On a chilly December day, the Jewish community gathered in San Francisco to learn and help the homeless. Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for the Homeless and the Jewish Community Relations Council sponsored the Jewish community’s participation in the city-wide mega-event which connected the homeless with supplies and support resources needed to help survive the winter months.
“This is one of so many stories in our tradition that teach us the centrality of home,” Rabbi Beth Singer said during the morning learning. “Too many of us take it for granted—and why not? Everyone should have a home. The big deal is that not everyone does.”
After spending time learning, the Jewish volunteers went to their work stations among the 900 volunteers and participants that filled the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. The group helped with logistics, passed out supplies, assisted with foot washing and provided massages.
Rosalind Franklin greeted the homeless as they entered the event. “Every time I check someone in, I hear a little bit about their story, and it’s such a privilege to just sit and listen—because it is a private, vulnerable thing,” she said of her experience. “And it’s so easy for us to go around in our everyday bubble, I do think it’s really important to take time out to see, and hear and feel a little bit.”
Emil Knopf, a Holocaust survivor and longtime volunteer, helped guide the homeless throughout the stadium. Referencing the millions of Jews made homeless by the Holocaust, he said that the Jewish community has a special responsibility to help those in need. “We Jews know what it means to be homeless,” he explained, adding that while most American Jews today are fortunate enough to have homes and jobs, “During the 15th to 18th centuries, 15 to 25 percent of the Jewish community were either paupers or unemployed.”
As the line that snaked around the block disappeared at the end of the day, Bevan Dufty, director of the city’s Housing Opportunity and longtime homeless advocate, pronounced the day a success.
“This day makes me really happy,” Dufty said. “Especially to see the Jewish community come out like this—it’s not surprising, but it makes me feel very proud every time.”