Category Archives: Guest Blog

Project Elijah: Open The Door & Feed The Hungry

1257361190127_665e8It wasn’t even Passover, yet on Sunday, October 18th at West Hills, California’s Milken Jewish Community Campus, an innovative program called  “Feeding the Hungry Project” opened the doors and Project Elijah, a MAZON-funded hunger response nonprofit, walked through it.

Project Elijah’s Executive Director, Julie Kaufman and its founder, Alan Zuckert flew into town from Des Moines, Iowa, with crates of supplies and packaging equipment. With local organizers, they set up assembly lines and bag-sealing stations in the auditorium and proceeded to set the stage for a transformative experience for the hundreds of volunteers that would soon arrive.

From 10am and 2pm, two shifts of volunteers, mostly from Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, California, donned bright orange t-shirts, aprons, gloves and hairnets and began to scoop, measure, package and seal a nutritious blend of grains into 4-serving bags.  Rabbi Barry Lutz blew a shofar to launch the event and as each 5000-meal milestone was achieved, he blew the shofar again to the cheers and applause of the volunteers.

The “Feeding the Hungry” project came together because Temple Ahavat Shalom member Stephanie Howard believed it was possible. It became reality with guidance from MAZON and grants from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s Valley Alliance and other funders.  It generated over 35,000 meals for beneficiaries of the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program, a long-time MAZON grantee, because more than 1,000,000 men, women and children in Los Angeles are at risk of hunger and SOVA’s three food pantries are among the premiere front line responders to the hunger crisis in Los Angeles.

Here are Ms. Howard’s reflections on the event:

Wow!  Four hundred volunteers + four hours = 35,000 meals for SOVA!  That’s what we can accomplish with some long-range planning, a passion to feed the hungry and a little Chutzpah.

We did it!  And we didn’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”  All we had to do was “roll in” a high-protein, vitamin-packed food product and assembly line system developed by Project Elijah in Des Moines, Iowa.  Temple Ahavat Shalom started dreaming about this one-day event years ago.  Thanks to grants from the Los Angeles Federation Valley Alliance and the Ted and Sarah Seldin Family Fund we were able to pay for the food and shipping of the equipment to package the meals.

Of course, the best part of the equation is the volunteers.  There was so much enthusiasm for Feeding the Hungry that we had to close down the sign ups weeks ahead of time when we reached our maximum of 400 volunteers. People brought their patience, passion and willingness to do a great mitzvah so we could meet our goal to help the needy.

Thanks, MAZON, for co-sponsoring Feeding the Hungry and for fighting the battle every day to draw down hunger.

She also has event photos available on Flickr.

Anyone can open the door and end hunger.  Start by opening the door to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger at www.mazon.org.

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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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TAKE ACTION: Support The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009

UPDATE 8/18/09: Just learned of an online petition in support of HR 2909 at Change.org’s “Poverty in America” section. Take a minute to make a difference!

Irene Schild Caminer wrote this guest blog.

Introduction: Measuring Poverty

Finally after years of waiting for a new approach, Rep. Jim McDermott (D- WA) has introduced a bill providing for one year to plan and recommend a new measurement of poverty.   The U.S.  has been measuring poverty in the same manner since the early 1960s. The existing poverty determinations are based upon a stagnant and outdated method that fails to meet the needs of those that are truly impoverished—our fellow Americans that on a daily basis have to make difficult choices between food, shelter and medical care.   Decisions relating to poverty need to be made based upon the changing economy and public policy.  In 1995, the National Academy of Sciences recommended a change in the metrics based on needs rather than deprivation.   With this Act, the U.S. takes a 21st century approach to measuring poverty that is fiscally sound, data driven and fair across our country.

Some critics may ask why has it taken so long; will a 15 year-old measurement work today; will it cost us more; will this lead to a real plan to end hunger in our country over the next decade?     I can’t answer these questions but this administration and Congress are ready to make change.  Here is what I have learned about Rep. McDermott’s Bill and seek your support for any amendments, if appropriate, passage and appropriations for implementation.

Name of Bill:  The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009 (the “Act”)

This Act refers to the current poverty index or threshold as the Traditional Poverty Measure.  The Traditional Poverty Measure is based upon 1960s information that has been annually adjusted for inflation.  The Traditional Poverty Measure was an absolute measure and determined the poverty threshold based on the data that 1/3 of income was spent on food and chose the economy food plan (the least costly of four nutritionally adequate food plans designed by the Department of Agriculture) for its dollar amount….food …yes that is it.  No other real measures were taken into account.  This Measure was the basis for all forms of assistance including food, shelter, utility assistance and medical care.  More importantly one has to fall below the Measure to qualify for assistance.  We have been overlooking or providing aid to those that may not need it by failing to determine whether the basic needs are being met for American families.

Under the Act, the Modern Poverty Threshold, a more accurate approach to measuring poverty, is sought.  The Modern Poverty Threshold will include “Market Income” including such things as income, clothing and shelter, as well as, adjustments for expenses, such as medical, childcare and transportation expenses.  Also, included in the Modern Poverty Threshold is “Disposable Income.” Disposable Income includes taxes, adjustments for tax credits, food, shelter and utility assistance received from state and federal agencies. Finally, geographic adjustments will be allowed based upon the locale in which a recipient (urban, rural and suburban) lives. Thus, the distribution of funds will be more fairly allocated based upon the true cost of living in that community.  So, for example, a family living in a large metropolitan city may be eligible for more dollars with the acknowledgement that basic needs cost more there than in a small rural area.  Further, with this approach those in need of assistance will be able to obtain the assistance in the appropriate form.  Those in need will not have to sell their food stamps in order to pay other basic necessities.

The Modern Poverty Threshold hopefully will not become dormant or obsolete.  The Act also includes the ability to objectively review and reassess the effects of the Modern Poverty Threshold no less than every five years.

Support

Rep. McDermott’s Bill is already gaining support as 5 others have joined in to co-sponsor.  They are:  Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO); Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D=NY); Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Fortney Pete Stark (D-CA).

Next Steps

The Bill has been referred to two Congressional Committees:  the Ways and Means Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  These committees will hold hearings to evaluate and vote whether to recommend for passage.  Please join me in writing and faxing letters to your Senators and Congressmen to seek their support of this long-overdue legislation. A sample letter follows:

Dear Congressman ____________________ OR Senator_______________________:

I am writing to seek your support of HR 2909, The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009 introduced by your colleague Rep. Jim McDermott. The Act calls for a more accurate approach to measuring poverty. Following the National Academy of Sciences recommendations the measurement will take into account a variety of metrics to determine poverty and it will allow for the fair and fiscally reasonable distribution of funding to those based upon basic needs and not just the 1960’s cost of food as annually adjusted. This Bill will allow for the plan to take affect within a year of passage.  We need to ensure that all members of our community, city, state and nation are obtaining their basic needs including food, shelter and medical care.  We cannot allow 36 million Americans to continue to live on verge of hunger.

Sincerely,

______________________

Alternatively, you can call your Congressmen and Senators at either their local offices or their Washington, DC offices.  A sample text follows:

Hello, my name is ________________ and I live in the State of _________  and in the ___District.  I would like to voice my support of HR 2909 The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009.  I believe this Bill will ensure that all members of our community, city, state and nation are obtaining their basics needs including food, shelter and medical care through adjusting the way we measure poverty.  We cannot allow 36 million Americans to continue to live on verge of hunger.

Irene Schild Caminer is an attorney in Chicago and a MAZON supporter.

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President Barack Obama’s visit to Orange County

NVOCATION BY RABBI ARNOLD RACHLIS (Board Chair of MAZON)
UNIVERSITY SYNAGOGUE, IRVINE CA
MARCH 18, 2009

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S VISIT TO ORANGE COUNTY

Divine Source of Healing and Growth, Creator of a beautiful world around us and a moral universe within us, You who are called by so many names in all of the languages and traditions of the world, Awesome God of the Blue States and the Red States, of the United States and of the world, fill us with hope and love today as we welcome the dream of what America can be, represented by our visionary President Barack Obama. The name “Barack” means blessed and our President is truly a blessing for our country and the world. Our President is also grateful for the blessings of love, education, and opportunity that he has received and he knows that the truest gratitude that he or we can show is to pay our blessings forward to empower and ennoble the lives of others.  President Obama has an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation and, even more, the audacity of hope to bring much needed change to our country.

We know, as President Obama knows, that government alone can’t cure all of the ills of the world, and yet we are here today to declare that government has a crucial role, an indispensable role, a holy responsibility. We, the people, acting individually and together, in charitable groups, through synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and all holy places of worship, we the people, through national and local organizations and through government at all levels, we the people, as concerned men and women, young and old, we are the ones who must fulfill our mandate to act – to be human, more fully human, than we are now.  We need our government to support us, and we need to support our President through challenges unimagined even a year ago.  In the Biblical Book of Isaiah, we are reminded of what our mandate must be.

“To share our bread with the hungry,
and to bring to the homeless, shelter;
to clothe the naked,
and to refuse to turn aside at human injustice.”

We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and we cannot stand idly by in the face of injustice, whether far away or in our own communities.  A skinny kid, who believed that America had a place for him too, once asked:  “How far do our obligations reach?  How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?”

Today, that skinny kid is the President of the United States!

Source of all creation, we know that our leaders will do their work with compassion, generosity and purpose if we live by these values, as well.  We know that our leaders will inspire us if we also inspire them, with a vision of what our country can be.

We are told by an ancient tradition that “anyone who saves one life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire world.”  Because by turning one life around, we lift that person, and hopefully all of his or her descendants, out of vulnerability, pain, despair and perhaps even death.

Holy One, bless us with vision, courage, determination and decency.  Open our hearts to the goodness in our own lives which we, all too often, take for granted.  Let our eyes see those in need, let our ears hear those who cry out in pain and let our hearts feel the despair of those who suffer in our midst and across the world.

We are honored by the visit of President Obama today and deeply grateful that he is our President of the United States of America at this crucial moment in history.  We pray, in the words of the poet Judy Chicago, echoing the dreams from our Biblical fathers and mothers:

“And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth’s abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.”

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