Category Archives: Food For Thought

A New Approach to Thanksgiving

Courtesy Flickr user riptheskull (http://flickr.com/photos/vintagehalloweencollector/)

A few days ago, I read the devastating news — 49 million Americans are food insecure and live on the edge of hunger.  One in four children don’t know when and where they will have their next meal. Over a year ago, as our economy began to slide and we entered a recession, the face of hunger changed dramatically — now, it may pain your neighbor who lives next door or your colleague in an office down the hall.

These past months, individuals have had to make the decision between paying bills or putting food on the table.  No one should ever have to make this decision.  Food and shelter are basic necessities that everyone should be able to access.

This Thanksgiving, I will be sitting at a beautiful table, surrounded by family, enjoying delicious food and festivity.  Although I give thanks for all that I have had in my life, how can I sit at my Thanksgiving meal knowing how many in this country are going to bed with an empty stomach?

Let’s show how thankful we are for what we have by helping make a difference. I encourage you to join me in starting a new Thanksgiving tradition at your holiday table. As you share what you are thankful for with your family and friends, make a pledge to donate to MAZON what it would be to invite one additional person to your holiday table (like at Passover) and invite your friends and family to match your contribution.

This Thanksgiving, we can make a difference.

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In loving memory: Rabbi Mark Loeb

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UPDATED 10/15/09 as tributes continue to come in from our board & staff. For more tributes & information on the life and career of Rabbi Loeb from those who knew him best, please visit Beth El Congregation.

We are heartbroken to report that Rabbi Mark Loeb, a former MAZON Board Chair and longtime board member, passed away on Wednesday. Loeb, Rabbi Emeritus at Beth El Congregation in Baltimore, was in Milan, enjoying his favorite things – opera & Judaism. Beth El issued the following statement:

It is with a profound sense of loss and sadness that we share with you the following news.  Our Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Mark Loeb, died last night in Milan, Italy.  He was there serving a congregation as its interim rabbi enjoying Milan’s culture, opera, and the many other things that he loved.  We mourn his loss as a congregation and a community, and offer our sincerest sympathies to his family.

The details for Rabbi Loeb’s funeral are yet to be determined as we are waiting for information from Italy and his family.  In the meantime, tonight, Thursday, October 8 between 6:30 – 7:30, we will be creating an opportunity for people to come together and to be with one another during this time of loss.

The following comes from current MAZON Board Chair Joel Jacob & MAZON President Eric Schockman:

He was truly an icon in his community. His ‘retirement’ party lasted over several days and it was evident that the universe loved this endearing, gentle soul. He was a visionary and non-conformist to the principles of Judaism he lived and breathed every day. He took great joy for example in boasting how he was one of the first Conservative rabbi s in the country to perform a ‘commitment ceremony’ for a same sex-couple who were long time members of his congregation. Mark bestowed the full dignity of the sacred vows we hold so dear in the Jewish religion. Just a few weeks ago, Joel and I received an email from Mark when we learned he would not be joining us for the upcoming board meeting. His email was typical Mark: he was excited about being in Milan, excited about administering pastoral care to a small Jewish community there and being in the epicenter of the world of opera he loved. We deduced from his short email that:  his feet were grounded in the Judaism he relished and his head was in the melodic sounds of one of the birthplaces of musical opera.

Leonard Fein, MAZON’s founder, offers the following tribute:

Those of you who remember Mark know what an unusual and a thoughtful person he was.  Others should know that he was an uncommonly broadminded man, whose love of Judaism at its best was only exceeded by his love of opera.  (True.)  I was startled and deeply saddened to receive Leslie’s grim news, and I very much hope that for all who knew him, his memory will, indeed, be for a blessing.

Former MAZON chair Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine, CA, has these words:

Mark was an engaging, humorous and thoughtful “Renaissance man.”  He was devoted to his congregants, MAZON, interfaith dialogue and a large, pluralistic, inclusive world.

Zichrono livracha.

MAZON board member Rabbi (Dr.) Richard Marker of Marker Goldsmith Philanthropy Advisors shares these memories:

Mark was a year behind me in the JTS rabbinical school. Back then, he was one of the most memorable student activists – at a time of student activism.  He was forthright, and public, in his advocacy for civil rights legislation, and more than most, demonstrated verbally and personally the conviction of the natural alignment between commitment to the Jewish Tradition and liberal values. This character trait and passion, which I recall from 40+ years ago, were with him during his entire professional career. Zecher tzadik livrachah.

Though I was never lucky enough to meet Rabbi Loeb, I bore witness to his commitment to humanity & social justice through the many tributes received in his honor from Beth El members, during his retirement last year, and annually during the Passover & High Holy Days seasons. I close with a quote he gave last year to the Baltimore Sun, upon his last Passover at Beth El:

“Being released from suffering is not enough. The result of suffering is to come away with respect for those who suffer and not join those who offend them. You learn from your suffering and find a way to dedicate yourself to something important.”

Rest in peace, Rabbi Loeb. May your memory always be for a blessing.

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Darfuri Refugees’ Letter to President Obama

Last week, we brought you reflections from Rabbi Lee Bycel as he embarked on a visit to a Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. He returns with this letter from the Darfuri refugees to President Obama.
Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jillaryrose/).

Guereda, Eastern Chad
Rosh Hashanah 2009

A letter to President Obama from the Darfuri refugees,

As a rabbi I sit here welcoming in the new year with Darfuri refugees, people of great courage, strength and determination. I am here to celebrate the opportunity of a new year, with people who need not just our prayers but also our actions.

I have spent the day at the Mille camp, home to 17,000 Darfuri refugees. I first came here in 2004, soon after their arrival. A few remember my visit.  They all remember your visit to Mille, also in 2004. Several people showed me their picture with you and told me how happy they are that you are now president.

Mr. President, the years since your visit have taken a great toll on the people. Some of the 13 year old girls you met are now mothers. Many of the boys are now soldiers. Many refugees have died and many new ones have arrived. The UN tents which are now severely torn and ravaged reflect the lives of the refugees.

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

Fifty babies a month are born in the Mille camp. Six hundred a year; about three thousand since your visit. Children like Sulaman, Hassan, Sumayah and Kadidya. They have wonderful smiles and beautiful eyes. Like our children, they want security, food, water and shelter. Thanks to the US, other countries and the humanitarian community, they have the minimal amount of each in order to survive.

For them, for their parents, their daily prayer is to return to Darfur. They are innocent, good people, as you have said “victims of genocide.”

Enough is not being done. They are waiting…waiting very patiently for their nightmare to end. I have synthesized their message for you.

Remember us. Remember your time here at Mille. Remember our situation. Remember our faces. We want to go home to Darfur and live in peace. We want to rebuild our lives. Please, please Mr. President do everything in your power to help us. Too many years have gone by. We need you. We do not know what to do but have great confidence in you. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Thank you,

The Darfuri refugees in Mille, as communicated to Rabbi Lee Bycel on September 18, 2009.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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A New Year: Is There Hope For The Darfuri People, For Us?

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

No one says it…but the uneasy feeling was palpable.  I  could see the questions in their eyes:  Why are you going to spend Rosh Hashanah in Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad?  Why would a rabbi welcome the Jewish New Year in a place where there are no Jews?  Do you really think going will make a difference?   I understand these questions.  I only regret that they are rarely asked aloud.  I have had lots of time to reflect on these questions on this three day journey to a place that is far more distant from San Francisco than the days of travel to get here.

I am here in Eastern Chad, this epicenter of human suffering.  I am here with fellow human beings, reminding them that we do care and we have not forgotten.  I am here listening to their stories and letting them know that I will bring their stories home.  I am here because our worlds are inextricably linked.

I first visited here in 2004 and since then I have returned several times.  The Chadian people are some of the poorest people on the planet.  Here, 275,000 Darfuri refugees have found a fragile safe haven in UN tents.  These shelters provide minimal protection from the harsh conditions of sub-Saharan Africa and not much more from the storms of conflict.  The plight of the Darfuri people – the nearly three million displaced from their homes and the four hundred thousand dead – has been well documented.  Our advocacy and diplomacy has had some impact on decelerating this genocide, now in its seventh year.   Our humanitarian aid has saved lives.  Still, the situation on the ground remains dismal.

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oncedaily/)

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that celebrates renewal and creation.  It implores us to care for each other and to care for this planet.  It reminds us that as long as there is life there is hope.  What better place to welcome in the New Year than with the victims of man’s brutality to man.  Although we have yet to turn our powerful prayers into a world that is just and humane, I have hope—and hope is all these refugees have.  It is their lifeblood.

As I sit here with new friends and refugees whom I have known for years, I marvel at their ability to survive. The soul of a refugee camp resides in the courageous people who dwell within it. The silent screams that echo through the camp are those of a people who are asking if the world still cares.  My presence, it could be any of us, conveys that we do care and we are doing our best to restore their lives.

These refugees are the victims of horrific events: genocide, climate change, lack of resources and a world that is confused about its humanitarian priorities. It is no longer possible to separate these problems; real solutions will only come when we think and act in integrated ways. Ways which allow people to live with inalienable rights – to food, shelter, potable water and the absence of violence in their day to day lives.

There is currently much discussion about the role of the US and what international pressure should be applied to change the situation.  This work is essential and provides hope for long term solutions.    Immediate humanitarian needs, however, cannot be overlooked.  My friend Adam cannot wait another year for drinkable water; his daughters cannot wait another day for a life without the constant threat of rape; the elderly and the infants cannot survive another winter without shelter from the torrential desert rain.  Where will the aid come from unless we help to provide it?

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (http://www.flickr.com/photos/internews/)

Is my trip making a difference?  I see a difference in the smiles of the children. I feel it when I hold a refugees hand.  I witness it when I visit the aid clinics. Perhaps the difference isn’t quantifiable, but it is profoundly apparent to me.

Soon I will be returning home renewed and filled with hope for the New Year, thanks to the brave spirit of the Darfuri people. Experiencing the horrific conditions of their day to day lives brings an indescribable perspective to my own challenges and reminds me that my life will never be full until their suffering is over.

Our humanity is defined by our actions—our ability to show compassion, to empathize with others, and to do something constructive—and opportunities to help others are present each and every day.  For us, remembering the Darfuri people is a measure of our conscience and humanity. For them, it is their hope for survival. That is why I have returned to Chad.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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Filed under Food For Thought, Guest Blog, Hunger Fighters, International Relief, Links, Travel

Seizing the Moment

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.
It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:
Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world.  Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.
Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.
Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.
With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

by H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D.
MAZON President

Every year at the High Holy Days, I am reminded of an old family friend whose unflagging optimism always fueled my great admiration.  “How are things going?” I would ask whenever our paths would cross, to which he would make the inevitable reply:  “Today is going to be the best day yet.”  He looked forward to every sunrise; every meal; every conversation.  Even as a young man, it struck me as a courageous and inspirational philosophy.  Seen through the lens of his recurrent illness and financial misfortune, the certainty of his pronouncement taught me a fundamental life’s lesson:  to live fully is to embrace each moment, savoring its sweetness and recognizing its transformative potential.  Put another way, we are not defined by what has already happened or by what tomorrow may bring, but by what we do today.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with their themes of renewal and redemption, make the point even more clearly.  Over the course of these holidays, we are neither held hostage to the failures of the past nor burdened by the demands of the future.  Rather, by insisting that we carve out time for serious self-reflection, they enable us to focus squarely on the present, what writer Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now.  In doing so, the High Holy Days force us to confront who we are and how we live and, in the process, to realize that our everyday actions have important implications for our community and the world around us.

It’s no wonder these days are viewed as the most significant of the Jewish calendar; their emphasis on self-awareness and empowerment can spark truly remarkable individual and social change.  This makes them not just Days of Awe, but also:

Days of Hopefulness.  What an extraordinary thing:  to be part of a tradition that tells us we have the ability, and the tools, to help heal a broken world. Judaism does not relegate the pursuit of social justice to an idyllic hereafter, instead demanding we make it the business of the here-and-now.  As the head of a nonprofit working to end hunger, I know the solutions we seek will not come easy.  But they will come.  And they start with us, today.  They start with us letting our elected representatives know that food insecurity and healthy eating are top priorities in this recession.  And they start with renewed volunteerism to help feed those in need.

Days of Commitment.  The High Holy Days are not a vacation from responsibility; they are, on the contrary, a call to greater accountability.  With each blast of the shofar, we hear the holiday message:  Personal growth is achievable.  Our ideal society is within reach.  But these things take motivation, hard work and a willingness to take the first step.  With commitment, we can, as President Obama has pledged, end childhood hunger in America by 2015.

Days of Opportunity.  As we examine our decisions and take stock of our lives, we have a rare chance to wipe the slate clean, rededicating ourselves to a rich and meaningful existence that integrates personal fulfillment and communal needs.  It’s a new beginning, filled with infinite promise.  As the holiday liturgy says, “Hayom Harat Olam” – Today is the day of the world’s creation.

With busy schedules and hectic lives, we so seldom have a second to breathe.  We run through our days barely noticing their passage, and eagerly anticipating tomorrow.  The New Year exaggerates this tendency, tempting us to look ahead and wonder what the coming months will bring.  But as my friend understood all those years ago, living in the future simply distracts us from what is right before our eyes:  the possibility that we can make this moment the very best one yet.

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Filed under Food For Thought, Hunger Advocacy, MAZON News

Go You Forth-Four Years After Hurricane Katrina

Go You Forth

A concert will be held at the Touro Synagogue on Oct 15,2009, followed by an authentic New Orleans Shabbaton on Oct 16-17.  The show will feature Neshama Carlebach and her band, the soulful Green Pastures Baptist Choir,  the one and only Ellis Marsalis (http://www.ellismarsalis.com) and other local musicians and artists. We hope to raise significant funds at this event and also ignite a national consciousness campaign that focuses on the rebuilding of this great American city, devastated four years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

Go You Forth will benefit the St. Bernard Project, run by an incredible and tireless group of people who have dedicated their lives to bringing people back to their homes after the storm.  It may shock you to know that there are still over 15,000 people homeless, living in trailers or in their own condemned properties, sometimes with several other families.  Many of these people have contracted health problems from inhaling the formaldehyde of these FEMA trailers that were intended to be occupied for only 6 months. Through the St. Bernard Project, building one home only costs $12-15,000.   Please click here and sign to be a part of this mission,  no gift is too large or too small.

http://www.stbernardproject.org/v158/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=382&Itemid

Imagine what it means to a family to come home after four years of being displaced .But a home needs sustenance as well and so we’ve also engaged MAZON: a Jewish Response to Hunger, www.Mazon.org to help in the healing process. This incredible organization creates channels to feed people all over the world, not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. Offering desperately needed relief to families still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, MAZON made joint grants totaling over $1 million.  MAZON supports a wide variety of programs geared towards helping hurricane victims and their families pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and acquire the skills they needed to get back on their feet.

MAZON has funded nearly $500,000 to help support Katrina victims through non-profit organizations such as food banks, pantries, and advocacy groups that serve children, adults and seniors.  Examples of specific organizations include the Acadiana Outreach Center, Food Net (for the purchase of food), Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, the Houston Food Bank, and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, among others.

Our goal is to fund the building of 30 houses, knowing that each completed house is a miracle, and to help MAZON continue in their mission to feed the hungry.  Even after October 15th, we hope to continue our efforts until every person in New Orleans has a way to get home; until all those who are wandering can receive the stability, sustenance and peace of mind they need to truly heal from the trauma they’ve endured.   It’s ambitious, but we know we can do it.

Another goal we hope to accomplish with this event: the revitalization of the local Jewish community. You may not know this, but one of the unfortunate effects of the hurricane was to drive out nearly half of the local Jews. Out of the 10,000 Jews who lived in New Orleans prior to 2006, only 6,000 remain.  Spirits are high in this amazing City and it would be our greatest joy to bring back the diverse and beautiful Jewish community of New Orleans through Go You Forth, inspiring singles, couples and families to move to this awesome (and affordable) city.

Friends, we are asking you to become a part of Go You Forth. There are so many ways to help:

  • Come down to New Orleans for the concert, Shabbaton and our special Sunday food delivery project
  • Give a donation to The Saint Bernard Project and Mazon
  • Mobilize your synagogue, school, community center or book group to sponsor the cost of building a house…or even a room.  If you can gather a group of people to build a home, or even just a bathroom or a kitchen, you would be breathing life into a community that so desperately needs our support.
  • Spread the word about our efforts

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

To make a contribution for this event visit www.mazon.org/donate-now. Please indicate that your donation is for “New Orleans.”

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Teach A Man To Fish

While we all understand that feeding the hungry is an essential step toward repairing the world, effectively battling hunger requires not only treating the symptoms but also giving individuals the tools to control their own lives.  In the U.S. and around the globe, MAZON supports not only food providers but programs that work to build sustainable growth within communities that have slipped through the cracks of the modern world.

One of our newest grantees, Ikamva Labantu, operates out of Cape Town in South Africa. Ikamva Labantu, which means “The Future of our Nation,” traces its origins to the work of Helen Lieberman during the era of Apartheid. Lieberman worked with impoverished women in townships surrounding Cape Town to build solutions from the inside-out, rather than outside-in.

From those humble beginnings was born Ikamva Labantu, which now serves as an umbrella, funding and supporting over one thousand projects around South Africa that focus on building and maintaining sustainable development. They aid children, youth, adults, families, seniors and the disabled, supporting programs such as foster homes for orphans, food garden projects, home-based care training programs, youth life-skills programs, and training seniors to care for seniors.

Taken as a whole, Ikamva Labantu employs a novel and much needed strategy to tackling hunger in these impoverished townships, adopting a business model to focus on building social accountability. The trustees and Board of Directors are successful businessmen and women who bring corporate expertise to financial & management issues, including constantly auditing all funding.

As Ikamva Labantu states: “It is only by handing individuals control of their own lives that we can set them free to support themselves in a meaningful, sustainable way.” In other words, “Teach a man to fish…”
-Written by Peter Gjerset, Donor Services Associate at MAZON

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Filed under Food For Thought, International Relief, MAZON Grantees