Homeless in Israel
by kwame darkwa
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‘And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren you have done it unto me.’ (Yeshua Ha Mashiach; Matt 25:40)
Osu Street Ghana 19.00hrs.
It was dark. I walked briskly along the street careful not to fall into the open gutters. Experience had taught me how to navigate these dark openings the roadside. Now balancing delicately on the edges, then hopping over, finally when necessary, allowing other pedestrians the right of way. It was becoming easy. I thought about the tourists. Not so easy for them. Quite a few had walked away with bruised shins. In fact, as one tourist put it, one had not really had the African experience, until one fell into an open gutter. Gutters however, were not the main issue that occupied my mind. I had an agenda.
“Hey!” a voice called out. I turned to see five persons approaching in the dark. The street was badly illuminated, but car headlights provided some comfort. I counted others joining. The group soon numbered twelve. I stood still waiting. They surrounded me. Their body language and smiles put me at ease. They were the street boys. I had come to invited them to dinner…….
The street lady threw a bucket at me, shouting obscenities. I dodged the flying object and turned to face her. “Leave him alone,” she shouted. “You are bad people. You want to rob him of his money. Leave him alone” I tried to explain but she would have none of it. She picked up a stone, and flung it in my directions. It missed my head by some inches, and bounced off the wall.
I shouted at her to stop, at the same time directing Raphael to quickly finish his work. Something panicked the woman. She unexpectedly turned about, and ran off down the street. An Israeli police car drove towards us. It was a timely intervention. Looking after Joseph Levy, was proving to be more than we bargained for.
He stood outside the distribution center one cold morning wet, hungry and very much in need of attention. His face was weather beaten, and tanned. The dark brown eyes, sunk deep into their sockets. His unkempt hair and messy beard, made him look older than his years. He wore open summer sandals, on feet that looked dusty brown, scarred and toughened by years of walking rough, and barefooted. It seemed as though life, had not smiled kindly upon fifty –six year old ‘Yossi,’ as he was affectionately called.
He was wearing a black security jacket, with the word ‘FAITH’ sewn into it. It was one of those, which we handed out to homeless individuals, in the coldest weather, so as to keep them from dying. The members of the congregation, cut out the security badges, and sewed scripture verses in their place. One newspaper reported, that during the last winter, three people died in our area, from exposure to the harsh winter weather. We were determined not to let this happen again. So we embarked on a project called, ‘A Winter with Life’ (Horef –Haiim). We made sure, that warm clothes were given out before the worst weather hit the streets, and were rewarded, especially in the case of such as Joseph Levy who, being one of the worst cases of homelessness, could easily have died on the streets, were it not for this attention.
His Jewish parents, had made money through the construction business and he became wealthy renovating and painting houses. He served in the Tzavah – the Israeli Defense Forces- married, and had three beautiful children. He eventually deserted his wife and children, when a bitter divorce left the family broken. According to his testimony, Joseph took to drinking after his divorce. He went into and out of rehabilitation for alcoholics, and finally became dependent on the state welfare system when his friends, family and employers deserted him. Yossi, was born into a family with six other siblings. They lived in Pardessyia, and from time to time took care of him. They finally gave up because, “he would not stop drinking.” Joseph had lived on the streets of the Israeli southern town of Eilat, for many years before he found a “home,” on the streets of Tel-Aviv. That was also before he stood outside our ‘helps’ center, hungry and wet. To date I still wonder, how he came to be at that place, at that particular time.
As I stared at this man from across the street, I was reminded that true believers, never turn from anyone in need. However, I had no idea the extent of this man’s need. But, I made a quick decision. Since he was Israeli, Jewish and in need of help, I would find out what could be done for him, and take care of it. It did not take long to find out. Apart from his homelessness and associated difficulties, Joseph had disability-bowel incontinence, needing daily cleanup. One of our volunteers, took him that first day to the congregation premise, then washed, clothed and gave him food to eat. We never let him out of our sight from then on. Only the Lord knows, how he had managed to survived on the streets till then.
During the Purim holidays - a Jewish festival given authoritative commemoration in the biblical book of Ester- Raphael, one of our volunteers and I, decided to travel to Pardessyia to meet Joseph’s family with the hope that they would provide him with the necessary care. When we arrived, we found that the local social service center, was closed. We were also surprised by his actions. As we walked through the well laid streets, he would, from time to time, point out a large and beautiful house and declare, “This is where my brother lives” or, “This is where my sister lives!”
I thought he was joking because, I found it hard to link this sorry looking individual, with the marvelous and beautiful houses, he was pointing out. Then again, it had occurred to me that the man was not altogether, in the right frame of mind. However, when we found out that the social service center was closed for the holiday, we decided upon an experiment. Joseph pointed out a house, and we rang the door bell. It was indeed the home of his sister, and her husband, informed us that she was at work. He suggested we go to the house of another relative. We were shuffled on to another member of the family. This happened again and again, and so for a few hours, we rang door bells and waited in homes whilst the whole clan, tried to accommodate us.
Our hopes were raised when finally one sibling, told us they would take responsibility for him, and having served us with some refreshing drinks, we relaxed biding the right time to travel back to Tel-Aviv. Suddenly, our hopes were dashed, as a call came through ordering us to take Yossi back to Tel-Aviv, and leave him where we had found him. No amount of arguing could change this decision. We had no choice, but to return to Tel-Aviv with Yossi in our wake.
An interesting situation occurred one day. Yossi informed us, he had stomach troubles so, we took him to Ichilov Hospital. The doctors told us, that as a homeless man, he should be placed in the welfare department attached, to the hospital. We were made aware, they would then find a permanent home for him. I was so happy, thinking that this was the end of homelessness, for such a helpless individual.
Two days later, I went to the hospital to give them a change of clothes, and inform the doctors, that we had adult diapers to donate to any institution, which would look after him. Though we searched everywhere, Joseph was nowhere to be found. He was told, he was in no need of further treatment so, always one to take instructions, left the hospital and hours later, turned up outside our distribution center. He had walked barefoot, through the streets of Tel-Aviv to the only place where he knew he would find people who cared!
The Israel social service does its best, even during times of economic recession. Osnat, is one of the hard working managers of the social services network in Tel Aviv. Because Joseph was registered as a citizen of Eilat, she could not place him in a permanent home within, the Tel-Aviv municipality.
“There is simply not enough money to help everyone,” she explained.
She suggested, we send Yossi to Eilat. When we contacted the social services center there, they refused to deal with his case, stating that he had long since left Eilat, and was no longer their responsibility.
I did not realise it, but many people were observing what would come out of all this attention to Yossi. Some had good intentions, others bad. Ours was a mixed neighbourhood. There were street people, and drug peddlers. Some threatened Yossi and us, over small debts they said he owed. One such character asked for a huge amount of shekels and, having been given a fraction of it, disappeared only to turn up months later, at our weekend soup kitchen distribution. Then, there was the’ bucket’ episode.
The months passed. Winter came, and the rains returned. Street people and guards at the bus station, were upset. From time to time, Joseph slept on the bare station floor, so they knew him. They came to the wrong conclusion.
“You have been helping him for all these months! Why can’t you take the man off the streets? All this talk about God helping, but nothing is happening! You really do not care!”
By now, everyone’s patience was wearing thin, and no explanation seemed acceptable. People were simply not ready, to listen to stories of failed attempts. I sat, quietly listening to the outpouring of frustration and anger. What could I say? It seemed as though Israelis, or at least those interested in this case, had accepted me as one of their own. They expected me to find answers! A foreigner. Ha! I have to confess, I was beginning to feel helpless, and a sense of
failure was setting in.
“Lord,” I said speaking aloud, “Is this my responsibility? I do not even own a house to put him in. Please for your sake, do something! Take this man off the streets. “ I was close to despair, and I had a sleepless night thinking about this problem, called Yossi.
It is in those trying moments, when all hope is lost, that our God works best. Then, we know it is not us at all, but Him. It is He, who brings the tasks to our attention, and leads us. It is He, who finishes them perfectly. Psalm one hundred and seven, is one of my favorites. It describes hopeless situations, and how God responds to us, in the most critical hour. He is the God, who never fails!
Whoever you are, whatever your situation, you can turn to God wherever you are. Call out to God and pray in the name of Yeshua Ha Mashiach, and ADONAI will hear your prayer. That’s what one young Israeli man did, when he had been badly battered by life. And Yeshua the Messiah, turned the events in his life to good. God cares!
As the Word of God promises;
‘And it shall come to pass that whoever calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be Saved’ (Joel 2:28-32: Yoel gimmel, 1-5 Heb: Acts 2:21).
‘Nor is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given amongst men by which we must be saved (acts 4:12).’ The God of Abraham, Itzac, and Yaacov encourages us to call upon Yeshua for salvation!
The next morning, I got up deciding that this was it. Enough of these insults, shouts and misunderstandings, something had to move. I put Yossi on a bus, and once again rode the relatively short distance, to the Jaffa Social Service office.
When Osnat saw me, she exclaimed, “You again!” It was my fifth visit.
Then she saw Yossi. “Are you still with him?” she asked, “You must be fond of him by now!”
‘That,’ I thought, ‘was an understatement! This man had truly become my‘neighbour.’
“Do something for me,” I said rather desperately.
Suddenly to my astonishment, the door swung open upon the hinges of God’s magnificent, and eternal compassion. Osnat typed out a letter, effectively placing Joseph in a private ward in Ichilov Hospital. From there, he would be cared for in a home for the elderly. As far as I know, he is still there. Many kind people, prayed for this elderly Jewish man whose family and life, had been destroyed. He was surrounded by messianic love and care through, the support of those who provided money, clothes, shoes, soap and all those big and little things, that go towards saving a life. All the Glory goes to the Lord! Oh, by the way, he also said a short prayer, asking the Lord Yeshua to take control of his life. He even joined in some of our services.
When the people on the streets heard that he was better off, they said “ Toda l’El,” which translated means, ‘Thanks be to God.’ The security guards became friends, referring homeless cases to us. Others living on the streets, referred to Yossi’s story whenever they introduce us to their friends. Our outreach ministry to the Jewish people, eventually led to the feeding of two hundred homeless people each week. Sometime later, the Israeli government was encouraged to act on their behalf.
In these days of economic hardship we can defy the odds and reach out to the homeless. Who knows? With God on our side great things can happen. And if by chance, you find yourself living on the streets without much hope, take heart, you are not forgotten. God really cares about you! He took care of one Levy called Joseph. He will certainly take care of you! May you find comfort in the embrace of those loving arms of God, forever! Blessings!
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