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United Way Blog

Challenging Poverty - The Sabbatical Year Project Shmita

The Shmita Project takes its lead from traditional Jewish law and brings it to the 21st century in a practical and novel initiative to extricate thousands of families from the cycle of poverty.

The concept of a Sabbatical year is an ancient and very radical Jewish idea. Nowadays, this concept finds expression mainly in its Halachic (Jewish law) agricultural aspects. However, the Sabbatical year entails a wide variety of values and praxis, with significance and relevance to our lives today.

The Shmita Project provides economic guidance and financial assistance educating families as how to budget, plan and provide for their homes. This is a unique collaboration based on the commitment of the families who will be mentored by social organizations expert in financial and home management; the business sector (e.g. banks, utilities companies) to whom the families are in debt and supported by philanthropy who will be called upon when a contribution will make a significant effect on the families ’ future and success. This project is a working example of inter sector cooperation, launched by the Knesset and with the full backing of government ministries’ economic departments together with the business and third sector.

However, as is often the way in Israel, events of the last weeks have changed the reality for thousands more families especially in the country’s south. In times of conflict and war financial stress is felt even more by the most vulnerable in our communities and, in this case, compounds the already fragile situation of those residents in the Negev and South.

Underlying the project is the belief that the Sabbatical year, which will commence this coming Tishrei (October), is a big opportunity – a chance to renew this ancient concept in a way that will reflect our values of democracy, equality and compassion. All while attempting to unite the political right and left, religious and secular, Israeli citizens regardless of their beliefs, Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, and moreover, in an exceptional fashion, the civil society, the business world, the Knesset and government.

This process is long and is due to terminate at the end of the Sabbatical year in the New Year 2015. The official launch of the Shmita project will be held at the President’s residence with the participation of the President, Chairman of the Knesset, MK’s from all parties, Prof. Eugene Candle from the Prime Minister’s office and members of the business and social welfare community. A year long, high profile project Shmita will bring to the fore the plight of those in poverty and the optimism of all partners to meet the challenge of breaking the cycle.