There is a Jewish custom called shaliach mitzvah/messenger of a mitzvah. When someone tells me that they are going to Israel, I give them a little shaliach mitzvah money. In commissioning this person to be a messenger of a mitzvah/a good deed, since the money is to be used for tzedakah/charity in Israel, I am thereby insuring that they will be safe on their journey. “Insuring” as in buying them insurance, prayerful that anyone on a sacred do-good mission will come to no harm.
So it was that a few people knew to give me shaliach mitzvah money for this journey. I felt protected; I had a holy mission. Those shekels are long-gone, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving to every woman beggar I have encountered, and a few men, as well.
I give to women, in particular, to honor Sora. I jokingly call Sora “my imaginary friend,” but she is really my muse, my Jiminy Cricket, my conscience. I first read about Sora in a yizkor bucher/a remembrance book from Bedzin, Poland. She would carry around a bundle of rags and beg from the community for her “baby.” I have carried that image of Sora around with me for thirty years and written poems and stories about her. And when my heart is closed to beggars, all I have to do is imagine the Sora in them which then opens my heart, my hand, my pocketbook.
Here is a picture of one of today’s Soras with her outstretched cup. Behind her a bar mitzvah celebration is taking place with some klezmer musicians. The Wall is just down and off to the left.
Friday is the best day for a beggar to beg in Jerusalem. They are out in full force then, asking for money so they can make Shabbos. They stand in the pavilion outside of the Wall (though I understand that they were banned from soliciting at the Wall itself about 2-1/2 years ago), or on the stairs leading from the Wall to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, or they stand outside of the Mahane Yehuda market or along Yaffo Street. In fact, it’s nearly impossible not to encounter a beggar in Jerusalem. They hold their plastic cups and bless you — copiously. Though one shouldn’t do a mitzvah for the sake of a “payback,” it doesn’t hurt that I receive a string of blessings in return for my shekels — that I should have a long life, love, good health, a loving family, etc., etc. I know there are scam beggars in Jerusalem, some “fake rabbis” who do blessings for a donation, but even so, what could be bad about a blessing, even from a non-rabbi?
In the Old City, some tzedakah boxes stand independently of a human being. Here is one on a table on one’s path down to the Wall that also has a “payback” for a donation — a box filled with red strings. To wear a red string around one’s wrist as a talisman is supposed to ward off the evil eye. At least that’s what Madonna and the Kabbalah Center seem to think.
Chaim and I were supposed to go to the West Bank today to help Rabbis for Human Rights plant 200 trees. This is their yearly Tu-B’shevat (Jewish Arbor Day) project — to help replace trees that Israeli settlers have vandalized or uprooted from Palestinian land. However, after two days of travel, we were just too exhausted to go. And today was my last day to do any last minute gift shopping (now thankfully accomplished) and to explore some more hidden wonders in the streets of Jerusalem. I feel terrible about not joining in this important justice project with my physical labor, but we will make a donation instead. We will also hear about it tonight, since Rabbi Arik Ascherman of RHR invited us to share Shabbat dinner/Tu B’shevat with his family this evening.
Chaim and I walked new ways to and from the Old City. Here are a few shots of our journey.
Wishing you a Shabbat shalom!
14 Shevat/January 25, 2013