WATERVILLE — State Sen. Justin Alfond speaks all the time with Mainers who say they work hard but struggle daily to make ends meet.

“People I know tell me the notion of living paycheck-to-paycheck is a joke because the paycheck is never enough,” he said.

Alfond spoke Sunday night to about 100 people of all faiths who gathered at Beth Israel Congregation on Main Street to discuss income inequality.

Everyone ought to have access to fair wages, a good education, good health care and the ability to live without the stress of debt, said Alfond, a four-term senator and former senate president.

Sunday’s event, titled “Community Conversations,” was the first in a series of three discussions hosted by Colby College’s Center for Small Town Jewish Life and aimed at bringing people together to talk about issues of common concern.

Alfond and Rabbi Shai Held, a theologian, scholar and educator from New York City, talked about the moral obligation people have to help solve the problem of income inequality.


Held, co-founder, dean and chair in Jewish thought at Mechon Hadar, said we are first and foremost human beings, described in the Bible as brothers.

We must therefore think of people who are suffering as familial brothers and sisters, said Held, who served as director of education at Harvard Hillel and has been named multiple times to Newsweek’s list of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs of Beth Israel welcomed Alfond, Held and about 100 audience members, including Colby students and staff, and legislative leaders.

Fifty percent of Mainers said in a poll that they are so financially insecure that an unexpected bill of $400 would turn their lives upside down, Alfond said.

Working to raise wages so people may pay their bills, taking steps to help end hostilities between employees and employers, supporting children and teachers to ensure a high quality of education and making sure children have access to nutritious food would help alleviate the problems, according to Alfond. Protecting the environment and investing in the common good are key, he said.

Two more events in the series at Beth Israel will focus on philanthropy and dignity and are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 and April 2. The events are free and open to the public.


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