SPRINGFIELD – Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz of Temple Beth El in Springfield was one of 24 Jewish leaders from around the U.S. who attended an American Jewish Community Affordable Care Act (ACA) meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16.
The 90-minute meeting was co-sponsored by the White House and the National Council of Jewish Women and was designed to educate the Jewish leaders about the ACA so that they could take information about it back to their constituencies.
Representatives of other organizations such as Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Federations of North America, Hillel, the Religious Action Center and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America also attended the meeting. Rabbi Katz was invited by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld to represent the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and as it turned out, she was the only pulpit rabbi attending. It was also her first visit to the White House in her capacity as a rabbi and community leader.
“It was a sort of passive event where they told us what’s been done, what they have accomplished, how much more they want to accomplish, why they imagine that faith communities can be a source of support,” Rabbi Katz explained. “In addition to them sharing a lot of information with us, some people had questions about implementation of the Affordable Care Act and some of the questions were so complicated that the folks convening the meeting had to research them and get back to them.”
Upon her return to Springfield, Rabbi Katz sent out an email to her congregants talking about the meeting in the nation’s capital.
Rabbi Katz got a mixed response to the email.
“I could tell by the reaction to my email that some people read it and thought it was the greatest thing and were so excited that I had ‘jumped on the bandwagon of the Affordable Care Act.’ And others were very disheartened to hear that I finally took a political stance. I tried to reassure them that if they look closely, I took a stance for universal healthcare, for accessibility. Right now the ACA is a tool that we have, so let’s see if it is going to work. I have people who are very opposed, people who are very in favor, and most important, I have people who need health insurance. For us in Massachusetts that is not the issue, but making sure that people can really get the health insurance they need is hard.”
Rabbi Katz said that while she is not necessarily a proponent of the ACA, she is pro-universal healthcare.
“I know that is something that is a core Jewish value,” she said. “I am very mindful to not support a particular party in my writing, teaching or speaking, because I focus on the goal – whether it is immigration, healthcare reform or gun control…I can see the goal that it oughtn’t be that somebody can’t get health insurance because they lost their job or they can’t get health insurance because 10 years ago they had breast cancer. That can’t be a system that we accept as working in this country. At the same time if it were so easy to fix, then the Democrats and the Republicans would have agreed and figured it out a long time ago.”
In the end, Rabbi Katz said she believes access to good healthcare is a Jewish value.
“The Torah tells us repeatedly that we should extend ourselves to the slaves because we were slaves in Egypt. In modern times, who are the ‘slaves’? The slaves are the people in this country who can’t get health insurance because they work 29 hours and not 30. The slaves are the people who can’t get their needs met in society. So on the one hand, one really important message is that we have a responsibility to speak for people who are less fortunate. That is a Torah value. The other is Maimonides, who is very clear about access to healthcare and why it was so important. To me, those are two values that are essential to the conversation about healthcare reform.”