January 19, 2019

Helping the poor on Purim

It was Purim, and the people of Skid Row were rushing Shari and Maya Rosenman’s minivan at Seventh Street and Gladys Avenue.

Maya Rosenman, a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts who was home on spring break, scrambled to provide bags full of supplies to the dozens and dozens of people grabbing at the piles stacked in the van’s trunk. Meanwhile, her mother sat at the wheel, ready to help the pair make a quick getaway if the situation became threatening — which, arguably, it already had.

“I was sort of expecting it, but it was also overwhelming,” said Maya Rosenman, 17.  “Although I wasn’t scared, I was thinking the whole time, if I need to get out of here, which way am I going to move?”

Her mother said there was a lot packed into a short amount of time.

“Maya and I were both moved by the whole experience, and it felt like something I should be doing more regularly,” she said.

The mother and daughter from B’nai David-Judea Congregation (BDJ) were among some 15 people — including congregants from BDJ, Temple Beth Am and Temple Isaiah — who handed out about 350 bags on March 16 to the needy of Skid Row, Santa Monica and Venice Beach as part of the Purim obligation of matanot la’evyonim (gifts to the poor). The bags were filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, first-aid kits, toiletries, socks, tissues and more. 

The activity was part of Operation PB&J, a program that was started by a non-Jewish organization known as The Giving Spirit, and which BDJ member Albert Cohen brought to the congregation several years ago. 

College student Maya Rosenman delivers a bag of food and supplies to a homeless person on Skid Row.

Every year for Purim, BDJ and the other congregations do their own programming that provides a serious contrast to the merriment of the holiday by venturing out into the L.A. streets and handing out food and supplies to the poverty-stricken.

“Isn’t that what Judaism is all about?” Cohen told the Journal. “It’s about as important as anything you can do.

“Sunday morning really demonstrates how serious the homeless problem is in Los Angeles,” he said.

As a Rambam interpretation of the laws of the Megillah, the text read on Purim, says, “It is better for a person to increase in the gifts of the poor than increase in his festival meal.”

Cohen and the others weren’t the only ones to take the Rambam at his word. In a separate project on Sunday, Shtibl Minyan of Pico-Robertson sent volunteers to distribute food and supplies in Santa Monica and elsewhere.