Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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The Journey Home

September 20, 2019
Posted by: Jessica Sterling, Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Associate, East Bay

The 15th Annual Interfaith Communities United Breakfast on September 12 at First Congregational Church in Oakland was an occasion for East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) members and partners to gather and share housing solutions for Alameda and Contra Costa counties. There were powerful stories from Taqwaa Bonner, Mary Stackiewicz, Cortney Glenn and Will Beal, and Po-Poets Tiny Gray Garcia, Leroy Moore, Aunti Frances Moore and Muteado Silencio. Spiritual grounding was provided by ICU Member Carol Robison and the voices of each person in the room raised in song. Jessica Sterling, JCRC Public Affairs and Community Engagement Associate, East Bay, was invited to blow the shofar and reflect on the long-term commitment we make when we recognize injustice and start the work to make it right. Below is a transcript of her reflections:

The Journey Home
By Jessica Sterling

Everyone is on a journey. Each person on their own path. Journeys happen for everyone at different times and under different circumstances. I’m reflecting today on the Journey Home from a Jewish faith perspective. 

Paraphrased from the article, The Rhythm of Jewish Time: Journeys and Dreams, by Rabbi Steven Moskowitz: Early on, God promises that we will find fulfillment in a new land. God tells Abraham, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." Full of faith, Abraham and his children and his children's children build a new life in a new land. For generations our ancestors built a home in this Promised Land. But then, along the way, they become slaves in Egypt until hundreds of years later when God rescues them and promises to return them to this land. The remainder of the Torah, actually the majority of the Torah, is about this journey home.

So journeying home is in our DNA, apparently, and this can explain a lot about the pattern of wandering after displacement. About resettling after expulsion. About adapting to new cultures and about how to keep rituals and ancient cultures alive.

JCRC’s contribution is to make certain core traditional values foundational to our mission and vision. The backbone of JCRC is an Assembly of nearly 100 members that is constructed of at-large and organizational representatives. The Assembly tackles issues in the region, the state, and the nation that it feels would benefit from a Jewish perspective. Each issue that the Assembly works on takes about a year, sometimes more or less, and is researched, discussed, disputed and then voted on. A 75 percent affirmative vote passes the statements which are then used when issues come up that JCRC weighs in on. A few examples are: Democracy statement, Gun Violence statement, Immigrant Rights statement and one that I will touch on in a minute, the Economic Justice statement.

Today we are nearly halfway through the Hebrew month of Elul, the month directly preceding the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This month has a deep significance in that it is a time of self-reflection. An inward journey home. A return to self. We blow the shofar as a wake-up call, we meditate, we pray and we forgive. Forgive the world, our friends, family and neighbors and we forgive ourselves. It is a time to begin again. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve strayed from the path and we are ready to make another try at being our better selves.

Focusing on the work that EBHO engages in on affordable housing, in partnership with all of you, I refer to JCRC’s statement on Economic Justice which touches on many topics and includes details about Homelessness and Quality Affordable Housing.

A few excerpts from the statement on the topic of affordable housing include: “We believe the government should provide funding and create policies for ensuring affordable housing, including both increasing production of new affordable housing and preserving and rehabilitating existing housing. We believe: Special focus should be given to ensuring low- and moderate-income earners can thrive in the communities in which they work, ensuring senior and family housing is preserved, and enforcing legal obligations to keep housing affordable and to replace lost units. Surplus public land in quickly growing areas should be made available for affordable housing sites, including transit agency properties. No new housing sites should be built on or near any site that is environmentally hazardous. All rental units should meet health and safety standards. All home buyers should be protected from predatory lending.”

A few excerpts from the Economic Justice statement about homelessness include: “We believe homelessness is a complex problem that requires a regional approach. We support the creation of safe and secure shelters for people who are homeless. Shelters should connect people with social services and long‐term housing and provide secure places for their belongings. We believe that the government must invest adequate resources to address homelessness. Wrap around services for homeless individuals—including housing, mental and physical healthcare, and job training and placement—are needed to move people from homelessness towards self‐sufficiency. It is important that these services are provided without criminalizing homelessness or infringing on the rights of homeless individuals.” JCRC turns to this statement when advocating for fair and just housing for all when we meet with members of Congress, Senators and State Assemblymembers. We promote events that support affordable housing, and we are members of East Bay Housing Organizations.

Communities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties include jobs that are minimum wage through high-level salaries. There is also a need for housing for all wage-earning residents, however our counties are behind and have not developed nor offer enough affordable housing. In addition, the communities need programs to train and stabilize residents who require assistance. The community relies on all jobs being filled and those who can take the lower salaried jobs such as food service workers, those in the hotel industry, teachers and the like are necessary parts of our lives and these people deserve the opportunity to live in the community that they work in.

We have a long journey ahead. As we learned from Rabbi Tarfon in the Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”