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The trip had been one of disillusionment. Thirteen Jewish schools paid for us to meet in Los Angeles for five days of service learning, yet I soon discovered that most of the participants had signed-up chiefly to enhance their own college resumes, returning from Skid Row each day to an ostentatious hotel. Thus, I had trouble finding a group of genuine activists.
I rose at four o’clock on the last morning while my peers lay still and asleep. Careful not to awaken my roommates, I shuffled through a suitcase for warm clothes, headed downstairs, and set off along the abandoned winter roads. I was on a quest to truly encounter what we had traveled so far to study.
In the far-off distance, a saxophonist crooned the melodies of Paul Desmond, capturing appropriately the draped blankets that existed on nearly every block, each blanket a nightly womb for the man, woman, or even child who slept underneath. My camera echoed a snap as it captured each portrait in the dusk. A certain still frame caught my eye – a man sleeping in the shelter of blankets beneath a concrete overpass, with a well-shaven corporate skyline behind him. Snap!
In that moment, everything was clearly illustrated through a simple Polaroid! It occurred to me that we are still living in the “Gilded Age,” characterized by Mark Twain as a society where we feel golden for the prosperity of our elite but are horribly blind to the distress that lies beneath. And what better focus than Los Angeles – admired for its Hollywood dreams while 91,000 of its citizens remain homeless.
The streets of Los Angeles awakened in me an acute awareness of the class divide. It was one of my first experiences as a budding activist, one with a tenacious drive to awaken humanity to her injustices, wherever they may be found.
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