2014-07-09 / Home

Inspired by White House summit, Rabbi Sernovitz calls for change

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


Gathered at the White House Summit on Working Families were (from left), Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); and Temple Emanuel Rabbi Larry Sernovitz. Gathered at the White House Summit on Working Families were (from left), Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); and Temple Emanuel Rabbi Larry Sernovitz. For Temple Emanuel Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, nearly every day is a balancing act between taking care of his congregants’ needs and carving out time with his wife and two young children.

And as hard as that is, he knows that countless American workers with children do not have the same flexibility he has to make it home for family dinners most nights and even to sing the nighttime Shema with fiveyear old Sammy by telephone when work prevents him from being at his son’s bedside.

Outspoken in his support for family-friendly workplace policies, Sernovitz’s participation in the recent White House Summit on Working Families was both inspiring and challenging.

While sobered by the not surprising news that America is dead last among developed nations in terms of familyfriendly policies, he left empowered to work to make the change that needs to happen, he said.

“Our kids are young once, and the worst thing would be if, when they grow up, we realize we were never there for them,” said Sernovitz, who was invited to the daylong conference through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, an advocacy group focused on social justice. “Men don’t just want to be stick figures in our children’s lives anymore, and women deserve to be able to have families and careers too. We can seize the moment and really make a difference.”

The conference, which brought together some 1,500 attendees from across the nation, featured a variety of workplace pioneers. In addition,

President Barack Obama announced a series of proposals, including more workplace flexibility, early childhood education, equal access to benefits for same-sex married couples, and a push for paid parental leave.

Rachel Laser, deputy director of RAC, said Sernovitz was one of 40 interfaith moral and religious activists— including five rabbis—invited by RAC to attend. The thinking was that religious leaders, in addition to business people, could inspire their communities to support workplace change and model that change in their own workplaces.

“Rabbi Sernovitz has shown such passion and dedication to this issue,” said Laser. “It touches him so personally and he gets it so well. He is a Gen X person who is living this, and is the perfect clergy member to help spur this movement.”

She added that while many of the speakers were women, his viewpoint as a dad was invaluable.

While New Jersey is one of only three states in the nation to require paid sick leave, there is so much more that needs to be done, Sernovitz said.

Prior to the summit, he met with Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn, and Cherry Hill Council President David Fleisher to discuss what local leaders can do to promote better practices. When he returns from a Temple Emanuel organized Birthright trip to Israel later this month, he said he plans to meet again with the leaders to plan a task force for South Jersey. As he envisions it, lawmakers will work with business leaders and all interested parties to define issues in our communities, champion work places that have familyfriendly practices and to inspire more to sign on.

Fleisher said Cherry Hill leaders are ready to serve. “Government alone can’t solve the challenges of our society,” said Fleisher, a father of three and Temple Emanuel congregant. “Faith-based initiatives are key to making progress, and Rabbi Sernovitz’ leadership is moving the ball forward. Cherry Hill has a long history of partnership with our houses of worship and grass roots organizations, and that’s what’s needed as we tackle important issues facing too many families in our region.” .

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