Around the world,Jews open their doors and make this announcement,inviting the hungry into their homes for dinner on Passover,a holiday celebrating the escape of Jews from Egypt. Passover is March 29 to April 6 this year.
Drawing on this concept,the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and MAZON,a Jewish nonprofit organization,held a Seder,a traditional Jewish holiday celebration,to draw attention to the hunger crisis in the United States. The Seder was held Thursday in the Capitol.
“Hunger is not OK in Judaism,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow,president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and leader of the Seder.
The event mimicked a traditional Seder but substituted talk about the current hunger problem for more conventional topics of discussion.
The room smelled of matzo and wine,traditional Passover foods. About 50 people joined in the Seder,a dozen or so with individual speaking roles,including Ambassador Tony Hall,director of the Alliance to End Hunger,and Susan Sher,chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama.
“Food is medicine,when you think about it,” said Rep. James McGovern,D-Mass,one of the speakers.
A call to action reverberated throughout the event. The political and religious leaders plugged the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,a bill that is expected to be marked up by the Senate Agriculture Committee next week. A vote on the floor is targeted for mid-April.
“Hunger is essentially a political condition,” McGovern said.
Because the United States has enough food to feed all its inhabitants,people must “muster the political will” to distribute food to those who need it most,he said. “If we have enough money to build weapons and fight wars and do all these other crazy things,we should be able to feed the hungry.”
Modifications were made to the usual service. Instead of asking the customary four Passover questions (Why do we eat matzo? Why do we eat bitter herbs? Why do we dip our greens twice? Why do we lean on pillows?),readers instead asked: “What will it take to end childhood hunger in America?” and “What kind of investment is needed?”
Yvonne Paretzky,60,a USCJ member,said the Seder had “good spirit.”
“I think advocacy is really critical,” Paretzky said.
Paretzky,a risk-management consultant from Potomac,Md.,said people often ignore the hunger issue in the United States.
“It's one of those things that I think people don't focus on,” she said. “I can't wait to get back to say,‘What else can we do?'”
When Joel Jacob,MAZON president,emphasized the need to end childhood hunger by 2015,the audience burst into applause.
Jacob said that just as Jews are taught to think of themselves as having personally been slaves in Egypt,they ought to think of themselves personally as leaders in the hunger-fighting movement.
“We are part of the story,” he said.