Letter organized by T’ruah and JFREJ underlines the state’s moral obligation to support workers, regardless of citizenship status
NEW YORK — As Jews around the world observe Passover, the holiday dedicated to recognizing those who are still facing oppression today, a group of New York rabbis and cantors are joining the calls for the New York State Legislature to include $3.5 billion in funding in the New York State budget for an Excluded Workers Fund to provide income to essential workers who were excluded from stimulus and other COVID-19 relief.
T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization that represents over 2,000 rabbis and cantors and their communities in North America, organized a letter with Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) signed by over 100 New York rabbis and cantors urging for the creation of this fund ahead of the finalization of the state budget that could include this subsidy. If created, this fund would particularly benefit those forced to work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, T’ruah and JFREJ have organized thousands of calls from their members to state elected officials in support of the Excluded Workers Fund.
Excluded workers began a hunger strike on March 16 to bring attention to the issue. Undocumented workers and individuals recently released from incarceration are disproportionately likely to be working in essential jobs — yet have also been blocked from receiving even a single penny in unemployment insurance, pandemic unemployment assistance, or stimulus relief, the letter reads.
The letter is available online and is reprinted below:
As our calendars turn to the retelling of our collective liberation story, our hearts turn to the hundreds of thousands of community members on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic who are fighting for their own liberation this year. Undocumented workers and individuals recently released from incarceration are disproportionately likely to be working in essential jobs, yet they have also been blocked from receiving even a single penny in Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or stimulus relief.
The New York Legislature is close to finalizing its budget, and over 200 organizations across the state have come together to propose a simple solution to this humanitarian crisis: create an Excluded Workers Fund to provide flat-rate monthly subsistence income, pegged to what a typical low wage worker can receive in Unemployment, for these workers who have been completely excluded from relief.
Jewish text on supporting the dignity of workers is clear. The Torah teaches, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land.” (Devarim 24:14) As we prepare to celebrate Passover and the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt, we are keenly aware of the need to treat workers justly and with dignity. It was the Israelites’ cries under unjust bondage that led God to take notice of them and ultimately brought about their liberation – we see these workers in the tradition of our ancestors and call on all those with power to lessen their burden.
These workers have been essential to our survival this year, and now it is our turn to rise in solidarity with them.
Over 100 T’ruah rabbis and cantors based in New York
View a full list of signatories of the letter here.
About T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of more than 2,000 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.
About Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) is the home for Jewish New Yorkers to organize alongside our neighbors and allies to fight for a New York in which every community has the freedom, opportunity, and resources to thrive. With over 5,000 active members, JFREJ is the largest grassroots progressive Jewish organization in New York.