The record-breaking floods over the past week in Houston sadly remind us all of the fragility of our homes and refuges in the face of extreme weather. Many homes were destroyed in the severe flooding in Houston, along with two synagogues. Help support the people affected by the floods in Houston through the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston here. The floods also remind of the many individuals whose were not lost, but who were experiencing homelessness before and now will have to face even greater challenges to be safe and secure in a home of their own. While we reach out to and try to support those in Houston, we must also take action to ensure accessible, affordable housing for all people through legislative advocacy.
Congress is in the middle of the arduous appropriations process, in which all the programs, agencies and departments run by federal government are given their budget for the next year. Affordable housing is thrown into the mix in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill proposed by the House, which would significantly reduce funding and would also reduce access to affordable housing, thereby making it harder for those experiencing homelessness to ultimately have their own home.
We need affordable housing that can allow families to move into lower poverty areas and provide everyone with homes in places that can give the, these opportunities. We need to ensure that there are affordable housing opportunities that can ensure that families can move out of higher poverty neighborhoods and can therefore be in communities where these benefits can be offered.
We need more affordable housing across the United States: in every state, a minimum of one in four low income renters spent over half of their income on housing in 2013 and over 10 million low-income renter households had severe rent burdens.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2011, the average U.S. employee needed to make $18.46 per hour – more than twice the federal minimum wage – to afford a modest two-bedroom rental and still pay for food and other basic needs. One way that you can take action is by encouraging Congress to fund the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). In 2008, Congress created the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 to create 3.5 million affordable housing units. The National Housing Trust Fund is the only resource dedicated solely to funding affordable housing for people most at risk of becoming homeless, focusing on the most vulnerable and low-income populations.
The housing appropriations bill (discussed above) would effectively eliminate the Housing Trust Fund and the NHTF still needs congressional funding, even though funding started to flow to the NHTF for the first time in December 2014. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to support the National Housing Trust Fund!
Jewish tradition teaches that it is more valuable to help a person become self-sufficient than it is to give the person a hand-out of food or money. The Talmud teaches us that, “The person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than either” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 63b). We are commanded to help those less fortunate on the path of self-sufficiency so that one day they will not need assistance.
Last year, during Pope Francis’s pilgrimage to the Mideast, he made a brief stop in Jordan and invited Syrian refugees and disabled young people to join him for a meal at the Jordan River baptism site. Located just across the border from Israel, the spot is revered by many Christians as the place where John the Baptist lived, Jesus was baptized, and Christianity began.
Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the RAC, will be speaking at a panel today at the Center for American Progress called “Harnessing Faith to Work for Justice.” Rabbi Pesner will be joined on the panel by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL, and it will be moderated by Jocelyn Frye, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
During the panel, Rabbi Pesner and Rev. Moss will discuss how their faith inspires their work on key social justice issues, and how they overcome challenges in their work. They will also focus on issues such as economic inequality, racial justice, work-family policies and more.
Read more about the event and watch the livestream at 12PM ET today here.
by Janet Buckstein
Most membership-based organizations, including congregations and temple sisterhoods, use a variety of methods to communicate with current and prospective members. These may include printed and online material, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and even phone calls, presentations, and personal meetings. However, the standard material typically includes brochures/pamphlets, letters, membership forms and applications, fact sheets, program and event flyers, and postcards, posters, and volunteer opportunities. Even if you already have developed this material, is it as effective as it could be? Consider the following in reviewing and creating material.
What is the purpose of the piece? If you are simply providing information, your content should be clear and concise. Bullets and lists work well. However, if you are seeking to persuade your audience, such as in attracting program attendees, recruiting new members or creating a specific image of your group, you will need to effectively communicate the benefits to them.
The easiest way to define benefits is to ask yourself why the reader would care about your message. For example, your “mission statement” is not necessarily important to prospective members, but learning that they will make new friends, have fun, make a difference in the community, or learn new skills could be.
Ask yourself: Who do you want to reach? Existing members, prospective members, temple congregants and leaders, and the local community may all be groups you choose to communicate with, but they also will have different information needs for different benefits. Even within these groups you can find differences. For example, you may serve different membership groups (e.g. parents with young children, empty nesters, or seniors) and they will have different needs and preferences.
Is it visually stimulating? You may have the best text in the world, but the piece needs to draw in the reader. Flyers, postcards, posters, and brochures should be colorful, but not cluttered. White space (open area) improves readability. Use photos and graphics to make your point. Instead of talking about a meeting, show a picture of it.
Create a consistent look. Do you have a logo or brand/design for your sisterhood or specific campaigns? If so, use it consistently. The beauty of a brand is that it creates understanding and familiarity with no explanation.
It’s not just about print anymore. Today email is a widely accepted, if not preferred, form of communication. Even if you mail a yearly letter for things like membership renewal, you should also consider email distribution and a webpage. Being able to join and pay online is a definite plus. If you do not have a dedicated website, your congregation’s site might allow this.
More IS Better! Your material should be available wherever your target audience is. This could include lobby posters, bulletin boards, in new member packets, sent home with religious school students, in temple newsletters and emails, and in the gift shop and temple office.
Finally, remember that your material is a reflection of your organization. Just as you change, so should your pieces. Letters and forms probably require a yearly update to reflect correct dates, dues, and volunteer opportunities. However, even brochures and pamphlets could probably be enhanced with review by a new board member or committee chair who was not involved in developing the existing piece.
Janet Buckstein is the WRJ Midwest District 1st Vice President & a WRJ Board Member. This piece originally appeared in Women of Reform Judaism‘s email blast on May 22, 2015.
By Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen
Four weeks ago, I walked along a street in Memphis with 11 teens from my congregation, a chaperone and our educator, Brad Cohen. The day before, we had volunteered at the Dorothy Day House, cleaning a basement, spreading mulch and helping three young boys make birthday cards and a cake to surprise their mom. Now we walked via Beale Street (Birthplace of the Blues) to the National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On the way, we passed a mural depicting a black man holding a sign that read: I AM A MAN. My teens wondered aloud what it could mean. One said, “Of course he’s a man, what else would he be?”
At the museum we came upon an exhibit that explained the campaign in April of 1968, the fateful reason Dr. King was in Memphis. He had come to join the striking sanitation workers protesting unsafe and degrading working conditions; they were protesting the inhumanity of a city government that not only mistreated them when they were alive, but barely flinched at the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. As black men, Cole and Walker were not allowed to seek cover from the rain except in the back of the truck with the garbage. When the truck mechanism misfired, they were crushed to death. In the protests that followed, I AM A MAN affirmed that they and their mostly black fellow workers were not garbage; they were people.
As we walked away from the museum, one of my teens said, “You probably feel this way too, but I keep wondering what will be MY generation’s fight.” I told her that I often wonder the same thing.
Two weeks later, I found myself watching as my own city of Baltimore erupted in violent echoes of the history we had just studied in Memphis. I stood in the hotel lobby where I was attending the RAC’s Consultation on Conscience and realized that the words on the protestors’ signs, #BlackLivesMatter, were simply a millennial way of saying I AM A MAN. In the 1960’s, Echol Cole and Robert Walker were MEN. In 2015, Freddie Gray and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice’s LivesMatter.
This time, it wasn’t a worker crushed in the back of a garbage truck, but a young man who died pleading for help in the back of a police van. This time, instead of Memphis, a city that was only a few years past the end of Jim Crow and legally enforced segregation, it is Baltimore, a city that remains largely segregated not by law but by economics, racial politics and the War on Drugs.
That Friday, before Shabbat, members of my congregation joined me at City Hall in a march for justice. One week later, we came together with members of a primarily African-American church from Baltimore. We studied Psalm 137 and shared some of our fears, our anger, our hopes. We have planned to come together again, to learn about each other, to begin a dialogue that will be real and deep and very difficult. A young woman from my congregation said that her heart had suddenly cracked wide open. She had known about racial inequality and injustice before, she had cared before, but now she could not look away.
I can’t either.
Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen has served for 11 years as one of the rabbis at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. In addition to sharing teaching, pastoral and liturgical responsibilities, she is the Director of BHC Cares, and advises the Social Action Task Force, concentrating in recent years on environmental initiatives, marriage equality and civil rights issues. Rabbi Sachs-Kohen and her wife Missy live in Sudbrook Park with their children Manny and Noa.