Steaming hot bowls of chicken noodle and split pea soup were the menu choices at Temple Beth Or on this year’s Super Bowl Sunday, as more than 75 congregants came to reclaim their handmade ceramic soup bowls and contribute to the fight against hunger.
Served by teenage volunteers, participants in the Washington Township shul’s "Souper Bowl Sunday Empty Bowls Luncheon Gala" joined Rabbi Peter Berg in the event, part of the Empty Bowls Project, which provides support to food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations that fight hunger.
From left, Ari, Richard, and Dean Jigarjian display the soup bowl they made for a project to combat hunger.
"The Empty Bowls was an extraordinary program that brought our community together," said Berg. "It was wonderful to watch the members of Beth Or use their hands to make our world a better place. This project was especially important because of the Jewish value we place on compassion. Again and again, our biblical tradition demands that we share our resources, for they belong not to us, but to God."
Over the past year, Teela Banker, a longtime member of the synagogue and a professional ceramic artist, opened her Woodcliff Lake pottery studio to congregants interested in both learning a new skill and helping to feed the hungry. Banker taught her craft to members of all ages, donating the materials, time, and expertise. In addition, children participating in the project learned about the issue of hunger from this writer, who is the temple’s social action vice-president.
With a truly "souper bowl" are, from left, Michelle Orden, Leah Baumgarten, Stacey Orden, Teela Banker, Carly Orden, and Chelsea Figman.
As a result, more than 100 soup bowls were created, and later sold at the Souper Bowl luncheon for increments of $18, raising more than $1,600 to help fight hunger. In addition, Banker urged local artisans to donate some of their works to be sold at the event. David’s Bagels of Washington Township, Foster Village Kosher Delicatessen of Bergenfield, and King’s Supermarket of Hillsdale donated the soup served at the luncheon.
According to the group’s Website, the idea for the Empty Bowls Project came from a high school art teacher in Michigan. In 1990, helping his students find a way to raise funds to support a food drive, he proposed a class project to make ceramic bowls for a fund-raising meal. By the following year, the project had evolved into its current form. Empty Bowl events have been held throughout the world, helping to raise millions of dollars to combat hunger.
Two organizations, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Hillsdale Helping Hand Food Pantry, were selected to receive the money collected from Temple Beth Or’s event.
Since 1985, Mazon, a national Jewish non-profit agency, has provided food and assistance to hungry people of all faiths and backgrounds. Its publications state that the group is guided by the concepts of tzedakah and tikkun olam, relying on donations from the Jewish community which, in turn, are given to emergency food providers, food banks, and advocacy groups seeking long-term solutions to the issue of hunger in the United States, Israel, and poorer nations throughout the world.
The Hillsdale Helping Hand Food Pantry serves more than 400 people in the Pascack Valley area every month, according to a spokesperson from that organization. The pantry is a freestanding, non-profit charitable organization, staffed by community volunteers. The facility, with no administrative expenses, relies entirely on private donations, fund-raisers, food drives, and grants to serve those in need. Temple Beth Or serves as a permanent food collection site for the organization.
Chelsea Figman of Woodcliff Lake was one of the many teens who participated in the project. "It feels good to help someone in need, and to do it in such a creative way," she said. "This project has been a good experience for me, and I enjoyed giving something back to my community."
More than 35 million Americans, including more than 1′ million children, suffer from hunger or live on the edge of hunger, according to Mazon. Some 17.6 percent of children in the United States live in households plagued by hunger, and this country has the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation. The Torah states explicitly 36 times the commandment to help the stranger, more often than any other directive in the text.
For further information on efforts to combat hunger, visit or www.mazon.org