By Bill Marker
Congregation Beit Tikvah
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; thou shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am Adonai your God. Leviticus 19:9-10
Give to the needy readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return the Eternal your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings. Deuteronomy 15:10
Just as many mitzvahs are directed at men, not women, so that women may wonder if they are part of the "us", this and other biblical poverty related statements are directed at the "haves," seemingly excluding the "have-nots" from "us". Individually I am certainly a have, but as a resident of Baltimore City, I am one of Maryland's have-nots. Seemingly my community's schools, police, library, etc. are dependent on subsidies, whether from taxes or charity, from Maryland's richer jurisdictions. Yet Maryland taxes my community at a higher rate than those outside Baltimore City, so that we, in fact, subsidize them.
Doesn't true Tikkun Olam require not only encouraging the wealthy to make transfers (tzedekah) to the poor, but ending exploitation of the have-nots that unjustly enriches the haves? Shouldn't it also empower have-nots to take their fair share?
When Reconstructionists organize Tikkun Olam projects, how might we ensure that the intended beneficiaries significantly manage and evaluate the program?"How... beneficiaries... manage and evaluate the program?" In working with the homeless population, our temple, Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County, often cooks food and donates clothing. Your question is difficult to answer. In my dealings with the homeless I find them lacking self esteem and therefore they are inherently grateful for anything they receive. They are very beaten up by a system that is like a revolving door unable to break the mold of keeping them homeless. Due to problems such as alcoholism, mental and emotional problems, the only way to evaluate our Tikkun Olam projects is to get statistics on how many can actually get jobs and function on their own. Some are quite honestly, not capable of getting to that level. What I see is needed is probably group homes or hospital environments that can treat these vulnerable members of society. We are as a Temple helping one homeless man who is able to fight for housing and appropriate treatment. He has uncovered many abuses within the system and because of his ability to write and clarify these issues he might make an impact. Our temple has helped him with getting furniture, clothing, food and other essential items to live on his own. Many homeless do not have the chutzpah to stand up for their own rights. It will be interesting to see how this turns out and we are rooting for his success. I have also written articles to the local newspaper on the plight of the homeless in our city. Roselyn Altman Tzedek Chairperson Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel Maywood, NJ