Our Tikkun Olam Commission developed a set of criteria to guide its social justice recommendations for the movement. Every couple of years, the Commission will advise that the Reconstructionist movement concentrate on a new issue which, on balance, best meets these criteria.
Here’s how the wealth gap meets the criteria we’ve set for a movement-wide focus:
1. Jewish wisdom and values are relevant, but currently are not being applied.
There is a rich tradition of Jewish text examining the question of what wealth is and how to examine what is enough. The shmitah year and the Jubilee cycle directly address issues of wealth concentration. There are many admonitions that money should not interfere with justice.
2. Jewish resources are not currently over-invested.
There are few Jewish organizations looking directly at issues of wealth concentration and the role of money in our society.
3. There is national and/or international relevance.
The concentration of wealth affects the very fabric of society as well as international relationships.
4. There is particular relevance for Jews, i.e., Jews are involved on one side or another.
Though there are a significant number of low-income Jews, the Jewish community overall is one of the wealthiest in the United States. But Jews have had a hard time recognizing their financial power—in no small part because of historic anti-Semitism related to money. It would be healthy for the community to be able to speak openly about issues of wealth.
5. The content is broad enough to warrant a multilevel strategy, including direct service, advocacy and education.
- Direct-service projects can be the type that communities are accustomed to—such as supporting food pantries and helping prevent homelessness in low-income communities.
- We can also build on the previous work done by the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation on the “Torah of Money” and deepen conversations about money in our congregations.
- Potential advocacy projects include work on campaign-finance laws, tax policies, and banking regulations, as well as support for labor unions’ right to organize.
- Education programs can embrace Jewish teachings about money, wealth and justice, as well as personal conversations about our relationship to money and privilege, the role of wealth in the Jewish community, and the dimensions of the wealth gap.
6. Diverse organizations—including congregations, Hillels and Jewish community centers—can contribute to the effort.
The potential education, advocacy and direct-service programs are suitable for many Jewish institutions. The issues surrounding student debt are becoming increasingly prominent. And within congregations, conversations about money can potentially build stronger, more supportive community.
7. Little victories can be won along the way, and change is attainable in the long run.
Some of the advocacy issues are winnable on a state level: For example, a few states have passed campaign finance laws and several more are considering them.
8. A grassroots effort can make an impact.
Again, within congregations, individual people will benefit and communities can grow stronger. In the sphere of advocacy, there are regional and national organizations where we can contribute volunteer work.
9. Activism can help define and raise the profile of the movement.
Concerns about the concentration of wealth are growing, particularly among younger people. If we become identified with addressing the concentration of wealth and its political, social and economic consequences, we will have carved out an important niche.
10. The problems are timely—even urgent—and have evoked popular concern.
These issues appear regularly on the front pages of our newspapers. The “Occupy” movement gained popularity because these were its issues. And with each election the situation becomes more urgent. The latest findings about the growing number of hungry, poor people in the United States show the urgency. President Obama has vowed to focus the remainder of his presidency on income disparity, which he called “a bigger threat than the fiscal deficit.”
11. The movement has a distinctive contribution to make.
We can play a distinctive role in both the Jewish community and in North America as a whole by bringing to the fore Jewish values about wealth, justice and satiety.
12. We can draw other faith groups into the effort, building relationships.
There are other groups working on this issue. We gain an excellent opportunity to work with low-income faith communities who are struggling with economic issues—in particular, with African American congregations, where the wealth gap is most pronounced.