Sunday, May 1, 2016

All who are hungry, come and eat - Every day

We survived Pharaoh.‎
We walked through the sea on dry land.‎
Elated, we burst into song: “The Eternal is my strength and might; God has become my ‎deliverance.”‎
Then we looked forward and saw wilderness.‎
Eyes that saw God’s deliverance, looked ahead and saw nothing but sand.‎
After “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever!”‎
comes: “What will we drink” and “Why did you take us to this desert to die of hunger?”‎

Many commentators criticized the Israelites who left Egypt for their lack of belief. After the ‎miracles they saw, how they could complain? Yeshayahu Leibowitz hit the bull’s-eye when he ‎wrote, “the miraculous reality expressed by song of the Israelites after the sea split cannot create faith.” Human lives of ‎faith are full of ups and downs, and it seems that no outside influence can imprint a soul with faith ‎that is resistant to all of life’s vicissitudes. The Israelites who left Egypt certainly faced severe ‎hardships – I hope I need not list them now. I want to focus on the future they saw before them: ‎thirst and hunger.‎

An existential crisis by any standard.‎

Mahatma Gandhi said: “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them ‎except in the form of bread.”‎
Bread was exactly what they lacked, for they had not prepared any provisions for the journey, and ‎now were facing the wilderness.‎

What has changed?‎

Ostensibly, we live in a society of abundance but in Israel today about 18% of the population ‎suffers from food insecurity, not necessarily starvation but rather consuming a diet that is neither ‎nutritious nor balanced. A diet that does not promote good health, one that impedes the proper ‎development of children, and can also make it difficult for them break out of the cycle of poverty.‎

On the other hand, 2.5 million tons of food, approximately 35% of domestic food production, is ‎wasted in Israel every year; not eaten but consigned to the trash.‎
If a quarter of that amount were to reach the tables of the needy, it would be sufficient to close the ‎gap and ensure adequate nutrition for all. The situation is similar in most of the developed world.‎

For the research, calculations and explanations of these figures, I refer you to Leket Israel’s report ‎‎“Food Waste and Rescue 2015” ( I had the opportunity to read it carefully and it ‎was a depressing experience, as I realized how much food is wasted during the growth, production ‎and distribution processes, and how it is financially disadvantageous for growers, manufacturers ‎and distributors to rescue food with reduced commercial worth but full nutritional value and ‎redistribute it to the needy. The structural challenges related to the Israeli and international economy ‎would take too long to discuss and the possible solutions move into the realm of politics...‎

Therefore, I will focus on religious and personal aspects of the subject.‎

Less than a week ago we began the Seder with “All who are hungry, come and eat.” A recitation ‎that sounds empty when read behind a closed door. The ceremonial statement should, at very least, ‎make us stop and reflect on our duty towards all those whose table is not full of bounty on this ‎night, too.‎

After many more ceremonial statements and a hearty meal, comes another reminder, one we should ‎encounter every day, not just on holidays: the first blessing of Birkat Hamazon, the Grace after Meals:‎ ‎“Who feeds the entire world with great kindness... Who prepares food for all the living.” We thank ‎God by acknowledging that the world’s food resources are indeed sufficient for all its inhabitants. 
The ‎French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote: ‎
Saying grace would be an act of the greatest importance. To be able to eat and drink is a possibility ‎as extraordinary, as miraculous, as the crossing of the Red Sea. We do not recognize the miracle this ‎represents because we live in a Europe which, for the moment, has plenty of everything, and not in a ‎Third World country, and because our memory is short. There they understand that to be able to ‎satisfy one’s hunger is the marvel of marvels. To return to a stage of indigence in Europe, despite all ‎the progress of civilization, is a most natural possibility for us, as the war years and the ‎concentration camps have shown. ‎
Food is indeed plentiful. The problem is distribution and the lines that separates us from poverty and the ‎poor are thinner and more fragile than we usually acknowledge.‎
The shortages are human-made, and therefore fixing them is our responsibility. If we take Birkat ‎Hamazon seriously, it leaves us no choice but share our food with the hungry, and do our best to ensure adequate ‎nutrition for all.
Enough nice words. It’s time for business.‎

For at least 20 years Hod veHadar has helped distribute food baskets for Melo Hatenne. 
For the benefit ‎of those who do not participate in the project, I want to describe a typical basket. The majority is usually ‎white pasta, white rice, standard-issue bread, a few cans of canned vegetables, a bottle of oil and maybe ‎a cake or a kilo of sugar. Last time I distributed baskets, there were a lot of vegetables, thanks to the ‎harvesting efforts of Leket Israel. Sometimes there are eggs, a dozen per family, for a week. I haven’t ‎seen a chicken in those baskets for years. Protein, which is essential to health and for the proper ‎development of children, is conspicuously absent. ‎

This is hardly the first time I’ve stood here and encouraged weekly donations of food via the basket at ‎the entrance. Today I want to hone that call. Tuna. Rich in protein, not too expensive, not ‎too heavy. Bring a can of tuna (or something similar), as often as you can. Needy neighbors are counting ‎on you.  

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