Arik Ascherman
Arik Ascherman

What Would Abraham Do About Public Housing Evictions Next Week?

Eva's children
Eva's children

I don’t know whether to start with this week or next week.  The cut down Palestinian olive trees and denial of permission to plant new ones, or Minister Elkin’s intent to evict next week two Jewish families that I know from their public housing apartments? And, in the words of the Israeli song, “eifo Avraham avinu?”  Where is our patriarch Abraham? Where are we, the descendants of Abraham and Sara Are we a blessing for ourselves, and for all the families of the earth (Geneis 12: 2-3)? Do we know how to bend over backwards so that there will be no strife within our family (13:8)? Do w know how to fight for family (Genesis : Chapter  14) Are we worthy of God’s trust in next week’s Torah portion that we pass on from generation to generation our obligation to “keep the Way of Adonai by doing what is just and right?” (18:16)?

In the process of writing my questions, I answered them for myself. I want to start with next week. Next week we can still change. Abram (Not yet Abraham) fights four kings to save Lot, Lot’s family, and the other captured families.  I know personally the two single parent mothers in danger of eviction, and know that we need to fight to stop those evictions, even if we are outnumbered.

I have recently written about public housing for parashat Shoftim and Sukkot.  Some 90 families have been evicted since the current Housing Minister Zeev Elkin chose to ignore the recommendations of the Barbivai commission. (Orna Barbivai is now a minister herself), and renew evictions from public housing. The Ministry wishes to evict an additional 1093 families.  Minister Elkin and Ministry director Eviad Friedman self-righteously proclaim that they are evicting families for the sake of the families waiting for public housing. EXCUSE ME?? Evicting one family living in poverty, for the sake of another, while not touching NGO’s and urban kibbutzim usurping public housing?  The planned eviction of Motti, whom I wrote about for Shoftim, was eventually postponed by the Hotza’ah L’Foal judge who heard from an Amidar (public housing company) worker who contradicted the Amidar lawyers fighting for the eviction. He ruled that, even if Motti was not authorized to stay because he had lived in the apartment with his eligible father, he should be given the chance to show that he was eligible on his own right.

Tami has been fighting plans to evict her and her 5 children since 2016.  The eviction process was frozen by former Housing Minister Galant, after his director Hagai Reznick promised that she would not be evicted until a solution was found for her family. She is eligible for public housing, but has been stuck as number 2 on the waiting list forever, as others move past her.  She could get NIS 3,800 in rent assistance, but there is nothing appropriate for her family for less than NIS 4,500. Yes, she is living in an apartment she found empty because otherwise her family was on the street. She was no longer able to pay rent.  Amidar alsowants to charge her for all of the time she has been living in the apartment without a contract. If I understand correctly, at open market rates, not public housing rats.

Tami’s Home

Eva and her three children have been living for 13 years in the public housing apartment where her grandmother previously lived. Back in 2003 she spent 3 months living in a public park and then tried to survive paying rent, before moving in with her grandmother. She has been fighting eviction for four years.

Eva’s children

Neither Eva nor Tami are wealthy. Neither are trying to exploit the system. Both will be on the street, if we can’t stop their evictions. That is why, just as I was in Moti’s home, I will be in their homes.  If you are living in Israel, I ask you to join me.

We don’t know what was going through Abram’s mind. Soforno writes that this testifies both to Abram’s military skills and selfless love for his nephew.  Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch says that when Abram and Lot parted ways after the conflict between their shepherds, when Abram says, there should be no strive “for we are family,” he is expressing a wish.  However, in the critical moment when Abram heard of Lot’s predicament, Lot truly became family.

We all face the question who do we define as family. There are those whose commitment to their children outweighs their commitment to their partner, and the other way around.  There are those who are capable of seeing all of humanity as family.  When there are those in need, we are truly tested. Like Abram, there can be no more questions when the chips are down.

Where is Abraham?  May he and his values be in us, his descendants.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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