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From Rabbi Kulwin, 11/29/2011
Saturday night we – about 75 teenagers and 25 adults – headed into Newark on the annual Midnight Run. As always, it was a moving, eye opening experience, but this year more than usual. In general, when we pull up to the Apostle’s House there may be a line of 100 or so waiting to see what goods we have brought with us. This year, there were more than three times that many.
Even a 26 -foot truck (driven, as always, by yours truly) packed to the gills did not have enough food, clothing, and other life necessities for everyone, and for the first time the participants saw some restlessness that, well, could have turned a corner. Happily, it didn’t, but the kids (and adults) got yet another lesson in real life.
Afterward, at the old Temple B’nai Abraham building in Newark, we made Havdallah, and I spoke as usual about the only difference between “you and the kids we just met is fate. You won the lottery; they didn’t.” Teenagers in general are not known as great attention-payers. But after the previous couple of hours, this is always a moment when that is not a problem.
I brought one of the kids forward and asked everyone to pretend that he had had a terrible accident and was burned over 80% of his body. Then I asked them to imagine – as I acted it out – that I was putting ointment and a bandage on his little finger. Was I doing something useful? Yes, they admitted. Was it helping him? It was, they agreed. Did it make a difference? Well…yes, although a very, very small one.
That, I explained, is what we had just done: something useful and important and it genuinely helped people. But also just the tiny tip of the enormous iceberg of urban poverty and homelessness that exists today. The point? If we are serious about doing good, it has to be on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, we simply make occasional cameo appearances which may make us feel good but don’t really accomplish a heckuva lot. Remember Lady Bountiful?
An interesting coda to the evening was Sunday night’s 60 Minutes broadcast. Below is a link for an absolutely stunning episode. Watch it, and make sure your kids do too. Even the most entitled among us will feel grateful for what they have.