47,000 people are living homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. The Bible mandates we "give shelter to the homeless" (Isaiah58:7). A Reform Jewish congregation with a long history of taking on troublesome social justice issues. Measure H, a ballot measure designed to end homelessness, is endorsed by both democratic and republican leaders.
The Or Ami Center for Tikkun Olam (social justice) was created to foster the knowledge and commitment of young people to become social justice advocates. We stive to instill in them an awareness of our obligation as Jews. As Torah teaches, lo ta’amod al dam rei-acha – don’t stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.
Thus we schep nachas (share our prideful joy) about the work of Sabrina (8 years old) and Chelsea (five years old) Stone, two Or Ami California kids, who collected over 150 coats this winter to bring warmth to needy children. According to their website, www.jillscoatsforkids.com, they created this project in honor of their “grandmother, Jill Stone, who started a coat drive in Dallas, Texas. We thought it would a good idea to help children who need coats in our community, too.”
They delivered the 150 coats to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission in Sun Valley, CA, which is “committed to meeting the needs of the hungry, homeless and destitute.”
This simple act by Sabrina and Chelsea touched so many people. So writes Ken Craft of the Valley Rescue Mission, who kvelled (praised) about them:
How beautiful it is to see people truly care about the genuine needs of others. This winter, though milder than others, there are still many nights where the temperature dips into the 30’s and 40’s. At times like these, our friends living on the streets are desperately seeking coats and jackets in order to stay warm.
THANK YOU for the three large bags of coats you collected through Jill’s Coats for Kids. Each jacket will be given to a man, woman or child who finds themselves homeless in the San Fernando Valley. Only God knows the importance of your act of love and the generosity of your donors!
On behalf of those we serve each day….THANK YOU for providing the coats. Your efforts are not only appreciated, they are deeply needed!
Sabrina and Chelsea acted in concert with longstanding Jewish values. As our Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism reminds us,
Our Biblical prophets themselves exhorted us to follow a long-standing tradition of hospitality among the Jewish people. According to one midrash (rabbinic teaching), Abraham is judged to be greater than Job because while the latter “opened his doors to the road” (Job 31:32), Abraham left his tent to seek guests among the passers-by (Genesis 18:1-8). Furthermore, Abraham “got busy and built spacious mansions along the highways, and stocked them with food and drink, so that whoever entered ate, drank, and blessed Heaven” (Avot 1:5; Avot d’Rabbi Natan 7). More recent Jewish history, with its exiles and expulsions, is a powerful reminder of our special obligation to provide for those with no protection.
So it is like this. There are people in need. There are people with more. The latter must act to help the former. This is what we try to teach at Congregation Or Ami. This is why our Center for Tikkun Olam (social justice) was created. May the actions of Sabrina and Chelsea inspire us all!
Torah commands to feed the hungry, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Congregation Or Ami partners with other churches and synagogues to provide hot meals and a warm smile for those in need. Fariba Cooper, chair of this project for the past few years, shares this powerful experience with us:
It has been a while since I started to volunteer with “Feed the Homeless” program; each time I participated was a different experience but always truly rewarding.
Well, this time was surely different. I just got back from Congregation Or Ami’s amazing Seder in the Wilderness with trays of delicious leftovers from our amazing Bahador Catering.
As we were setting up to serve dinner at 6:30 pm, we reminded our Or Ami teens, including Jared and Josh Swedelson and Bar Mitzvah student Zachary Oschin that because this is Easter Sunday, please welcome the guests, wish them Happy Easter and don’t forget to smile. As I was serving the rolls, a middle age gentleman smiled after I said, “Happy Easter Sir.” He asked me if I celebrated Easter. “No,” I replied. “I celebrate Passover.” He shook his head and said, “You people are remarkable!!” I was analyzing the comment when he signaled me to come out from behind the serving table.
When we both got to the end of the table, he held my cheeks in the palm of his hands, pulled me over, and kissed my cheeks. He said, “Even though you don’t celebrate Easter and you are celebrating your own holiday, you are acknowledging my holiday. You Jewish people are very accepting of others and always helping everyone else. You don’t have the attitude of ‘our way is the only way, the best way’.” I was stunned. Then he gave me a hug and left to eat his Persian dinner.
I was truly touched. He was a well-dressed man who spoke eloquently and who was clearly down on his luck, like many other people these days. But he was wrong about one thing. He gave me a much greater gift than I had given them by volunteering for a few hours. For that, I am grateful.
Congratulation to Joshua Swedelson for accepting the responsibility for Or Ami’s “Feeding the Homeless” program. I know you will do amazing.
To all of our Seder in the Wilderness family, thank you for sharing your leftovers. Rest assured they were truly appreciated.