Poor Limmud

June 7, 2013 by Judy Singer
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While perusing Limmud Sydney’s program for an incentive I couldn’t refuse, something exciting enough to warrant spending a week’s after-rent income on the entrance fee, I came across the promising title:  “The Underbelly of the Jewish Community”…writes Judy Singer.


Judy Singer

Judy Singer

Expecting juicy revelations about our communal mafiosi, I was gobsmacked to discover that, on the contrary, according to Limmud, the “Underbelly” was the likes of moi – and the other 20% of Australian Jews who the Gen-08  Australian Jewish Population Study’s Report on Poverty  tells us are subsisting below the poverty line.

Not only that but Limmud has lumped low-income earners, recipients of pensions and the working poor together with survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence, creating a stigmatised zone that no self-respecting battler would ever sign up for.  Nobody wants to be pitied.

I have no doubt that whoever dreamed up the “Underbelly”  title meant well. No doubt driven by a sense of urgency, they believed that the way to make the Jewish community more responsive was to generate controversy and whip-up audience numbers with a racy title.  But these good intentions are undermined by the Underbelly meme, which sets up a demeaning  self-fulfilling dichotomy of “us and them”, before its well-intentioned call to communal guilt even gets off the ground.

And what is the point of these annual hand-wringing sessions, where “we” berate ourselves for our comfortable lives and lament “their” invisibility, while at the same time rendering  “them” as this pitiful caste of untouchables?  It’s hardly an inviting appeal to those of us struggling to get by to come out of the closet (the only form of rental accommodation we can afford).

There is a reason why Limmud has blundered into this potential minefield of divisive language. The Disability Rights movement ‘s slogan  “Nothing about us without us” provides the clue. People with disabilities and their families fought hard for the right to be represented in the decisions that affected their lives and their lead has percolated through to other marginalised minorities. This means that institutions that serve outsider communities are nowadays expected to make every effort to include their subjects on their boards, to provide them with career paths, to invite them on their panels, to train them for leadership.

It’s time the Jewish community caught up with this trend, and started to look into how to make their organisations more open and transparent to the populations they serve.  And they can’t do that unless they make themselves accessible and inviting to feedback from the ultimate experts on the experience of , say,  living in the Jewish community on $248.50 a week, the current Newstart Allowance for a single individual.

For instance, does anyone really know how the clients of JewishCare feel about the services they receive? Now wouldn’t that be a great panel topic for next year’s Limmud?

Judy Singer is a J-Wire contributing editor



One Response to “Poor Limmud”
  1. gabrielle says:

    I totally agree. And another issue with Limud.

    If you are under forty years of age (self declared, no document needed) you are only charged $70. However I, a self funded retiree who cannot afford to live anywhere close to Eastern Suburbs or the North Shore have to pay $220.

    Many of the under 40 years of age are highly paid professional and business people who live in the greatest comfort in the most expensive parts of Sydney.

    And I have to subsidise them!

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