In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides states that the highest level of charitable giving is to strengthen the hand of someone in need and enable that person to become self-sufficient. Such charitable actions restore a sense of dignity and meaning to the life of the person receiving assistance as that individual is provided with an opportunity to escape the poverty cycle as an independent and productive member of society.
This was certainly the case for Raffa, the individual whose house we were building during my recent trip to Puerto Rico. Raffa is a seventy-year-old man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria. The storm left Raffa with absolutely nothing. It wiped out his living space as well as his space to make a living. He was desolate, isolated and depressed, and when Hunger Corps (the faith-based nonprofit that organized the work we were doing) met with Raffa to extend a helping hand, they found that he had all but given up on life.
The good souls of Hunger Corps asked Raffa, what resources he might bring to the situation at hand. Raffa looked at them despondently and said he had nothing. The hurricane had taken everything, and he had no money or resources to offer.
Then they asked the same question in a slightly different way. They asked him if he had any skills. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Raffa stood up from the wheelchair that had been his throne of despair for months; he walked to the back of his desolated home; and he returned with a pallet of wood. Holding it in front of him he said, “I have skills in carpentry. I can make chairs and tables out of old wood.”
This simple interaction became the foundation of the relationship that enabled Raffa to take a central role in repairing his life. As if reading from the teachings of Maimonides, Hunger Corps started their efforts to help Raffa by building him a small workshop. Raffa now pulls apart wood from discarded pallets and makes them into tables and chairs. These tables and chairs are sold to help purchase the supplies that are currently being used to rebuild Raffa’s house.
This beautiful story underlies the power of building relationships as a means to repair a broken world, for dignity and relationships go hand in hand. If we had gone to Puerto Rico and simply built Raffa a house, it would have been a transaction – one and done. This effort, however, was much more about rebuilding Raffa’s heart than it was about building a house.
Our work in Puerto Rico has also served to deepen our relationships with each other. Our group, which was composed of 12 religious leaders from Houston, has been working together for over a year. Our work has focused specifically on addressing underserved pockets of Houston which continue to struggle after Hurricane Harvey. Driven by the mission of the One America Movement, our multi-faith team embraces the idea that when we organize ourselves across political, racial and religious divides and work together on a common good, we can pave the way to a more harmonious world.
At HCRJ, the month of December is filled with opportunities to nurture relationships around doing good in the world. Please read through this bulletin to learn how you can become part of Mitzvah Day, the Muslim Jewish Christmas and the Turning Point Christmas Lunch. Each of these opportunities invites us to transform the world for good.