The Hebrew month of Elul is a time for repentance. As DC-area Jews, we could not have asked for a better call to reflect on how we can do better in the coming year than the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that occurred this past week.
In the 1960s, Jewish groups played a key supporting role in the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march. Inspired by our Jewish values, we were – as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said – praying with our feet. As the speakers who commemorated the March on Washington reminded us, there is still much work to be done to move towards racial and economic equality in the U.S. We are standing on the shoulders of those giants who came before. This Elul we ask ourselves: how we can continue their work in the present day?
Our feet, of course, are not the only part of us that prays. This Labor Day weekend DC-area Jews who spend their shabbat in synagogue will receive a reminder of the values cherished by our ancestors. The Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, commands us to “choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” For most of us, we want our choices to create a world in which there are ever increasing opportunities for all people to live fuller, more productive, and more dignified lives. Joining together to ensure that all workers are paid a reasonable salary – one that allows workers to provide for the basic necessities of life – is a critical way to fulfill the mitzvah to “choose life” for ourselves and our offspring. In 5774, Jews United for Justice is part of a campaign to do just that in Maryland.
Jews United for Justice is organizing the Jewish voice in the campaign to raise the minimum hourly wage in Maryland from $7.25 to $10.10 over the next three years, and to index it to inflation so that in the future workers continue to receive a decent wage rather than receiving a de facto pay cut when inflation rises. According to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, about 472,00 employees in Maryland will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage and approximately $466 million will be injected into Maryland’s economy. An increase in the minimum wage is crucial to stimulating the local economy; as employees have more money in their pockets they spend it locally by putting food on their tables and supporting their families. A study by the National Employment Law Project finds that 70 percent of low-wage employees in Maryland work for large companies with over 50 employees. And according to a poll conducted by the Small Business Majority, sixty-seven percent of small business owners nation-wide support an increase in the minimum wage.
This Labor Day weekend synagogues in the DC-area are joining other communities of faith from across to state; together almost 50 congregations are raising our prophetic voices to call for action on the minimum wage. There are many forms of tzedakah – Maimonides teaches that the highest level of tzedakah is to strengthen the hands of our fellows so that they do not need to ask in the future (Mishneh Torah. Matanot l’Aniyim. 10:7). Raising the minimum wage in Maryland will strengthen the hands of many workers. Whether inspired by Judaism’s scriptural calls to treat workers fairly, the history of Jewish civil rights and labor leadership in the U.S., or the agitation from the commemoration of the March on Washington, in 5744 let’s work together to make this a sweet new year for all Marylanders. Towards that end, we invite you to learn more at the campaign launch meeting in the sukkah at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, 8300 Meadowbrook Lane, Chevy Chase MD, on Sunday, September 22 from 4-6 p.m.