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Rabbi David Saperstein: The reshaping of our nation's budget offers us the chance to redeem ourselves and to keep faith with the dreams and aspirations of a decent life for every American.
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 22, 2012 - Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke this morning at a press conference announcing the Faithful Budget, calling on Congress to act with mercy and justice in the federal budget. The full text of his remarks follows:
Good morning, everyone.
As you have heard, today we have gathered to affirm the sacred imperative across all our faith traditions - Muslim, Jewish, and Christian alike - to love our neighbor as ourselves and the shared obligation to guard the most vulnerable in our society from injustice and poverty.
Our national debate is caught in moral and spiritual quicksand, too often guarding the needs of the few at the expense of the many, with too much partisan name-calling on all sides. In the midst of this heated argument, our leaders have lost sight of those in need, those who do not have as strong a voice in our political process. We stand here today to raise up those voices and to call on Congress to pass a budget that will help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, shelter the homeless, and above all, ensure that all human beings are able to live with dignity.
But let us be clear: This is not a partisan issue. Every Congress and every Administration, Democratic and Republican alike, promises that there will be a safety net for the truly needy. Yet we stand here today to remind this country that between that promise and the deed remains an aching abyss filled with the shattered lives of millions of our brothers and sisters: the elderly trapped on fixed incomes; the mother holding a sick child in her arms without access to health care; the toddler, deprived of nutrition, whose brain will never fully develop; the homeless on our winter streets, bodies broken, spirits equally damaged; the lost legion of minority youth, so often out of school, out of jobs, out of hope. We are here today to speak the truth: that we have the resources to feed every person, shelter every family, educate every child, address the basic health needs of every American. The failure to do so is our leaders' failure of moral vision and political will and our failure to demand that America can settle for no less. The reshaping of our nation's budget offers us the chance to redeem ourselves and to keep faith with the dreams and aspirations of a decent life for every American.
The economy shows signs of recovery at long last -- but nothing is for certain. We must keep striving for a brighter future, the one that seems just beyond our grasp. Yet slashing support for programs that lift up the impoverished, as some have proposed, means that too many Americans will not enjoy this new morning.
As communities of faith, then, we have come together to outline our vision- beginning not with a fiscal bottom line, but rather, a moral one: The bottom line is, we cannot, we must not, we will not forget our brothers and sisters in need across this great land. We cannot forget the 46.2 million Americans living in poverty, the one in five children who went hungry in 2010, or the one in two children who are projected to receive food stamp benefits before they turn 18. We must not forget the 49.9 million Americans who went without medical insurance in 2010, or the one in seven women who live in poverty. We will not forget the tens of thousands of our youth falling victim to HIV/AIDS each year, or the nearly 155 million Americans who live with unhealthy levels of pollution.
The Jewish tradition teaches us that "if all the troubles of the world are assembled on one side and poverty is on the other, poverty would outweigh them all" (Midrash Edodus Rabbah 31:12). We are to fight poverty, and, in the words of the Proverbs (31:9), "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy."
And so, on this morning, we say to our national leaders as they begin in earnest the latest debate over the federal budget: act with mercy and justice, act with compassion and love, act on behalf of all Americans.