Shattering Complacency about Poverty in America

May 15, 2018Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller

On Monday, May 14, the RAC's Northern California Senior Organizer, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, spoke at the California launch of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. At state capitals across the country, nonviolent moral civil disobedience actions kicked off a 6-week long campaign to awaken our country to the suffering of the poor and downtrodden. This post is adapted from Rabbi Saxe-Taller's remarks. Learn more and get involved at

I am Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, and I am here with my colleagues and other leaders of the California Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, representing the largest and most diverse movement of Judaism in North America. This weekend, during the holiday of Shavuot, Jews will celebrate the giving of the ten commandments and the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a momentous reminder of our responsibility to pursue justice.

In December, Reverend Barber addressed us at our movement’s biennial and called us to join in this campaign to address devastating poverty in our country. As Jews, we are here to call attention to the immoral policies that skew access to resources such that, in the richest country in the world, millions of people live without basic necessities. These policies affect every one of us because they divide rather than unite people, prioritize profit over human needs, and destroy our environment. We are here today in solidarity, to call ourselves and our country to what Reverend Barber calls a moral breakthrough.

I have lived almost my whole life in California, but my people did not always live here. When my grandparents escaped from Europe, they were lucky to be able to come to California. But this place that had room and opportunity for my family locks out and excludes so many others. Together, we must heal the deep discrepancy between the promise of California and the reality for so many.

The breakthrough to healing must include action on all of the issues that are on the table in the chambers of this capitol, and many that are not yet on the table: truly affordable housing and healthcare for all; transformation of the justice system into one that can actually go by that name; a humane immigration policy; and a plan to get to 100% clean energy as quickly as we possibly can.

Reform Jews are working on all of these issues and are here to join in partnership with this great campaign. We are also here to follow the lead of those who are directly targeted by racism and enforced poverty, who are leading this movement.

Yet the breakthrough must also be deeper than any policy or law. It must be a breakthrough that shatters our complacency, just as the tablets of the 10 Commandments were shattered when Moses saw that the people had abandoned their faith. A breakthrough that provokes us to put ourselves back together in new relationships with each other, with the planet, and with the Source of Life. May the first 40 days of the Poor People’s Campaign provoke such a breakthrough.

Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller is the RAC's Senior Organizer in Northern California.

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