“Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked cover her, and do not to hide yourself from your own flesh. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily, your righteousness shall go before you…” (Isaiah 58:7-8)
Jewish sacred scripture and Rabbinic law implores us time and again to care for the poor and hungry in our midst with dignity and compassion. In ancient Israel, farmers were commanded to leave the corners of their field for the poor to gather the dropped grain in anonymity. Later in Jewish history, every town and village had a tamhui (soup kitchen), a kuppah (charity box), as well as clothing and burial resources for those in need.
Jewish law codes compiled in the Middle Ages suggest hierarchies of charity. According to laws of charity discussed in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 251), women in need take precedence over men. One’s poor relatives should be tended to before strangers. Meeting the needs of the poor in one’s own town comes before caring for the poor of other towns, and the poor in Eretz Yisrael take precedence overall. We are also encouraged to dispense charity to the non-Jewish poor in our midst in order to foster peace in community.
The essential holiness inherent in these foundational mitzvot has endured for 1500 years in Jewish communities throughout the world (including our own) prior to and upscaled since the onset of COVID-19. Once community leaders began to anticipate the potential fallout of the current pandemic, our Jewish Federation wasted no time in creating a network of outreach and information for Orange County’s Jewish community. JCC Cares and synagogue social action groups began holding emergency blood drives and rallying to help fill shelves at local food banks that are working around the clock to meet the burgeoning need. And it has only just begun.
From the time of our founding four years ago, the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County has made social action an integral part of our programming in service to our overall vision for collaborative community tzedakah, dedicating financial resources to supporting refugees, nurturing those in recovery from addiction, and serving OC’s growing homeless population. We have collected and delivered food, clothing and other supplies to local shelters including the Courtyard Shelter in Santa Ana. Last November, City Net offered us the opportunity to prepare and serve a monthly dinner to Courtyard Shelter residents. More than 30 community volunteers joined in that effort.
Since the mandate to shelter-in-place was issued in March, City Net staff has had to devise new ways to ensure that all their clients across 16 cities and four SoCal counties would have access to breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In efforts to support our network of community partners, the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County stepped up to provide funding for 15,000 disinfectant wipes for front-line workers to use in their battle to keep all facilities virus-free. We also underwrote and provided 1000 meal kits for distribution to shelters, temporary hotels and those still living out-of-doors.
Now, through our newly created Tzedak-a-the-Month project, we are working to provide thousands of pairs of underwear and canvas shoes, as well as face masks, boxed and bottled beverages, additional disinfectant wipes and meal kits.
Of course we are not alone. Throughout our local Jewish community, people are actively supporting food drives for those most impacted. Families Forward alone provides groceries to more than 600 families visiting their food pantry on a weekly basis. They need all the help we can provide as do our local food banks.
At JCoOC, we have also found creative ways to help our most vulnerable in these extraordinary times. For example, on Mother’s Day, JCoOC co-produced (with the Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys) a virtual concert, “Heart and Home: A Tribute to Mothers and Those Who Nurture,” an effort to raise money for Urban Voices Project and other organizations currently providing emergency relief to our brothers and sisters living on skid row.
Wherever Tikkun Olam is happening, you will find our community. We invite you to learn more and become involved with our charitable work. Visit our website (JewishColllaborativeOC.org) or write to Joy@JewishCollaborativeOC.org to become engaged. Those who are able and so moved are encouraged to join JCoOC’s “Tzedak-a-the-Month” Club. Your one-time and recurring donations will be used toward funding the projects listed above and building our ongoing efforts to provide relief to members of the Jewish community in need. We are most grateful for all contributions of time, fiscal resources and loving spirit. TODAH RABAH!
Rabbi Marcia Tilchin is the founder and spiritual leader of the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County.