of reflection,” said Zeynep Kariparduc, who is now the chair of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Kariparduc now loves learning other beliefs.

“I became aware of the beauty other faiths and, you know, religions,” she said. “I started implementing those teachings into my life.”

She says this year, people of faith need to go beyond tolerance.

“Love and accept those persons in your life as an individual, as a human being, as children, as a child of the God.”

Moses said, “The underlying theme that runs concurrent all throughout Judaism, Christianity and Islam is atonement — man being at one with God.”

Spector added, “It’s a reminder to us of each other’s humanity, and it’s an opportunity as each of us experiences our own holiness to be able to recognize the holiness in each other.”

With the convergence of Passover, Easter and Ramadan, there is hope, they say, that this Holy Season is a time of uniting in common beliefs and being at peace.

See the full article and video here

Gov. Cox, Lt. Gov. Henderson and Other Officials Stand In Solidarity With Ukraine

02/28/2022 07:08:46 AM


Gov. Spencer J. Cox praised the courage and patriotism of Ukrainians in the face of Russian aggression and asked Utahns to support Ukraine during a rally at the Utah State Capitol this evening. 

“The assault on Ukraine has exposed Vladimir Putin for what he is—a brutal dictator hell-bent on forcing his will upon another sovereign nation without provocation,” Gov. Cox said in a statement. “Tonight, as Utahns and as Americans, we stand united against oppression. We stand united for democracy. We stand united for freedom for Ukraine.”

He also emphasized that this is Putin’s war and urged the world not to retaliate against innocent Russian people.

“Many innocent lives are at stake, those who have fled Ukraine, those who have stayed fighting for freedom, and innocent Russians who live abroad as well as those who live in Russia under Putin’s repressive regime,” Gov. Cox said. “We pray for them all tonight.”

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, House Speaker Brad Wilson, Rep. Jordan Teuscher and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also spoke before the crowd of an estimated 2,000 people. Fr. Anthony Savas of St. Anna Greek Orthodox Church, Rabbi Sam Spector of Congregation Kol Ami offered prayers, and a Ukrainian woman named Anna offered an impromptu prayer in Ukrainian. Vlada Yaramenko, Dallyn Bayles and Yahosh Bonner performed musical numbers. The flag of Ukraine flew above the east side of the state Capitol, freeway signs changed to “Utah Stands with Ukraine,” and state universities and private businesses throughout the state showed their support by projecting yellow and blue lights on buildings and outdoor features.

See the full article here

Sat, August 13 2022 16 Av 5782