On Monday, our nation and community celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many of us enjoyed the day off; thousands marched to honor King’s passionate appeal to end violence and injustice.
Some of us marked this past weekend with service and volunteerism. Our congregation was honored to host more than 100 homeless men and women on a cold and rainy night. We provided a hot meal, a warm place to sleep and breakfast the next morning. One of our volunteers offered yoga for our guests to relax. A local band and a film provided an escape from being homeless.
I suspect that King would be surprised at how many shelters and programs have had to be created to serve the homeless. How sad that we have fallen short in fulfilling his vision. The division between rich and poor is greater than ever, and many families struggle to live a decent life.
One of my favorite quotes from King offers some encouragement: “If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
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There are many ways to further King’s vision, but it is definitely about moving forward, not backward. And that is what Sacramento Steps Forward is doing to raise our consciousness to eliminate homelessness. On any given night, more than 2,600 people are homeless in Sacramento County; about 5,200 will become homeless over the course of a year.
I am grateful to Sacramento Steps Forward’s Winter Sanctuary program for allowing congregations to do our small part to help the homeless. It is targeted to men and women who are lowest on the priority list for housing, yet are extremely vulnerable.
After I welcomed every guest Sunday night, I offered the following prayer, which hopefully gave some comfort:
May the Almighty bless all of you, this day and every day. May He keep you from physical and emotional harm, fill your hearts with hope for the future and for today. May He comfort you as you walk your difficult paths.
May the Almighty bless all of you with enough food to sustain you, with enough warmth to shield you from the elements, with the power to wrestle personal demons and win, with the will to go on and build your lives again.
May hope touch each of your hearts, your spirit and life, let the kindness of others bring lasting benefits, bring freedom from addiction, illness and misery, open your humanity to include and embrace yourselves.
May God bless you all with self-acceptance and love. May He spark your imaginations with belief in the future, bringing the possibility of a better life, a safer life and a more secure life.
We thank you, God, for the opportunity to be charitable to these 100 souls who were created in Your image. Bless all of the staff and volunteers of the Sacramento Winter Sanctuary Program and the volunteers from our congregation who are here tonight. And may we see the day when every single person here will have the blessings of a roof over their heads and the opportunity for a secure, warm home, which every citizen of this country deserves, and let us all say, amen.
Reuven H. Taff is rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. He can be contacted at rabbi@