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Editorial: A Drop in the Wrong Bucket

The following was an editorial written as part of a “Rabbi as Communicator” course in the Spring of 2019.

It’s raining and it’s cold. This doesn’t bother me too much, because I’m sitting in my heated SUV, with the windshield wipers on, and the seat heaters turned on. But when I pull up to the stoplight around the corner from my house, I see the man who sits on the bench on the corner, holding his cardboard sign, and it sure looks like it bothers him.

Feeling inspired, I go home and I pack up a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, some protein bars, and a couple of extra sweatshirts I have in the basement, waiting to be donated. I drive back to the bench. He’s still there.

I get out, shake his hand, offer him the food. It should get him through a day or two, maybe even to the weekend, depending on if he gets additional kindness from others. He accepts what he’s given, and then says to me “I’m just trying to find enough money to get a hotel room.” I look down at my shoes; in classic millennial fashion, I don’t have cash with me, and I certainly don’t have enough to spare for a hotel room. I go back to my car, deeply conflicted.

On the one hand, it feels good to help someone in need. Keeping granola bars in the car is an easy way of spreading a little bit of kindness, simple acts of generosity that make the world a better place. We teach our young people every day to take these small steps, teaching them that what may feel small to them joins together with the acts of everyone else to create big change. Our grassroots approach to social action inspires the hope that is fundamental to faith communities.

But the man on my street corner is still homeless today. He’s been there every day since I moved into my house in July, and I’m filled with dread knowing that it is entirely likely he will be there for a lot more days yet to come. The snacks and the spare dollars he collects are not changing his reality nearly fast enough. Homelessness in this country is a greater systemic problem than any one of us can solve, and it is our right, as compassionate citizens, to be enraged by it.

We debate politics in our courtrooms and in our ivory towers, all while real Americans are struggling. That struggle doesn’t all come in the same form, but it all falls as a deep sign of the illness of apathy that has raked our country. We are afraid to acknowledge there is a devastating problem in America, because we are too scared to accept that we don’t know how to fix it.

Faith communities have found themselves at the heart of the efforts to support as best we can. From soup kitchens to shelters to clothing drives, religious institutions have used language of holiness and empathy to try to hold us over until a real solution can be found. But the time has come for those efforts to gain a new direction. In addition to all the day-to-day help we can provide, it is high time that we begin to use our power of advocacy to demand legislative and legal changes that will make it harder for Americans to wind up out on the streets in the first place. The time is now for us to make sure that hard times are a temporary struggle, not a permanent state of being. And it is time that religious communities demand that governmental changes take place that allow for our cities to live out our values in real, tangible, daily terms.

That cold, rainy day, I made a small act of kindness to try to ease someone’s pain. What comes next is an insistence that we make it less common for life to be that hard in the first place.


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