Tag: Reform CA

So Everyone Has a Home They Can Afford

A Teaching by Rabbi Julia Weisz 
Rabbi Weisz is my partner-rabbi at Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA.

Several Saturdays a year, thirty at-risk youth from Panorama City step out of vans onto the beautifully kept green grass parks of Calabasas. Or Ami teenagers greet them, whistles around their necks, and act as their coaches for the day. Leading them in water balloon toss, football, capture the flag, basketball, kickball, arts and crafts and other sports activities. These Sports Clinics are for New Directions for Youth, an after-school program that helps keep children and teens off the street, out of drugs and alcohol and away from gangs. They are an amazing opportunity for Or Ami teens, families and rabbis to interact with individuals who live in a very different reality from their own.

A few weeks ago, at our last clinic, the NDY staff gathered around, munching on bagels generously provided by Or Ami families. I went over to welcome them and asked how they were all doing. Two staff members, in particular, expressed feelings of frustration and sadness. These two staff members are responsible for picking up the New Directions children and driving the vans to the Sports Clinics.

They explained that just that morning, the staff picked up two children from a homeless shelter. The month before they were picked up from an apartment. They explained that this was a trend the staff had been noticing for some time. Most of the parents of these children work full time jobs. Some even pick up extra work in the evenings and on weekends leaving young children alone with no care or supervision. The parents shared with the staff that they could not afford to pay rent AND provide food for their children. So, they had to choose. They chose food over shelter, left their apartment and moved into a homeless shelter.

Having to choose food over shelter.
We live in a world and in a state where many working families cannot have both food AND shelter. This is appalling.

It is stories like the ones from the NDY staff that open our eyes to the affordable housing crisis in California. Currently, 22% of households in California are paying more than 50% of pre tax income for housing. Even worse, 39% of working households in Los Angeles spend more than half their income on housing. Spending more than half their income on housing is absurd, but this is the reality.

I love getting my nails done. While chatting with my manicurist I hear many of her personal stories. She works in Calabasas but lives in Little Tokyo in a small two bedroom apartment with six relatives, all to make rent more affordable. She shares a bedroom with her husband and two teenage daughters. She commutes so far away because she cannot afford to live close to work. This is her reality.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend’s mother. She is in her 60s and shared with me how stressed she is each month when the bill comes from her mother’s senior living apartment building. She cannot believe how expensive it is for her mother to live there and is considering moving her in with a roommate. Her mother is 93 years old. A 93 year old with a stranger for a roommate? This is her reality.

The housing crisis is not just a Panorama City issue but a California one.
The reality, not a lot of California state money is going to affordable homes. The reality, so many Californians CANNOT pay their rent or mortgage.

Historically, Jews are all too familiar with the need for shelter. Our ancestors, our matriarchs and patriarchs -Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah – all lived in tents, shelters susceptible to heavy rains, strong winds, desert heat and freezing cold. For years, the Israelite people wandered in the desert without a permanent dwelling place wondering when and where they would find a home. And Jews wandered again without a permanent home when first emigrating from Europe to America.

As Reform Jews, we value the importance of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We hear the call of the 8th century prophet Isaiah, who charged the Israelite people to bring those without a home into the house.

We can help bring those without a home into a house.

Here is how we can help.
Reform California is comprised of Reform rabbis and lay leaders around the state who are working in partnerships across race, class and faith to help repair our broken state. Right now we are working on bringing more affordable housing to California.

There are a few proposals asking that the state allocate money for the building of these homes that will be presented on Capitol Hill the end of June. The proposals focus on investing significant Cap and Trade funds in the building of affordable homes in California. All housing built using Cap and Trade Funds must lead to the reduction of Green House Gas Emissions. There is an opportunity here to both build affordable homes in California AND reduce greenhouse gases to protect our environment. The Legislature will be voting and we have the chance to raise our voices in support of building more affordable homes in California for those in need.

LEARN MORE: By reading this information sheet.

EMAIL YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS: I invite you to contact your California State Senator and Assembly Member, if you would like to support the proposal to allocate a significant amount of money to building affordable homes. You can send an email to your Senator and Assembly member by clicking here.

ATTEND THE LOBBY DAY: If fighting for affordable housing is an important issues for you to tackle, or you are interested in seeing what it is like to get a bunch of Rabbis and lay leaders from California synagogues together around social justice issues, join me in Sacramento on June 2. We will fly there in the morning, lobby at Capitol Hill, hear and share stories around the housing crisis, we will make sure our voices are heard before flying back in the later afternoon. We can work together to help bring shelter to those in need. Email Rabbi Julia Weisz for more information.

Shelter Us Beneath Thy Wings
The Hashkiveinu prayer is said each night before going to sleep. In it, we ask God to spread over us a shelter of peace. It is hard to envision someone feeling that peace when they are fighting every day for shelter.

May we someday live in a world where homes are affordable, where children can sleep in their own beds, not in homeless shelters. We can work together to help build shelter for those in need.

Only then, will we know peace.

Ken Yehi Ratzon, May this be God’s will. Amen.

Repairing the Injustice by Passing the TRUST Act

In preparation for Passover, the festival commemorating our people’s passage from oppression to freedom, from fear to faith, I signed on to this letter by Reform CA, to pass the Trust Act in California (here’s a backgrounder on the Trust Act):

The imperative of Jewish history commands us to speak out loudly. As a wandering people that has often depended upon the good graces of nations for protection from physical harm and economic hardship, we are sensitive to the needs of another immigrant population. 

And as Californians, we are proud that our state has been the leader in this country for compassionate and just legislation. We know that when California sets the standard for public policy, the nation takes notice and follows 

It is for these reasons that we endorse, support, and encourage the passage of the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act. The TRUST Act will serve to redress the daily injustices faced by undocumented immigrants in California.
Joining our voices with police officials, immigrants rights groups, other faith communities, and many more, we sign this petition in order to raise our voices to our state legislators and to Governor Brown and implore them to action – to vote yes on The TRUST Act and to sign it into law. 

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A Jewish poet once wrote:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

Reform CA is delighted to launch our first campaign on statewide immigration reform through the California TRUST Act. With Pesach quickly approaching, we are reminded of our own Exodus narrative of journey and wandering, finding ourselves in so many generations the stranger in a strange land. At our seder, we hear our own cry for redemption echo in our charge to care for the stranger in our midst. As Reform Jews and Californians, we seek compassionate and fair laws for our immigrant brothers and sisters who call California home.

We are working to get thousands of signatures as we demonstrate to our elected officials the strength of the California Reform Movement. Sign our petition now – tell the California Legislature that it’s time to pass the TRUST Act and restore stability and security to our immigrant communities.
When we are young, we are often told by a loving parent that if we are lost or hurt or scared, we should find a police officer who can help us. Unfortunately, millions of California parents who are immigrants without documents must tell their children the opposite, to avoid police officers, because under current state law, contact with an officer can result in deportation. In addition, undocumented immigrants who are victims of spousal abuse or who witness a crime are afraid to reach out to local police for protection because doing so risks their own deportation.

By signing this petition here, we, the Reform Jewish community of California, say it is time to repair this injustice.

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I am also including this Passover Seder ritual to help bring awareness of this issue to the people gathered around our seder table.  I invite you to do so also.