The news broke last week that I have accepted the position of CEO of the Met Council on Jewish Poverty — New York’s largest Jewish tzedakah organization. The most common question I’ve received is, “Councilman Greenfield, you are at the height of your political career. You could be a congressman or maybe even mayor one day. Why would you leave now?”
It’s a fair question if your perspective on life is that the goal is personal accomplishment or political ambition. That’s not the way I was raised. In my home, my parents spoke of my grandfather, Rav Velvel Mintzberg, who dedicated his life to the klal as the Rav of the Old City in Yerushalayim; and of my great-grandfather, Rav Shaul Yechezkel Greenfeld, the Magen Shaul, who was a renowned talmid chacham and baal chessed in Czechoslovakia. That’s the way I was raised: Serving the klal is more important than serving yourself.
In fact, the reason I left the lucrative arena of corporate law 16 years ago was in order to make a difference in my community, and in my city. Baruch Hashem, looking back on the last decade and a half, I am proud of all that we have accomplished together. Thanks to your support, I passed 27 laws in the New York City Council. They range from important issues like providing $20 million annually to pay for security guards for all of our yeshivos, to mundane quality-of-life issues like giving a five-minute grace period so you don’t get a parking ticket while walking to get a receipt from the muni-meter.
When I was first elected to office nearly seven and a half years ago, the first meeting I had was with the Brooklyn Parks commissioner. I told him I had a dream that as council member I would renovate every single park in my district. He laughed and explained that was impossible. This year, I secured the funding for the last of the 13 parks and playgrounds in my district. Literally every single one of my parks and playgrounds either was or is in the process of being renovated through the $35 million in funding that I secured.
The Met Council on Jewish Poverty is the primary organization that helps needy Jews in New York. According to the most recent UJA-Federation study, there are over 500,000 poor and near-poor Jews living in the New York area. Some are so poor that they literally don’t have food to put on their tables on Shabbos. Others are near-poor and can make it most of the year, but struggle when Yamim Tovim like Pesach and Rosh Hashanah come around. Those are the people Met Council serves through its $30 million annual budget, nearly 200 dedicated staff members, direct social-services programs, and multi-million dollar food distribution that is perhaps best known for distributing food packages to thousands of families before Pesach.
I have a dream that instead of just serving the poor, we will help them get out of poverty. I have a dream that we will build affordable housing for those people who can’t afford to live in our neighborhoods anymore. And, yes, I have a dream that we will give a voice to the voiceless in our community.
I met someone this past Shabbos who told me, “Councilman, I’m happy for the poor in our community, but what about us? You’re leaving us behind!”
I responded, “The poor are us.”
Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh. As the Rambam teaches, “There is no greater and more splendid simchah than to gladden the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the converts.”
That’s the work that I intend to do on behalf of all of us.
During the Nine Days, let’s all rededicate ourselves to helping those who are struggling. In that zechus, may we merit the ultimate Geulah.
David G. Greenfield is a New York City Council member representing Boro Park, Flatbush and Bensonhurst. Mr. Greenfield announced last week that after he completes his term in office this year, he will be leading New York’s largest tzedakah, the Met Council on Jewish Poverty.