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.