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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Step up expression of chesed and tikkun olam

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The Jewish People have a generous nature, and I am often encouraged by the kindness I see within our community. I urge everyone however, to step up your expression of chesed (kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) activities in 5774 because there is an awful lot of work to be done, and lots of room for people to manoeuvre.

The Torah says, “ani k’mait,” that a poor person is like a dead person. The “deadness” this phrase alludes to is the drained energy and a waning hope within the sprit of the impoverished. Worrying about your children’s gloveless, cold fingers is numbing. And you are awake the entire time. Being poor might in some ways be worse than being dead.

I have met families in our community whose dinners are David Copperfield-sparse, void of greens and heaped with starch. They are aniyim. The Toronto Jewish community now has soup kitchens, an anomaly a few short years back.  We have a fund to top off welfare for low-income families distributed by Jewish Family & Child. Our poor population is big, and our services reflect that. Poverty in general across the nation is growing as well. According to Statistics Canada, between 1980 and 2005, median earnings among Canada’s top earners rose more than 16 per cent, while those in the bottom fifth saw their wages dip by 20 per cent.

 (Compelling note: I’ve asked my colleagues what those with lots of money have that those with little do not, and vice versa. One said the rich can dream with the belief that [their dream] can come true. The poor must survive and shelve the life of their dreams. On the flip side, those with little money learn to move through the complexity of the human condition, which the rich don’t do as much as because they are frequently ensconced in the management of things.)

 In 5774, I therefore call upon you to work on eradicating poverty from the Canadian Jewish community, the State of Israel and the world in which we live. While this may seem naïve to some, know that lofty goals are the only ones to have. Our own Judy Feld-Carr saved Syrian Jewry, and Israel and the Diaspora rescued former Soviet Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Romanian Jews, former Yugoslavian Jewry and now the last vestige of Yemenite Jewry. Remember that the Rotary Club pledged to wipe out polio and is pretty close. 

If eradicating poverty is simply too much to consider, fair enough. Find a family whom you can adopt as an equal, and figure out together how you can spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically barter what each of you have.  

One of the greatest gifts we can give any human being is to truly appreciate and understand their journey and share what we have, including a story or a loving embrace. Find that family and ease yourself into their culture and allow them into yours.

Equality here is key. Nobody is a better human being because of what he or she owns, or do not own. We say that the poor are special. They are, it’s said in Yiddish, “pintala Yids” (simple Jews, generally understood as grander), and we often honour the wealthy, showering them with accolades for having money. Both ideas are rubbish. People are not great or otherwise simply because of their economic status but because of what they accomplish with their lives, at whatever level they are at.

In 5774, hang out with a person who needs a friend. Who? Ask your rabbi. There are lots of people waiting to hold your hand as you listen, particularly seniors. In 5774, learn about those whose house is open to others. Mimic their behaviour until you get it. Be curious about the family who fosters a child and ask yourself, “Couldn’t I do the same?”

Hachnasat kallah (helping a couple to be married). Native Canadians. Mentorship. The refugee issue. Jewish-Muslim relations. Israeli victims of terror. The Roma. Slavery and child labour. Advocacy. Religious-secular relations. Homelessness. The shut-ins. Reading to the blind. Shul committees.

Did you know Toronto has the only yeshiva for deaf youth in the world? Help them out.    

In 5774, step up. Stretch your goodness. Done well, your job will be challenging and painful at times, but it will be purposeful. And therein lies the essence of being a Jew.

Good luck. Shanah tovah.

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