a man and a woman in lab coats stand talking to the camera
Medical students in the documentary "Now is the Time: Healthcare for Everybody"

S.F. congregation shines light on ‘health care for all’ with documentary screening

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As the GOP still clings to its dream of firebombing Obamacare, Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco is hoping to move the discussion in the opposite direction. Some activist congregants are leaning toward leapfrogging the Affordable Care Act and supporting a national single-payer health care system.

And they are invoking Jewish values to make the case.

To inform the community about single payer, Or Shalom’s Social Safety Net Action Group will host a free screening of “Now is the Time: Healthcare for Everybody” on Sunday, July 23. The 35-minute documentary will be followed by a panel discussion by health care professionals.

“Single payer” is shorthand for a system that provides basic health coverage for all citizens by taking the profit motive out of health care and replacing health insurance companies with a public, universal plan. If that sounds impossible in the United States, consider that Medicare is a public, universal plan that provides basic coverage to those 65 and older.

Or Shalom Rabbi Katie Mizrachi cites no less than the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative 16th century compendium of Jewish law, to show single payer makes sense Jewishly.

The Shulchan Aruch, she said, “records decisions about prioritizing caring of the sick over the building of a new synagogue. That text shows us that hundreds of years ago, health care was a huge priority, even superseding the building of a new worship space.”

Rabbi Katie Mizrahi headshot
Rabbi Katie Mizrahi

Mizrahi, who is slated to attend the July 23 event, said the Jewish rationale for single payer, and the idea that health care for all is a human right, draws inspiration from traditional concepts such as b’tzelem Elohim (that humans are created in God’s image) and pikuach nefesh (the saving of a life).

Saving a life, Mizrachi noted, “is such a high halachic priority, one is allowed to violate any other mitzvah to preserve a life. It comes into play when we’re talking about medical systems.”

Congregant Corey Weinstein, who chairs Or Shalom’s Social Safety Net Action Group, helped organize the panel discussion. He noted that the Trump-GOP effort to get rid of the ACA has energized single-payer advocates. In California, a bill is working its way through the legislature to create a single-payer system for the state, though that effort is now stalled.

He said his group was “interested in developing some sort of single-payer medical program locally and nationally. … What that meant, how to do it, and how ACA relates that, was not so clear. Certainly the politics were not clear. The debate is contentious around issues of finance and politics, but from our point of view, it’s a moral issue.”

While single payer strikes him as the most moral solution, Weinstein isn’t ready to chuck Obamacare just yet. He says it’s important to defend the ACA, especially in light of the GOP’s attempts to undermine the law.

“Their idea is ‘Repeal and give us something much worse,’ in which millions of people will be taken off [the rolls], unable to afford insurance or decent coverage,” Weinstein said. “That’s a tragedy. It’s immoral to have so many people go bankrupt because of medical care expenses. People are going to die.”

In advance of the panel discussion, Or Shalom’s Social Safety Net committee released a statement. It quotes the passage from Leviticus to “love your neighbor as yourself,” adding: “We seek to join the voices of the faith community with those that have long called for a health-care system that serves the needs of every person in the United States. By creating a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system, we will make health care accessible to every American, creating a system that focuses on prevention and rational use of resources.”

Though the health care reform need not necessarily devolve into partisan party politics, Mizrahi and Weinstein know support for a single-payer system is often seen as “liberal politics as usual,” especially in the Trump era.

The rabbi doesn’t care.

“Now is not a time to appease,” she said. “It feels like the call of this moment is to come together and continue to speak out, and protect the democracy itself.”

“Now is the Time: Healthcare for Everybody” screens at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 23, followed by panel discussion, at Or Shalom Jewish Community, 625 Brotherhood Way, S.F. (415) 469-5564

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.