Thursday, 24 April 2014

Living Below the Line

Next week I and a small group of Rabbis will be Living Below the Line (eating on £1 a day) for 5 days. We have a blog at http://rabbisbelowtheline.wordpress.com/ where you can read why each of us is doing it. This was my first post there this morning:

As a congregational Rabbi in one of London's wealthiest communities, it was perhaps surprising the regularity with which those in crisis, or serious continuing need, quietly and with deep embarrassment needed to come and ask for help. Sometimes I and sometimes my discretionary fund paid people's electricity bills, helped ensure children were fed until benefits became available, and ensured a disabled congregant could pay rent rather than go into a hostel. No one likes to ask for a handout, and receiving it from someone who knows them can be even more difficult, but these quiet, hidden voices are with us every day, and are growing in number.
So when Judith Williams asked me to Live Below the Line to support the work of Tzedek in tackling extreme poverty in developing nations, I couldn't think of a good reason to say no. Tzedek's work is very close to my heart, after a late beloved friend helped establish their Ghana programme, a friend who also campaigned tirelessly for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, another group constantly struggling to make ends meet. But what seemed like the bigger opportunity, was that of creating conversations around all this poverty, need, and hunger.
When I met with Molly Hodson from the Trussell Trust a few weeks ago, I was shocked to learn about the incredible increase in demand for their services. (Stats are here) and they are very much a short term stop gap. Campaigners like Jack Monroe who is also living below the line next week but who also knows just what it means to go to bed hungry so that her son could eat that day, has also been campaigning for us to challenge the system that required food banks.
Next Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is a Shmita year. A year of release. Biblically this meant that the land lay fallow and belonged to no one. Any perennials that produced food were there for everyone to help themselves to. This wasn't an easy year, and careful preparation and social cohesion was necessary. But wouldn't it be amazing to emerge from the next Shmita year with a system that gives access to our incredible resources to those who need them. The ways in which we consume has a huge impact on the world around us, from sweat shop workers in Bangladesh, to low paid farm labourers and shop workers receiving less and less because supermarkets are engaged in a price war. Shmita is not a simple answer, and there are no simple answers, but we should be angry about the reality as it is today. Living below the line isn't much, but I hope it is a small soap box from which other conversations and voices will be heard.

If you are able to support Tzedek as part of Living Below the Line, you can donate here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/debbieys

3 comments:

  1. Debbie, I'm interested to know if 'Shmita' is a year of jubilee or something different? I think jubilee didn't happen too often. Was every seventh year meant to be a fallow year, perhaps. I'm afraid my recollection of these things is hazy.

    For any Christians reading this, I believe Christian Aid have been issuing a similar challenge. Good luck to all those who give it a go. I'm sure it won't be easy.

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  2. Shmita is every 7 years, - a shabbat for the land, yovel was the Jubilee years, after 7x7 years. Useful info here: http://hazon.org/shmita-project/educational-resources/
    Lots of charities are doing live below the line, all leaders at tackling poverty :)

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