Published October 07, 2009, issue of October 16, 2009,Full article at http://www.forward.com/articles/116270/,Excerpt on JRF congregation Adat Shalom, Bethesda, MD http://www.adatshalom.net/, One synagogue that did systematically decide to pay a living wage is Adat Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation in Bethesda, Md. The rabbi at Adat Shalom, Fred Scherlinder Dobb, raised the issue in 2001 — eight years before Jacobs’ teshuvah passed — when the Washington, D.C., City Council passed a living wage ordinance. Scherlinder Dobb faced opposition from the congregation president at the time, Judith Gelman, who is an economist.
“As an economist I thought it would break the bank,” Gelman said, looking back.
Scherlinder Dobb did not give up. His board calculated that paying two janitors a living wage would cost $8,000 extra a year — 1% of their annual budget, or $35 per member each year. For the janitors at the time, this meant $10.20 an hour with health insurance, or $11.80 without. The congregation ultimately reached this standard by raising more revenue and reshuffling its budget priorities.
The executive director at Adat Shalom, Sheila Feldman, said that she tried to promote what Adat Shalom had done at meetings of executive directors from synagogues across the Washington area — but she always heard that the other synagogues could not afford it.
“Believe me, my synagogue was in no better shape than theirs,” Feldman said.
One person who was eventually convinced was Gelman, the economist and executive director. She said she was surprised by the benefits that the move brought to the synagogue — most of all the quality of the employees who were attracted, and the lack of employee turnover. She also heard from one janitor who went to a doctor as soon as he got health insurance, and ended up catching a life-threatening illness early.
“To this day,” Gelman wrote in an essay about her experience, “he says that the congregation saved his life.”
Contact Nathaniel Popper at email@example.com