Rabbi Charges Needs of Orthodox Jewish Poor Overlooked in City’s Anti-poverty Program; Demands Poor

A Brooklyn rabbi who served as a delegate to the citywide Council Against Poverty said today that the needs of Orthodox Jewish poor based on their traditional lifestyle and religious requirements were being “overlooked” in the city’s anti-poverty program. Rabbi Bernard Weinberger, consultant to the YM-YWHA of Williamsburg, told the American Jewish Congress:

“Given the reality that anti-poverty programs deal with blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans and Indians not only as poor people but as members of their ethnic communities, we must insist that poor Jews be included on the basis of very Jewish needs.” Most of the government agencies dealing with the poor do not recognize the Jewish poor as a disadvantaged group, Rabbi Weinberger declared. “It is up to the organized Jewish community to make it clear that Jews have a poverty problem too–one that demands treatment in a very different framework from programs for other groups.”

Rabbi Weinberger, speaking at a meeting of the AJCongress National Governing Council, stated. “It we accept the premise that a poor black man is poor because he is black, we must also recognize that many poor Jews are poor because they are Jews.” He explained that these “special Jewish needs” were based in large part on Orthodox requirements to eat kosher foods, observe the Sabbath, send children to religious schools, confine their study to Jewish religious tracts and raise large families.

Rabbi Weinberger, spiritual leader of Young Israel of Brooklyn, continued: “The city’s poverty corporations do not improve lives or living conditions. They provide jobs and develop indigenous leadership, both vital to the black and Puerto Rican communities. But community action is not what the Jewish poor need. Among Orthodox Jewish young people, and particularly in the Hassidic community, the need is to develop the kinds of skills that will permit them to find jobs they can hold consistent with their lifestyle, cherished customs, religious observance, mode of dress–even in the choice of a community in which to live,” he observed.

Another speaker at the meeting–Richard Ravitch, chairman of the AJCongress Commission on Urban Affairs–said that efforts to bring the Jewish poor into anti-poverty programs in no way represent an attempt to compete with other minority groups for the meager funds available to fight poverty. “Only if the white community, including the Jewish community, recognizes its legitimate stake in the poverty program and joins blacks and Puerto Ricans in demanding adequate financing for the war against poverty will the program receive the measure of support it must have to succeed,” he declared.

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