Jewish Poverty—It Does Exist

How Your #GivingTuesday Gift Can Help

Poverty affects thousands of people in the Jewish community, in places where you might not expect. The stereotype of the affluent Jewish family puts even more pressure on those trying to meet basic needs; few people seem to believe that Jewish families can’t heat their homes, pay the rent or put food on the table. That’s why CJP is not only providing increased services to help people stabilize their lives, we’re also working to raise awareness that the problem exists, and that we’re here to help.

This #GivingTuesday, we interviewed Sarah Abramson, Ph.D., CJP’s associate vice president of caring and social justice about CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative and why it’s important to give.

Why is working to alleviate poverty in the Jewish community so important to you?

I would say the question is why Jewish poverty is important in the context of poverty in the broader world. CJP cares deeply about everyone and we are proud to support many initiatives that focus on economic distress in the broader community, like the Boston Opportunity Agenda. We decided to focus our energy on Jewish poverty because we found that members of our community who were struggling economically did not feel like the Greater Boston Jewish community was supporting them enough.  Addressing Jewish poverty is an important part of CJP’s mission and is part of what makes a caring community. For me, it’s really important to know that a friend or neighbor who is in a vulnerable situation can access help and be treated with dignity, and that we as a Jewish community have done everything we can to recognize that people in our midst are struggling.

It’s surprising to some people that Jewish poverty exists. How do you explain that it’s a serious issue?

I think we are fighting a perception of what Jewish poverty looked like 100 or 120 years ago when people were immigrating to the United States and struggling to make a life here. Many of us picture shtetls (small villages with significant Jewish populations, formerly in Eastern Europe). We may have vivid memories of family members and heard personal stories of the deprivation they suffered.

We need to reintroduce the idea of what poverty looks like now. It affects people who are your friends, neighbors and relatives. Many life events can trigger a financial crisis – an illness, death in the family, a job loss, a bad decision. This may be hard to face because it means acknowledging that any of us could end up in a similar situation. But until we admit that Jewish poverty exists, until we think about what it means to walk in our neighbor’s shoes, we can’t help anyone. Sometimes we distance ourselves from thinking about these issues because it hits too close to home—but CJP is committed to opening peoples’ eyes to this issue so that we can work toward a solution together.

What’s the goal of CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative?

We are working to make real and long-term changes in people’s lives. We know we won’t eradicate poverty completely. We know there will always be members of our community who need our support, but our goal is to move people from vulnerability to stability, whatever that might mean in each individual situation.

As a community, we will know we’ve been successful when we speak with one voice on the issue. That’s why the warmline is so important—not only because people can receive compassionate care by calling one central intake number (1-800-CJP-9500), but  also because it’s a symbol that shows we are coming together to support each other.

We are lucky—even though this is a serious problem, we are also fortunate in that many in our community are doing well and are able to help. We’re using a strategic, well-thought-out plan to create a dignified process for helping individuals, while measuring our success by whether or not fewer and fewer people in our community find themselves in very difficult financial positions.


How can you help this #GivingTuesday? Make a tax-deductible contribution to CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative. Your gift will provide Jewish individuals and families with healthy meals, pay for essential utilities, and in some cases, help them avoid losing their homes. Help us take concrete steps to get members of our community back on the path to long-term stability.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the CJP warmline at 1-800-CJP-9500 to be connected with compassionate resources and the support you need to move forward from our wonderful partner agencies. Everything is confidential.  

CJP welcomes an open dialogue!  Please refer to our policy for more information.


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