“When a person is hardest to love, that’s probably when they need to be loved the most,” reflects Yehuda Levi as he shares his genuine passion about the plight of homeless people in our city.
Yehuda describes what inspired this passion and how he eventually became closely involved with some of these individuals; he and his wife Meira had been living downtown early in their marriage while he was attending U of T’s law school. “It gave us a unique opportunity to really blossom and develop as a couple, and for me personally to explore and express my spirituality and Jewish faith. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were unfamiliar with Orthodox Jewish observance and would ask why I was wearing Tzitzit or always unavailable on Saturdays. These interactions gave me a new found understanding of and appreciation for many practices in my life that had become mindless and rote, and deepened my relationship with Hashem.”
He found himself drawn to Sanctuary, a nearby respite and resource center for people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness in downtown Toronto. Thinking he knew what his less fortunate neigbours would benefit from, Yehuda was surprised when the founder of the organization told him, “don’t assume you know what they need or what they’ve experienced. Listen to them and learn about them.” Yehuda did just that and formed significant, meaningful bonds with the men at Sanctuary becoming a regular community member and volunteer outreach worker. “One thing they really struggle with is maintaining any semblance of stability or consistency, whether of housing, food or relationships. Life is incredibly difficult on the streets and a one time visit or gift of food or money – while helpful, aren’t what is at the core of their needs.”
Having the flexibility of time at that point of his life, Yehuda was able to consistently attend the community and the friendships developed were mutually beneficial and satisfying. He came to care deeply for his friends and learn from them as well. “They are and were some of the most intelligent and kindest people I’ve known.” Unfortunately, a few men he became close with have since died from violence, addiction, or exposure, a reminder of the harsh reality of their circumstances and the extreme vulnerability of unhoused people.
Though Yehuda and Meira have since moved uptown following the birth of their kids, and daven with Rabbi Karfunkel at the Forest Hill Jewish Centre, they maintain a close relationship with Rabbi Spero from the Minsk Shul in Kensington Market. “Rabbis Spero and Karfunkell are both exceptionally kind, loving and generous people. They both strive to make sure that all feel welcome in their shuls and are accepted in their communities.”
Yehuda and Meira are parents of 2; one is a current Netivot student in the Gan and the other is a future Netivot student.