The Ignored Jewish Poor

Study Finds Half a Million American Jews Living in Poverty

Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.
Claudio Papapietro
Poverty Amid Plenty: Volunteers pack up food packages at a popup Passover food pantry in Brooklyn. Surprising numbers of Jews are seeking help, even those who once considered themselves middle-class.

By William E. Rapfogel

Published July 10, 2013, issue of July 12, 2013.
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Some of these children grow up with large religious families. Sixty-three percent of Hasidic Jewish families in New York City are poor, making up 17% of all poor Jewish households. There has been progress as those communities become more focused on getting jobs and starting businesses. More Hasidic families are working than ever before, with nearly three-quarters of Hasidic households having at least one person employed full time. We need to empower those who are taking the steps toward independence, not demonize them as some have done. In recent years, much progress has occurred in Hasidic communities, including the development of employment training workshops for career counseling and computer skills training.

There are many faces to the Jewish poor. No one characteristic explains poverty to the exclusion of others. The reality is that many Jewish New Yorkers, not just Hasidic Jews, struggle with making enough. Currently, more than 17,000 people live in poor Jewish households in which someone is unemployed or underemployed. While human services can provide a quick response to the crisis of losing a job — emergency cash to pay rent, or access to a food pantry — just as important are the services that train people in new careers and help place them in jobs.

Jewish poverty isn’t going away as long as housing prices in urban areas remain sky-high. You may not be able to see it in your local community, but the hundreds of thousands of poor Jews living in New York are part of the larger community of American Jews, and they need your help. All American Jews need to make helping needy Jews a priority. We all have a deep and abiding responsibility for one another. Just like we took on the cause of freeing Soviet Jewry decades ago, let us take on the issue of volunteering, advocating and contributing to make the lives of impoverished Jews better.

William E. Rapfogel is the CEO and executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.


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