From Iran sanctions to yoga, federal shutdown casts long shadow over Jewish Washington

Meals on Wheels may disappear, Iran sanctions are at risk and yoga is filling in the gaps.

This is what the federal government shutdown looks like in Jewish Washington.

While national Jewish organizations are sorting through the essential services that the impasse may cut, regional Jewish service providers in the Washington area are dealing with the tens of thousands of furloughed workers in their midst.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, in Rockville, Md., is adding exercise and yoga classes for furloughed government workers, said its director, Michael Feinstein.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is closed during the government shutdown.

The plan, he noted, is a two-fer: “The classes are being taught by furloughed federal employees, so they will make some extra money. And they are geared for stress reduction.”

The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is offering free guest passes to its fitness center for people who show a government ID and a furlough letter.

Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom, a synagogue in Falls Church, Va., with 1,500 families — many, if not most, attached to government service — said her staff spent a day brainstorming about what services they could provide.

They ranged from bagel brunches to yoga classes and recruiting the temporarily unemployed into the temple’s community service programs.

Schwartzman said the synagogue has dealt with government shutdowns, but they were two- or three-day blips. This one, some fear, could last for weeks.

“For most of our members, a loss of three days of work and three days of salary might not make a huge impact,” she said. “But for some, a few weeks will have a huge impact.”

Demands by the majority Republican caucus in the House of Representatives to attach government funding to defunding or delaying President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, known as Obamacare, helped lead to the government shutdown on Oct. 1.

In its first days, workers throughout the region seemed to be enjoying their time off. Sixth and I, a historic synagogue in downtown Washington, invited federal workers to use its wireless Internet to keep up to date.

The capital’s signature Jewish-themed monument, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, shuttered its doors and used the shutdown for a fundraising pitch.

“The founders of our Museum likely never envisioned a time of budget sequestration cuts and shutdown, but they did foresee the need for a museum supported by a unique public-private partnership,” it said. “Although the government ensures our permanence and federal funds keep the Museum building open and free to the public, our educational programs rely on contributions from members and donors like you.”

An Oct. 9 commemoration of the Danish rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, which was to have featured prominent Danish Americans and a member of the Danish royal family, was postponed because of the shutdown.

Obama administration officials and their allies on the Hill, mindful of the bipartisan breadth of support for Israel, emphasized how the shutdown was affecting the alliance.

“The State Department’s ability to provide military assistance to Israel and other allies in the time frame that is expected and customary could be hindered depending on the length of the shutdown,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Oct. 2.

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranked State Department official and one of those closest to the pro-Israel community, said in Senate testimony that sanctions on Iran are among the first affected by the shutdown.

“Government shutdown empties offices enforcing sanctions on Iran,” she said.

Staffers for national Jewish organizations say they already feel the absence of federal workers in their day-to-day dealings with government.

“At the federal level, the multifamily housing offices are skeletal,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, which runs a network of homes for the elderly across the country. “There’s no one for us to talk to if you need an answer to a question.”

Some programs were in good shape for the short run, Goldberg said, because they had received funding just before Oct. 1, technically the first day of the new fiscal year. But cuts would soon be felt in Meals on Wheels and home health aids.

William Daroff, the director of the Jewish Federations of North America, said many of the domestic issues with which his organization is concerned are being ignored while Congress grapples with the budget impasse. Among them is funding to secure the facilities of nonprofit buildings and special funding for elderly Holocaust survivors.

Goldberg noted that basic care programs such as Social Security and federal medical care coverage for seniors and the poor remained relatively unaffected by the shutdown. But that could change should Congress and the White House fail to resolve a separate dispute by Oct. 17.

At that point, the government risks going into default unless Congress extends its debt allowance. Social Security checks could stop within weeks of that point; it is unclear what would happen to Medicare and Medicaid.



With the federal government shutdown in its second week, and with a looming threat of federal default set to hit Thursday, Oct. 17, madness has swept the halls of Congress, infected the body politic and caused grave damage, with potentially much worse to come.

Already the shutdown has inflicted horrible pain on the country. Veteran benefits unpaid. Meat, produce, milk and water inspections scrapped. CDC monitoring of diseases sidelined. Cancer drug trials suspended. More than 500,000 federal workers furloughed, wondering how they’re going to be able to purchase needed items and pay their bills.

If House Republicans — or, to be precise, the Tea Party caucus driving this crisis — block a raise of the debt limit next week, experts from across the ideological spectrum predict an economic calamity like none we have seen.

Why are they doing it? It depends what day you ask them. Yesterday it was to delay or dismantle Obamacare. Today it’s to rein in federal spending. Or maybe it’s because of “pride,” as Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) admitted last weekend.

Or perhaps, as Rep. Marvin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner, it’s because Republicans “have to get something out of this, and I don’t know what that even is.”

This newspaper is nonpartisan, and always has been. We fervently believe in the two-party system, which, for all its faults, has fueled American political stability for more than a century.

But there is no question about who shoulders the blame for this crisis. The Tea Party supporters, who represent a minority of House Republicans, provoked this fight, cowed Speaker of the House John Boehner, and now refuse to take their collective foot off the gas pedal as they steer America off a cliff.

President Obama is right to refuse negotiating under this kind of threat.

This is not about liberal vs. conservative. This is simply not how we do things. We do not re-fight the results of an election, or attempt to strike down a law by shutting down the government or threatening to blow up the economy.

The House Tea Party caucus, which district by district represents less than a fifth of the American people, deserves to be punished at the ballot box for its behavior, which borders on treasonous. And we urge the Republican Party to rein in this extremist element, for its own good and the good of the country.

We demand that the House immediately vote on “clean” government funding and debt ceiling bills. Both would pass easily, and this crisis would be over. Today.