Synagogues call for action on poverty

Posted on March 12, 2008 in Governance Debates, Social Security Debates – Ontario – Synagogues call for action on poverty
Letter urges premier to invest in housing and help poor children
March 12, 2008
Tanya Talaga, Social Justice Reporter

Synagogues from across Ontario have issued an open letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty imploring him to put a “down payment” on his election promise to fight poverty in the spring budget by investing in affordable housing, accelerating a boost in the minimum wage and moving faster to aid poor children.

The letter, sent from 18 synagogues, including four Jewish denominations, applauds McGuinty for promising to adopt specific targets for poverty reduction in Ontario but they say it is now time to quit talking and start acting.

“We want to trust that you mean what you said in the fall election campaign,” stated the letter, dated March 10. “Please don’t disappoint us. Please don’t delay any initiative at all until all consultations are complete.”

Of special interest to the group is the plight of poor children and their families.

Ontario has the worst rate of child poverty in Canada and that is unacceptable in a land of so much plenty, the letter notes. “We can afford to do better, and do it quickly,” it said.

A woeful report released last fall based on Statistics Canada data showed that while Ontario has 38 per cent of the total Canadian population, 44 per cent of the country’s poor children live in this province.

That translates into 345,000 children living in poverty in Ontario.

“Children do not have time to wait while policies are carefully crafted and constituencies consulted,” the letter said. “A child who missed a year’s good nutrition, or education, or whose family dissolves under grinding economic pressure, will not easily `make it up’ next year.”

The letter to the premier is a worthy cause that Jewish congregants and all citizens can get behind, said Aly Boltman, the administrator of the Beth Ezekiel Synagogue.

“Jews have a term we use called tikkun olam that translates `for the repair of the world,’ a very prominent concept in Judaism,” said Boltman, whose small synagogue serves about 60 families in Owen Sound. “This is supposed to be something every Jewish person is taught. This would definitely fit into the category.”

The Jewish faith has a long history of fighting poverty, homelessness and hunger, said Myer Siemiatycki, co-chair of the social justice advocacy committee of Toronto’s Congregation Darchei Noam in the Sheppard Ave. and Allen Rd. area.

In the past, individual rabbis or synagogues have made overtures to the government on issues, but they say this is the first time so many have come together to push for change on poverty. “We wanted very much for there to be a clear, broad and wide-ranging Jewish voice on this,” he said.

He called for “many other sectors” of society to speak out. A coalition of 100 anti-poverty groups have called on the government to reduce poverty by 25 per cent in five years.

From affordable housing to tackling child poverty, there has been plenty of rhetoric and debate but little action, Siemiatycki said.

The letter points out Ontario is the only province that has made no gains in spending on affordable housing. A national report card on housing last month shows a $1 billion funding gap from the commitment Ontario made in 2001 and what it has spent on such housing.

Last October, McGuinty named Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews as chair of a special cabinet committee aimed at poverty reduction.

While they don’t expect a response from the premier, the group will be happy if the provincial budget addresses their concerns.

“Please don’t let the poor wait another year,” the letter said.

Signing synagogues include Toronto’s Congregation Darchei Noam, Peterborough’s Beth Israel Synagogue and Kitchener-Waterloo’s Beth Jacob Congregation. The four denominations are Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist.

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