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Food Crisis and Hunger – What is a Jewish Response?

Food is a right for everyone and ultimately is a public policy issue.  In 2007, 36.2 million people were food insecure in the United States.  One in 10 households experience hunger issues or were at risk of hunger.  Each year $14.5 billion is spent on soup kitchens, food banks and emergency food operations.

But what is the Jewish response to hunger in light of the recent global and domestic food crisis?  At the food conference we had the opportunity to hear from H. Eric Schockman, President of Mazon who explained the immediate and systemic responses to hunger in this country and challenged us to consider the paradigm of ‘charity vs. justice.’

In a village by a river, the people noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown! Someone rushed into the river to save the baby.  But then, the people noticed another baby in the river, so they pulled that baby out.  Soon, more babies were seen floating in the river, and the people in the village were pulling them out as fast as they could. It was a lot of work, and the village people began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river.

“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!”

“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing the babies in!”

Of course saving the babies (feeding those who are hungry) is terribly important, but we must also figure out how the babies are getting into the water in the first place (the causes of food insecurity) and stop it from happening.  Dr. Schockman encouraged the participants to get involved by 1) donating healthy food options to our local food pantries  2) becoming a food advocate by writing to our public officials.  But also suggested that policy makers need to hear directly from those who are experiencing hunger to better understand the issues.

According to Dr. Shockman, hunger is a problem we can be solved if there was a political will to do so.  It costs many times more to maintain the problem than actually end hunger.  The Jewish concern for tzedakah and social justice are fundamental values rooted in the Torah.  A Jewish response to hunger is the pursuit through advocacy to obtain justice to end hunger.

For more information on these issues and how you can get involved, go to Mazon’s website www.mazon.org.

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