“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry — come and eat. All who are needy — come and join the Passover celebration.”
When these words entered the Haggada in antiquity, its compilers could not have imagined a world in which rich and poor, haves and have-nots, did not live side by side. In the tight-knit communities in which Jews lived, there was nothing theoretical about this passage — it was an actual invitation for the poor to come join a seder meal.
In our own era, prosperity and mobility have made the poor largely invisible to the affluent. Our communities are segregated not just by race, but by class. Even our Jewish poor often live out of sight, perhaps in nursing homes or in neighborhoods or communities that have been bypassed by the tides that lifted their co-religionists into economic security.
In the spirit of the Haggada, however, a number of Jewish groups continue to remember the poor come Passover. Federations, through the Joint Distribution Committee, make sure elderly Jews abroad have kosher meals and places to share them with fellow Jews. Mazon: A Response to Jewish Hunger raises money for hunger programs and advocates for better public policy. Coming from sometimes opposite ends of the political spectrum, denominational groups support legislation they think is in the best interests of the poor, whether it is the Orthodox Union’s support of state aid for religiously affiliated charities, or the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ participation in a Spiritual Hunger Fast meant to protect vulnerable people from draconian federal budget cuts.
The JCPA is also sponsoring Hunger Seder events across the country to inspire advocacy to protect funding for critical anti-hunger programs like SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children).
Mazon, meanwhile, is asking people to pause at their seders and ask a Fifth Question: “Why on this night are millions of people going hungry?”
The search for answers will help us fulfill our yearning for a sweet, fulfilling, liberating Pesach for all.