This past week, the 11th grade girls Pirkei Avot students class organized an initiative to help homeless women in Miami-Dade
Students in the class were inspired by Mishna 1:2 in Pirkei Avot, which says "By three things the world exists: On Torah, on worship, and acts of kindness." Focusing on the kindness aspect, the students created a hygienic product drive to equip homeless women in Miami with necessary products for self care. In order to gather these essentials, the students started a drive in school, requesting students and staff to bring in socks, unopened toothpaste, toothbrushes, tissues, and other basic necessities. The Pirkei Avot class, which includes students Lian Hes, Dominique Behar, Ella Shwirtz, Hadassah Reich, Liel-or Vaknin, Lou Bsiri, Naomi Weiss, Sarah Matz, Shir-Elle Barroukh, and Naomi Ohana, placed boxes in various locations throughout the Hebrew Academy high school, middle school, and elementary school. High school Principal, Dr. Jones sent emails to the entire student body and community informing them of the school’s effort.
“We started the drive because it was originally an assignment, and we had to think of how to bring kindness to the world,” said Hes (11th). “This drive honestly benefits everyone, not just Jews. So we aren’t just trying to help the Jewish community, but the community as a whole. I think it is a great way to help, and it's a big and important cause.”
The students also arranged for speakers from The Miami-Dade Homeless Trust and the Lotus House, a homeless shelter for women, to educate students on the ongoing epidemic of homelessness during an all school zoom assembly last Friday. Speakers Manuel Sarria, the Deputy Director from the Homeless Trust, and Constance Collins, the Executive Director for Lotus House, addressed the usefulness of shelters for homeless individuals and families, while stressing the importance of homelessness prevention. Students were able to engage with the speakers, asking meaningful and insightful questions. Additionally, the Hebrew Academy podcast HA Talks interviewed a representative from Lotus House to further explain the seriousness of female homelessness. The podcast episode will be released next week.
“I am so proud of the students in the class and what they accomplished. What I love about all of it was they didn’t take the easy road and just do one thing. They created a drive, they provided education, they made it about all of the students by bringing in the speakers and doing the podcast.” said Dr. Jones. “To me they took an idea and made it more global for our community, and that is why it is so special.”
In Miami-Dade County, the total homeless population is around 3,700 individuals. Out of those, 1,148 are living on the street unable to find space at a shelter, making it extremely difficult for them to maintain sanitary personal hygiene. Homeless women are faced with additional hardships, having to deal with the constant threat of abuse while living on the streets. As the spread of the coronavirus pandemic continues, more people are confronted with this ordeal. The economic crisis and loss of jobs or hours at work is a major contributor to the rise in homelessness.
Many students feel that because this issue is very prevalent in our community, it is crucial to help those affected by it.
“I think having a drive specifically for homelessness, which is so unfortunately prominent in Miami-Dade County, is so important for the student body because it is in Yiddish values, it's in human values just to really give a helping hand, and to be a good person to those around you,” said Alina Sterenfeld (12th grade).