…and It’s Opon Us.
This week I offer a longer than usual email; please stay with it, as the message concerns Each and Every One of Us.
The Los Angeles homeless population proliferates like a plague of human depravity. While driving down Venice Boulevard, I watched as traffic slowed down and swerved to avoid an unkempt, elderly man unsuccessfully navigate his wheelchair across the street. I stopped my car in the middle of the street, stopped traffic, and moved him to safety. Asking where he lived, he pointed to an encampment nearby. I wondered why I was the only one to stop, why we have elderly individuals living in encampments and how each and every one of us can convert our hearts to say, “It is upon me to help in any way I can.”
Feeling utter futility and tasting tears on my burning cheeks, with a heavy heart I returned to my car and drove to my doctor’s appointment.
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
About a month ago, while riding my bicycle through Venice, I happened upon a woman sitting outside of the Oakwood Rec Center and began a conversation with her. I learned that Germaine was living in a homeless shelter that was about to close. I invited her to share her story at the Passover Seder Crawl, and after that event, many of our hearts turned to find a solution for Germaine, and her son, Chris. Open Temple’s Electric Starfish Project began as a collective of individuals who circled around one houseless individual and advocated for them through the labyrinthine system of social services. We found inspiration in the above essay from American anthropologist Loren Eiseley entitled “The Star Thrower”. Eiseley was also the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the UPenn. Considered a “modern day Thoreau”, his virtuous work connects the world of social science, culture and science as a call to humanize our civilization.
This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Emor, asks us to hear “the holy utterances” in our midst, and cultivate justice as an essential quality of character (or middah/virtue). It reminds us that justice does not dwell in the savage mind, but requires a cerebral calisthenic that elevates our consciousness to seek and create justice from the chaos and ugliness that is also a part of the human condition, literally a ladder of neurons moving from the more primitive part of our brain, the amygdala, to our pre-frontal cortex. Eiseley, and the scribes of Parshat Emor, whisper to us from the beyond: “Do Something with those emotions of anger, frustration, indignance and futility. Go Find Your Starfish.”
The above photo, “Bashert”, was emailed to Open Temple from Chris and Germaine Montgomery as an expression of gratitude for our work moving them from houseless to home. The word “Bashert, or Beshert,” means “soulmate,” and most commonly refers to our fated life mate. But, as any Starfish washed upon the shore can attest, one simple act of kindness can turn the course of fate for another with an impact resetting the course of history.
Germaine received the key to her new apartment this week, and sent this text:
“I’m surfing channels and what’s on…Yentl. You are a blessing to us. Thanks so much. Now I can rest my mind. Signed lease, got keys. Looking for stuff to make it home now…I appreciate all the support. Thank you Open Temple.”
Germaine returns to the sea of her life; but, what about the elderly man on Venice Boulevard? What about the encampment near Erewhon, the homeless on Ocean Front Walk… and on and on and on. It is clear that our local, county and state government are not solving this problem at a pace that provides immediate relief. Sure, we can continue to move about Los Angeles with our hearts dissatisfied with the lack of solutions and other feelings of futility or disempowerment. Or, we can seek-out our own Bashert.
Beachcomb Your Starfish:
Open Temple Electric Starfish Project circles NOW FORMING throughout Venice and the Westside. We join forces with other local agencies and take justice into our own hearts and hands. Enter into the next cohort of OT Electric Starfish Project, and find a way to help the humans on our streets by letting them know that They Matter: