Steaks for the Poor?

(x-posted at All Voices)

Yesterday’s New York Times told an amazing story about a soup kitchen called Masbia in Borough Park (a hasidic Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY) that strives to offer a more dignified meal to its guests.  Unlike most regular soup kitchens which seat diners at long, communal tables, Masbia is set up to resemble a restaurant with tables separated by screens and fake plants to grant guests privacy.  Last week, diners were even treated 16-ounce steaks, a once-a-year treat at Masbia in honor of “Grand Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir, Hungary, who died in 1925 and who was known for feeding the hungry and other acts of charity.

The kitchen at Masbia is kosher, making it the only option viable option for religious Jews who need assistance, but do not eat non-kosher food.  But while the soup kitchen primarily serves members of the hasidic Jewish community, unobservant Jews and non Jews are also welcomed.

Masbia mirrors another organization in New York called the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, which sets up its food pantry like a regular grocery store where members can shop for the items they need at no charge to them.  Both of these organizations follow the logic that the country’s needier citizens deserve respect, not simply hand-outs.  (Indeed, the Jewish concept of tzedakah translates both to charity and justice.)

In contrast, a different Times article last fall reported how food banks across the country are reporting the worst food shortages in years – and are unable to even provide the quantity of food needed to serve people, let alone the quality.  ‘”It’s the first time in a few years that I could walk into the warehouse and see empty shelves,” said Lucy Cabrera, the president and chief executive of the Food Bank, which helps feed about 1.3 million people a year.’” 

With food reserves dwindling across the country, people losing homes and jobs, and food and oil prices rising steadily, the boundaries between needy and not are blurring quickly.  Masbia receives funding through city and state aid, and also through private donations and WSCAH receives support from corporations like Whole Foods and JP Morgan Chase and organizations like Mazon and Church World Service.  But as pressures increase, a question of sustainability looms: how much more is there to give?

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5 Responses to “Steaks for the Poor?”

  1. Michael Croland Says:

    If kosher meat prices go up — as seems pretty likely — in the wake of AgriProcessors’ latest woes, it might be difficult for these folks to afford the steaks …

  2. Robin Says:

    This Israeli version of this is Carmei HaIr in Jerusalem. Not only does it function as a restaurant, but business people come for lunch there and then pay what they want. This makes it even more of an integrated setting.

    The restaurant is located right near the shuk (Machane Yehuda). It is a very special place.

  3. shev Says:

    Yes, if AgriProcessors goes under, it might be harder to afford steaks. Perhaps Masbia will be able to fulfil the mitzvah of tzedakah wihtout sacrificing the mitzvah prohibiting cruelty to animals, the halachot that delineate business ethics, or the mitzvah to observe the rules of the country you live in…

    This is obviously not to judge Masbia, which is worthy of great praise; let’s just acknowledge the real cost of a mitzvah that relies on cheap food.

  4. Ilana-Davita Says:

    Thanks for the link.

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