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.
getty images
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

(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.

One Jewish Democratic Capitol Hill staffer tweeted a dashboard photo of an empty Interstate 66 – the artery connecting Virginians to Washington – during the morning rush hour.

“Yeah, the #GOPshutdown stinks, but at least there’s no traffic,” the staffer said.

The capital’s signature Jewish-themed monument, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, shuttered its doors and used the shutdown for a fundraising pitch.

“The founders of our Museum likely never envisioned a time of budget sequestration cuts and shutdown, but they did foresee the need for a museum supported by a unique public-private partnership,” it said. “Although the government ensures our permanence and federal funds keep the Museum building open and free to the public, our educational programs rely on contributions from members and donors like you.”

An Oct. 9 commemoration of the Danish rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, which was to have featured prominent Danish Americans and a member of the Danish royal family, was postponed because of the shutdown.

Obama administration officials and their allies on the Hill, mindful of the bipartisan breadth of support for Israel, emphasized how the shutdown was affecting the alliance.

“The State Department’s ability to provide military assistance to Israel and other allies in the time frame that is expected and customary could be hindered depending on the length of the shutdown,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Wednesday.

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranked State Department official and one of those closest to the pro-Israel community, said in Senate testimony that sanctions on Iran are among the first affected by the shutdown.

“Government shutdown empties offices enforcing sanctions on Iran,” she said.

Staffers for national Jewish organizations say they already feel the absence of federal workers in their day-to-day dealings with government.

“At the federal level, the multi-family housing offices are skeletal,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, which runs a network of homes for the elderly across the country. “There’s no one for us to talk to if you need an answer to a question.”

Some programs were in good shape for the short run, Goldberg said, because they had received funding just before Oct. 1, technically the first day of the new fiscal year. But cuts would soon be felt in Meals on Wheels and home health aids.

William Daroff, the director of the Jewish Federations of North America, said many of the domestic issues with which his organization is concerned are being ignored while Congress grapples with the budget impasse. Among them is funding to secure the facilities of nonprofit buildings and special funding for elderly Holocaust survivors.

“There’s no oxygen to spare for any other agenda,” Daroff said.

Goldberg noted that basic care programs such as Social Security and federal medical care coverage for seniors and the poor remained relatively unaffected by the shutdown. But that could change should Congress and the White House fail to resolve a separate dispute by Oct. 17.

At that point, the government risks going into default unless Congress extends its debt allowance. Social Security checks could stop within weeks of that point; it is unclear what would happen to Medicare and Medicaid.

“That could be a game changer,” Goldberg said. “We’re urging people to tell their members of Congress that a debt ceiling stalemate is not something the country can do.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.