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The Domino Effect

By Frank Gruber

According to an article last week in the Los Angeles Times, cities all over the state and the country, starting with Los Angeles, are following Santa Monica's lead and enacting ordinances prohibiting sleeping in doorways.

Los Angeles City Council member Jan Perry introduced her ordinance the day after Santa Monica passed its ordinance in October, saying the "vast crush of homeless persons has exhausted our resources and strained our abilities to manage this problem."

"Exhausted our resources." Hmmm. The City of Los Angeles spends, on a per capita basis, a tiny fraction of what Santa Monica spends on homeless services.

It seems that L.A.'s new policy of developing a residential downtown -- admirable from a land use standpoint -- has run up against its prior policy of using downtown L.A. as a last refuge, a/k/a dumping ground, for the homeless.

The Times quoted the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty as saying, with reference to Santa Monica's law, "there can be a domino effect, where city after city passes this type of ordinance."

Funny that not too many other cities, least of all our big neighbor to the north, east and south, have thought to imitate any of the programs Santa Monica has funded over the years to help treat and house homeless people, but they have jumped at the chance to replicate the one punitive program City Council came up with.

The good we do is interred with the bones, of course, especially if it's expensive. The cheap, easy and evil live after us.

* * *

When it comes to Christmas, I'm a thorough enjoyer, but as I'm Jewish, it's the secular aspects that I appreciate. I always make the rounds of friends' houses with Christmas trees, exchanging presents, and I adore Christmas lights.

My wife grew up in a small western Pennsylvania town where the immigrants from all the different countries from eastern, central and southern Europe had their own traditions, which they shared with her Jewish family. To this day, she longs for the special lemon pasta the Sicilians families made.

Once we recreated a Sicilian Christmas Eve midnight supper, with about four courses of fish, including a big platter of fried seafood. That was great. A lot of work, but great.

It's not just the food. Without, I hope, diminishing in any respect the religious significance the holiday has for Christians, let me express my appreciation for the message of tolerance and goodwill, home and family, that perfectly suits America's secular religion of equal rights under law and the dignity of all.

So, even if I do not celebrate Christmas, I am a great consumer of Christmas culture, although more of the popular than high variety. I have never attended performances of either "Messiah" or "The Nutcracker," but every holiday season I listen repeatedly to the Phil Spector, James Brown, and "Hipster's Holiday" collections of Christmas songs.

This year, however, we had Philharmonic tickets for one of the performances last week of "L'Enfance du Christ," Hector Berlioz's "sacred trilogy" about the childhood of Jesus. I had never heard of or heard this piece, but then, though I enjoy music immensely, what I know about music wouldn't fill an espresso cup.

"L'Enfance" is a celestial work and if it becomes a regular Christmas tradition at the Philharmonic, I will buy tickets every year. Berlioz's piece, which four soloists and a chorus sing, dramatizes moral issues that speak loudly to us today by telling the story of the state terror of the mad King Herod -- the slaughter of the innocents -- and the flight to Egypt.

Mary and Joseph, escaping the terror with the baby Jesus, arrive in Egypt -- strangers in the land. They knock on the door of an Egyptian house, and then the door of a Roman house, seeking shelter, and Romans and Egyptians rebuff them -- "Away, vile Jews."

But then they knock on the humble door of an Ishmaelite family, and they are welcomed as brothers and sisters. The Ishmaelite -- not worrying that his resources would be exhausted -- feeds them "milk and ripe grapes," and even provides Joseph with a job.

In short, "L'Enfance du Christ" is about homeless refugees, about a family that at that moment appears no more divine than a family of Central Americans who might have fled a dirty war to come to Los Angeles. It's about the strangers in our midst.

After all, if the Ishmaelite had not answered the door, the Joseph family would have had to sleep in the doorway.

Happy New Year. I will be on vacation next week. "What I Say" will resume January 13.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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