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This evening at sundown Jews celebrate the mark of a new year, Rosh Hashanah, a time for new beginnings marked by the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn), and a time to prepare for the coming year, including a reallocation of resources and debts.
I am so grateful for the idea of new beginnings, especially coming on the heels of new poverty rates released by the US Census Bureau last week. The dramatic jump in poverty rates, especially poverty within communities of color and among children, made me angry, ashamed, frustrated...and very glad that God marks our lives with new beginnings. When things are getting worse, it's time to begin anew.
We must think anew about reapportionment of resources, property, and debt because, I believe, it is simply not possible to have a good society, or enjoy peace and prosperity, or compete in the global labor market when 15.2 percent of Minnesota's children live below poverty guidelines and experience unnecessary deprivation. The human toll and financial costs are unacceptable.
Some will call any talk of redistribution "class warfare" but it's time to name the truth: class warfare against the poor and vulnerable is timeless which is exactly why the Bible calls for the Jubilee Year and a new beginning. Class warfare is an extant reality and the rising number of poor, unemployed, ill-housed, and unemployed are its casualties.
Thousands of us in Minnesota, especially folks in Minnesota's faith communities, have been organizing and advocating to bring about the elimination of poverty in Minnesota. This latest push began about seven or eight years ago, with the interfaith signing of the 2004 Common Foundation Statement and the passing of legislation in 2006 that created the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020. The Commission's report and recommendations were released in 2009. Since then, poverty has gotten worse. It reaches into more households, affects vastly more people, snuffs out too many dreams, and coarsens life for everyone.
Here's the stark picture from the ACS Census Data: In 2010, 11.6 percent of Minnesotans lived in poverty, up significantly from 9.5 percent in 2007. This average figure masks much higher rates of poverty within Minnesota’s communities of color. In 2010, 17.8 percent of Asians were living in poverty, as were 24.4 percent of Latinos and 37.2 percent of blacks. Poverty among American Indians increased from 30.7 percent to 39.5 percent. And, as mentioned before, 15.2 percent of all children in Minnesota live below the poverty line.
If you attended JRLC's Statehood Day vigil last May 11 you heard Rabbi Yonatan Sadoff sound the shofar in the MN Capitol rotunda to remember the beginning of Minnesota's story as a part of the Union (1858), and to remind us that God's people respond to the shofar by assembling from time to time to protect lives and make God's justice real.
Click here to see Rabbi Sadoff sounding of the shofar. Then begin anew to work for God's justice. Shanah Tovah!