by Bob Silber
My wife's inspiration coupled with the cooperation of Immediate Past Chair of the URJ Board Peter Weidhorn and Director of the Religious Action Center Rabbi David Saperstein made it possible for a group of approximately 50 Reform Jews to come together at the URJ Biennial and have a conversation about being politically conservative Reform Jews. Almost everyone had an opportunity to share her/his views. The group was energized by the surprise appearance of Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol! The consensus was to continue this conversation after the Biennial. So how do I reconcile the pursuit of economic justice based upon my Jewish values with my fiscal conservatism? I am obviously not a Torah scholar; however, I know enough to espouse the following lessons:
- Rich and poor are to be judged equally;
- Everyone has to have "skin in the game," just as everyone had to bring a sacrifice to the Temple;
- The highest level of charity is to help someone become self-sufficient;
- Wealth creation is not discouraged; and
- We must look out for the orphan, widow, and the poor.
If we do not have a vibrant and optimistic economy, then those among us who are the most vulnerable will suffer the most. Moreover, not-for-profits do the best when for-profits (e.g., individuals and businesses) are successful. I believe that we have become the richest country in the world by a strong, profitable, and innovative private sector. Therefore, my guiding principles for the pursuit of economic justice include the following:
- We need to decrease the wealth gap by:
- Promoting wealth creation, not redistribution;
- Creating a tax code that is universal yet progressive, one that rewards productivity/hard work and is not punitive nor full of gimmicks; and
- Embracing, not demonizing, profits, which are essential if we are to see more jobs and greater income generation.
- We must acknowledge that throwing more money at legitimate social problems (e.g. public education and health care) doesn't guarantee better results.
Therefore, we must focus on a better use of current, and even reduced, revenues by:
- Decreasing waste and duplication;
- Decreasing fraud and abuse;
- Eliminating failed programs;
- Better prioritizing our goals;
- Promoting creativity ("thinking outside the box" ); and
- Funding what works based upon facts, not politics.
- There needs to be greater private and public cooperation.
- We must begin NOW to bend the cost curves for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in order to preserve them ( or something better ) for current and future generations.
I believe that we have the ability to effectively deal with these problems if we had the collective will AND became more concerned about what is best for our country than our ideology or political party. Bob Silber is the past president of Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids, IA.