The “Season of our Rejoicing—zman simchateinu”: Sukkot is certainly that here in New Zealand. In the Northern hemisphere, Sukkot signals the approach of winter, but for us it signals that spring is in the air. After a long, rainy winter, we rejoice to enjoy the out-of-doors!
The sukkah, a flimsy hut, reminds us of the booths our ancestors used as they crossed the desert, and when, once settled, they went out to harvest their fields. It suggests the transitory nature of life. For those of us blessed to live in comfortable, weather-proof homes, taking our meals and spending the night out under the stars makes a delightful change of pace.
There are many, however, who do not have such benefits. For these, leaky roofs, drafty rooms, and crowded conditions are not a diversion but the norm. Many of us are blind to the problem of substandard housing; may Sukkot open our eyes.
Beth Shalom recently launched a Tikkun Olam/Social Justice venture. The committee surveyed the congregation on the causes we’re passionate about —and received some 75 responses. Housing and Homelessness was the overwhelming choice. The congregation asked to get involved with helping those living in substandard housing, and to focus on the Auckland area. What an extraordinary way for us to embrace the wider community, and to live our Jewish values! We have met with the leadership of Habitat for Humanity/Auckland, and have begun exploring the ways Beth Shalom can make a difference in this vital arena.
The problem may be invisible, but it is very real. Did you know…
• In New Zealand, decreasing housing affordability is reflected in falling rates of home ownership, now at their lowest level since the early 1950s. (St. John and Wynd, “Child Poverty Action Group”, citing Salvation Army Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit, 2007)
• New Zealand has had the largest decline in home ownership in western countries. (St. John and Wynd, 91)
• Minimum –wage workers in Auckland now need to work an average of about 32 hours per week just to pay the rent. (ibid, 92)
• The resulting hardship is multi-faceted: parents often to work two or more jobs to provide for their families, and overcrowding and high rates of transience are the norm for many families. (ibid)
• Nationally, only 2.7 percent of household have two or more families residing in them. In some parts of Manukau City, this figure is as high as 22 percent. (ibid, 94)
• In the poorest parts of Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and Papakura, an average 25 percent of the increase in population growth recorded between 2001 and 2006 was simply due to more people crowding into existing buildings. Housing is being built but not, it seems, for the poor. (Ibid)
• New Zealand has a low level of state and other social housing (6%) compared with many European countries, where it makes up 40% of the total. (Auckland Regional Public Heath Service: Housing and Health in Auckland, 9)
• Housing NZ estimated that 8% of households in the Healthy Housing Programme would be overcrowded. The actual rate was 54%. (Ibid, 19)
Think what it must mean for a family to live in a run-down or shoddily built home. Imagine sharing limited living space with another family (or two!) so you can pay the rent.
In the year ahead, we’ll take up hammers and saws and get to work solving this insidious problem—just as requested. Teruah and the Beth Shalom News will announce work days and other projects—I hope you will take part. And if you’d like to help the Tikkun Olam Committee with its work planning and coordinating these efforts, please let me know. With your help, there will be fewer families living in substandard housing—God willing—come next Sukkot.
Some families have adequate shelter, but inadequate protection. Malaria causes over one million deaths and infects 500 million people each year, but can be prevented simply. A simple mosquito net protects an entire family; a net costs only $10.
The Union for Progressive Judaism has joined the United Nation Foundation’s Nothing But Nets initiative. Beth Shalom is taking part alongside our fellow Australasian synagogues—and has made a good start. Please help us reach $1000, enough to buy 100 to buy insecticide-treated bed nets and to fight this devastating plague. “Whoever saves a life saves the entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4:9)