By Rabbi Warren G. Stone
On Feb. 12, Rabbi Warren G. Stone of Temple Emanuel in Kensington spoke in favor of the Healthy Families Act during a Senate press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Following are his remarks :
I am here today as a faith leader, giving voice to the millions of people of faith who strongly hold that supporting the family with paid sick leave is a deeply moral issue. Paid sick leave is a high priority concern for Reform Judaism, for Jews United for Justice and the country’s faith communities as a whole. Faith communities represent millions of men, woman and children. Our voices must be heard.
Over 43 million people in the work force, 39% of the entire US work force, do not have paid sick leave. Faith communities across America urgently want to change this now.
For many American families, getting sick means losing a basic safety net, spiraling down in debt and leaving a parent unable to provide the basic food and shelter for children and leaving the elderly alone during illness. The United States stands alone among developed nations in not having a paid sick leave policy. Is this how we want to distinguish ourselves in the world?
Last year when my father had a stroke, I was able to take off work to tend to him. Although he died, I was with him in those final days. He needed me desperately and how could I live with myself now had I not been there for him? The congregation I serve in this Washington, DC area, Temple Emanuel, offers paid sick leave for 30 full time employees including clergy, office staff, all teachers and caretakers. We offer paid sick leave as a community because it is the right thing to do. Our bottom line is to respect and uplift those who serve our community.
Too often we fail to appreciate the human dimensions of illness and the toll of suffering that ripples through an entire family. A young working mother whose baby is ill is afraid that if she takes time off to care for her child, she will lose a day’s pay—pay which is essential to her family’s survival. No one should have to make that choice in a country as wealthy as ours. This is an indignity and must be addressed!
The Healthy Families Acts reflect faith values as well as core American values. Faith tradition including my own Jewish tradition has always mandated care and protection of the weak and the ill. The ancient Biblical book of Deuteronomy urges pay the worker fairly on the very day they work less they not have enough funds to feed or protect their own family. The Bible again in Deuteronomy repeats the word “tzedek,” “justice, justice you shall pursue, “reminding us in the absence of justice we are obligated as people of faith to pursue justice.
It is our sacred duty to put care first. The time to act is now.
Rabbi Warren G. Stone is rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Kensington.