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Remarks From People of Faith Rally

REMARKS BY RABBI ERIC YOFFIE, UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM PRESIDENT
AT PEOPLE OF FAITH RALLY AGAINST PROPOSED BUDGET

Monday, March 14, 2005
U.S.Capitol
Washington, DC

We are here today to say that when we look at this budget, we see that American politics right now are fundamentally broken - corrupted by abuse, moral indifference, and politicians who spend their days dialing for dollars.

We are here today to say that we are worried about our country. Because healthcare costs are impossible to handle. Because jobs are less secure. Because the safety net that has protected Americans for three quarters of a century is being replaced with a system of individual risk that says, “You’re on your own, jack.” Because the elderly are being asked to swap an insurance policy for a lottery ticket. And when we look at this budget we see that our leaders have forgotten a fundamental rule of American life – that Americans who are not wealthy are far better off when we share the risk rather than face them alone.

And you know what’s worse? All of this is being justified in religious language, as an expression of family values.

Well, I believe in God, and I have a hunch that God might feel special concern for the millions of Americans, young and old, who will be unable to visit a doctor when the Medicaid budget is slashed by $45 billion.

I believe that there are many religious Americans who, like us, regard poverty as a moral issue; who believe that giving tax cuts to the rich and a deficit to the grandkids is a matter of religious concern; who know that it could never be religiously right to be craven toward the economically powerful and vicious toward the economically weak.

I believe that cutting healthcare for our children is an abomination. They are already 12 million children without health care. We ask those children everyday to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and the time has long since passed for us to pledge to them unfettered access to decent healthcare that they need and deserve.

Don’t get me wrong. As religious people, we support personal responsibility when it says, “We will help you, but you must do your share.” But we oppose the kind of crude social Darwinism that says, “You’re on your own, so heal yourself.” We oppose the smoke screen of family values that seems to mean, “God bless me – and the hell with you.”

And one word on the war. This administration is the first in the history of our country to ask the sons and daughters of working men and women to risk their lives in war while asking the wealthy to pay less in taxes. When democratic countries go to war, they recognize a special obligation to those who bear the direct burden of war and benefit least from the affluence of democracy. But this budget proposes additional tax cuts, almost all of which go to the richest members of our society. And who pays the price of these tax cuts? The working poor and the near poor, through cuts in Headstart, Medicaid, and WIC.

Is this really a time to suggest, without a touch of irony, that we redistribute wealth upwards?

Whenever I read the Bible, what I find there is that the poor are never a problem to the rich. It is always the rich who are a problem to the poor. But the way this budget cuts taxes for the rich and social programs for the poor, you would think it was the other way around.

What then is our task as people of faith?

To listen to the prophet Isaiah who exhorts us to share our bread with the hungry. To take back religion from those who use it for selfish purposes, and use it instead to summon the hearts of our fellow citizens to justice, decency, and a better America.

To send a message to our President and to leaders of both parties that despite squalor for the poor and gated communities for the rich, the great majority of Americans have not given up on “We, the People.”

And to see it as our task to do what God and Biblical teachings demand of us: to help heal the soul of America, this great country in which we live.

God Bless America.

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The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. Union services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC.

 
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