Your Town’s Poor Take Precedence over Those from Other Towns

by Bambi Sheleg

We live in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is a colorful place where many different kinds of people are gathered. There are Jews from the United States, from the former Soviet Union, from Islamic countries, and native Israeli Jews, religious, secular, traditional, rich and poor.

In the last few years I find myself thinking a lot about the neighborhood where I reside – and the gap that exists between me and the people who live here. On one hand, we have lived here for over twenty years. On the other, my life has not been particularly involved with my neighborhood. I am immersed in my journalistic work and my family, and these consume all of my time. It occurred to me that there may be a lot of things to do in this neighborhood, but I am not aware of them because my entire attention is concentrated on my work and family.

I have been thinking lately that the technological and value systems in which we live cut us off from our immediate surroundings in many ways. We spend too much time talking to people who are far away from us, with whom we have only superficial ties, and whose fate is not tied to ours, while we neglect the people that are close by, because their physical proximity is so taken for granted that it does not command our interest.

To me the precept, “Your city’s poor come first” refers to poverty not only in monetary terms, but also in attention. Those closest to us – in our family, in our social circle, and among our people at large – often don’t appear to need our attention. They are there, like the sky and the sun. It is as if they do not require nourishment and care, because they are already present. By contrast, those far away from us seem more challenging and intriguing, just because of their distance from us.

Comes the Jewish tradition and tells us: you are mistaken. Your poor, those close to you, are the ones that should interest you the most. The treasure is not under some far away bridge; it is close by. You should focus your interest on those close to you. Give them your attention. This will give you strength and a stronger anchor in life than investing your time in far-away people who do not share the same destiny.

And if we are talking about the destiny of the Jewish people, we can say, by extension, that we should take an interest in both Jews who are near, and those who are far away . And if they are far, let’s bring them closer to our “town”, i.e. to our consciousness. Too often our attention is given to correcting the situation of people that are far removed from us, and we fail to notice that so many Jews desperately need our attention. The economic situation of these Jews may be fine, but they are impoverished in the sense of lacking closeness to other Jews. They lack a sense of belonging, and the consciousness that their Judaism is significant to them and to us.

Even if we are not aware of it, the Jewish People needs a long process of rehabilitation. The essence of this process is our interest in ourselves. “Our town’s poor come first”, our own interconnections – their strength and vibrancy – are what will strengthen our people anew.

Bambi Sheleg is the founding editor of Eretz Acheret.

This article is from the series, Peoplehood – Between “Charity Begins at Home” and “Repair the World”.