TEEmail_February 2015_Lawrence

This Week In Torah

There’s No Place Like Home

I, and perhaps others, like to look at Temple Emanu El as a spiritual home. Modern Hebrew recognizes this, since the name for a synagogue in Hebrew is beit k’nesset, which translates as “a gathering house.” At our synagogue, we come together to pray, learn, celebrate, mourn, and most importantly, to enjoy each other’s company over food. Since we need homes, it makes sense that God needs one too. This week’s parshah, terumah, gives the Israelites specific instructions for God’s appropriately lavish home, called the mishkan (literally, “resting place”). Every person, like God, deserves to have a safe place that they can call home, but for too many people this is not the case.

On a single day in January 2013, roughly 610,000 people across the U.S. were homeless. This is a decrease compared to the previous year (3.7%), but 20 states saw an increase in their homeless populations.[1] Ohio was one of the states that saw a decrease in homeless population, (from 13,977 to 12,325) but that is primarily due to the fact that a large Transitional Housing program was temporarily closed.[2] Even though there are fewer people without homes, there are still a sizable number of people who are at-risk of becoming homeless. There has been a slight increase in the number of impoverished people, and an almost equally slight increase in the number of people who are under an extreme housing cost burden, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on housing. This goes to show that while the homeless population in America may currently be decreasing, that could easily not be the case in the future.[3]

The homeless assistance system has been running at near maximum capacity since 2007 with a variety of services to help fulfill the basic human right to housing.[4] According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and of their family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control.”[5]

Even with the homeless assistance system running at nearly maximum capacity, in 2013 over 215,000 unsheltered people in our country had one of their most fundamental human rights violated.[6] It is outrageous to me that so many in our nation are deprived of this essential human need, since we as Jews are commanded to “. . . take the wretched poor into your home. . .and do not ignore your own kin.”[7] We view Abraham in the highest regard because he went out of his way to invite homeless wandering strangers into his tent. Even in the midst of World War II, our most hated enemy recognized the humanity of those they captured, and provided shelter to those living in the camps. Let us work together to help thousands of people regain their basic right to a home, so that we in the future might be able to say, “Never again.”

For more information on how to help, check out the following resources:

  • “National Coalition for the Homeless” http://www.nationalhomeless.org/ A valuable resource with lots of information on causes and geography of homelessness, along with many ways to get involved to help end homelessness
  • “National Alliance to End Homelessness” http://www.endhomelessness.org/ Similar to the National Coalition in its resources and ability to get involved. The National Alliance is partnered with Amazon with the Amazon Smile program, meaning that if you so choose you can have a percentage of Amazon’s profits go to the National Alliance with every purchase you make.
  • “National Low Income Housing Coalition” http://nlihc.org/ Many advocates for the homeless regularly profess the need for more affordable housing, since it’s evident the homeless assistance system can’t take care of everyone. This coalition has many ways to get involved, especially with helping get appropriate legislature moved through congress.
  • “Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio” http://cohhio.org/index.php If you’re interested on focusing closer to home, this coalition is centered exclusively on taking care of those in housing needs in Ohio. Like the other websites, there are many ways for you to get involved in making a different in our own state.

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור‫, ולא אתה בן חורין לבטל ממנה

lo alecha ham’lacha ligmor, v’lo atah ven chorin libatel mimena

“It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to abstain from it.”

Rabbi Tarfon, Avot 2:16

Cantor Rick Lawrence


[1] “The State of Homelessness in America 2014.” The State of Homelessness in America 2014. Washington DC: National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2014. 14-15. Web. http://b.3cdn.net/naeh/c0c5bc347638fc86d5_qem6ihsg4.pdf

[2] “Key Findings.” Ohio Homeless Report 2013. Columbus: Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, 2014. 1. Web. http://cohhio.org/files/2013%20Ohio%20Homelessness%20Report%2C%20text-2.pdf

[3] “The State of Homelessness in America 2014.”

[4] Ibid

[5] Edgar, Bill, and Joe Doherty. Access to Housing: Homelessness and Vulnerability in Europe. Bristol: Policy, 2002. Print. Edited to remove gendered pronouns.

[6] “The State of Homelessness in America 2014.”

[7] Isaiah 58:7