San Francisco Jewish community members lend a hand to the homeless for Hanukkah

Giving back is an integral part of the holiday season — donating gifts to toy drives, picking up a shift at the soup kitchen, tossing some change into the Salvation Army kettle.

It can be a way of life, as routine as flossing at night.

The week before Hanukkah, a group of Jewish community members gathered at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium as part of Project Homeless Connect to help homeless people obtain needed medical, career and legal services.

But before they took to their stations, the group members gathered to reflect on why they were there — tzedakah.

Tzedakah is a Jewish term that means putting things in balance, which requires those who have extra to give, and those in need to take, said Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who led the reflection.

“Tzedakah means doing what’s right, even if you don’t care to. Moral exercise,” Wolf-Prusan said. “It’s not seasonal, it’s daily.”

One volunteer, Sharon Grof, said talking about tzedakah gave new meaning to helping others, which is a familiar role for her.

“It’s not something I think about,” said Grof, who worked as a social worker for four years. “It’s great to have it with me the rest of the day.”

The group of about 60 people who came with the Jewish Community Relations Council was among about 1,000 participants who volunteered at the homeless event, one of six held throughout the year.

Each event provides 2,000 homeless individuals with access to 400 different services, including legal aid, employment help, feet washing, food and a vast array of medical services, said Kara Zordel, Project Homeless Connect’s director.

The event would not be possible without significant volunteer support, Zordel said.

“We’re all busy. They see there are people on the street in need and want to help,” she said. “To have 1,000 of those people in a room together is amazing.”

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

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