Quick Take:

The housing development slated for Park Avenue in Soquel offers Santa Cruz County residents a chance to live their values. Supporting the unhoused and needy is a biblical obligation. By embracing the project, Rabbi Paula Marcus argues, we fulfill our religious duties.

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In Deuteronomy 15:7-10, we read, “If there is a needy person among you … do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need.”

Jewish values emphasize the obligation to care for those who are hungry, unhoused, in need of medical care and other basic human needs. This is not just a Jewish value, it’s a teaching we find in all of our spiritual and religious traditions. Those of us who observe these spiritual traditions must take action and practice our beliefs daily in our communities.

In Santa Cruz, we have many opportunities to pursue a more just and equitable community, and the Park Avenue housing project is one that demands our support.

The project at 2838 Park Ave. in Soquel will create a three-story, 36-unit complex for senior veterans, families with children under 18, and youth who are transitioning out of the foster care system. The Housing Authority of Santa Cruz County has already arranged for vouchers to support residents with essential services so they can become long-term, successful members of the community.

In Jewish communities, we encourage debate and discussion. Primary rabbinic texts feature pages and pages of divergent opinions, and after a question has been settled, the minority opinions are still preserved so that many centuries later, we can read a wide range of thought.

Understanding different ways of thinking can bring us greater insights into why particular decisions, especially about communal responsibilities, are still important.

At a March meeting, 1st District Supervisor Manu Koenig faced an unhappy crowd of our neighbors, who booed and hissed at him when he tried to explain why the project matters. Such disrespect should not be happening in our community. I know some oppose the project, but we must maintain our civility and refrain from yelling and attacking each other. We must also, ultimately, accept the majority opinion.

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We all have to find a way to live together and take care of those in need. Studies show that crime does not increase and property values do not decrease when supported housing goes into a neighborhood.

With nearly one in five Santa Cruz County residents living below the poverty line, we must come together to find solutions for those who are unhoused.

The Park Avenue project caters to long-term residents, and an on-site manager will ensure the safety of residents and the neighborhood.

The location is close to public transportation, which is an environmental plus. Cabrillo College is within walking distance, which will support the educational goals of former foster youth.

This location is very close to Temple Beth El, and we would welcome these new residents in our neighborhood and community. Other religious communities in the area have expressed their support for this project, and I encourage more neighboring congregations to do the same.

In this moment, when we hear frequent talk about religious values, we need to elevate the essential message of the biblical prophets. Prophets like Isaiah forcefully rebuked those who oppressed the poor and expressed divine contempt for religious practices that maintained policies that ignored the needs of the most vulnerable.

The Park Avenue project is an opportunity to practice essential values of our religious traditions.

Rabbi Paula Marcus has served as senior rabbi of Temple Beth El in Aptos since 2016. She sees activism and social justice as key to Jewish values. She served on the national board of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and has facilitated numerous justice-oriented workshops in the Bay Area. She is one of the co-founders of Out in Our Faith, an interfaith LGBTQ network, and a leader in the Santa Cruz interfaith Tent of Abraham project. She has lived in Santa Cruz County for over 40 years.