The US Capitol is photographed through a chain fence in Washington, DC, on September 30, 2013 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Last month, during the “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was among the millions of Jews engaged in the act of teshuva—looking inward to see where we are missing the mark in order to then turn outward and right our course.
We seek out those we have wronged and ask their forgiveness, we set our sights on a new direction, and then on Yom Kippur, we fast and read from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah reminds us that the work during the Days of Awe isn’t for the sake of ritual, or our own individual needs, but to direct a renewed energy toward healing and repairing the world:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free… to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…. Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear…. If you do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk, if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness…. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
I’m reminded of these words as we witness the hardships created by sequester, now intensified by a government shutdown: up to 19,000 more kids unable to attend Head Start schools, adding to the 57,000 shut out by sequester. Millions of mothers and children in the Women, Infants and Children program—their health and well-being threatened by any shutdown lasting longer than a week. Service providers for domestic violence victims—already forced to cut staff and programs due to sequester—now face the possibility of closing their doors. Veterans and civilians awaiting decisions on disability benefits will have to wait until the shutdown ends due to insufficient staff at the Social Security administration and a closed Veterans Appeals Board. The minority of families living in poverty who are able to receive meager cash assistance (TANF), now might not receive any cash assistance at all since federal funding has expired.