When need is greatest, dig deeper to help the less fortunate

It appears the global economic downturn has finally, tragically, hit the Golden State hard, stretching California’s social safety net to the breaking point.

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently cut $16.1 billion from the budget, much of it earmarked for the state’s most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, the very young, the mentally ill and the indigent. This is on top of another $14.9 billion cut from the budget last February.

In our page 3 story this week, we detail the impact those cuts will have on in-home health care services, community clinics and child welfare programs provided by local Jewish agencies. In a word, the cuts are devastating. Without question, people will suffer.

We could use this space to point fingers at those responsible. There is plenty of blame to go around. But what’s done is done. What’s left for us now is to turn a compassionate eye toward those who so desperately need help.

In good times and bad, the Jewish community has mobilized to help the needy, both Jews and non-Jews. The current crisis has taxed agencies such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services as never before. The S.F.-based JFCS lost 5 percent of its annual budget due to state cuts.

Just as millions in government dollars dry up, the demand for social services has skyrocketed.

That’s where the collective Bay Area Jewish community comes in.

We cannot allow grievous harm to befall our fellow citizens. Now is the time to dig deeper than ever and donate to those social services agencies.

Whether you choose umbrella organizations such as Jewish Community Federations, large social service organizations such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services, or worthy smaller agencies with specifically targeted groups — for example: Shalom Bayit, helping battered women; Sonoma County’s Jewish Community Free Clinic, which provides medical care; or Hatikvah, a South Bay residential home for developmentally disabled Jewish adults — you can make a huge difference with your donations.

Those contributions don’t always have to be monetary. Volunteering time and energy is a great way to make a positive difference as well.

But money talks, and with the need so great, your financial gifts to these institutions couldn’t come at a more critical time.

We Jews like to congratulate ourselves for our traditions, our values and our collective will. With so many people depending on a helping hand, this is the hour to prove we mean what we say.

Perhaps someday California will find a way out of its budget mess and the cuts will be repealed. Until then, give — and give generously.