Is Moshe Dead or Alive?

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A couple pass by a homeless man.
A couple pass by a homeless man.Credit: Rami Shllush

I now know his name was Moshe. Asaf wrote that he’s dead. But Vered says that isn’t certain.

The first person who died of the cold was certainly called Michael, since he was found with his ID. The second, who was found in a parking garage inside a cupboard where firefighting equipment is stored, was called Alexi by his friends.

As for the third, who was found in a bomb shelter in Bat Yam wearing a hospital gown, he probably wasn’t Moshe. Moreover, as Haaretz’s Vered Lee, an impressive fighter for justice for the homeless, explained, sometimes they disappear, move or change their identities, and sometimes they even recover from their addictions.

So perhaps Moshe didn’t die? Or perhaps he didn’t die of the cold, but from an overdose? Friends of Asaf’s from Ichilov Hospital, who knew about their connection, told him that Moshe was dead.

Does it even matter whether Moshe is dead or alive? To whom does it matter? Is there anyone in the world who will mourn his death? Anyone who will miss him? Surely somewhere he has a mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, somebody. Perhaps a former lover, maybe even a wife and children. Someone who grew up with him, someone who raised him.

“Yochai walks around like a deaf-mute / 50 years old / did his mother (yes, he had a mother) imagine / that this is what her son would be like?” wrote the poet Natan Alterman as the man who sold him pistachios “was approaching his pauper’s death.”

Moshe didn’t even sell pistachios. He was homeless. The Tel Aviv café Tachtit was Moshe’s second home; really, it was the only one he had. They called him “Chico” there. Asaf Bryt, the owner, wrote on Friday in a eulogy for the deceased, “His skill at soccer was like his skill at life – zero skill.”

Louie, Asaf Bryt’s young son, used to play soccer with Moshe on the sidewalk. This may have been the only warm relationship in Moshe’s life. But Moshe’s problem probably wasn’t a lack of skill. In any case, the news of his death hit me like a bolt of lightning. And I didn’t even know his name.

“I recoiled from him every time he came to Tachtit, giving his lying speeches about how he didn’t use drugs,” Asaf wrote. “I would bury my eyes deep in my cellphone every time he drew near. And now, the news of his death has hit me. I never thought about him before. Not during the hot days of summer and not during the current cold wave of winter. It’s one thing to hear about three homeless people who died of cold last week, and another to know one of them.”

“Know” is an exaggeration. Nobody really knew Moshe. Even Asaf couldn’t tell me where he came from. Evidently, nobody ever managed to get close to him and hear the story of his brief and stormy life, how he came to be like this.

He was a strong and handsome young man whose regular begging speech was a polished, persuasive text. He would ride bicycles stolen from Tel-O-Fun, Tel Aviv’s bike rental program, and tell people who visited the coffeehouse that he just wanted food. Good-hearted people would go to the nearby grocery store with him and buy him some food. Then he’d load it on his bike and take off for the old central bus station, where he surely traded it for drugs.

“I hope the feeling Moshe got from me was one of dignity,” Asaf wrote in his beautiful eulogy. But the truth is that dignity is the last thing Moshe got, just like every other homeless person.

They are people with no dignity, without even an identity. They repulse us and frighten us. Most of us, excluding Vered Lee, don’t even view them as human beings.

Their appearance and behavior may well make us rebuff them, but that turns into complete dehumanization that we are neither able nor willing to deal with. Perhaps only a few of them can be helped. Only a handful are rescued from their fate. Nevertheless, the fact that they are turned into non-people is shocking.

It’s incredible that it was the news of Moshe’s death that suddenly turned him into a human being, someone whose death is sad and whose life arouses interest. Where was that hiding until now?

“I don’t know how he died; I hope he didn’t suffer. And I personally am sad. May your memory be for a blessing, Moshe-Chico,” Asaf the café owner wrote.

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