"Community and Kindness" by Ethan Stone
I was raised is a house in west Los Angeles, located in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and I have lived there my entire life. No matter which direction you walk once you leave my house, there is a temple at the end of the block. When I think about my home, my mind floods with memories of family and the welcoming abundance of life that is present there. Whether it’s one of my family members, my dad’s office assistant, Jenny, or one of my many cousins, there is always at least one extra person in my house at any given time. Growing up Jewish and living in an orthodox neighborhood has taught me the importance of community, which is the foundation for all Jewish beliefs and practices. The Jewish people believe that “membership in a Jewish community has always demanded a sense of shared destiny, manifested in the obligation to care for other members of the community” (Jacobs, para. 14). Being a part of such a large community has also shown me how important kindness is; how the simple act of being kind to someone can help them deal with even the largest problems in their lives.
I was raised Jewish, and I identify as Jewish, but I would not consider myself a religious person. Instead, I see myself as “culturally Jewish” and identify with aspects of Jewish belief. A major part of practicing Judaism, and one that I follow, is doing mitzvot, which can be defined as “good deeds.” Performing mitzvot daily is seen as a religious duty to Jewish people, who believe that “a person's attitudes are molded by [their] behavior” (Freeman, 2011, para. 7). If everyone were to perform one mitzvah a day, then we would be closer to a world of selfless individuals, who collectively work to make Earth a happier place to live. As the well-known essayist Roy Kesey remarks, “our future is death” (2016), so why not spend the time we have giving back, performing mitzvot? These are simple acts to take on, and they can quite literally change someone’s life. Every act of kindness brightens our world just a little bit, and anybody, at any time, can choose to give kindness to others—not just to those within our immediate families or friend groups or communities, but to everyone.
In point of fact, Los Angeles has a problem with the number of homeless people living in the county. That number only increases with each passing year. Communities of homeless people can be found everywhere from Beverly Hills to Lancaster to Burbank; yet, we pretend not to notice. According to the L.A. Times, “[t]here are now more than 57,000 people who lack a ‘fixed, regular or adequate place to sleep’ on any given night” (2018, para. 3), and they all struggle for the basic necessities that most of us take for granted. Things like clean water, food, a place to bathe, and toilets are difficult for them to find and a large portion of the population in Los Angeles chooses not to do anything about it. Thankfully, the Jewish community around my house is not like most of the population. They choose to help and support those who are affected by homelessness.
Just in front of my house, you can usually find a lovely Israeli woman named Ruti, standing by her car. Ruti is homeless and lives in her two cars, which are parked on my street. As far as I know, Ruti has no close family, except for a brother in Israel, who she no longer speaks to. Yet, despite having almost nothing to call her own, Ruti continues to have a happy outlook on life and a positive attitude toward the people around her. The nearby temples and the Jewish community support her by bringing her food and letting her use the shower in their facilities. She has been there for as long as I can remember, and she acts as our neighborhood watch. If anything goes on on our street, Ruti is watching and tells us about it. She also reminds me to move my car for street cleaning on Mondays and Tuesdays. Because my local Jewish community has done countless mitzvot for her, Ruti has been able to make connections with the people around her and can rest easier each night, not having to worry about sleeping on an empty stomach. Ruti reminds me everyday that even if your environment or the people around you change unexpectedly, being able to make meaningful connections with those around you ensures that someone will always be looking out for you. Someone will be there to help you survive and perservere through the toughest of circumstances.
Having a house that is always full of life and people who care for one another makes it easy to forget that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a community they can call their own. Even though Ruti has faced hardships and challenges in the past that left her homeless, she found her way into the middle of a large Jewish community, full of supportive people. By being kind and interacting with the people around her, she has cemented herself as a member of my neighborhood’s community, and, in return, we all look out for her. Every morning when I walk outside to leave for school, Ruti is shouting my name and wishing me a good day of studies. When I return, she greets me and asks how my day was, and we talk for a few minutes before I go on with my routine. She always has a welcoming smile on her face, which makes her a joy to interact with. Our community gives her so much food on a daily basis that, often times, she has nowhere to keep the leftovers and ends up giving it back to the neighborhood. Have you ever heard of a middle-class family with a roof over their heads receiving food from the homeless? But Ruti understands all of us to be part of her family, and we include her in ours. That’s why I believe that if everyone took it upon themselves to perform one mitzvah everyday, a lot of us would feel much happier, and the world would brighten just a little bit. As Kesey says in the final words of his essay, “It is too late for most things but not all” (2016).
Freeman, T. (2011) What is a mitzvah? Chabad. Retrieved from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1438516/jewish/Mitzvah.htm.
Jacobs, J. The importance of community in Judaism. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved from https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/community-focused/.
Kesey, R. (2016) Contingency procedures are in effect. The House That Made Me. Tempe, AZ: Spark Press.
Times Editorial Board. (2018, Feb 25) Los Angeles homelessness crisis is a national disgrace. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-homeless-crisis-overview-20180225-htmlstory.html.
Ethan is a transfer student to Woodbury University from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is majoring in Game Design and has high hopes of creating the next big eSports sensation. Although writing has never been his strongest subject, Ethan enjoys the writing process and the freedom it gives him to let his creativity and personal background flourish on the page. He wrote this essay while reflecting on what it means to be a good person in the Jewish community and how even the smallest act of kindness can have a profound effect on the people around him.