This blog is part three in a three part series called “Money and Morality” written by Ariella Hoffman-Peterson. Ariella is a participant in our Repair the World Onward Israel Service Learning Initiative in Be’er Sheva. Click to read part one or part two of this series.
If empowering another person is the highest level of charity, and actively pursues justice, then how can Judaism reconcile blocking the empowerment of people? To place this issue into context, our Yahel group visited South Tel Aviv, which is home to an entirely different set of issues and conflicts as the ones we often see in Be’er Sheva. There is a community in this part of Tel Aviv of illegal immigrants in the category of “asylum seekers,” mainly from African countries Eretria and Sudan via Egypt (Microfy). Israel has a somewhat undeveloped immigration policy in compared to that of the U.S. and has only really managed to come up with temporary fixes to the problem faced by these refugees in Israel who have escaped danger in their own countries.
A few years ago, the Israeli government decided to address the issue by granting group protection that would keep most of these people out of jail, symbolized by an issued document referring to that group protection and also explicitly stating that “this is not a work permit.”
Withholding this work permission means that they are unlikely to be able to support themselves by finding stable, non-exploiting jobs. In a way, it seems contrary to the spirit of justice and empowerment of Judaism that the Israeli government knowingly submit a group of people to living homelessly and vulnerably, only able to find dangerous work, if any. It also highlights a grey area within the discussion of money and morality – although these groups are not the government’s responsibility, Jewish morality would not support the blocking of self-sustaining, hopefully even towards non-Jews.
We met Andrea Kruchik Krell, the founder of Microfy, who saw this gap in the government’s unwillingness to solve the very apparent problem of homelessness among the African asylum seekers that one will see when walking by Levinsky Park near Tel Aviv’s central bus station. She founded a non-profit organization to lend small loans and business consultation services to asylum seekers looking for ways to support themselves and bring services to their community situated in Tel Aviv. Her inspiring work really addresses the empowerment in order to pursue justice concept. She identified a group in need, and found a way to empower them to make money for themselves and their families, while maintaining their dignity and creativity. Her website actually explicitly states Maimonides highest level of charity in empowerment as its guiding principle. Although inspiring to see young Israeli’s looking to change injustices like this issue, it is still frustrating and disheartening to see the Jewish government choosing not to apply its own guiding principles when the subjects at hand do not have access to the Jewish privilege the creation of the State of Israel granted.
Morality is hard to define, especially through a Jewish lens, much in part because it has to do with all ways in which we behave and carry ourselves.
Morality is about choosing what is right or wrong, even though that answer can be unclear.
In culmination, I think Judaism teaches an important reflective component that stresses the need to both do good in the moment and follow what feels right and to think objectively and act strategically to create lasting, sustainable change that brings us closer to Tzedek. Empowerment is key in helping people in a moral way, so that they have the means to sustain and support themselves, as both Rambam and the modern-day work of people like Andrea make clear.
In order to be moral, I think we also have a responsibility to question our leaders and hold them to the same morals we want to hold ourselves to, especially as Jews. In a county such as Israel, this is a poignant issue that needs reevaluating in certain aspects. However, as an individual, remember the Rambam pyramid when you are faced with an issue of Tzedakah or Tzedek in which money suddenly becomes entwined in morality.
I will hope that my moral conscience kicks in in all the moments I do not expect to confront these issues, like they did on that Shabbat afternoon in Jerusalem.
Interested in making a difference in Israel and experiencing the country through the lens of social justice? Please visit the Yahel website to learn about our programs.