WINNIPEG — The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s two-year-old Half Shekel Council on Social Justice has tabled a new report that aims to raise awareness of poverty among Jews and co-ordinate the Jewish response to the issue in the wider community.
Late last month, the council put out a discussion paper titled Walking in Abraham’s Footsteps: Social Justice and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
Among its recommendations are asking the federation to develop a policy on Jewish representation on public bodies, such as the “Raise the Rates” campaign to increase the minimum wage, and asking it to fund and commission Jewish Child and Family Service to increase the number of staff involved and to be visible in wider community coalitions.
The council is also seeking to co-ordinate Jewish community volunteers to advocate on social justice issues and on behalf of the Jewish community and Jews in need.
“It has become clear that participation in general anti-poverty initiatives also benefits our community and fulfils our traditional wish for involvement in tikkun olam,” said council chair Gerry Shrom, who took over for founding chair Danita Aziza, formerly of Toronto, who is in Israel for the year.
Originally titled the Half Shekel Task Force on Poverty – which refers to the amount all Jews, regardless of wealth, had to contribute to the first census in ancient Israel – the name was changed in September to reflect a new approach to the issue.
“We changed the name because we realized that poverty was just one of a number of interlocking issues – such as the need for housing, and mental health issues,” Shrom said. “We felt that what was required was more of a social action approach.” Deadline:
WIt noted that Judaism puts a strong emphasis on social justice and caring for the most vulnerable.
“In modern times, the social justice agenda has been retained as a core value of Judaism by secular and religious Jews alike, resulting in the development of social action organizations within the Jewish community and without,” the report says, citing Jewish involvement in general social justice movements such as the civil rights movement and the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.
There has also been a growth in tikkun olam committees at shuls, which take on projects such as staffing soup kitchens or working for Habitat for Humanity.
The paper’s authors further note that in larger communities, social advocacy is handled by separate organizations, sometimes funded for specific purposes by federations. They add that advocacy involves different activities, from federations and related organizations taking formal positions on issues to getting volunteers involved in awareness campaigns and lobbying organizations or governments for change.
Shrom said that the “most pressing issues for Jews in our community where progress appears possible include housing – where we are working with Manitoba representatives and community partners to develop new options for vulnerable Jews – [as well as] financial aid and making those in need more aware of available services and supports.”
She also emphasized the importance of raising awareness in the Jewish community. The council, she said, has been working on that through a publicity campaign, speakers and a successful program in fall 2007 called “Dare to Dream,” a well-attended social evening that highlighted the needs of the Jewish poor.