While this phrase is balm for the nearly 10 percent of Americans who remain unemployed – or even more, if we factor in those who have given up on their job search – it is also the sad message emanating from our local food pantries.
In this time of belt-tightening for all, including the government, monies allocated to these facilities have dropped significantly, putting pressure on nonprofits to make up the difference. And these nonprofit groups – such as the Jewish Family Service agencies that service our area – face their own financial challenges.
So, yet again, we are using this space as we approach the High Holy Days to urge our readers to help.
Staff at the Center for Food Action in Englewood are using terms such as “dire” to describe the situation there [and, as this editor – a sometime volunteer there, can attest – this is not hyperbole].
This summer, the organization saw a tremendous rise in the number of people needing emergency food. According to the group’s website, as many as 75 families came in daily looking for help. Sometimes, there was not enough food to fill the emergency packages, and the organization found itself short of the basics – such as cereal, canned tuna, pastas, and beans – that are the bedrock of these packages.
According to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, September is Hunger Action Month and the organization is joining with Feeding America to promote awareness about the prevalence of hunger in America. The organization reports that more than 50 million people in the United States have trouble putting food on the table.
Part of the struggle in our own community is that the word, apparently, has not gotten out. Indeed, Lisa Fedder, executive director for the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, notes that many people are surprised to learn of hunger in our own backyard.
As Jews, we know the importance of symbols and the value of gathering with our families to share a meal. We also know that, were we forced by economic circumstances to abandon those precious experiences, our morale and our pride would suffer just as severely as our stomachs.
We know, for so many reasons, that we should help.
Do we really need to hear the religious rationale again?
Here it is, in the words of Isaiah (from the haftarah for Yom Kippur morning): “Is not this the fast I want? To free people from all which cruelly oppresses them, to let the oppressed go free, to break every chain, to share your food with the hungry, to take the homeless into your home, clothe the naked when you see himâ€¦.”
Many of our local congregations participate in Operation Isaiah, the Conservative movement’s food drive, joining with other Jewish movements and MAZON to make the High Holy Days “the time for a combined Jewish response to hunger in North America,” according to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism website. “The goal is to mobilize Jews to take part in the work of tikun olam, mending the world, by collecting food and funds for hungry people.”
The sentiments are worthy, but it is action that is commanded. Let us do something about this terrible situation. Whether we contribute directly to a food pantry or make a contribution through our synagogues, we must do something not because it is seasonal, but because it is right.