January 22, 2004
I was deeply disturbed to read Marc Ballon's article on "Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle" (Jan. 2). Where is the outcry from the community?
The Jewish Federation should establish a blue-ribbon committee to look into this serious matter. It should be composed of lay and professional members, management and employees, all working to explore what impact the wage and benefit policies have on recruitment and retention. All sections of Jewish Los Angeles should be represented and the matter should be thoroughly investigated. Jewish agencies that cannot attract and retain talented communal professionals run the risk of failing in their mission for the Jewish community.
With so many challenges already facing us, what will the future of Jewish life in Los Angeles be if we can't have the most talented professionals serving our needs?
The shonda is not only paying poor salaries and benefits. The shonda would be if, once informed, we avoided the issue and let matters continue. We as a community cannot afford it.
Yonaton Shultz, Los Angeles
I read Marc Ballon's article regarding communal workers and their struggle with low wages ("Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle). I would expect more from The Journal.
This article is a cheap shot. It could be written about any group of workers who provide social services. Society has always undervalued the worth of these critical services. There is no challenge in identifying the issue. The challenge is to provide some critical thought and analysis as to what causes the problem and to suggest some possible solutions.
What solution does the union have other than to suggest that wages be raised? Does it discuss the consequences of reducing the wages of the chief executives of many of the agencies that offer these services? Does it suggest that this will be enough to compensate for the ills set forth in the article?
The article does not suggest what may cause the limited amount of funds that are raised in any agency or the UJF campaigns. (Keep in mind that the bulk of funds that are spent go toward personnel costs.) The article does not suggest the consequence of paying far less than competitive wages for any agency executives or the effect of less qualified and skilled executives actually operating the agencies. The article does not suggest how to solve the problem of agencies that for the most part are dependent on governmental funds for their existence.
To simply call it a shonda without offering any alternative is easy. To assert someone else's selfish and self-serving agenda is worse and is itself a shonda.
Alan Cutrow, Los Angeles
I want to laud The Jewish Journal for their insightful cover article "Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle." The issue you brought to the attention of the readers is not just a local or a regional issue.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, the largest membership organization in North America for Jewish educators, is currently conducting a national census of early childhood Jewish educators. Based on 1,700 returns, only 28 percent of the teachers state that the employer is contributing toward a major medical plan. Retirement benefits are the other major benefit workers thirst for; yet, only 17 percent state that the employer is contributing toward a retirement plan. In all formal forms of Jewish education the median age is rising -- early childhood
Jewish educators have a median age of 47 years, the same as that for day school and congregational school teachers. The median age of the administrators in the three areas of formal education of Jewish children ranges from 49-52. The national median salary of teachers in early childhood Jewish programs is $18,500, while assistant teachers make $10,650 annually.
Your article rings the alarm bell -- and it's none too soon. The time for us to act as a Jewish community in Los Angeles and in the rest of North America is now
Eli Schaap, Assistant Executive Director The Coalition for the Advancement
of Jewish Education
I saw the article in The Jewish Journal, regarding good workers, low wages and the story of Sue Hallett, the single mother raising her children ("Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle"). It brought back painful memories of my own struggles when I was in a similar situation trying to build a life and raise my children. Being a Holocaust survivor, I had various experiences with social service agencies, and often I also turned to Jewish Family Service, since I had no relatives or family. During those 50 years of me being in America, there were many times (and I am grateful for that) when people helped me through crises. I consider those experiences from some very sympathetic and kind people who acted as if they were rescuing a drowning person out of the water and pulling me to shore.
But Hallett, my current social worker, has special compassion and empathy, working above the "call of duty," which, in my opinion, is partly due to her circumstances in her private life. Therefore, she is not just rescuing me from drowning, but also shows me the way to stay afloat.
Thank you for acknowledging these dedicated people who are caring for others despite their own personal struggle. I agree with your article, that something has to be done to remedy this situation.
Mary Bauer, West Hollywood
Rich and Soulful
Rabbi Steven Leder is raising very important issues about wealth for the Jewish community ("How to Be Rich and Live Soulfully," Jan. 9). It is important that it be understood as a communal issue as well as a personal one.
Jews, as one of the wealthiest groups in America, have to come to terms with the responsible use of wealth as a group and as individuals. The institutions can model behavior for the individuals by overtly using Jewish values in making decisions involving money.
One example: Jewish communal institutions and foundations collectively own tens of billions of dollars in endowment, pension and communal funds. A thoughtful examination of Jewish values would lead to investing those funds according to socially responsible investment criteria. One can participate in tikkun olam (repairing the world) with one's investments as well as one's contributions. Many Protestant and Catholic institutions direct 1 percent of their portfolio to community development loan funds.
In Los Angeles, the Shefa Fund is organizing a similar effort among Jewish institutions and individuals. In our tradition, lending money to help someone in need wanting to provide for themselves is considered the highest rung of tzedakah [charitable giving].
As a people we maintained our values through poverty and oppression, our challenge now is to maintain them through wealth and freedom.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Torah of Money Director The Shefa Fund
Center of the Star
Heartfelt thanks to Gaby Wenig for writing such a fine, sensitive piece on "Center of the Star," the Jewish Community Collaboration project for Cornerstone Theater. ("L.A Tour Staged With Heart, History," Jan. 16).
In my interview, I omitted a crucial acknowledgement: the source for the title of the play was from "Ancient Secrets," a remarkable book by Rabbi Levi Meier.
Thanks again for your support.
Yehuda Hyman, Los Angeles