This past week was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I discussed the origins and evolution of the holiday at my synagogue, observing that the original name of the holiday, as indicated in the Torah, the Jewish bible, is “The Day of Shouting.” And what was it that people were supposed to shout about? Originally, they were supposed to shout out their praise of God. Some of the admirable qualities that have been attributed to God are “caring for widows and orphans,” which is biblical shorthand for “caring for the vulnerable,” and “welcoming the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” which is synonymous with accepting outsiders, newcomers into the community. But already early on in Jewish history, and particularly over the last several hundred years, the tradition is that these “attributes of God” are seen as aspirational—as qualities that people should strive to emulate in their own lives. So, translating into contemporary language, on Rosh Hashanah, we are supposed to strive to care for the poor and the sick and to open our doors to refugees.
But there’s more. Over the centuries, not only have these qualities attributed to God become qualities that people should strive to adopt themselves, but it has also become our responsibility to act. The shouting that we are supposed to do on Rosh Hashanah is not so much singing God’s praises as it is calling out to our fellow man to act. And the actions in question, not surprisingly, include caring for the poor and the sick and embracing refugees.
The health care bill that is expected to come to the Senate floor this week is the very epitome of how to avoid caring for the poor and the sick. If you cannot afford medications, hospital care, or insurance premiums—that’s your fault. Next time, work harder, go to better schools or, better yet, choose parents who are themselves smart, educated, and affluent so they can assure that you, too, will be smart, educated, affluent—and able to afford to pay whatever it costs to get good care. In fact, if you have cancer or diabetes or some other chronic, serious condition, that’s your fault, too, so why should someone else have to subsidize your treatment? This bill, which pretends to include benefits comparable to those currently available under the Affordable Care Act, is not a means of providing health insurance to all those left out by the three other programs for obtaining coverage: Medicaid, Medicare, and employer-supported insurance. Rather, it is a strategy to gut Medicaid, one of the three pillars of the current system. The ACA was designed to take a three-legged stool and enhance its stability by adding a fourth leg; the latest travesty proposed by Senate Republicans would instead amputate one of the three legs. So, here’s my shout out to my fellow Americans: say “no” to the Senate proposal. Shout out to your senators—especially if you’re from one of those states such as Maine and Alaska whose senators have previously expressed concern about the poor and the sick in their states, or if you’re from one of the states that stands to lose the most from the new bill, such as Florida and Nevada. Shout to those people you know who live in those states that they should shout out to their senators. Make this Rosh Hashanah truly the “Day of Shouting.”
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