‘If one be found slain in the land...’

Long before illness or in extreme cases death results, the homeless person feels he has no part in a cold, insensitive society.

An elderly woman. [illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
An elderly woman. [illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“If one be found slain in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath smitten him ... And all the elders of that city, who are nearest unto the slain man ... shall speak and say: ‘Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.’” – Deuteronomy 21:1-9.
Three-and-a-half weeks ago, a 50-year-old homeless man died of hypothermia on the streets of Holon. It was briefly reported in the major Israeli newspapers, without a title or even subtitle.
Tragically, his name wasn’t even mentioned; he was just another statistic. The next day there were no protests, no outcry.
The Mishnah asks regarding the above-quoted verses: “Why must the elders declare ... that they didn’t spill his blood, when it’s clear that they didn’t kill him?” The Jerusalem Talmud clarifies that the man might have died as a result of the fact that he wasn’t accompanied, fed and his economic needs taken care of. Thus, the elders make their declaration to clear themselves of criminal negligence.
The problem of homeless individuals is not particular to Israel. It exists all over the world. People lose jobs, get divorced or can’t pay mortgages. When there is no family support, these people literally find themselves in the streets. In the streets, it can get cold – but long before illness or in extreme cases death results, the homeless person feels he has no part in a cold, insensitive society.
After hunger-striking outside the house of Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, he kindly granted me a meeting. My request was simply for a human solution. Firstly, that all those living on the streets should be immediately offered shelter and basic living conditions – youth hostels, guest houses or something of the sort. Secondly, the formation of an intergovernmental committee (with representatives of all relevant ministries) to advocate both for those who had rights but were not getting what they were entitled to as a result of the cold bureaucratic maze, as well as those who according to present criteria don’t have rights, in order to present a series of recommendations that would become regulations to assist them to start afresh.
The minister and his aides were unaware of the Knesset report on the homeless describing the 3,000 to 5,000 homeless in Israel. He further claimed that he had no budgetary allocation to address the problem at the root. However, he agreed to set up an intergovernmental committee to verify the rights of the homeless within 10 days. Since then I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to verify if the committee was indeed created.
One morning last week, as I sat in protest, I was approached by four eight-year-old children who asked: “Why are you on hunger strike?” I thought for a moment and replied with a question: “Tell me, if someone lost all his money, and he was so poor that he was living in the street, who do you think is poorer: He who lives on the street or he looks the other way and pretends he doesn’t see?” All four children answered “he who looks the other way.” In their innocence these young Israeli children understood something basic that we as adults have simply forgotten.
Darkness gives one motivation to look for light. Pain gives us motivation to look for relief. It’s not just the homeless that we’re crying about. Do we want our children to outgrow their rich innocence and adopt a poor, cynical, skeptical cold approach to their brethren? The truth is that we do care, however we believe that our feelings are powerless – we’ve simply forgotten that our feelings are powerful. The second we reclaim our authentic power we’ll empower our leaders to feel or to be replaced by others who feel. At the end of the day we’re all family and not strangers.
You can find out more about this project at Facebook.com/OurFamilyInTheCold. Join us for a demonstration on Thursday, February 23 at 5:00 p.m. outside the president’s residence – The Jewish national home is a warm home for everyone.
The author is a long-time humanitarian Zionist activist. He is currently in the third week of a hunger strike for housing for Israel’s homeless.