As Passover neared, I was reminded of an experience I had on my most recent trip to Israel. In November, I was driving through the old port city of Jaffa with a delegation of U.S. anti-hunger activists. I noticed the many poor families, the run-down streets, and the hungry people. While in Jaffa we visited a community center that provides a safe haven for low-income Israeli and Arab-Israeli children after the school day. I had the opportunity to visit with the children during their afternoon meal. The children who sat with me came from different cultural and religious backgrounds, but they had so much in common. They lived in Jaffa, they went to school together, they played together, and they shared stories and memories. But one of the most immediate things they had in common was that they were the most devastating victims of hunger, the meal they were enjoying that day easily could have been the only meal that they had.
When I returned from Israel, I came home to the news that 38 million Americans face hunger on a daily basis. With such startling statistics, my experience in Jaffa only highlighted hunger’s universality. Hunger does not just affect one culture or one religion, and all of our faiths and sacred traditions obligate us to work toward a solution. Although our religious stories vary, the teachings about helping others are quite similar.
Christianity teaches that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Taoism urges us to help by proclaiming, "Extend your help without seeking reward. Give to others and do not regret or begrudge your liberality. Those who are thus are good."
The Koran states: "The poor, the orphan, the captive — feed them for the love of God alone, desiring no reward, nor even thanks."
And during this time of year, during the Passover seder Jews recite, "Let all who are hungry enter and eat."
Our different faith traditions teach us that it is our civic responsibility to help hungry people by providing them with the resources necessary to help each individual and family to become self-sufficient in society. This demands a strong partnership between the public and private sectors. In the short-term, our faith communities provide immediate relief to those in need, but that can only do so much. We must also strive to end hunger, to eradicate it completely. Today, federal food and other entitlement programs are constantly being cut, limiting crucial resources for hungry families. Four out of 10 of those eligible for the Food Stamp Program are not receiving benefits. This has the dual consequence of keeping people hungry and slowing the economy, since every dollar spent on the Food Stamp Program generates about $1.84 in economic activity. It is imperative that federal nutrition programs continue to be made available and accessible to help the fight to end hunger. This, in concert with our philanthropic efforts, is our best strategy to ensure that we end hunger for good.
This Passover we are reminded that although we are not physically bound in slavery, we are not completely free until the world is rid of hunger and poverty. Let’s work together to give those who are hungry an opportunity to be free from bondage and allow them to "enter and eat."
Editor’s note: To contribute to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, go to www.mazon.org