February 1, 2009
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Jacob Montgomery

After one spends time in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, the sight of homeless people in American cities becomes normal, just one of the more unpleasant aspects of urban life. Seeing people sleeping in parks and on benches becomes an ordinary sight, one that doesn’t seem disturbing or unusual. However, as Jews and as human beings, we have a responsibility to see the humanity in every single person and to take action to improve the lives of other people. We are all created in the image of God, and therefore, no one should have to sleep outside on a cold evening or go without food for an entire day. There are two approaches we should take to lessen the severity of homelessness: do small acts of kindness and better utilize our government to solve problems.

All human beings have pride and have some sense of self-value. However, when one is forced to beg for food and to live on the street, these feelings are weakened. When I walk by a homeless person in the street, it is important to keep that person’s humanity and sense of self in mind. If I treat that person with the respect and the dignity that I, myself, would like to be treated with, I know I can increase the possibility of having a positive impact on that person’s life. Simply smiling and saying hello can be a great thing for a homeless person to hear. When combining these acts of common courtesy with a small donation, such as some food or clothing, I can make an individual’s life just a bit better. Sometimes, a few encouraging words or a few shirts and pairs of socks help a homeless person survive a little longer.

As a person living comfortably within a stable family, I feel responsible to help a person who does not have what I have, whose life is a struggle. Americans often have the mindset that we don’t give up anything we own, and that each man should fend for himself. Some people hold onto their wealth, feeling that the less fortunate can improve their own lives; they don’t feel an obligation toward the lives of people who had the misfortune of being born into poverty. But I know many people are given comfortable lives by circumstance, by being born into affluent families.

In the book of Genesis we are told that we are all created in the image of God, but these words only have meaning if we act on them. By helping the homeless one person at a time, we are affirming our belief in the divinity of each human and acting more divine ourselves.

Lobbyists for large oil corporations and healthcare insurance companies tend to reinforce the way our government ignores America’s poor. There are no paid lobbyists for homeless people; we must be their advocates. The problem of homelessness is important for everyone, because we, too, might be but one bad decision or one unlucky break away from being homeless ourselves. It is the responsibility of every single person living a comfortable life to try to make the lives of the less fortunate comfortable as well. This is our responsibility as Jews and as human beings.

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Jacob Montgomery is a high school junior in Medford, NJ. While in PanimWorks: DC JAM, a program of PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leader ship and Values, he spent last summer volunteer ing in a pre-school for children living in shelters and transitional housing. This essay won a Sh’ma-PANIM competition among PANIM alumni respond ing to a question about how an individual, personally, addresses homelessness on the street.

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