OPINION: RABBI MARK GOLDSMITH ON OUR DUTY
DESPITE the relative prosperity of many after 350 years in this country, there are still a substantial number of poor Jews among our community.
I became especially aware of this situation when I represented the community rabbinate at a meeting held between Jewish welfare agencies of all kinds, hosted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the Shoresh Trust.
The research demonstrated that families where there is a care need because of disability, where there is a lone parent with little further support, where there is unemployment and debt burden, are much more prevalent than a bird’s-eye view of the Jewish community might suggest.
We should not be blind to the poverty that exists among us. Our Torah tells us that the existence of poverty requires us to “extend our hand to your brother, your poor, your needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
When a Jewish family becomes poor, synagogue membership is often discontinued or never started — not because the synagogue will not accept a reduced subscription, but because cultural factors make it difficult for people to take it up. Events which cost a few pounds a child, trifling sums for many but unaffordable for some, become alienating.
Jewish community welfare is well set up to help with the process of aging, but not with the problems of poverty.
Proactivity is what is needed. The Charedi community is excellent at this — hence their housing associations and other projects. But to what extent does a regular synagogue truly “open our hand”? Do we consider, in the way in which we relate to our community, whether our activities are truly open to all?