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Commentary By Rabbi Jessica Oleon: I'm Ready To Invest In A Great City

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Rabbi Jessica Oleon is associate rabbi of Temple Sinai in Northwest D.C. and a board member of Jews United for Justice.
Rabbi Jessica Oleon
Rabbi Jessica Oleon is associate rabbi of Temple Sinai in Northwest D.C. and a board member of Jews United for Justice.

Although the economy has started to recover, the District continues to face budget shortfalls and has responded with deep cuts to public services. These cuts -- from libraries to childcare to homeless services to public safety -- jeopardize the community's ability to recover and to invest in a prosperous future.

In tight budgets, there are no easy answers. All choices here are painful ones. But we need to invest in D.C. to keep our city moving forward and keep families economically secure in uncertain times.

I share with you what I preached to my congregation: "When we have a choice, the burden should be shouldered by those who can carry it, and not by those who are struggling with everything they have to hold on to their homes, their families, their jobs and their dignity." We should balance this budget by raising taxes for those of us who earn a comfortable living, rather than by slashing programs for our most vulnerable citizens.

I was surprised and gratified by my congregation's enthusiastic response, and my anecdotal experience is backed-up by hard data. In a recent poll 85 percent of District residents, and 90 percent of residents with incomes over $100,000, support a small increase in the income tax rate for top-earners to help fund key services.

Spending other people's money is easy. What is hard is to say, "Here, take mine." But I am ready to invest more in this city -- in public schools, in the mental and physical health of residents, and in safe, permanent housing and access for everyone. If I am fortunate enough not to need many of these services myself, I greatly value being part of a community that still seeks to provide them for all.

The budget of the District of Columbia is the ultimate statement of our values, so let's be realistic about what makes us a unique community: We are overwhelmingly people who believe that government can and should be part of the solution, and that engaged citizenship is both our birthright and our responsibility.

The prophet Jeremiah taught, "Seek the welfare of your city, for in its wellbeing you will find your own." Jeremiah's message is something I think about every day, and am working hard to put at the center of the life of my congregation.

Like many, I am a transplant to the District. I came here for a job. But we all yearn for roots, a sense of belonging, of commitment and community. The District I live in now is better than the one I moved to because of the hard work and difficult choices made by residents committed to better schools, safer neighborhoods, and a strong and compassionate social weal. Even in a tough climate, we can continue to move from strength to strength.

I am ready to invest in this work. My community is ready to invest in this work. Take our money and together we will build a great city.

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