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Governor’s plan threatens workers and Jewish values
by Laurie Zimmerman
Guest Columnist
Mar 03, 2011 | 2127 views | 3 3 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MADISON, Wis. — More than 100 Jews from all three Madison synagogues gathered Feb. 25 to celebrate Shabbat with services in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Four Madison rabbis led the services for the community members who had crammed into the North Gallery.

Below us, the Capitol Rotunda was teeming with energy — protesters from all over the state were waving signs of opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill.

Singing Shabbat psalms and reciting prayers, we had found a Jewish expression for our deepest values — values of community, education and justice; values of respecting the elderly and caring for the poor, the sick, the mentally ill and the disabled; values of discussion, debate and compromise.

The governor’s legislation threatens these values.

His budget repair bill has nothing to do with solving an emergency budget crisis, nor does it have to do with curbing the excesses of labor unions. This is about political power: Destroy the unions and you have destroyed a key institution representing the interests of the middle and working class.

If this were only about balancing the budget, there would be no need to strip workers of their right to organize or to ram through the legislation without negotiation, compromise or even debate.

Jewish support for the labor movement often stems from religious texts mandating workers’ rights. As the Torah states, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer.” Or it stems from pride in our involvement and leadership in the labor movement in the early 20th century.

While Jewish opposition to Walker’s attempts to destroy labor unions is certainly rooted in these religious and secular ideals, it also centers on fundamental questions at the heart of our Jewish values: What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? How can we stand idly by when proposed legislation will devastate the very fabric of our communities?

Last week all eight rabbis in Madison representing the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements of Judaism signed on to a letter distributed to colleagues throughout the country that strongly opposes Walker’s proposed legislation. We have enjoyed deep and broad support for this letter because there is a significant consensus that the governor’s bill will have dreadful effects on our state.

Walker and his supporters have tried to pit the public sector and their unions against the private sector, which is largely not unionized. Yet we know that with this legislation we all lose. We all lose because his legislation will drastically reduce the quality of our public schools, state universities and park system, as well as our nursing homes, child care centers and hospitals.

This is an affront to our Jewish values. Far from being a coddled class, public employees are our teachers, bus drivers, prison guards, firefighters and police officers — the very heart of our communities. They are streaming into our Capitol day after day from around the state because their livelihood is in jeopardy.

It is not just the public employees who are protesting. The more than 70,000 people who converged on the Capitol on Feb. 26 were quite diverse: young and old, rural and urban, wealthy and poor. It is a testament to how deeply they care about our future. Their passion and commitment demonstrate our human capacity to raise our voices when people’s health, security and well-being are threatened and to work diligently to create a better world.

As Rabbi Hillel once said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

(Laurie Zimmerman is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Madison, Wis.)

Comments
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Berel Soholom Tzvi
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March 07, 2011
Typical of the uninformed to not believe that someone who has a difference of opinion can not have and original thought. The Torah definition of justice is to treat a fellow Jew and person with respect. I saw none of this coming from the protesters in Wisconsin and Indiana. Collective bargaining is not a Torah value nor is it a right . Collective bargaining is a privilege that can be revoked. In the private sector when a contract is up the employer can refuse to negotiate and if the workers strike they can always be replaces. As for the public sector the legislature can pass laws to restrict or cancel this privilege. Taking from one group to give to another also is not a Torah value. What you fail to see is that the public employees are bargaining against the citizens of the state. Where is my right to say no to paying them more than I make? I should have an equal right to provide for my family. In PA public employees make $4000 more on average than in the private sector and pay less for health care and do not have to contribute to a retirement plan. Why should I have to pay for this. The public employee unions are a conveyor belt of cash for political gains. The states collect dues for the unions. The unions contribute to political campaigns for people who will help them and their members. so the politicians are the ones to benefit at the cost of my tax dollars. None of this is prescribed in Torah. If you believe it is you need to be deprogrammed comrade!
rocky770
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March 03, 2011
as always the canned Fox News Gleen Beck response to social values and referneces to reverend wright in comment #1.Perhasp instead of knee jerk canned text mr. comment #1 can educate us on how justice is defined in the Torah.
Berel Sholom Tzvi
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March 03, 2011
Unless you are a Marxist, these are not Jewish Values. When the "rabbi" uses the term Justice she means Social Justice which is a metaphor for communism. This issue is an affront to their Jewish values because their Jewish values are akin to the Rev,. Wright and his Liberation Theology movement. We can call their Jewish Liberation theology.