Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Politics of the Poor – Poverty in NYC

Our mayor (R) is a billionaire. Our governor (D) lives on Fifth Ave. Our politicians are loaded.

So how do we get issues of poverty on the agenda?

Beyond hoping that the power of the people is stronger than the power of the purse (doubtful at best) we find politicians who are willing to take a risk for what is right. This week I have been talking about poverty. It seems that while I live and work in a relatively posh environment, I can't go outside without noticing poverty. So I wonder how the mayor or the governor can go without noticing.

The poverty line is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. For 2007 HHS says that for a person to be considered "in poverty," he or she must make less than $10,210 a year and a family of three needs to clear more than $17, 170. Wow. That is not much money. If you remember from Monday, average rent for a studio in New York is more expensive than the poverty level for a family of three.

So when people don't have enough money to live in a city, but they have to work here in low paying jobs how do you get the politicians to pay attention? Clearly these folks don't have money to donate to campaigns. Only one presidential candidate is coming close to talking about poverty in any real terms. John Edwards even took time out of his fund raising schedule to go to a Poverty Forum that was closed to the press. He also is willing to tell the truth about his positions on poverty, welfare and has even said he might raise taxes to cover healthcare programs.

Besides the Section 8 announcement from late January, what has this city done to curb the crushing effects of the astronomical cost of living here? Not much. Should the city do anything will clearly be the next question from anyone who isn't as far to the left as I am…I say yes. (Shocking I know) But let businesses do it. Politicians will only listen to those with money. MinWag helps business says new studies. More cash flow, means stronger economies which leads to happy voters. Happy voters means strong incumbents, means happy politicians.

But will politicians listen? Senator Clinton has raised millions and millions of dollars in her time building up to her White House run. This week alone she has raised $889,257 (as of 3 pm on the 27th). I am willing to bet that those setting up the lunches at a few hundred thousand a plate will have the ear of Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama isn't far behind with his $1.3 Million dollar event a few weeks back in LA. Mr. Edwards is coming at this from a completely different perspective, a son of poverty, but now not so much poverty except in his speeches. He is raising a million on his website too, but he has told us the $911,113.93 has come from 8,353 donors. But last I checked that is about $110 a donor. Poor folks still don't have that kind of money.

While the Supreme Court may say that political donations are akin to free speech, I still think there needs to be some sort of way to insure those with the least are heard the loudest. Deuteronomy 16 says, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." The Talmud in Tractate Kethuboth teaches, "What is the reason [for the prohibition against taking] a gift. Because as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong." Perhaps as a society we need to re-think how money is made and if spending it really is “free” speech, or just a way to create disposed leaders.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Homelessness in and around the City – Poverty in NYC

There are 744,000 homeless in US. And there is a question you are just dying to ask.

Why can't you just get a job?

Well that is a difficult question to answer. But I will answer it with a question: What is the first thing you need to get a job?

According the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “The term "homeless" or "homeless individual or homeless person" includes-- (1) an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and (2) an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is: A) supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill); B) a institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.” (Source)

If you live in NYC or have ever been here you have seen this problem of homelessness everywhere. The parks, the subways, busses. Grand Central and Time Square. The homeless seem to be everywhere. But why can’t they work and save up to get a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence?” This is simply because they can’t work if they don’t have a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” No address, no job.

This pervasive problem seems nearly impossible to fix. Quite simply getting out of a homeless situation is very difficult.

People who are homeless and at risk of homelessness tend to be very similar to you or me. They are working in regular jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. And then a family member needs help and they are out of money. They borrow money and don't pay it back. They are people who are working through an addiction and think they can work through it and then falter. They are living in an abusive relationship and then leave with nowhere else to turn. They are mentally ill and no one is able or willing to help them.

Once on the street, once they are ignored, invisible and abused, individuals can feel as if they are forgotten by society. That is enough to make anyone "crazy."

But what can we do? Help individuals on the street? Yes. Try to fix the system? Yes. But really will we ever see any change? Unfortunately, no. A shunda.

Jews are taught to take care of the stranger in our mist. Perhaps this stranger is also someone we see every day on the corner of our block. Say hello, treat these individuals with respect. But take action. If you are looking to do something here are some Jewish Orgs that run shelters and soup kitchens. I am sure there are more. If I missed your organization and what you do, please put it in the comments and I will repost.

HUC Soup Kitchen
Abraham Residence I and II of the New York Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty
Congregation Ansche Chesed
Congregation B'Nai Jeshurun
Congregation Rodeph Sholom
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
Soup Kitchen at the Chelsea Shul (hat tip DK)

Facts about Homelessness in NYC

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Dream of Home Ownership – Poverty in NYC

In late January Mayor Bloomberg and NYCHA Chairman Hernandez announced that the Section 8 Housing lottery would be re-opened for the first time in twelve years. This was greeted with much praise from people around the country and rightly so. New York is the most populous city in the United States and a large part of the city is located on an island with no more room.

Millions of New Yorkers will most likely put their names into a lottery for these coveted spots. There has been much talk about the sales of some of the mismanaged federally rent controlled locations in the New York Area because of poor management. These housing units are some of the only places in New York that working class folks can actually live and be near work. But this could be seen as an economic “good” with people like Mayor Bloomberg touting NYC as a “luxury item.”

“But while the City technically moved from recession, a number of other economic indicators showed an opposite trend. Real wages declined by 1.5%, in addition to a 5.0% drop the previous year. The number of persons receiving public assistance increased during Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, as well as during the rest four months of FY 2005. In addition, the number of homeless in City shelters remained at record numbers, especially among single adults. Housing and Vacancy Survey data published two years ago also confirms that the vacancy rate remains below the 5% threshold, at 2.94% citywide,” (Housing NYC: Rents, Markets and Trends 2005).

The average cost to live in NYC is higher than anywhere else. The average cost of a rental is from $2,093.33 for a studio in a non-doorman apartment to $5,494.17 for a two bedroom with a doorman, in February of 2007. The tax burden for New Yorkers is higher than any other city. And still we don’t see a need for truly affordable housing.

(Updated: Average Costs - Monthly updates via The Real Estate Group)

There needs to be a city based not only the rich having their apartments along Park (or 1st Ave or West 109th Street with any address really). There needs to be people working in the hospitals, driving the busses, haul away the millions of tons of trash and other necessary jobs for a city of this size to actually work. But unless these folks start getting paid close to $100, 000 a year, they will not be able to afford to live in NYC.

And now to the dream of home ownership. They city does provide some “help” to those interested in buying a home and taking part in the American Dream. It is useful but not very practical.

The average price of a residential apartment was 1.3 MILLION last July and in 2006, the median apartment price for Manhattan was $750,000.

How can a person work a lower wage job in this city and then actually afford to live here? The management of the lower income housing projects is atrocious. The price of an apartment is outrageous. And MinWage is still $7.15.And the outlying areas aren’t that much cheaper. The question will become in the next decade, not where are the working class folks, because they will be gone from NYC, but where are the poor people?

This city and its “luxury” status have created a new paradigm. Working Class has turned to Working Poor, the Insanely Rich are Well Off and the Wealthy are Middle Class. It is scary to think that we live here. We - those of us to do live in and love NYC - have to keep this in mind as go about our days.

I got played by a pan handler - Poverty in NYC

I usually give to those how ask if I have small bills in my pocket. If not I say I am sorry I don’t have anything right now but good luck today. I also am willing to buy someone dinner every once in a while. I do this because I read a book once that told me it is a good thing to do. Also because of a presentation I saw once called The Faces of Homelessness from the National Coalition for the Homeless.

There are countless studies out there that say homeless folks are unseen, so I go out of my way to say hello and be polite. Like I said, I give when I have.

But I got played.

On my way home Friday a well dressed older man asked, “Can I get a dollar for the train? I am just trying to get home.”

He asked for one, so I gave him one...

He then said “just two more and I am there.”

I expected him and another person to get in the subway with me. But I heard him continue his lines.

I was played. But what should I expect?

All around us we are hit by false advertisements:
Eat all you want, stay thin!
Buy this cream look 10 years younger!
Wear these shoes have mad game!

So why am I surprised when a man asking for money on the street will lie to me?

I suppose I hope those in need would be honest when asking me for some of my money. But that is the nature of the economy we have created and continue foster. We all wonder why people don’t just get a job. It would be naive to say all progressives or liberal would be willing to stand up for those who don’t work and pay the way to for there homelessness.

It would not only be naive it would be wrong. Maimonides taught that to give a person a lone or help with a business deal to allow an individual to be self sufficient is the highest level of Tzedakah. Additionally it is fair to say that most if not all homeless folks don’t want to be homeless and don’t want to take handouts.

This week I am going to dedicate to poverty in New York City. While I know there isn’t anyone all that interested in what I have to say, it will make me think differently about the fact that I am wearing a suit and tie to work, sleeping in a warm bed and eat three meals a day (if not more, but I am not staying thin).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Shabbat Ideas – February 23, 2007

While I missed a week of Shabbat Ideas and I am totally out of the loop here are my Shabbat Thoughts.

Divestment now? Oh for Sudan…ok
Jewish Language in this great country we call America? No, who would think of such a thing?
Can You Help Save A Life? Check this Story
Queer Yiddishkeit

Words are interesting.

I am a liberal. I am a Zionist. I am a progressive. I am an activist. I am a Jew.

Each one of those declarative statements has a different meaning for different people. In "our" community – the left-leaning progressive liberal Jewish community – all of these statements go together (to a certain extent). It seems though, that as we move past the AJC fight and the idiocy of the battle of "New Jewish Anti-Semites," we should take a step back to see what we are really fighting about.

This week we saw a post from Jewbiq about Queer Jewblogs. I don't know Annie or Harley but from their posts they seem to be looking for men and they seem to be women. That they are considered allies to the GLBT community they are free to use words like Queer. If a person in the non-allied community or even a homophobic conservative community were to say Queer, regardless of the idea of reclaiming it as a positive term, there would be outrage.

Now what about Heeb? Heeb is a wonderful publication produced by a group of self-important hipsters with a Joshua Venture Grant backed bank account. Heeb is reclaimed, but want about Kike? I really don't see that one making a comeback anytime soon. Now what if Heeb was an anti-Semitic rag? Would it be as acceptable on the shelf of a newsstand? And then again there are those who would say Heeb is an anti-Semitic rag.

Finally for this Shabbat I bring in Zionism. Where do we get its definition and is it a dirty word? I am a Zionist in many ways. I believe in Israel's fundamental right to exist, as a democratic, Jewish state that stands upon Jewish values and democratic values.

Does Israel have flaws? You bet. Is Israel a place I am proud of most of the time? No way. Is Israel free from my scornful post when she screws up and kills children even if it was a mistake and the government says sorry unlike the terrorist that target civilians? Absolutely not. And all this makes me a Zionist.

Words are powerful. If we continue to fight about the use of the words, making words evil while not caring about the true meaning of the words we lose our fight. Regardless of what you call yourself, progressive, liberal, (post-, non-, anti-, pro-) Zionist, represent what you are by your actions.

As we get deeper into the Book of Exodus in the coming weeks, the laws of our traditions will be laid out for our ancestors. These laws have very little to do with their words alone, but what their words mean universally. If we are to reclaim words, then we should back them up. Queer has been successfully turned into a term of empowerment. Heeb on the other hand is an inside joke, I don't feel empowered.

But that is why words are interesting.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Got Yiddish?

Hat Tip: Da Forverts Recomended Reading

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Best Searches Bring Folks to POLJ

Job Descriptions in Frum Community

alvin h. rosenfeld (that is a big one, got a hit from Japan too)

Shinny Jew

Liberal Jokes

"obama" "jew"

interfaith mohel brooklyn

i'm not in kanasas anymore

keffiyeh hipster (also very big)

And for possibly the strangest location and search: (Finland) with search word: somali geto

And I am getting regular hits from China.

VH1, Black Folks and Vacation

Thanks for bearing with me as I took a very relaxing vacation.

I am finishing off my restful vacation today and am watching some back logged DVR; watching my Law and Orders and such and then turned to VH1. In honor Black History Month VH1 had a program called “Black in the 80s.” It was interesting and funny. I watched the end of the show and then the next show was “The (White) Rapper Show.”

That was just too funny not to point out.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Sorry for anyone expecting a Shabbat Thought... I am out of town.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

OU, Half Moon K, Khal Yisroel, Reform Hecksher?

The Kosher Wars are underway. Failed Messiah seems to have the market corned on this issue for the blogging world while Jspot and Jewbiq hit it up every once in a while. But I just recieved the first of a few debates by folks sponsed by the Union for Reform Judaism on Kosher Food and how to keep Kosher.

I have linked here to the Eilu V'eilu about the Reform Movement's take on Kashrut. Shockingly enough there is not fight about keeping kosher. It is how to keep kosher. I personally have stoped eating tref at home, but still will partake outside. It is my personal choice. I agree with it. But I am bit shocked that we don't see at least one or two rejectionist folks here representing what clearly is the majority of the Reform Movement's eating habbits.

Here we have two smart folks discussing the importaince of remembering what you put into your body. On one hand we have Rabbi Richard Litvak calling on Reform Jews to be "committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community." And we have Richard Schwartz saying we have to stop eating meat to be good Jews.

I dissagree, but urge you all to read it.

Bronstein Takes Waskow Behind Woodshed

I can't stand mystical stuff. Not my bag. But when the leftys are lead by the likes of Rabbi Arthur Waskow (Shalom Center) we all have to take step back to see we are not all like David Saperstein but we also have to include relics from the 60s to get our work done. But thankfully Rabbi Daniel Brostein, Reform rabbi and a self-proclaimed follower of rational and comedic Jewish thought, has taken on this world view of "triumphalism."

In the News: Jewish Renewal as Boomer Narcissim doesn't need a "?"

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Old People’s People Really Nailed It


I saw this a few days ago and it was so good. AARP is hitting all the bases with thier new demographic; 50 is the new 30.

I hope the Democrats can can get these people to work for them next year.

God; Playing and Believing in:

Interesting piece in the Science section of the Times today; we have a paleontologist, with a Ph.D., who is also a “young earth creationist.”

It is a worth while read. The Times only covers the outrage from a Scientists point of view and understandably so. Dr. Ross, the subject of the piece, now has a degree in geosciences from a reputable institution and will be working at a non-scientific institution. But I do wonder if there are evangelical folk who are in staunch disagreement over the idea that a fellow Creationist would be working in science.

Well it is an interesting read.

In the News: Jesus H Christ, Ph.D.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - February 9, 2007

With the Senate still debating if to debate, the left and right of the Jewish community casting for (upper)West Side Story and some bitter cold weather, here are my Shabbat Thoughts for February 9, 2007.

See not even The Jewish Week likes the AJC Report and Richard Cohen is pissed.
Hate the Arabs or Love the Environment?
The End of Conservative Judaism, now there is a provocative title.

This week marks the 11th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah as we read Yitro. We learn of Moses not being a perfect and unflawed leader in this parshah, which leads me to believe that neither God or Moses or anyone who was ‘there’ wrote the Torah. (for another day.)

But here Moses asks his father-in-law for help. Jethro offers his best advice: delegate! So we learn right off the bat that we Jews to create large and more efficient (in theory) bureaucracy. He sees Moses sitting in judgment in front of the people and teaching the word of God and says:
“The think you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you consul, and God be with you! You represent the people before God… You shall also seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God – trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. (Exodus 18:17-21)

So from the get go, we have been a people of sizeable organizations and it isn’t just those pesky out of touch Federations or even the smaller and hipper Indie minyanim.

Yet what do we learn? We see that the number one big cheese needed to delegate. Moses, son of Egypt turned man of God and leader of people needed help. Regardless of what Freud has to say about him, the figure of Moses is only flawed in his interactions with God. However the fact that his father-in-law had to put him in his place so earlier on in this story, it is clear that even Moses had issues.

The rock incident aside and minus the rage seen portrayed by Charlton Heston, Moses’ character is one of steadfast leadership. His ability to step back and support his father-in-law’s decision was proof thereof.

Today we are seen an attack on the Jewish left from the Jewish right. I for one would love to see a Moses of the Jewish left come out and lead us to the promises land. But as Mobius points out and anyone who has dealt with the political and social left in the past 10 years know, getting people together is like herding cats, cats with HUGE egos.

And throw in the Jewish part it is almost a lost cause. We do need to delegate but also know that this delegation will allow us to get through the desert of this battle and into the promise land. By working together, even if we can’t stand one another, we can fight back the idea that saying “Israel isn’t perfect” is an anti-Semitic slur. The Shalom Center and Tikkun and Jewschool and the liberal Movements and the ADL (well one could hope they would) need to get together, put away the differences and stand on a platform of understanding. A leader will emerge and she will be our Moses. Color me Jethro.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Real Anti-Semitism

So on my way home from work today, as I waited for the light to change, I over heard a woman sounding off about her boss.

“F*** that F***ing F***! He doesn’t he pay me a living motherf***ing wage. F***, in the closet, Jew bastard.”

At this point I lost her and didn’t hear some of the other jewels she was sharing with those of us filing into Grand Central. I thought about what I would say to this woman if I was to say anything at all when I heard this:

“and them F***s think they so pious and their rabbis are putting their d***s in little boys.”

While JTA did run an in depth (if digging for it) set of stories on Jewish clergy abuse, I would venture she did not read any of the series.

I did not say anything. I don’t know if I should have, but I didn’t. Now this falls under why do they hate us, but I don’t really care so much. But I would urge the Alan and his friends over at AJC should be more worried about this type of thing happening than a group of other Jews discussing a major issue of the Jewish community.

Kvetcher Reminds "US" Why We Need Diversity

So I don’t read East Village Mamelee often, more because I like the hard hitting politics of the Forward over the touchy feel of our Mamelee. But this week is different. As I was perusing for new Jewish articles the title caught my eye. I wish our Mamelee and her brother’s family a hardy Mazel Tov!

The rituals described in the piece were nice if not traditional. They took from the text they knew and learned from the experience they had. Now I am no rabbi but I do know a thing or two about liberal Judaism. The Reform Movement, as BZ always points out, did not do away with mitzvot, but with those with no meaning to us as modern members of society. Arguably many of these rituals like cutting hair or keeping Shabbat by making a non-Jew turn on your TV do not have any meaning and therefore do not inform or supplement our understanding of Jewish life. So we don’t do them.

Yet we do other rituals that do have significance. And over time these rituals change. To mark time and space we remember things in different ways than our grandparents and they did things differently than their grandparents. We are all Jews and find our Jewish-ness differently.

DK has written a somewhat scathing article about this piece at Kvetcher. He is entitled to his opinion but he is wrong. Liberal Judaism is as important as Orthodoxy. Modern Jewish life would be completely lost if it were not for Liberals. And Liberals need the Orthodoxy as well. We all need each other.

So, while DK can say liberal Judaism “sucks ass” I say it sustains our existence as enlightened progressive tolerant Jewish people.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Why They’re Right

The responses filed on Jewschool more or less sum up why there are flaws in BZ’s argument against the argument against Independent Jewish Minyanim. But there are a few flaws that warrant further exploration.

One: How does one pay for religious school for children?

BZ argues that most of the Indie Jews are “committed;” either recently or for many years. I will not deny that fact as an active Reform Jew who takes part in many synagogue functions, I sometimes feel as if the rabbi and I are the only folks that get the Parasha Ha’Shavoah jokes that are made…but that might have to do with me having a bad sense of humor.

But who will teach Ploni and Plonit’s children? They have chosen different professions to support their family and will therefore need to teach their children something about their “committed” religious views. But if they leave it up to those who simply get together for holidays and shabbatot, then we are in trouble. We will have educated parents and deficient children. This is a question I have never heard addressed by those defending Indie Jewish movements.

Two: Can the Minyanim work with the organizations?

Yes but that would make it less fun and hipster. Brooklyn Jews and Rabbi Bachman figured it out.

Three: What about the middle of no-where Jewish Communities?

I have yet to hear anyone tell me of an Indie Jewish community in Alabama or Utah or Alaska

Four: How does change take place in the Indie Jewish community?

I would say the same way they do in other orginizations, by the will of the dedicated and the vote of the majority. So in the same way that Ploni and Plonit left Rodef Kesef (that is just rude BZ) because they didn’t like something and couldn’t get it changed, other will leave Indie Minyans.

I don’t see people doing it now, but there will be a time and they will fight over members. There will be a minyan one goes to and one that one wouldn’t be caught dead in.

But the major difference is that these minyanim will not reach-out to the unaffiliated (like really unaffiliated not just those described by BZ) and they will not try to make accommodations for change, because they see themselves as the needed change.

So overall the arguments presented by BZ are not new, just as Indie Jewish Communities and Orgs are not new. But the problem over all is that these groups are not thinking long term and if they did, they would need to affiliate with the issues they hate. I am not against Indie Jewish communities per say, just the idea that they are different from anything going one today.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Yihiyeh Tov for Yisrolik ich bin dos kid fun geto

There will be goodness for Yisrolik the child of the ghetto.

Last night I was privileged to attend “Partners of Hope” an evening of symphony and remembrance of the heroes who risked their lives in the pursuit of saving others. It was sponsored by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and many dignitaries were in the audience. It was something to see and hear. Shashi Tharoor, UN Under-Secretary-General presented, Dan Gillerman, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, spoke on the legacy of Wallenberg and Rabbi Robert Levine of the NYC Board of Rabbis gave a wonderful d’var torah on the ideals of those who take action to end the suffering of others. David Broza also preformed with the Westfield Symphony Orchestra all in the historic Carnegie Hall. All and all it was a beautiful night of music and memory.

As a third generation Holocaust survivor and a jaded Jewish community activist, I am generally sick of Holocaust memorials. Yet this was somehow different. I was one of the youngest people in the room who wasn’t being taken by a parent to see the Symphony. It was clear that this event was not only about those who were killed but those who survived.

The Shoa was the worst event in Jewish modern history, but because the last survivors will be passing away in the coming years, we must find a way to let this horror be a lesson that informs our understanding and not a fear that defines our existence.

This event was hopeful. While it did pause to remember those who were killed, it did not feel trite. In the past we have spent too much time only to remember what didn’t happen because of the Holocaust. We must look towards what did happen in light of the Holocaust as a way to move forward.

The Holocaust is only going to be a memory and a page in a history book in ten years. There will be no more speakers at youth group events or on the Bima on Yom HaShoa.

I am here because of the Holocaust. I am a Jew because of the Holocaust. And I will teach my children that because of horrors so graphic, your great grandfather and great grandmother fought their way to America to raise your grandmother. And I will teach that my children that their great grandfather fought to end the terror in Europe, liberate the camps and return to raise your grandfather. I will say that because of the Holocaust, and those who lived and those who did not, you will live and will live as a Jew.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Jew York Times

So what is up with the Jew York Times? I have seen more Jewish topics in the Times this week than I have in a long time. Here are a few. The search on the Times showed 143 articles in the past 30 days.

That is a lot. So while we may not control the media, we sure do dominate it.

Here are a few of them:

AJC as the Bad Guys

Jubans (or Cubans and Jews) in Cuba
Florida is also like Jew York City
Something about believing in stuff

Friday, February 2, 2007

Shabbat Ideas - February 2, 2007

As Joe Bidden removes his foot from his mouth, Sunday promises a boring game and Jews begin to see the light on Iraq, here are my Shabbat thoughts for February 2, 2007.

It is about time!
I am not a Jew I just play one on TV
Yo Yenta and Football

As a child I wanted to be Itzhak Pearlman after one day of violin lessons. I have for the last few years tried many times to wear a beard. Yet after one lesson I was no virtuoso so I stopped liking the violin and it seems I always shave my face after a week of growth.

I have no patience.

Yet after years of working with Jewish groups I have found that there are some things for which I am willing to wait. After years of caring but not being able to find much footing, I am pleased to see lots of mainstream Jewish groups taking on environmentalism. We have the Reform Movement, JCPA, COEJL (well duh), the Conservative Movement and plethora of Israeli groups are working to address the needs of our environment.

In Genesis 1.29 -30 God says to Adam [and Eve], “Look, I have given you all the seed-bearing plants on the face of the earth …and to every land animal, and to every bird of the sky, and to all that creeps on the earth in which the breath of life, I give all green vegetation for food.” Kinda a big responsibility there. The text goes on in Chapter 2.15 and says that “God took the man, placing him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” I am no biblical scholar but to me the message is clear, we have a tacit and explicit responsibility for the earth.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am no veggy and I do like a hot shower. But the responsibility as Jews goes back to the first page of the first book of the fist days on earth. So why did I have to wait so long to see action from the mainstream?

I understand that most Jewish families will be taking their kinderlach to religious school in an SUV and will end up using plastic or paper plates for a get together with friends. But why not take a few extra kids in your Ford Emissions or at least don’t use multiple plates.

I understand that major changes in the community need to take time and can’t happen over-night, but really? How can you live with yourself when you are teaching a conformation class about the environment while eating your pizza off the Styrofoam? It might cost a few extra dollars a year but what is the message we are sending? I have just as much patience for this type of hypocrisy as I do for my full beard to take shape on my face.

So it seems I shall keep waiting for the main stream to take on this responsibility in action as well as intentions. At least I have Itzhak Pearlman to listen to while I wait.

We celebrate Tu Bi’Shvat this weekend. Let us celebrate our trees and take some time to remember, that even if we live in cities green is to be honored and “kept.” And let me remember as we celebrate the trees that I must continue to wait and work with this community, because like the earth it is the only Jewish community we have.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sema’ach