Providing Food, Clothing, and Shelter

Jewish communal institutions address the problems of the poor, but individual efforts still make a crucial difference to many in need.

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Ranya Kelly was looking for a box in back of a strip mall. She found 500 pairs of shoes discarded by a local shoe store. When she brought the shoes to a homeless shelter she realized how much good she could do by supplying discarded shoes to those without. Hundreds of thousands of shoes later--she is still on the job.

Clara, Syd, Ranya and David did not start out to change the world, just their little portion of it. Clara was moved by the incongruity of a six-year-old girl carrying a bag of chicken offal. Syd was moved by the contrast between the beauty of music and the ugliness of discarding good food. David just wanted to know where the leftovers went. Ranya could not let 500 pairs of shoes go to waste.

In Pirkei Avot (the Mishnah tractate whose name probably means "Primary Principles") we are taught that "It is not up to us to complete the task, but neither are we allowed to desist from it."  Nowhere do we see greater evidence of the truth of this axiom than in gemilut hasidim. We learn in the book of Deuteronomy that "There will always be poor in your midst."  Perhaps we cannot eradicate the problem, but the Jewish tradition nevertheless mandates that we fight it.

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Rabbi Steven Bayar

Steven Bayar received his bachelor's degree and a masters in religious studies from the University of Virginia and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He serves as rabbi of Congregation Bnai Israel in Millburn, N.J., and is the author of Teens & Trust (Torah Aura), Ziv/Giraffe Curriculum (Righteous Persons), and Tikkun Olam (KTAV), & is co-founder of Ikkar Publishing.