Welfare - real help or hindrance?
Last Thursday evening at a gala dinner in Manhattan, I had the chance to introduce Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker as the keynote speaker to Colel Chabad, a 232 year-old charity organization that has been helping the needy since its inception. Mayor Booker, a proud Baptist whose passion for social justice is inspired by the righteous aspects of all faiths, is one of the co-founders of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale where I serve as Rabbinical Advisor. In my remarks, I asked the Mayor what may be the most important question in this time of economic crisis: namely, if there is a just G-d (which I believe there is) why are there poor who suffer and most of all, what is the responsibility of those with resources to their less fortunate brothers and sisters?
My perspective on this comes not only from my studies as a rabbi and deep believer in the transcendent power of charity for both the giver and the receiver, but as the owner of one of Connecticut's largest multi-family real estate businesses, which includes a significant holding of "Section-8" or government subsidized properties. Affordable housing can be a God-send for struggling families should they be nuclear or, more often, single mothers with children. Fortunately, the government is strict in its approval and maintenance of subsidized housing to weed out landlords who do not maintain their properties with the dignity that any person, regardless of their income, should expect. The ability to be a part of providing affordable housing to people in need as part of a profitable business that helps me employ more people is a joy that goes far beyond simple business success.
Though when driving through some of our larger subsidized properties, I often wonder, where the line is drawn between helping and hindering, providing and preventing. In short, the duty of those with resources is to share --and to enable-- not just to provide for those who should be helped to experience the dignity of self-sufficiency.
This is the loudest message I hear in the deafening silence, driving at 12 o'clock in the afternoon through a completely still apartment complex where often, even able residents are home and not working. While we are obligated to house the poor we should be doing so without imprisoning them in an endless cycle of dependence.
Saving people from poverty and homelessness without destroying their motivations is an idea that should be accepted by people on both the "right" and "left." One reason Mayor Booker has been such an inspirational leader to his great but historically troubled city is because he brings with him to City Hall innovators and problem solvers from all backgrounds. It is true, as many on the left argue, that the government has a role to play using our tax dollars to actively redistribute wealth where the market may not. No hungry child should be expected to wait for a meal to "trickle down." On the other hand, the government can be too big, and reckless with the dollars generated by the active and productive members of society. Most of all, a lifetime of welfare without the expectation and means to rise out of poverty, will doom the underclass to a permanent place at the bottom of society.
Posted by: kperl | December 22, 2010 5:29 PM
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