August 2, 2015

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

homeless lady feet

I consider myself a spiritual, but not religious person.

Having grown up in a moderately observant Jewish family, we engaged in the weekly ritual of lighting the Shabbos candles and attending synagogue. I went to Hebrew school until I was 16 and, became a Bat Mitzvah at 13.

At the time, it was all by rote, without a great deal of depth to it. I did it mostly because it was expected of me. I sat in an uncomfortable chair, praying and chanting along with the rabbi and cantor-led services. I was adept at reading Hebrew back then and can do it with effort now. It is part of my heritage and I am grateful to have had the foundation that has allowed me to expand my spiritual beliefs.

This nice Jewish girl was ordained as an interfaith minister back in 1999. I say that love is my religion and God’s too big to put in a box.

What I value about my upbringing was that my parents taught by example the concept of Tzedakah which most people view as charity, but really is about righteousness and fairness rather than seeing one person as poor and needy and the other benevolent.

We had a box in the kitchen into which we put coins to be donated to various organizations. What meant even more was that, in addition to working full time and raising my sister and me, they volunteered their time at the local hospital, the fire department, the synagogue, Girl Scouts, our swim team and anywhere in the community that was requested. They were the kind of people about whom it was said “They would give the shirts off their backs to help” and still manage to not be naked.

My father would say “Charity begins at home,” so our needs were always met.

Throughout my life, I have been an active volunteer as well, offering time and energy where my heart leads me. Some of it has involved my clown persona named Feather who is a sparkly faced, wing wearing faerie. Other times, I have spoken at events, answered crisis hotline phones, donated my promotional services, offered Reiki to people and animals, and worked in a community recycling center. I’m not saying this to blow my own horn, but to share that there are so many opportunities to be of service.

I see all of us as having the chance to be God’s eyes, hearts and hands here on Earth.

A call to do that arrived this past weekend. After three days of fun in the sun at the XPoNential Music Festival,  where I had the joy of immersing in music, dancing, singing and playing with friends, I felt full to overflowing, tired and wired.

I was walking back to the car with a mildly screaming blister on my toe, wanting nothing more than to get home, take a shower  to wash off the sweat and grit, tend to my toe and get some much needed sleep. I was in the company of two of the most heart centered people I know: my cousin Jody Weiner-Rosenblum, who like me, is a social worker and Paul Dengler, who in addition to being an artist, writer and musician, is a Forrest Gump impersonator.

We share a common belief that if we can help, we should,  that we are always at the right place at the right time, that love is the most powerful force on the planet and that miracles are always happening around us. We just need to be aware of them.

A few minutes after leaving the park, we came across a man who was sitting on the grass and crying, He was missing a few teeth in front of his mouth and was surrounded  by a few meager possessions. He told us his name (let’s call him James) and that he had been living on the streets for awhile. His wife had left him, he had no job, some of  his belongings had been stolen and he exists hand to mouth. We gave him a small amount of money, the food we had remaining in our coolers, a t-shirt I had brought along; but perhaps, even more than that, a sense of hope for a better future.

As we were talking with him, a car pulled up and two young women came out and offered food and clothes as well. One confessed that if she didn’t have family support, she too might have become homeless. It occurred to me that we all are James—frightened and faith-filled, wounded and willing to be more than that.

He continued to cry as he hugged us all over and over, telling us that God is good and that he was sorry. He also shared that the day before, he had entertained thoughts of ending his life. Jody and I launched into therapist mode, asking about plan and intent. He assured us that he would not act on the thoughts.

I pointed to the lighted sign on top of the local inner-city hospital and encouraged him to go there if the thoughts came back. He agreed.

I sense that beyond the physical items we gave him, what was more important was that this man who may have felt invisible and invaluable, was seen and loved by a group of “star-crossed strangers” who showed up on stage at the same time.

A few hours later, as I was standing in my shower, cleansing  away the sweat and dirt and then putting ointment on my toe, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I have a home to which I could return and all of the creature comforts that allowed me to sleep in safety and a life in which all of my needs are met.

Are we our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? I think so.

We are invited to be of service to each other, knowing that we all matter and can make a difference. Kindness is contagious.

Hopefully, James will rise above his circumstances and pay it forward.




Author: Edie Weinstein

Editor:  Renée Picard

Image: Jim Fischer at Flickr 

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