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The Invisible Population

Shabbat Ha-Chodesh (Numbers 9:1-1:47/ Exodus 12:1-20)

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The first time I saw a beggar on the streets of Los Angeles I was shocked. The man, disheveled and filthy, stood on the freeway offramp with a tattered sign: "Will Work for Food." Sure, there are beggars in Calcutta and panhandlers in New York, but not here! I stared at him for a long time until my children began to question: "Why is that man standing there? Why is he so dirty? Why does he look so sad?" That was some years ago. Now, we don't notice. Now, we cruise down the offramp and don't see. The beggars and bag ladies have become part of our urban landscape: There's the tree, the traffic light, the indigent. Perhaps even more disturbing is that the kids don't notice any more. They've grown accustomed to the presence of poverty and degradation in their midst. It no longer shakes them up. And should they notice, they feel no connection, no compassion, no obligation. The poor are another species, citizens of another dimension. They have no claim on us. They are invisible.

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