Tag Archives: Passover

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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“Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat”

By Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Dr. H. Eric Schockman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

As the weather grows warmer and the days grow longer, American Jews are preparing to celebrate Passover. Every spring, we remember our people’s escape from bondage and flight to freedom with songs and stories read from the Haggadah, our traditional guide to the Seder meal. Our primary symbol is a very simple one: matzo, the dry, cracker-like food that we also call “the bread of affliction.”

As we gather, our homes filled with friends and our tables with food, our thoughts on slavery, affliction, and remembrances that we were once “strangers in a strange land,” it is easy to forget that affliction is not a thing of the distant past – that even as we sit down to our holiday meal, many Americans are virtual strangers in their own land, afflicted and enslaved by hunger.

The Seder is not merely a meal however, it is tool for education, a call to social action. This year, it comes at a time when many, many American families face times harder than they ever imagined. Today, some 37.5 million Americans live in poverty – a number that includes 13 million children – and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as many as 10 million more of our fellow citizens will have slipped below the poverty line by year’s end. The people who suffer the most in hard times are not those at the top, but those who were already in need when the hard times hit.

The Haggadah wisely guards against the tendency to see religious ritual as a lifeless thing that refers only to the story of the Israelites from the past. We are told that in every generation, we must see ourselves as if we had personally gone out of Egypt. We must take the lessons of bondage and freedom into our daily lives, and apply them to the world around us. As we break matzo with those we love, this year of all years, we must certainly remember the millions who do not have enough food on their own tables.

That is why, next week, we will bring together, not just Jews, but people of all faiths and backgrounds, lawmakers and activists, students and community leaders, to hold a special Seder in the U.S. Capitol, focused on the issues of hunger and child nutrition. This event will kick off a series of similar Seders to be held across the country, as Jewish groups and interfaith leaders convene not just to celebrate the Jewish people’s historical escape from slavery, but to highlight this country’s obligation to ensure that all of our children escape the affliction of hunger.

As a nation, we are only as strong as our weakest members, and surely, we cannot move forward if we fail to care for our children. As the ancient Israelites had to take action in order to achieve their own exodus, so it is today: Hunger can only be defeated if we all take on the responsibility.

As such, these Seders will call on Americans to educate themselves, to advocate on behalf of the hungry to their legislators, and to organize their loved ones and community to take action. Our hope is that the universal message of the right to freedom from want will echo in the halls of Congress, and that our elected officials will see to it that our next federal budget prioritizes meeting Americans’ most basic human needs.

To effectively grapple with childhood hunger, Congress will have to invest substantially in new funding for child nutrition programs. More communities must have access to school breakfast and summer feeding programs, rules must be shaped that will make it simpler for families to participate, and the nutritional quality of the food provided must be improved. $20 billion, over the next five years, will be a critical investment to making the improvements that these programs urgently need – but not only will such changes make a real difference in the lives of boys and girls currently living in poverty, they will be a vital step toward meeting President Obama’s stated goal of ending child hunger in this country by 2015.

The good news is that these ideas build on an existing foundation, laid by Congressional advocates in recent years. Increases in the Food Stamp benefit were an important part of the Administration’s stimulus package, and last year’s Farm Bill contained a robust nutrition title, with 73 percent of the bill’s total dedicated to the funding of nutrition programs such as Food Stamps and emergency food assistance, as well as programs designed to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to schools in low-income areas.

It is simply not enough to leave these issues to the good will of individual people or philanthropies. The simple truth is that hunger, like slavery, is a political condition. It is not a lack of food, but a lack of action and will that perpetuates hunger in the lives of our youngest citizens.

When the Israelites were called to leave behind their suffering, they had to do so in a hurry – and so, not having time to allow their bread to rise, they traveled into the desert with matzo, hard bread that served also to remind them of the hard life they had left behind. Today, we too are in a rush, as every day spent in hunger is one too many. The time to act is not next month or next year, but now.

It is important to remember, however, that Passover is not just a holiday of exodus, but also a time of renewal. As the ragtag crowd of Israelites left Egypt and were formed into the Jewish people, so too can the America people rise to their own challenges, and become a better, stronger nation as a result.

As people of faith, we know that we are called to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. To not do so would be an affront to God and all we hold dear. As Americans, we know that generational poverty – the empty belly of a child – weakens and destabilizes our country as a whole.

“Let all who are hungry come and eat,” we read in the Haggadah, “let all who are in need come share our Passover.”

Let us all – Jews, Christians, Muslims, people of any and all faiths – carry this simple, powerful message with us into the world, and take the actions so urgently needed to free American children from hunger.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.   Dr. H. Eric Schockman is the president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

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All Religions Teach: End Hunger

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown on April 2, 2007.  Jews around the world with gather around a seder table to recall the Israelites liberation from their bondage of slavery.  As a community, we will reflect on what freedom truly means, not only for our ancestors, but also for all people, many of who are enslaved today in our society, including those who are hungry.

In our world, 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 Qu”ran states:  “The poor, the orphan, the captive-feed them for the love of god alone, desiring no reward, nor even thanks.”

And, at 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.  And our assistance is needed now more than ever.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture over 35 million Americans, including 12 million children, are hungry or are at risk of hunger.  We also know that hunger goes beyond our country.  Today, 852 million people in the world are malnourished; over 150 million are children under the age of five.

But, in the face of their overwhelming tragedy, we can help to make a difference in the lives of so many that are hungry by building partnerships 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.

Food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries are working hard to help those who are hungry today, but are also advocating for change on behalf of their clients.  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, I am 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.”

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