Fighting Poverty in Judaism

Fighting poverty globally and locally

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There are numerous ways to approach any issue. For instance, you might address the housing crisis by volunteering in a homeless shelter, starting a homeless shelter, advocating for local investment in affordable housing, investing in banks that provide loans to community development groups, advocating for federal support of affordable housing, or offering pro bono legal assistance to tenants’ rights organizations. Remember that eradicating poverty requires a focus on both the individual symptoms of poverty and the systems that cause it.

Ask the Right Questions

When adopting any issue, you might ask yourself:

--How can I volunteer my time in such a way as to make a difference on this issue? Do I have any special skills (legal, technological, educational, medical, etc.) that might be helpful to an organization working on this issue?

--How can I financially support an organization working on this issue?

--Is there a way to work on an ongoing campaign to change policies that affect this issue? Are any local Jewish organizations or community organizations tackling this issue in a long-term way?

--How can I do legislative advocacy around this issue? To whom might I direct a letter, an e-mail or a phone call? When do my elected officials hold office hours? Whom might I visit to talk about this issue?

--How can I have an effect on this issue locally, nationally and globally? What groups are working on this issue in different areas of the country or of the world?

Choose to Organize

The Talmud teaches: One who causes others [to give] is greater than one who simplygives" (Bava Batra 9a). While each of us, as individuals, can do much to combat poverty, we can be even more effective when we mobilize others to join us in these efforts. We can be most effective at organizing those within our own communities—members of our synagogues, friends, neighbors, family members, classmates, and co-workers. Instead of simply writing a letter to a legislator, we might ask five friends to do the same. Instead of just volunteering for a particular issue campaign, we might try to make this issue a priority for our synagogue. Instead of going alone to a protest or meeting, we might bring a family member or neighbor. None of us may be able, single-handedly, to eradicate poverty, but together each of us can do our part to transform the systems that create inequity.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.