Helping in tough Economic Times--helping congregants cope with economic concerns
By Rabbi Richard Address, D.Min.
Rabbis and congregations should use the High Holidays to launch initiatives to help those coping with economic problems.
The start of the month of Elul brings our community into its preparation for the High Holidays. Now the pace of communal life starts to change and our focus is on reflection, reconciliation, repentance and the annual response to new beginnings.
For too many in our community, however, this season will hold more angst than joy.
The economic situation in our country presents us with challenges unseen for nearly a generation. Too many will sit in synagogues next month and be equally concerned with their own economic situation as they will the state of their soul. Increasingly senior citizens on fixed or limited incomes are seeing their resources challenged. Young adults are concerned about job security. Too many of our people of all ages have lost jobs, been downsized or live on the edge of job and financial uncertainty.
This reality presents our community with a unique and necessary opportunity to become an even more meaningful "caring community." This is a time when no one should be left to feel that they are "l'vado," alone. This is a time for community and relationships to be enhanced and expanded, so that our congregations can be seen as responsive to and involved with those who are hurting.
In every community are untapped human resources: people who may have some time to give, who have experienced life and if asked, may be willing to assist leadership in developing support systems for individuals and families in need. At the least, a call can be made to members who have experience in the workplace, who have counseled people in job changes and career moves.
Establishing a congregational or communal service corps with members willing to give advice and direction -- or just lend a sympathetic ear to those who may be searching for new directions -- is one possible course of action.
During a similar economic downturn In the early 1980s, I worked in Philadelphia and was involved in helping congregations create a communitywide job bank. It had some success helping people in our community get back to work. Simply we polled the members of the community's congregations for possible job openings, advertising those openings throughout the area so members could see what was available from those within their own community.
This could be done again. Synagogues can join other local organizations, JCCs, Jewish Family Services and others to broaden the base of opportunities to search. Even in this day of electronic and Internet job searches, personal networking and relationships go a long way in opening doors.
A difficulty in some of this may be the unwillingness on the part of many to come forward. So often we face this challenge of having people admit they may need some assistance, guidance or help in establishing goals. Transitions are tough and filled with fear. But let us not forget the power of the pulpit. The simple act of the rabbi offering a sermon on the need for this type of caring inreach can help worshipers see their congregation as more than a life-cycle institution.
The High Holidays are a perfect example of a moment in time when Jews attend synagogue. Why not take a few moments at each service to launch this internal support network? Why not have in each prayer book a form that someone can fill out who has a job opening or position request, or has a willingness to give time to counsel or advise a fellow congregant on career change and possibilities?
Use your caring community committee to organize these forms and launch, right after Yom Kippur, a Sukkot of Transition so that all can feel the possibility of a "sukkat shalom." We soon will enter our season of possibilities. In each of our communities there are those we need to support and those with the ability to create that sense of support and caring. All we need to do is ask.