The holiday of Sukkot is both a harvest festival and a commemoration of the time the ancient Hebrews spent in the desert after fleeing Egypt. The sukkah symbolizes the protection God gave them during their 40 years of wandering. It is a holiday of rejoicing but also a holiday when we remember and help the needy – or do we?
Over the past year or so I've written a series of posts on homelessness, pointing out that for the most part, the Jewish Federations do little to nothing to help the homeless, even when those homess happen to be Jewish.
The economy is causing more Jewish families to fall into poverty and some of them become homeless.
Yet the Federations are still operating as if it were 1998 in the middle of the Internet boom.
They've done little to nothing to step up their already anemic programs to help desperate Jews in America, instead preferring to send their money to the poor in Israel – even though Israel's economy is strong, unemployment is low, and a large number of the Israeli poor are haredim who choose not to work. The poor who suffer there do so because the government is busy misappropriating the money that should go to help them, not because there is a lack of funds.
Perhaps there once was a time when communal workers would have been ashamed of this, but that time apparently has long gone.
Some communities are exceptions – Cleveland, I'm told, is one of those, and Chicago has some good programs including a free pharmacy for the working poor who are uninsured; New York has some good programs, as well, but is woefully lacking in housing and related support – but most have nothing different than they had five years ago, and what they do have is not well funded.
But you don't see appeals to help America's poor Jews because Federation machers don't like to publicly admit there are Jewish poor here.
If the poor are Russians or refugees, that's one thing. But 'regular' Jews? That's another.
We should all be ashamed that our communities are so inadequate and that so many Jews have unmet needs as a result.
There are Jews sleeping on New York City's subways or who are living in dangerous city shelters there and in other cities while Federation leaders talk about "outreach: over catered lunches.
Unaffiliated Jews don't affiliate because this vapid excuse for Judaism and Jewish communities gives them no reason to.
If our communities truly helped their needy, if the Jewish community was at the forefront of poverty and homelessness issues, perhaps these unaffiliated Jews would join.
For every unaffiliated Jew who cares deeply about Israel issues, there are a dozen who do not. Of those dozen, many care about social justice, about hunger and homelessness, and about making a difference.
If for no other reason than that, the Federations should be rushing to provide food, medical support and housing for the needy.
Instead, what most Jewish communities do is refer indigent Jews to city and county agencies for help. And maybe, perhaps, give the poor person bus fare to get there.
There is no excuse.
No amount of plaques on buildings and nominations to communal boards will change that.
A primary concept in Judaism is that God made us responsible for the poor, the widows and the orphans.
Other than believing in Him, that is what God trusts us to do.
But Jewish communities violate that trust every day.
And there is no shame.