An Exquisite Hunger for Action

I went to City Hall this morning to support the LAWomen15 — women fasting to advocate for a $15 minimum wage. The organizers had told me I could fast today “in solidarity” with them. My husband would be skipping breakfast for a scheduled blood test, so I could be in solidarity with him, too. I thought I’d do it.

I skipped my usual coffee and cereal while the kids got ready for school. I absentmindedly popped a raspberry into my mouth as I made their lunches. It’s easy to forget to fast when food is abundant.

As I was about to leave for the trip downtown, something caught my eye: On the kitchen counter, half an apple glistened on wooden cutting board. It had been a small apple to begin with. I’d sliced it and put it in my son’s lunchbox, along with raspberries, a granola bar, and a slice of pizza from last night’s dinner.

I considered the apple. I thought about how I’d feel stuck on a crowded freeway, my stomach empty. I could imagine its crunchy, moist, sweetness refueling my brain and body.

I ate it.

Hunger is something so painful that if you do not have to experience it, if you have a choice, you are compelled to relieve your discomfort, to satisfy your body’s basic need.

Some of the women who are fasting — full-time employees of McDonald’s and Burger King and Walmart — routinely choose between food and rent. That is NOT okay.

Mary Carmen LAWomen15

LAWomen15 2

LAWomen15

The LAWomen15 had not eaten for 14 days. They are being heard. Mayor Garcetti came down from the tower to the street to speak to them, saying he supported their action. Some Council members did the same. Then the women, followed by clergy of all faith, solidarity fasters, and supporters like me walked into City Hall. The women addressed the Council, the people who can change their situation.

City Council

They spoke eloquently. They were received with respect. They had sacrificed deeply, putting their bodies in jeopardy, to tell these sympathetic people, who had eaten breakfast and looked forward to lunch, that they needed to act with haste.

I followed them out of Council chambers, and left City Hall.

I walked two blocks, unapologetically knowing that food was my destination. I ordered a three dollar coffee, and felt both awe and guilt that I spent that much on empty calories that disappeared from the cup in two minutes. As I prepared to eat my gourmet sandwich, an uncommon, authentic sensation rolled through me: This called for a blessing. I took a deep breath, and exhaled a prayer of immense gratitude for the food I was about to eat.

Complacency is companion to plenty. I suffer from it as much as anyone, as much as the elected officials accustomed to studies, commissions, and five-year plans. Let these valiant women’s fast create an exquisite hunger for action.

Thankful for: Kids Helping Other People’s Kids

A shout out for kids helping kids – good news in the midst of, you know, mostly blechy news.

Our public middle school’s Community Service Club is asking their fellow students to help Safe Place for Youth. (By the way, I am tooting the horn of other people’s kids. Mine are not in this club, though I must say they do community service. Sometimes under duress. But still.)

IMG_6413[1]         IMG_6414[1]

Recall that all of SPY’s donated warm clothes and sleeping bags were destroyed in a fire.

Seeing these boxes bedecked with earnest handwritten pleas for donations was a welcome lift after the Parent Board meeting I had just left, which included the following snazzy agenda items:

  • Evacuation procedures in case of bomb threats!
  • Today’s “Shelter in Place Drill” (nee “Lockdown”) in case of active shooters!
  • Results from recent school fundraiser and pleas for several more fundraisers! (Because to be an excellent public school requires thousands of dollars more than they are allotted – for computers, science equipment, functioning sinks…you know, the “extras.”)
  • Gentle reminders about holiday gifts for teachers, because a little gift means a lot (see bullet point above re public school funding).

So the lovely part about this meeting was this news: Our heroic (yes, heroic; no snark or sarcasm should be read into this adjective) school administrators and counseling staff had identified two homeless families in our school. (That’s not the lovely part). The administrators had reached out to other school parents, and through the efforts, donations, and advocacy of many people, those families are now in temporary housing on their way to permanent housing, and have received donations of gift cards for supermarkets and restaurants so they can eat.

But wait, there’s more! Our counseling staff gives food gift cards to 25 additional families who, though housed, would go hungry without them. It’s especially crucial this week: with no school next week, those children miss their regular breakfast and lunch. (I’m cranky without breakfast for a day.)

Admittedly, with nearly 14,000 students in LAUSD homeless (no wonder LAUSD has its own Homeless Education program), helping two homeless families get housing is a drop in the bucket. But for those two families it is a waterfall of blessings. For the Community Service Club kids, whose collection boxes express their dream of a world that is kind, abundant, plentiful and whole, there’s no better lesson than this: changing the world one person, one coat, one meal, one family at a time is as good a way as any to change the world.

As overwhelmed as I can get by the enormity of need — to the point of doing nothing, because where to begin? — I appreciate the reminder, kids.

“Other People’s Kids”

I don’t want to be preachy, but sometimes I can’t help it. And that is okay, my dear readers, because you are the choir, and you forgive me.

Today’s sermon: There is no such thing as “other people’s kids.”

If they are kids, and if they are in crisis, and if we fancy ourselves grown-ups (not that I always do), they are our kids. We take care of them.

There, that wasn’t so bad. Simple, short and sweet.

In that spirit, I received in my inbox today a plea from Safe Place for Youth, a shelter just for teens, located in Venice, CA. A recent fire at a storage unit destroyed all of the warm clothes that had been generously donated to Safe Place for Youth to give to needy homeless teens. And even though we are in California (thank goodness) and not Minnesota (sorry Greg), the temps do dip: We broke out the hot chocolate last night; I’m wearing a sweater today. If this strikes a chord with you, click on the links above to help.

One last thing, if you’d like to get the word out about a place that needs help, please add your nominations in the comments here.

Laura

This Time We Can Help

My eight-year-old son comes to me in the dawning day in mismatched pajamas. He hesitates for a moment before climbing into my warm bed, then he speaks: “Time to snuggle.”

It is this exquisite moment I am trying not to think of as I suppress a sob a few hours later this morning.  I am sitting at Sarah’s kitchen table, listening to a woman I’ve just met describe her eighth year. That was the year she survived the Holocaust.

I know eight so well. I picture my son’s 2nd grade classroom full of energetic, earnest and exuberant boys and girls, whose greatest concerns are mastering handball and subtraction. I picture her at eight years old, watching her mother fall victim to a death march they were forced to endure. Other women, younger and stronger, urging her to keep going. She says she would not have survived without their help. Here she is now in Los Angeles, telling her story, strong and secure, with children and grandchildren of her own.

I am at a meeting of the Steering Committee for the Funds for Holocaust Survivors in Urgent Need. I have found my way here due to the plea of one of my Torah study mates, Sarah Moskovitz, a pioneering therapist to child survivors.  They have organized because the last survivors, the children who survived concentration camps and ghetto annihilations and death marches, the children who watched their brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents die, the children who were miraculously hidden and saved by righteous gentiles, need help.

The Committee, many of them survivors or children of survivors, discuss the situation. There are about 10,000 Holocaust survivors remaining in Los Angeles. Of those, about 3,000 are at or near the poverty line. They make daily choices between food, medicine and rent. These children of the Holocaust need not be put through suffering again, when they have us, their communal family, to help.

Sitting at my side, Samara Hutman, Executive Director of Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, expresses her view: “The world once stood by and allowed these most vulnerable people, these children, to suffer such agony. Now we have one last chance to do right by them.”

Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles provides help to these Survivors, but the financial support that once came from the German government as Restitution for Holocaust Survivors have now been cut. The need is great.

I’ve never done anything for Holocaust survivors. I’ve cried at films, I’ve visited museums, but I’ve done nothing. It seems so distant in time and place. But sitting next to a woman, elegantly dressed at this early hour, who says, “That was me. I lived that,” I am moved to action. Humbled by the strength and dedication of the people at this table, I offer what I can. We offer what we can. Jews, Gentiles, all of us. Like the women who would not let that little girl fall down when her mother could go no longer, we are their family.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact The 1939 Club at (310) 491-7802 or info@1939club.com or visit www.1939Club.com. To contribute, a tax deductible check may be written to The 1939 Club, 8950 Olympic Blvd. #437, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. You will be sent an acknowledgment and receipt. You may use the form below, or at visit the website of Kehillat Israel Synagogue.

Thank you.

Miracle Makers in our Midst

Everywhere I look are stories of regular folks accomplish amazing things.

Today’s L.A. Times front page shares a story of how two very different men — a homeless victim of a beating, and an ER doctor — met and came together to help others. Totally inspiring.