The Torah of Chesed and Homes
At VBS, we teach that Jewish life rests on four pillars -- Torah, Avodah (worship), Havurah (fellowship) and Gemilut Hasadim, acting on our ethics in the world and treating others with loving kindness. As leaders of our VBS Homelessness Task Force, we take that message to heart by studying Torah together, researching the structural causes of homelessness in our city, and taking action to address the moral crisis of 47,000 people living in our county without homes.

We came together as a response to Rabbi Farkas' Rosh Hashanah sermon in 2013, about his personal experience getting to know a homeless man living under the freeway near VBS. We were moved to take action including:
  • Launching a series of job skills training workshops at LA Family Housing.
  • Joining our ongoing Feeding the Hungry meal service team at Hope of the Valley.
  • VBS Day School Families led a drive to collect "Welcome Home" household supplies for families moving out of homelessness and into new homes.
  • Serving as a deployment site for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority annual census to count the homeless.

In addition to our congregation's direct service work, we have advocated successfully for policy change. We've built a coalition of faith communities, nonprofit groups and elected officials to advocate for those living without homes in our city and county. Together :
  • In October of 2015, we worked to get Los Angeles county to commit $300 million over 5 years to build affordable housing and provide rapid re-housing help for the county's most vulnerable residents.  
  • In  November 2016,  we worked on the City of Los Angeles Measure HHH ,which will build 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing in 10 years for the chronically homeless.
  • And now, with the passage of the County  Measure H , Los Angeles will marshall $3.35 billion over 10 years for services, including mental health, addiction treatment, street outreach, and other proven strategies. Measure H will get 45,000 people off our streets over the next 5 years, and keep another 30,000 in their homes.   

We do this work together because we care about our neighbors and we recognize the people on the streets are fellow human beings made in God's image. We understand that Jewish values can only be fully expressed by carrying them into the public sphere.

As leaders of this team, we are grateful for the opportunity to come together at Valley Beth Shalom to learn how we can begin to end homelessness in Los Angeles. For the dozens of VBS members who helped write postcards to voters asking for their support, for those who talked to a friend, family member, a fellow congregant about H, posted on social media, participated in a virtual phone bank, or handed someone a flyer, your work made the difference for homeless families in our community!

We are proud to share this sacred community of our synagogue, both inside its walls and beyond them, in Los Angeles and the world.

We are already working on our next effort that will build more affordable homes for the city's poorest residents. We welcome you to join our Homelessness Task Force. Acting together, we can strengthen our community bond and carry out our Jewish values of welcoming the stranger and caring for the poor.

Sincerely,
The Valley Beth Shalom Homelessness Task Force
Leaders: David Polinsky, Robin Permaul, Eric Schwimmer, Effie Braun, David Blumberg,  Jay Schuster, Rebecca Kuzins.

If you would like to get involved, please email Brooke Wirtschafter, Social Justice Program Manager, at: bwirtschafter@vbs.org.