October 12-19, 2011
“Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt."
The Torah tells us that after leaving Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before finally being granted access to the Promised Land. Aside from Moses likely not asking for directions due to being a man, we’re taught that God wanted the generation of slaves to pass away, and to have their children, who had been born free, be the ones to conquer and possess the land. During their years of wandering, the Israelites constructed temporary dwelling booths, known as “sukkot” (“sukkah” in the singular). Food and drink were provided in the form of manna (and eventually quail), and streams of water. Thus, despite living in temporary structures, the Israelites were well taken care of during their time in the desert, with their basic food, clothing and shelter needs met.
There are many Americans who do not have the ability to sleep under the same roof each night, and many who do not know where their shelter will come from on any given night. There are many more at risk: according to a recent DSNews.com article, in addition to those already making up the homeless population in this country, one in three Americans would be unable to make their rent or mortgage payment for more than one month if they lost their jobs. (http://www.dsnews.com/articles/job-loss-could-put-one-in-three-homeowners-out-of-their-home-2011-09-30) While there is no question that a number of those who are homeless suffer from mental illness, resulting in more complicated situations, many of those who are homeless have been knocked down, and are fighting to get back up.
These struggles are not limited to Americans. Over 250,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv in August to protest the lack of affordable housing options in the country – a precursor to homelessness.
Are we grateful enough for the shelter we’re blessed to have?
Are there ways we can work towards helping others who are shelter-insecure?
There are organizations out there working with faith-based groups to help shelter the homeless, as well as provide career training and self-care resources, that crave volunteers and community organizers. For example, check out http://www.southoaklandshelter.org/.
One of the greatest challenges facing those who happen to be homeless is securing gainful employment. One reason for the challenge is the lack of appropriate wardrobe. Check out the National Suit Drive put on by Men’s Warehouse as a way to help those who don’t have interview-appropriate clothing: http://www.menswearhouse.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ContentAttachmentView_-1_10601_10051__10709_10684_AbtNationalSuitDriveMain.html
The homeless are also more likely to be malnourished than the general population. Ensuring that no one goes hungry is our obligation as Jews, and as human beings. Consider initiating a canned food drive, and donate the items received to your local kosher food bank. For a large-scale endeavor, consider getting involved with MAZON -- http://mazon.org/.
As we enter the Sukkot holiday, the Festival of Booths, let us remember that while we are asked to dwell in these temporary structures for only one week, there are many people out there who have no permanent home to speak of, much like our ancestors wandering in the desert. Make it a priority to play a part in helping those who happen to be homeless: volunteer your time, donate clothing, allow none to go hungry, and do whatever you can to ensure that those in our community will always have a place to safely rest their heads.