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How Much Hunger Can One Bear Before Breaking Into the Home of Someone More Fortunate?

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A homeless person sleeps on Tel Aviv street, in September.
A homeless person sleeps on Tel Aviv street, in September.Credit: Tomer Applebaum

I sit on the balcony gazing outside. An old man is cleaning the street. The thought goes through my mind: How does he come to terms with the fact that I am sitting here on the balcony contemplating while he cleans the street? I am younger than he is. Wouldn’t it be more just for him to sit on the balcony while I clean the street?

Yes, I know, he is earning a living from doing this. But it is still clear to me that the fact that I am sitting on the balcony while he is earning a living by cleaning streets is not a consequence of the choices that each one of us made in life, unless, of course, we believe that a person chooses when and where and to which parents to be born.

Thoughts of this kind occur to me every time I enter my home and close the door behind me. How does someone who has no home accept the fact that I do have a home, while he has to sleep in the street? Why do those who go hungry accept the fact that the well-fed dine in restaurants, and when they pass by them, their stomachs growling from hunger, they respect the rule that it is forbidden for them to eat from the food served on the tables? In general, how do they accept that others have enough food to eat, often more than enough, while they do not?

I can address the question to myself. Being in the middle class, I, too, look at the classes that are above me and accept the disparity in status between us. The rich live in a different reality, they have capital and property, a luxurious lifestyle that I can only dream about – a way of living that is categorically beyond my reach.

I’m not complaining. I understand that this is how it is. And the recognition that there are classes below mine reminds me that “I have no right” to complain. Say thank you for what you have and hold on to what you’ve got – i.e., make sure you don’t fall into a lower class.

When the COVID pandemic began, when there was general uncertainty and apprehension about potential food shortages and a dramatic economic crisis, these thoughts intensified. What if there are huge waves of the newly impoverished, if there is widespread hunger and deprivation, if more and more people lose their livelihoods and the roof over their heads? What guarantee do I have that I myself won’t become poor? How many layers of protection do I have?

I wondered if, even then, the have-nots would quietly accept that others still have. In the winter, when it’s so rainy and cold outside, and one is so hungry, is it possible to just accept that others are protected inside their warm homes, that their stomachs are full and they know no deprivation? How much hunger can one bear? How much cold can one take before breaking into the home of someone more fortunate and taking someone else’s food? And will someone who has fallen into a lower class have the same degree of stamina as someone who was born poor?

Whenever these thoughts bombard me, I always arrive at the same conclusion: If there are too many have-nots and too few haves, it will only be a matter of time until there’s a crack in the readiness to accept the situation and order is disrupted and the only way to try to restore it will be through force.

Whenever I close my door behind me, I know that if there comes a time when there is a crowd of people in the stairwell who have nowhere to live and nothing to eat, they will come inside – and rightly so.

There is no way to justify a way of life in which a majority of the people lack even the minimum necessary to live in dignity. And there are not enough police in the world that could indefinitely protect the minority from the majority.

Whoever wishes to preserve his way of life needs to understand that the only way to preserve the existing order is to ensure that it benefits as many people as possible.

It’s not just about money. If injustice and unfairness is part of the whole Israeli reality, if there are too many people living without hope, without dignity and without a brighter horizon for their children – a breakdown of the existing order is only a matter of time.

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