Statement of Rabbi Marc Israel, Union of American Hebrew Congregations at the National Day of Prayer and Lobbying for the Passage of the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund
April 24, 2002
Contact: Alexis Rice or Rachel Burrows 202-387-2800
As we gathered this morning, on this National Day of Prayer and Lobbying for the Passage of the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, we began with a call to prayer and action from our many faith traditions. Included among these calls was the blasting of the shofar - the ram's horn whose ancient sound hearkens us back to our forefather Abraham, the ancestor to so many faiths, for whom God provided the ram as the sacrifice in place of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah many millennia ago. And, indeed, it is Abraham whose memory we seek to conjure this morning and Abraham's example whom we seek to emulate. For Jewish tradition holds that Abraham was among the most righteous person of all generations, comparing him back to Noah, from ten generations earlier, and forward to Job, many generations later. According to this teaching, Abraham is judged to be greater than Job because, the Bible describes Job as one who "opened his doors to the road" (Job 31:32), but Abraham, we are taught, left his tent to seek guests among the passers-by (Genesis 18:1-8). Not only that, but the tradition goes on to explain that Abraham also "got busy and built spacious mansions along the highways, and stocked them with food and drink, so that whoever entered, ate, drank, and blessed Heaven" (Avot 1:5; Avot d'Rabbi Natan 7). This model of opening our doors to those in need, seeking out those in need to offer assistance and resources, is what we wish to emulate here today.
Currently, 5.4 million American families live in unsafe and/or unhealthy housing conditions. And on any given night, there are 750,000 people on the streets, with somewhere between 1.3 and 2 million people experiencing homelessness over the course of a year. Worse yet, the fastest growing group of homeless people consists of families with children. Today, families make up about 36 percent of the people who become homeless and the primary culprit is the lack of affordable housing. In a nation with as many resources as ours, it is hard to believe that homelessness is still such a prevalent problem.
Maimonides, the great twelfth century Jewish legal scholar and physician, taught that the Torah's mandate "to provide the needy with whatever they lack" should be understood to mean that "If they lack clothing, you must clothe them. If they lack household goods, you must provide them... You are commanded to fulfill all of their needs, though not required to make them wealthy" (Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor, 7:3).
Affordable housing is a need, not a luxury. Housing is one of the foundations upon which self-sufficiency must be built. Without a place to live, one cannot begin to take charge of his or her life. Congress enacting the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund would provide low-income families with the tools to begin to help themselves out of poverty, by creating 1.5 million new units of housing for the lowest income families in the next eight years, reducing the need for such housing by almost 25 percent.
Poverty is a powerless condition; homelessness is a dehumanizing experience. However, we are taught that "In one's home, even a weaver is a ruler." (B. Talmud, Megilla 12b) In the sanctity of one's own home, the poor can be empowered and the hopeless can rejoice. Increasing the availability of low-income housing can be a first step towards helping families in need to find work, security, and shelter.
Therefore, we call on our policy makers to do as Abraham did. Go out and seek the disenfranchised, the poor, the homeless and give them a key to their own door - a door that opens into a home; a home with a foundation of security, stability, and opportunity. We call on our Members of Congress to pass the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act now.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .