Progressive Judaism: We must seek to understand poverty

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Progressive Judaism: We must seek to understand poverty

Food banks have been high in demand in the UK
Food banks have been high in demand in the UK

Progressive Judaism’s weekly opinion column

By Rabbi Miriam Berger

Rabbi Miriam Berger
Rabbi Miriam Berger

I was recently talking to a friend, who is a journalist. He asked about my decision to sign up to “Live Below the Line”.

It is a campaign that raises awareness of the plight of those in poverty, both in one’s own borough and in far-flung countries, by encouraging individuals to live on just £1 a day for five days and to seek sponsorship in the process.

My friend said to me: “You need to be careful Miriam, what with living below the line and opening your synagogue as a winter shelter, you are making a big statement – poverty is highly political you know.”

But am I making a political statement with what I am doing? What I think I am doing is looking outwards and trying to understand the world around me. Am I pretending to be poor for a week?

I’m not even coming close. I will still be living in my warm and secure house, I will not have to consider my food choices by the length of time the oven would need to be on, nor deny myself a hot drink because boiling the kettle would be frivolous.

I also won’t have to make the decision as to whether I forgo spending £1 that day on myself or instead feed my son.

Food banks have been high in demand in the UK
Food banks have been high in demand in the UK

These are real life considerations. You don’t have to look to Africa to see them – they are being agonised over every day by residents right here in my London borough of Barnet. Religious leaders are not just here to conduct the rituals of religious life.

We have to ensure that we are giving a voice to the values which underpin our religion. We cannot simply quote Torah about protecting the “stranger, the orphan and the widow”.

We have to be helping our communities to find tangible ways in which they can identify with the vulnerable in our society.

How they can create relationships with them, support them and look to redress injustice to prevent it happening to the next person, rather than simply support those who suffer the consequences.

While this may border on the political, it is certainly not the starting point and it is as authentic in terms of rabbinic work as leading services or teaching texts.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: