TORONTO — For some, St. Patrick’s Day was a time for revelry. But for a faithful few under a tent on the lawn of Queen’s Park at noon on March 17, it was an opportunity to remind Ontario MPPs that their impending budget should not forsake the province’s homeless, impoverished and malnourished.
Rabbi Tina Grimberg leads a prayer service at Queen’s Park last week. [Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf photo]
It was a message delivered as part of a month-long prayer vigil outside the legislature, organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC). The vigil, which began March 3, ends today (March 26) with the reading of the provincial budget. The vigil was officiated each day by a leader of one of the participating faith communities.
Last week, it was Congregation Darchei Noam’s Rabbi TinaGrimberg’s turn. She led nearly 50 members of her congregation and other ISARCsupporters through an hour-long service of prayer and quotes derived from a range of Jewish sources addressing the need for tikkun olam and tzedakah. Her message included passages from writings in the Torah, Talmud and learned Jewish scholars and rabbis from throughout the ages.
Speaking to The CJN just prior to her homily, Rabbi Grimberg recalled her youth living in Soviet-era Russia, saying that although there were many problems with Communism’s “follies,” one thing that the government did right was ensure that every person had a fixed address.
“Certainly, [in NorthAmerica] we have democracy, free economy, the ability to earn… but our inability to sustain those in need is a bushah – in Hebrew this means a shame,” she said. “At the level of civilization in which we live, this should be eradicated. A roof over one’s head is not a privilege, it’s a right.”
Rabbi Grimberg said she remembered her father telling her that he was part of a volunteer group that made the rounds each winter night to take “drunks” back to their homes.
“Yes, they sometimes shared a stove or [facilities] with 10 or 12 others in a building. Still, they had somewhere to go. Here, there are people who are still literally freezing to death on the street.”
Rabbi Grimberg said she believed the vigil would have an impact regardless of whether MPPs inside Queen’s Park consider themselves religious or not.
“How can [the vigil] not have an effect if there are dedicated, caring people praying in a loving way, asking that the [topic] of our most vulnerable in society be brought up to our lawmakers?”she asked.
She added:“Even if this doesn’t work [directly on the MPPs], we will still defy. Those who pass by and see us… we don’t know how many people we touch when we do goodness in this world. I refuse to believe that we don’t do good here. This is a mitzvah.”
Ryerson University political science professor Myer Siemiatycki, chair of Darchei Noam’s social justice advocacy committee, said he saw the “call for social justice as central to our understanding of Judaism.”
Members of the First Narayever Congregation on Brunswick Avenue were scheduled to attend the vigil on Tuesday (March 24), when the shul’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ed Elkin, was slated to lead it.
Also on hand at last week’s vigil was Susan Eagle, chair of ISARCand a United Church pastor in London, Ont.
Rabbi Tina Grimberg, front row second from right, and members of Congregation Darchei Noam stand in front of the ISARC vigil tent on the lawn of Queen’s Park last week. [Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf photo]
Rev. Eagle said the vigil represented “a witness and a presence” that “unites us in the care and concern of our neighbour.”
She said this latest provincial budget is “critical,” adding that ISARC members were “praying to strengthen the resolve of our elected leaders to understand how serious this budget is.”
Although MPPs did not officially respond to the vigil, Rev. Eagle said she noticed a fewwho “wandered out” to thank participants.
The closing ceremony for the vigil will include the lighting of candles for each MPP, and each legislator will be presented with one as “a reminder we’ve been offering prayers for them,” Rev. Eagle said.
Participating faith leaders will also take candles back to their houses of worship to remind their congregants that “although our vigil here is over… much more needs to be done. Because we’re not naive enough to think that everything that needs to be done will be covered in this budget,” she said.