Caring for Homeless as an Opportunity for Kindness
I belong to two congregations. The much larger Reform congregation provides dinner every Sunday for about 40 people at the homeless shelter. The members are justifiably proud of this mitzvah, which they have been doing continually for over 30 years. The homeless shelter is close to our local warehouse store, and it is common to see congregants buying food for donation on Sunday afternoons. Their motivation is probably similar to mine; I can justify buying non-essential luxury items if I am also helping to feed the many homeless people hanging out in the neighborhood. In terms of Mussar middot, this might be described as generosity, even compassion. It is certainly tzedakah.
The much smaller Renewal congregation contributes dinner and breakfast once a month for about 20 homeless people who are trying to put their lives back together. This is part of a larger interfaith organization that provides a place to sleep at a different church each night of the week, plus dinner and breakfast as well as support services to help their clients find accommodation and/or employment. The major difference between these social action projects is that here we eat dinner with the homeless folks we are serving. We hear their stories. One woman moved across country to care for her ailing father. By the time he died two years later, she had lost her job, her home and her savings. Others fell into the trap of addiction after sustaining the loss of a partner or a job.
When we hear the stories, we realize how easily they could have been our story. Then we want to do the kindness of giving our homeless friends our time and attention, along with the meals. In Everyday Holiness” Alan talks about the “Chesed Personality,” one who not only helps those in need when an opportunity arises, but who actively seeks out such opportunities and, further, loves performing acts of kindness.
Several members of the Renewal congregation participate in this delightful mitzvah. One set of parents brings their young children. The homeless people clearly enjoy interacting with the children, and the kids have a great time. The parents are doing a kindness for our homeless neighbors and also for their own children, by teaching them the meaning of chesed and that it can be fun. I imagine them growing up as “Chesed Personalities.” I now look for opportunities to add a little chesed to the world, both at our monthly dinner and out in the world. When I realize just how lucky I am to have the resources to help our homeless friends, and not have my own story to share, I am delighted to seek out occasions to spread some kindness.
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