Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at Jubliee 2000 USA National Moblization Day
Sunday, April 9, 2000
My Friends, nine days from now we Jews will sit at Seder tables, as we have from generation to generation to tell the story of our freedom from bondage and our passage into the Promised Land. The story of Passover reminds every Jew in every time and every place, what it is to be enslaved. It fuels our passion for justice, our love of freedom and our disdain for oppression — and it is why millions of Jews join all of us here today in asking Congress and the international community to cancel the international debt of some of the poorest nations on the globe.
For this debt is a form of bondage, impoverishing nations, diverting resources from nutrition, health care, education and sustainable development — depriving children and families the most basic of human needs. Yet, it is an especially bitter bondage, for today's heavy chains of debt were yesterday's supposed ladders of development.
Made in good faith, often with noble intentions, these debts were supposed to help these nations build infrastructure, develop financial resources, and get a leg up in international trade. But, politics, recession and in some cases corruption intervened. And, now these tools of development have become the shackles of endless unpayable debt. It is time, my friends, to do as Moses demanded of Pharaoh and let these nations go.
For every child denied an education because of unending debt service to us, let these nations go. For every family bereft of health care because our debt payments must be made, let these nations go. For every unit of GNP consumed by unpayable debt to us, let these nations go. For every drop of sweat shed by Africans during more than four hundred years of enslaved labor and centuries of colonial rule, let these nations go. And finally, my friends, for the moral fiber of this great nation a nation that wishes to help, not harm, to aid, not to assault, to develop, not to destroy, let these nations go. Let them go from debt burdens they cannot hope to repay, burdens that creditors never intended to become so unbearable.
At our best, Americans of all faiths are great people. We joined together to rebuild Europe after the war. We respond in amazing numbers to humanitarian crises around the globe. We help without being asked wherever and whenever natural disasters strike. International debt is a humanitarian crisis and a man-made disaster. We can relieve it by the simple, compassionate, decent act of cancellation.
Let us come together as a nation, as a people, as the wealthiest most affluent country in the history of the world and forgive this debt in the Jubilee year. Let us work with our brothers and sisters in debtor nations to develop economies that do not return to debt — educational systems that prepare for the future and health care systems that save lives.
The name of this movement is biblical in its origins. And, while scholars may debate whether the Jubilee was ever observed in ancient times, together we can make sure it is observed in our times, for our reasons and on behalf of our brothers and sisters.
The Passover Seder instructs "Let all who are hungry, come eat." Today let us declare that all who suffer from the poverty and the burdens of debt shall be welcome at our table as we work together to break these chains of oppression.
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.