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Troy Synagogue Study Group Invests in Community Loan Fund to mark Jewish Shmita year



Troy Synagogue Study Group Invests in Community Loan Fund to mark Jewish Shmita year

To empower social justice movement

 

A local Shmita study group based in Congregation Berith Sholom, Troy, collected $3,164 in donations and recently invested them in the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region to honor the spirit of an ancient Jewish law. The Community Loan Fund is a community development financial institution, charged with promoting social justice and racial equity in the Capital Region.

Spearheaded by Audrey Seidman as part of her work with the synagogue’s Shmita Project, the investment grew out of the requirement to forgive loans as part of the Shmita year. Shmita is the ‘sabbatical year,’ the final year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, during the Shmita year the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity ceases.

It’s not hard to see the parallels to this past year, with its shutdowns and quarantines, but Seidman concluded that there was something valuable in the quiet, too, some lessons to be learned in the spaces between bustling activities. “In some ways, Shmita encourages an individual and social rebalancing of life,” says Seidman.

Shmita law also promotes social justice, and so Seidman organized a speaker series for the study group that covered topics including environmental justice, people’s relationship with the land, economic equity, and sustainability. At the end of the series, which included consideration of ‘generous justice,' the group decided to encourage the congregation to make a forgivable loan to the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region to support equity-based community development. “During Shmita, fences are removed between properties, and anything that grows there may be picked by anyone. Indentured servants are freed. Debts are forgiven. The law promotes social justice, and we wanted to find a way to make that relevant to our practice,” says Seidman.

“The Community Loan Fund is creating equity through community-based solutions,” noted congregation president Beth Hershenhart. “It is a great example of neighbors helping neighbors and working together to build a more sustainable future. Before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year that began this Shmita year, Rabbi Debora S. Gordon and our board agreed that supporting the work of this organization was a perfect way for our congregation to support social justice in action and make a real impact in our local community. Our Rabbi encouraged participation in her holiday sermon.”

“With its community-based lending and its focus on racial equity and economic inclusion, we thought the Community Loan Fund exemplified the principles of Shmita,” says Hershenhart, “We thought an investment in this organization would be a good way to honor the spirit of the law and help repair the world.”

Seidman and Monique Wahba, another member of the study group, contacted the Loan Fund and made arrangements to “loan” the money to the Loan Fund, or invest it, and then promptly forgive it. “We could have donated the funds, but we felt a forgiven loan was closer to the teachings in the Torah, and that was important to us,” says Wahba.

“We are grateful for this investment and the passion for justice that inspired it,” says Linda MacFarlane, Executive Director of the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region. “The Community Loan Fund creates routes out of poverty by creating equitable economic opportunities. This investment and others like it are critical to building a more just world, for us, and for future generations.”

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