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Jewish teachings, values inspire legislators’ work

By Erin Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

September 17th, 2004

One of Peggy Rosenzweig’s memories from her childhood in Detroit is that after attending services on Sundays at a Reform synagogue, her entire family would gather at home and the adults would argue about politics.

“Perhaps it was those talks around the Sunday table that continue to motivate me,” she said to a group of about 50 during a discussion about “The Body Politic: Civic Responsibility from a Jewish Perspective,” hosted by Tikkun Ha-Ir at Lake Park Synagogue this past Sunday.

Rosenzweig served in the Wisconsin state assembly from 1983 to 1992, and then in the state senate from 1992 to 2003. Now a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, Rosenzweig said, “I bring to my position a very special view — the teachings of my religious background.”

Rosenzweig discussed how “the lessons we learn as children come from Judaism.”
Therefore, political involvement can be “directly related to the roots of our religion.”

It makes sense, she said, that “people of goodwill who have common concern need to take that concern and act upon it.”

Sheldon Wasserman, M.D., who is the State Representative for the 22nd District in Wisconsin and has worked with Rosenzweig, said his Jewish identity “has a direct influence on how I approach my job in the legislature.”

As Jews, Wasserman said that it is not only “important to pray but [also] to take action and be involved,” because “We have a civic responsibility.”

Wasserman said, “We as a group have the highest voting percentage of any religious group.” He added that “Being Jewish is far more important than being a Democrat or a Republican. We have an obligation to be model citizens. We are held to a higher model than other citizens.”

Throughout the program, participants asked questions. Negative campaigning was one issue that came up, as the panelists were asked: What do you do in politics as a Jew when falsehood and slander is being spread in the public square?

Rosenzweig said, “There is nothing wrong with stating your case. My message is you need to think smarter and do it better and make your point in the best possible way.”

“When we disagree, we can disagree heartily, but not so as to be too disagreeable,” she said.

Wasserman agreed. “Hold your head up high and come up with a good message,” he said, adding, “That’s not the nature of Judaism, to attack others.”

Facilitator Rabbi Marc Berkson began the program by passing out relevant texts and encouraging participants to form small groups with others that they did not know.
The program was the first in a series of four “Brunch ’n Learn” sessions that Tikkun Ha-Ir has planned. The next, entitled “Are We Really One? What Does Text and History Say About Peoplehood?” will be held on Sunday, Dec. 5. For reservations or more information, call Judy Baruch, 414-444-3750.