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Groups Organize Political Fast to Coincide with Fast of Tammuz

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Several small Jewish organizations organized a fast and vigil here this week to focus attention on nuclear disarmament, poverty and the death penalty.

Nearly 100 Jews from across the country were expected to attend the “Fast for Peace and Justice” on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Participants were slated to lobby members of Congress later in the day to urge them to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to pass a federal living wage law and a federal moratorium on the death penalty.

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was scheduled to speak at the event.

The Jewish Peace Fellowship, one of the organizers of the event, chose July 20 as the day for the fast because it corresponds with the Jewish holiday of the Fast of the 17th Day of Tammuz, which commemorates when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.

David Shneyer, director of Am Kolel, a Judaic resource and renewal center in the Washington area, said a fast shows the seriousness of the issues.

Ken Giles, a member of the Jewish Peace Fellowship’s executive committee, said it is important to let Congress and the non-Jewish community know that the issues have widespread support in the Jewish community.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism endorsed the event.

But Am Kolel’s Shneyer said it is difficult to get synagogues involved in these issues because the leadership is not seriously committed to raising consciousness among its members.

Am Kolel recently received a $20,000 grant from the United Jewish Endowment Fund to help develop social action programs in synagogues and temples.

“There is a commitment to community service, but political action is not that strong,” Shneyer said. “Hopefully that can change.”

Thursday’s event is part of the 40-day “People’s Campaign for Nonviolence” sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith organization.

The 40-day campaign ends, coincidentally, on the Ninth of Av, the day of fasting and mourning commemorating the destruction of the temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., as well as other calamities in Jewish history.

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