A personal story from a Bellevue rabbi underscores the gravity of the situation facing our state and the families hurt by the lingering economic downturn. During the course of the last year, this rabbi said requests for emergency assistance have gone up at the same time welfare, Basic Health, Work First, Disability Lifeline, and other programs have been cut. The rabbi has pulled from all available resources, drawing on discretionary funds to help families with hospital bills, rent, food, and car repairs. At times, resources were so stretched that this rabbi even used personal finances to help others get through a crisis.
Rabbis like this one should be an example for us all. The rabbi’s story reveals that we cannot meet the need with private charities alone. The primary obligation of government is to provide for the basic health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.
But as lobbyists and legislators have returned to Olympia to make hard decisions about how to balance the state’s budget shortfall, this rabbi’s simple act can be a guide for all of us. As we carry out fiscally necessary reforms and cuts, we must protect the state’s health and human service safety net and educational system through additional revenue.
We know that eliminating medical benefits for the temporarily disabled will cost our state and ultimately all of us more in the long run. We know reducing the number of school days and cutting higher education will put us at a disadvantage economically for years, if not decades to come. We know that families needing welfare won’t be able to rise out of poverty with cuts to the cash grant and a reduced benefit eligibility period. We know that cuts to long-term care means the state cannot properly care for people in the twilight of their lives. We also know that after three straight years of malaise and more than $10 billion in real reductions, our state needs additional revenue if we are going to maintain the best of what government does and be positioned for a stronger economic future.
The previously mentioned rabbi explained that in the Middle Ages, local Jewish councils established sumptuary laws for the community. Citizens were forbidden to spend more than a limited amount of money at weddings and other special occasions. These laws were created so the poor wouldn’t be shamed because they couldn’t match the expenses of the wealthy. For these wise men and women of the Jewish councils, the value of not shaming the poor and caring for the entire community was more important than allowing exorbitant sums to be spent on celebrations while other community needs went unmet.
In biblical times, farmers were required to leave the crops in the corners of their field for the poor. There is no question these farmers could have used the income from even one of those corners to expand their fields or reinvest in their farm. However, reaping every bit of one’s crop was forbidden, because living on less meant that the entire community could flourish by supporting the few who needed help.
Relying on thousands of years of Jewish tradition and teaching, new revenue must be considered and included as part of Washington State’s budget solution. In doing so, we can avoid increasingly drastic cuts that imperil the health, safety, and welfare of Washington’s citizens.
Cheryl Berenson, president, Seattle Section, National Council of Jewish Women
Rabbi Jill Borodin
Jeff Cohen, CEO, Caroline Kline Galland Home
Richard Fruchter, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg
Joel Magalnick, Editor, JTNews
Rabbi James Mirel
Rabbi Jonathan Singer
Ken Weinberg, CEO, Jewish Family Service
Rabbi Daniel Weiner