December 20, 2014 · 28 Kislev

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Statement Of Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center Of Reform Judaism On The Role Of Religious Communities In Census 2000 To The National Press Club

We come together today to urge our government to take every step possible to ensure that every American is counted in the 2000 census. We come together, as well, to affirm the religious community's commitment towards making that happen. The common theme of most of America's religions is our priority concern for the widow and orphan, the poor, the ill, the children and the elderly — the most vulnerable and powerless in our midst. Tragically, past censuses have served to exacerbate their plight by making too many of them invisible to our government — mostly, from among our poor and minorities.

In the Bible, God commands Moses at Mt. Sinai to count the Children of Israel (Exodus 30: 12). And when King David consolidates the People of Israel into the first Commonwealth of Israel, God commands: "Go and Number Israel and Judah." David then says to Joab: Make the rounds of all the tribes of Judah from Dan to Beersheba and take a census of the people so that I may know the size of the population" (II Sam. 24: 1,2).

The census is nothing less than the eyes and ears of our republic. Only when it is accurate can we truly assess how all Americans are doing, how every community is faring, and what we need to do to ensure equality and justice for all. When it is not accurate — and sadly we steadfastly cling to inaccurate, outdated methods — we put blinders on our ability to see the needs of others. We become insensitive to their problems, to their suffering, to their poverty. Not only do we cease to be our brother and sister's keeper, we deny their very existence.

Based on the Census Bureau figures, we know that the 1990 census missed more than eight million Americans. They were the Invisible Americans.

We know that more than twelve percent of all Native Americans were missed, so they did not count.

Five percent of Latinos were missed, so they did not count.

More than four percent of African Americans were missed, so they did not count.

More than two percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders were missed, so they did not count.

And millions of poor people of all races were missed, so they did not count.

Those inaccuracies translate directly into jobs not created and schools not built. They translate into inadequate federal and state spending on crime prevention, healthcare, and transportation. They translate into fewer Congressional districts in states with high numbers of minority or poor communities. For the African American and Latino communities alone, for example, this translates into a loss of $1 billion a year.

These most vulnerable among us, these poor communities in need of assistance, these children in need of better educations, were simply invisible to those who shape policy and appropriate federal funds. We do not see them, so we do not see their needs. We do not hear them, so we did not hear their cries for help. We failed to count them, so we failed to recognize them.

And no single institution directly serves more Americans generally or more of those not counted than our nation's religious communities. It is in that sense that the religious community and its 300,000 houses of worship, are joining together to mobilize their membership and their leadership to make the census collection campaign a success. Over this next month, clergy from the pulpits, teachers in the classrooms, volunteers throughout our churches, mosques, temples and synagogues will be engaged in this effort. They will encourage members to fill out forms, will address the concerns and allay the fears that prevent some from responding, and will help educate their surrounding communities on the vital need to be counted. I want to express our appreciation to the Census Bureau for having developed materials directed at this effort and for having engaged in such vigorous outreach to the religious community.

Together we will ensure a Census 2000 in which no American will be invisible.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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