Mendel experiences sleeping like the homeless

June 19, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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The St Vincent de Paul Society organised a sleep-out for 250 CEOs last night to show how the homeless fare on a winter’s night. The CEO of The Jewish House, Rabbi Mendel Kastel was one of them.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel, sleeping bag and tomato soup

Rabbi Mendel Kastel, sleeping bag and tomato soup

The sleep-out ran from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m at Sydey’s Lunar Park and has raised over $250,000 for the charity.

The rabbi arrived at the park clutching his son’s sleeping bag and a container of his homemade tomato soup. The other CEO’s dined on the vegetable soup dished out by volunteer workers to the city’s homeless but consideration was given to Rabbi Kastel’s need for Kashruth.

When the time came to sleep, the CEO’s were given a sheet of carboard and then left to use their own initiative to find a spot to sleep. Rabbi Kastel settled for the dodgem car ride area while others found doorways and spots under awnings.

Rabbi Kastel told J-Wire: “It was very tough. People were moving around, talking, snoring…I just managed to grab an hour here and there. I can now sympathise on a very personal level with the plight of the homeless as they look for accommodation each night…even to the point of finding suitable carboard to soften the hard ground beneath them.”

He was not the only Jew at the Catholic organisation’s event. He added: “We almost had a minyan. I think there were ten of us. In the morning, when the other said prayers, we got together and said the Shema.”

Dick Smith, Rabbi Mendel Kastel, St Vincent de Paul CEO Peter Hearne

Dick Smith, Rabbi Mendel Kastel, and Luna Park CEO Peter Hearne

During the course of the evening, the CEO’s were entertained by Dave [St Vincents never use surnames] whose mother is Jewish and father is Papua New Guinean. Dave was abandoned as a child and has only recently quit alcohol and drugs. He has written a play about his life’s experience and performed for the CEOS. Gary was a homeless man who told the CEOs that he sends off 10 job applications a day…but without success. A spokesperson for St Vincents told J-Wire that Dick Smith had offered him a year’s rent. Rabbi Kastel spent time with Dick Smith, telling him about the Jewish House’s activities.

Other CEOs sleeping out included NRMA’s Tony Stuart who spent the night in a doorway and CBA Group Executive Ian Gaines.

As Mendel Kastel finishes Shabbat dinner this evening and heads upstairs to a warm, cosy bedroom…he will raise his eyes to the sky and give thanks for the roof and walls that keep his family in comfort through another cold Sydney night.

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