But Is It Good For the Jews?

Friday, September 19, 2008
Special to the Jewish Week

We Jews are famously accused of seeing everything that happens through a single lens: how it impacts us.  Sometimes it comes out as “Is it good or bad for Israel,” other times it’s more parochially about the ramifications of any given policy or event for our own communities.  But we watch out for ourselves, and tend to be keenly on top of things as they affect us.

Just a few short months ago, there was a spate of articles, including one in the Jewish Week, about how the rising cost of oil- surely a concern to every living and breathing American- would affect synagogues this coming winter.  There are serious concerns about how oil prices double or triple what they were last year would impact synagogue budgets, and whether or not members would have to be assessed a surcharge on their dues to cover the costs of heating the synagogue building.

After this week’s cataclysmic meltdown in the financial markets, I find myself longing for the “good old days,” when all we were worried about was the price of heating oil!

Timing is everything.  This past Tuesday, our synagogue had a long-scheduled parlor meeting for major supporters of our annual Kol Nidre Appeal. We, of course, had no way to know that, on that day, the stock market would drop by a few hundred points for the second day in a row.  A perfect backdrop for encouraging people to give generously.  We soldiered on, using the time to talk with our donors instead of solicit them. That can’t be bad.  But the implications of even having to make a decision like that were chilling.

The current crisis in the financial markets is good for no one, Jew or Gentile.  Of course that is true.  But to know the Jewish community is to know that it is among the most charitably organized communities in modern history.  In addition to the major charities that we all know of, synagogues raise money to meet their budgets, and just about every Jewish communal institution does as well.  And then of course, there’s Israel, which fundraises relentlessly in the American Jewish community.  If there’s a worthy cause anywhere in Israel, there’s an “American Friends” organization to raise money for it.

Whether or not the “average Jew” has lost money this past week, you can be sure that he/she at least feels less secure financially than last week at this time.  That hurts the community, and Israel.

And then, of course, both the city and state of New York stand to lose enormous amounts of tax revenues from the radical reshaping of Wall Street and the loss of so many jobs in the financial sector.  That augurs budget cuts  in the social service sector in both city and state budgets.  That hurts our community and Israel too- badly.

And, of course, there are more than a few Jews who were employed in jobs in the financial sector that simply disappeared this week.  There are people in our communities who are surely hurting, and feeling more vulnerable that they ever have.  That will test our communities.

It has been a painful week here in New York, and indeed in America, no matter what religious label we might wear.  But there’s no way it’s been a good week for the Jews.

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