Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – February, 2013

Over the past year or so we have heard two Sanctuary Shabbat presentations addressing the problem of homelessness in Grand Rapids. Both speakers, one from Family Promise of Grand Rapids, the other from the Salvation Army Booth Family Services program of the Salvation Army, spoke about programs in partnership with congregations. Family Promise organizes temporary shelters in congregations, as well as giving support, resources, training, and mentorship as families look for permanent housing and employment. The Booth Family Services places families in apartments with various kinds of support including financial, gradually decreasing over a six month period of time until they are entirely self-sufficient.

Both programs have been successful, and both are looking to build more partnerships with congregations. Family Promise needs Support Congregations to help the Host Congregations (who actually host families for a week at a time sleeping in their buildings). The Booth Family Services needs congregations to “adopt” and support specific families that would be assigned to them.

As a congregation, we might support either program financially, but my thinking right now is that we should participate in one of the program through our volunteer efforts. I am looking for one or two people to act as the point person(s), to help me decide which program we should volunteer with and be the contact person for the organization to identify a volunteer assignment and publicize that within the congregation. I also want to build a list of at least a dozen people who are willing to help the families, go to the shelter location, tutor children, take people to appointments, cook meals, or do any of the other tasks that are necessary to support the program.

If you would like to be the chair or co-chair of this project, or if you would like to be one of the volunteers should we as a congregation add this to our gemilut hasadim activities, please let me know.

Our responsibility as members of Congregation Ahavas Israel, as Jews, and as human beings goes beyond coming to Shabbat services, studying Torah, keeping kosher, and serving on committees (although these things are important). We have an obligation, a mitzvah, to help feed, cloth, and shelter another human being who is suffering. I am deeply discomforted by people who hold up signs at intersections reading, “hungry, homeless, jobless, please help.” I address the discomfort as I can, by giving money, usually to organizations that work in effective and lasting ways to end problems of hunger and homelessness. Sometimes, though, giving money is not enough. Giving of ourselves, our time, is also needed. Please join me as a Congregation to address the problem of homelessness.

***

I do a variety of things in addition to writing sermons and bulletin articles, answering questions by phone or email, going to Board and Committee meetings, teaching religious school classes, leading study groups, and visiting members of the congregation. Here are some of my activities of the past month:

  • • I have been working on planning spring activities, including lining up Sanctuary Shabbat speakers, planning a series of educational workshops, and working on the Purimsheil.
  • • I have been working on recruiting teens and middle school students for the upcoming Kinnusim in Columbus, Dayton, and at Camp Tamarack, and accompanied two Kadima (Middle School) age students to Columbus as their advisor.
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