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speaking up for our homeless neighbors

06/28/2019 01:28:33 PM

Jun28

I live in Peekskill. In recent months I have watched a controversy about relocating the Jan Peek Shelter to a more suitable location lead to ugly and divisive attacks against the organization that runs both this shelter for homeless individuals and the food banks in Peekskill: CHHOP (Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill).

At Temple Israel, we have embraced the Jewish mandate to care for the most vulnerable in our communities. I spoke for our sacred community when I delivered the following statement to the Mayor of Peekskill and the members of the City Council:

STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR CHHOP

June 24, 2019

The single most sacred day on the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur. It is a day that includes a 24-hour fast during which we abstain from all food and water. As we gather in the synagogue, we read this passage from the Bible’s book of Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loosen the bonds of injustice,
to undo the cords of lawlessness,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly…

Caring for the hungry and homeless is a difficult mission. It can be difficult to look beyond the stigma of hunger and homelessness to see the common humanity that we share.

We know this through our own experience at Temple Israel. One example is the mitzvah project that each twelve-year old who is preparing to become bar/bat mitzvah does. Many of our students volunteer for the Midnight Run for their mitzvah project. They collect clothing and prepare food and go into New York at night to distribute these items to those who live on the streets. Our students are asked to do more than simply hand items to people in need. We ask our students to talk with (and listen to) those they encounter.

When I ask our students what most impresses them about this experience, I hear that they are surprised by how nice the people they met are. How kind and grateful. How they could talk about interests they shared: whether they like the Yankees or the Mets, or even whether they like baseball at all. Through this experience, our students learn to see those who are homeless as human beings, created in the image of God.

This has translated into our own mission as a synagogue. For the past two years, we have opened our doors for one or two weeks each winter to feed and house a group of homeless guests in our building. Our guests are exemplary. We trust them to be in our spiritual home because they have earned our trust.

CHHOP has a difficult mission to meet. But I believe that their mission really is our mission. We need CHHOP to help us meet our shared mission to care for the most vulnerable in our midst. I strongly believe it is our job, our responsibility, to help CHHOP meet its mission. If we truly commit ourselves to this sacred work, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “our light will break forth as the dawn and our healing shall spring up quickly.”

 

 

Sat, December 7 2019 9 Kislev 5780