Tikkun Olam @ Shira

This past Friday evening, Vivan Parry shared with us her experiences volunteering at a drop-in centre for the mentally ill homeless people of Melbourne. For those of us who didn’t hear her moving Drasha, here’s what she said.

Coming from what I now know as a “typically dysfunctional post holocaust” family, I wondered if there was a connection that guided me towards my journey into Community Welfare.

During my one year guide training course at the Holocaust Museum I was fortunate to hear a lecture by a Psychologist Dr. Ester Fay. Dr. Fay told us that our first Mirror reflection as to how we perceive ourselves is our Mother’s face. If our Mother is calm and happy, we see the world as a wonderful place and ourselves as being special. If our Mother’s face is drawn, anxious and fearful, we absorb these emotions and feel equally fearful and unsettled about ourselves,

No prizes for guessing my Mother’s reflection.

I grew up understanding something was vaguely wrong but never knowing what it was. Eventually piecing together the minute fragments of family history overheard, but never spoken out loud.

I came to know that my Mothers’ family fled Berlin in 1938, leaving most of their possessions and the life they desperately cherished behind. I still wonder if my Grandfather bothered to turn the key and lock the front door that final time. Would I, hopefully I will never know.

I became a young person concerned about the trials of others.

I told my mother when I was about ten years of age that I wanted to become a nun and work on a leper colony in New Guinea. She replied “They have enough problems without you there!” Not to be daunted, I have spent the last 30 years whilst still working and with family responsibilities, seeking out and doing my best to alleviate in some small way, the problems of those less fortunate.

I have had long term involvement with several organizations, always in the capacity of being called upon to assist with a particular families’ needs or as I personally chose, to keep as many people warmly clothed and as comfortable as possible.

Hanover family services told me about the St. Kilda Drop in Centre for homeless people with severe mental illness. “Off you go, Viv, this one is really for you.” 120 participants 80 men 40 women all homeless aged between 16 and 70 Some living on park benches others paying 95% of their pension for one tiny room in a boarding house, 5% isn’t very much left over for all the necessities of life. The Drop in Centre is their daytime home, 5 days a week.

I landed on their doorstep and put forward my proposal to supply as much clothing in good condition and household goods, like blankets and towels, as I possibly could. Immediately accepted. I rang and campaigned anyone that came within the line of vision, from the dog people at the park, to long supportive friends, neighbors, shop keepers, anyone who looked like they might have clothes to share. That was in 2000. My garage and front door step still receive welcome bags and boxes of goods. I visit friends for social occasions and leave schlepping bags of clothes

Everything that comes my way is sorted on a folding table in my garage and then delivered to the Drop in Centre in St. Kilda, the Nuns at the Brigidene Convent for their asylum seekers project at the Marybyrnong detention centre, the JCCV shop in Hawthorn rd. Rosalie Silberstein’s Posh Oppe Shop . Children’s toys and clothes go to an Orthodox lady who keeps a Gemacht in her home for the needy in her Community.

Some of the people who attend the Drop in centre include Vietnam vets, a cartoonist from a Canberra newspaper, 2 Ansett pilots, farmers off the land broken by the drought losing all to the bank, families as well.

Asking if there was a particular wish the participants might have, the social workers’ survey revealed they would like to “do photography.” When I asked why, I was told “because they just want to OWN some photos.” That night I dreamt I was able to buy 7 digital cameras for $500. My prayer was answered and I was able to purchase the cameras plus the 2 gig cards. There was nothing I reasoned with myself that would give me more satisfaction than to buy those cameras.

A dear friend unloaded a heap of ladies’ underwear at my door just before Christmas. “Sell it for whatever you can get and spend the money on one of your causes”. An unreal challenge. In $5 and $10 sales I raised $1200 which we spent on pedestal fans and set top boxes for my friends at the Centre.

There is a fine line between sanity and a life destroyed. I see a Jewish man there quite often; thin as a toothpick, front tooth missing, about 45 years of age. He often helps me unload my car making wise cracks about the goods I have brought. “You can leave that lot in the gutter” he tells me, and we have a good laugh. He can’t believe I remember his name, Rubin, as I watch him standing in the communal kitchen making his mug of coffee, I can’t believe he is one of ours…. Where have we failed?

We are all capable of throwing a little light into a dark space; my message is to not miss an opportunity to help another person in a simple way that shows you care.

At the appropriate time when Sister Catherine from the Convent or the Manager of the Centre asked me the inevitable question “Why do you do this Viv, it is a lot of work?” my answer is simply “because I am Jewish, and we know what it is not to have.”

Posted on February 7, 2010 .