Government Shutdown Brings Time Off (Good!), Cuts and No Pay (Bad!) for Jews

Yoga and Bagels Amid the Angst in Capital

Shutdown Bites: An empty Rotunda is seen at the U.S. Capitol due to a suspension of all tours due to the federal government shutdown.
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Shutdown Bites: An empty Rotunda is seen at the U.S. Capitol due to a suspension of all tours due to the federal government shutdown.

By Ron Kampeas

Published October 07, 2013.
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(JTA) — Meals on Wheels may disappear, Iran sanctions are at risk and yoga is filling in the gaps. This is what the federal government shutdown looks like in Jewish Washington.

While national Jewish organizations are sorting through the essential services that the impasse may cut, regional Jewish service providers in the Washington area are dealing with the tens of thousands of furloughed workers in their midst.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, in Rockville, Md., is adding exercise and yoga classes for furloughed government workers, its director, Michael Feinstein, told JTA.

The plan, he noted, is a twofer: “The classes are being taught by furloughed federal employees, so they will make some extra money. And they are geared for stress reduction.”

Here was the message delivered in an email blast from across the Potomac, from the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

“For our members who have been furloughed, now might be a good time to focus on your wellness goals,” director Jeff Dannick said. “Come work out in the fitness center, shoot hoops in the gym, swim laps, or enjoy a fitness class.”

Non-JCC members get a free pass if they show a government ID and a furlough letter, he said.

Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom, a synagogue in Falls Church, Va., with 1,500 families – many, if not most, attached to government service – said her staff spent a day brainstorming about what services they could provide.

They ranged from bagel brunches, yoga classes and recruiting the temporarily unemployed into the temple’s community service programs.

Schwartzman said the synagogue has dealt with government shutdowns, but they were two-three day blips. This one, some fear, could last for weeks.

“There was never this looming feeling it was going to go on as it feels like it might,” the rabbi said. “For most of our members, a loss of three days of work and three days of salary might not make a huge impact. But for some a few weeks will have a huge impact.”

Demands by the majority Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives to attach government funding to defunding or delaying President Obama’s signature health care legislation, known as Obamacare, helped lead to the government shutdown, which went into effect on Oct. 1.

Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate have refused to negotiate while accusing the Republicans of taking the government hostage. In its first days, workers throughout the region seemed to be enjoying their time off. Sixth and I, a historic synagogue in downtown Washington, invited federal workers to use its wireless Internet to keep up to date.

Schwartzman said she has only heard from one congregant concerned about finances. Others, for the time being, were embracing the free time.

“One couple is enjoying getting a lot of things done for their kid’s bar mitzvah coming up,” she said.


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