A Rabbi Takes On the Fiscal CliffPosted on December 27th, 2012 No comments
The week after Thanksgiving, I was blessed with the most wonderful opportunity. I received a call from the Executive Director of Queens Congregations United for Action (QCUA), the faith-based community organizing group that I work with here in New York. The Nathan Cummings Foundation was organizing a trip down to Washington, D.C. with several different community and socially focused organizations to talk to senior White House officials about the looming fiscal cliff and he wanted me to participate and help represent QCUA that day. I was beyond stunned. But I jumped at the opportunity to be able to help represent my community and to serve as a delegate for the state of New York on such an important issue.
The day did not disappoint. We began at 5:30 in the morning as we boarded a bus bound for D.C. Along with other folks from QCUA (two baptist bishops, a monseigneur, a reverend, a pastor, and various others), I met all of the other participants from New York. They ranged from people in the arts like the Foundry Theater, Arts and Democracy, and Urban Bush Women to Jewish social justice organizations like Uri L’tzedek, Bend the Arc, and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. I was able to connect with Lila Foldes, the co-director of Just Congregations, as well as Rabbi Jill Jacobs from Rabbis for Human Rights and Nigel Savage from Hazon.
When we first arrived in Washington, we took a tour of the White House. Normally, one is not allowed to photograph inside the White House, but because everything was decorated for Christmas, we were granted permission to snap as many photos as we liked. It was truly magical to see all of the rooms brightly lit and decorated accordingly. While we were touring the rooms, a local youth gospel choir began singing carols in the main open lobby. Their joyous sound filled the rooms and halls as we explored the diversity and the history of one of the most beautiful and notable houses in America.
After the tour, we were escorted to the AFL-CIO building for lunch. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in the United States. While we were there, we learned the background on the issues related to the fiscal cliff and how the results could affect our community in the coming years. It was eye-opening to understand these issues on a deeper level, to be briefed on possible outcomes, and to prepare ourselves to think about ways in which these issues could be solved.
After lunch, we spent the majority of the afternoon at the EEOB – the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the majority of decisions get made in D.C. (outside of the Oval office and Capitol Hill, of course). There, we met with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President. We also met with Jon Carson, the Director of Public Engagement for the White House. We shared ideas all afternoon on challenges within our communities and ways to overcome obstacles. We also shared possible ideas and solutions regarding the financial crisis that is looming over our nation. It was incredibly gratifying to see so many organizations and so many people who are focused and determined to help hard working families and individuals survive and succeed in this world. While we didn’t come to any major solutions that day, we managed to get our voices heard and to represent our communities to people in the government. And they really listened.
My group slipped out a little early to go take a private meeting with our local congressman, Gregory Meeks. After the devastation from hurricane Sandy a few months ago, we were eager to see what progress had been made and to lobby for more work to be done. Even now, there are still people without power and heat and we seized the opportunity to make our voices heard even louder than before. All in all, it was a productive day.
But more than that, it was an important day. At the end of it all, I found myself exhausted but buzzing with excitement. I realized that while many of my days are important, I could tangibly feel the difference I made for my community and my country. Social action and social justice have ALWAYS been important to me. As a rabbi, it guides so much of the work I do in my community. But as a citizen, I don’t often get the chance to do the kind of work that I did or contribute to the politics of our nation as I was blessed to do, that day. My voice was heard. And I spoke up – for you, for me, and for everyone. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, she’natan lanu hizdam’nut l’takein et ha-olam.
Blessed are You, most glorious One, who has given us the opportunity to create harmony and repair our world. Amen.
This week’s post was contributed by Rabbi Elizabeth Wood of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills.
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