To See the Unseen, to Help Humans Being

<i> Leonard I. Beerman, the founding rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple, served on the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Committee for Affordable Housing</i>

In the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, God says of his newly created world that it is “very good.”

“Not for me,” disputed Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. “For me, such as it is, is no good--except for blowing your nose in it.”

Far too many people today agree with the rabbi’s acid words of 150 years ago. During the 1980s, too many denied even the old tangle of sorrow and joy. Too many only felt pleasure in having managed to stumble through the decade’s debris, glad they will not see it again.

Two-thirds of the world’s population still goes to bed every night asking, “When do we eat?” Even in America, one of seven lives in poverty. The 1980s have been particularly cruel to the American poor, whose numbers have swollen. Most of them are Anglos, but a disproportionate number are blacks and Latinos. They are young, middle-aged, elderly; able-bodied and disabled; single and married with children. They constitute a true cross section of the nation.


Most victims of poverty are invisible, often crowded into substandard dwellings. The most visible are the homeless, an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million nationwide. Roughly 40,000 live in Los Angeles. We see them on the streets, in parks, doorways and alleys, but we do not touch their world, those strangers in our midst. Worse, forces beyond their control--the dramatic decline of affordable housing, marketplace volatility, government indifference and the anxiety, the fears of a bewildered public--have made the homeless largely superfluous.

What do we owe these members of our community who have been shoved to the margins of society?

The 1990s will provide a fresh opportunity to respond if we can recover the generosity of spirit that is Americans’ greatest greatness. We only need envision a community of human beings dedicated to each other’s fulfillment.

Carl Sandburg captured that hope when he wrote:

Shall all wanderers over the earth, all homeless ones,

all against whom doors are shut and words spoken--

shall these find the earth less strange tonight?

Shall they hear news, a whisper on the night wind?


I believe the broken, the lonely and the outcasts shall find the Earth less hostile, less forbidding because of what we, with heart and hand, can do in the decade ahead.