poverty
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Fighting Hunger

by Connecticut Jewish Ledger

Connecticut’s First Lady Cathy Malloy, Sen. Edith Prague, Deacon Arthur Miller, head of Connecticut Black Catholics, Senate Chaplain Rev. David Baird, Rep. David Baram, Hillel directors Gary Wolff of UConn and Beth Rosenberg of CCSU, and Sandra Smith, director of the Newman Club of the University of Hartford, were among those who read aloud from a special Haggadah at the Second Annual Interfaith Hunger Seder that took place at the State Capitol on April 21. Hosted by the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) and co-led by Rabbi David Small of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford and Rev. Timothy Oslovich of Trinity Lutheran Church in Vernon, the seder was intended to raise awareness about the problem of hunger in Connecticut. Food donations were collected for area soup kitchens. The seder was also filmed for a documentary entitled “A Peace of Bread: Faith, Food and the Future,” which will air on ABC affiliated stations in December 2011.

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Seder, Conference Offer Reflections on Poverty

by Marty Cooper, The Jewish Voice & Herald

“Blessed is he who considers the poor”


Psalms 41:2


During the months of April and May, leaders of our community have heeded those words in the hopes of alleviating poverty in Rhode Island.


In April, the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island (Alliance) conducted a “Hunger Seder.” The seder, which was held at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, included faith and community leaders as well as CRC members. Its purpose was to educate the community about the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition across the nation, but with a focus on hunger in Rhode Island. The seder also inspired community leaders to become stronger and more vigilant advocates for the restoration of the SNAP (food stamps) funding in the 2012 federal budget and full funding of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.


On Tuesday, May 3, the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Fight Poverty with Faith, whose mission is to help reduce poverty by 50 percent in 10 years, held its third annual conference on poverty. The conference provided valuable information to faith leaders and community activists about advocating for the underserved and poor members of our communities. (See “It’s time to organize, to protest, to act,” by Nancy Kirsch, on page 1.) Virtually every religious organization was present at the conference – a fitting tribute, as all major religions’ sacred texts command us to consider the poor.


Poverty strikes every religion. It strikes every race. It strikes every culture. While many of us might be born into poverty and struggle to escape it, many of us also find ourselves living in a middle class environment only to become poverty-stricken through no fault of our own. Consider the retired couple who must spend their lifesavings on essential medical assistance and prescriptions. Consider the factory worker who must support a family, yet was laid off and faces a home foreclosure.


It is interesting to note that both the seder and the conference are held during the spring, close to Passover, a solemn occasion. It’s an especially appropriate time for us to reflect on our lives. What can we do to make life better for others and for ourselves? When the Israelites left Egypt, they hoped for better lives – without the deplorable conditions they endured as slaves. During their travels, they had many life threatening challenges; many wanted to give up and return to Egypt. But, in the end, they entered the “Land of Milk and Honey.”


The seder and the conference provided us with both tools and hope so that we might help those now living in poverty and also reduce poverty in Rhode Island and across the nation.


For more information about the CRC, contact Marty Cooper at 421-4111, ext. 171.


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A Social Justice Passover in Washington

by James Besser, The Jewish Week

Passover being a holiday marking affliction and freedom, it wouldn't be complete without Washington seders focusing on economic and social justice issues.

On Wednesday, the Jewish Funds for Justice and the Progressive Jewish Alliance will hold a “Food and Social Justice Seder” at the Department of Agriculture in downtown Washington, hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.


With the holiday's emphasis on food, this will be the perfect opportunity to focus “on the place where food and justice intersect” and “explore hunger and food access, labor conditions for food workers, sustainable production and consumption and individual and communal responsibilities,” according to a statement by planners.


Officiating will be Rabbi Jack Moline, leader of a Conservative congregation in suburban Alexandria, VA. and director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Dara Frimmer of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.


The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) conducted a Washington version of its “National Hunger Seder – more than 40 events in 22 states focusing on the growing problem of hunger in the United States – last week.


Led by Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA CEO, the seder used a special Haggadah “written to raise awareness of hunger and keep it a continued policy priority,” according to a statement by the group.


Also held at the Department of Agriculture, the event was attended by Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI), and several White House officials.


Also on the Passover agenda: President Barack Obama and family held their third seder for White House staff, family and friends. Using the Maxwell House Haggadah, the event was “kosher style,” with some of the recipes provide by Jewish White House staffers.

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Op-Ed: End, Don't Extend, the Scandal of Hunger in America

by Leonard Fein and Jackie Levine, JTA

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Before we tell the Passover story, before the Four Questions and all the rest of the elaborate rituals that mark the Passover celebration in Jewish homes across the globe, we raise a piece of matzah, the unleavened bread that is meant to remind us of the haste with which we fled Egypt some 3,500 years ago, and we say (or chant): “Let all who are hungry enter and eat.”


When those words were first spoken, odds are that the speaker actually knew the names of the hungry; they were his neighbors down on their luck. Now we speak the very same words, but few of us know the name of even one person who experiences real hunger -- or as the experts call it these days, “food insecurity.”


Yet scarcely a day goes by when we do not read of the growing number of hungry Americans. People who never imagined that they would have to rely on soup kitchens and food pantries now stand in line and await their turn, joining millions of others long since intimately familiar with hunger. The numbers are daunting.


Hunger in America is not a consequence of drought, natural disaster or a lack of food. There is more than enough food in this country for everyone to “enter and eat.” That's why, when we think of hunger here at home, we do not think of it as a tragedy; we think of it as a scandal.


That scandal is now on the verge of fearsome growth. Congress will soon begin debate on a new budget for 2012. The opening proposal would restrict access to critical feeding programs through job testing and block granting, shrinking our social safety net at a time of almost historically low job availability. The fate of programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) -- federal assistance programs that help low income families afford groceries -- suddenly is uncertain. This is simply unacceptable.


It is a coincidence that this year, Passover falls as the 2012 budget battle begins. But it is not a coincidence at all that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has coordinated more than 40 Hunger Seders in 23 states across the country -- including, on April 14, a National Hunger Seder on Capitol Hill for members of Congress, members of the Obama administration, and leaders from the faith and anti-hunger communities.


These events are designed to raise awareness of the scandal of hunger and of the vital programs that preserve both health and dignity. We are proud to co-chair the JCPA’s Hunger Seder mobilization.


We do not know the names of each person suffering from the oppression of hunger, but we are conscience-bound to keep open our doors and ensure that they know they are welcome at America’s table. They have not caused the deficit crisis; neither should it be resolved by asking them to endure the anxiety and pain of hunger in order to repair it. Our chosen task is to end the scandal, not to ignore it, let alone to extend it.


(Leonard Fein and Jackie Levine are the honorary co-chairs of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ 2011 Hunger Seders mobilization.)

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Seder Unites Generations

by Sergio Carmona, Jewish Journal (Miami)

Eighth grade students, college students, government officials and senior adults converged for an intergenerational Passover seder while listening to Jewish community leaders discuss hunger, nutrition and policy issues.

As part of its "Through a Different Lens: Generation to Generation Advocacy Discussion Series," the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council hosted its intergenerational advocacy seder and discussion at Miami Jewish Health Systems.

Carol Brick-Turin, the JCRC's director, said about the seder's purpose, "This is to create individual awareness on the issue of hunger and to also raise awareness that every person in the room, whether they're 14 or 84, has a voice and that their voice can be heard."

The tables consisted of an eighth grade student from Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, a MJHS resident, a Miami-Dade College student and a community leader.

"We were very planful about the seating so that at each table there were senior adults and young adults and middle school students so we could facilitate conversation between people of different ages," Brick-Turin added.

People from different ages engaged in several conversations. MJHS resident Shirley Frishman enjoyed her time with the Hebrew Academy students.

"It was exciting and it was fun," Frishman, 87, said. "They're exuberant in their love of life and their Jewishness. Everything about them was so stimulating."

Hebrew Academy eighth grade student Rachel Kahn, who interacted with Frishman, said about her experience with her, "We learned that you can have fun out of anything and we had a fun time with Shirley as we learned a lot from her."

Leaders representing different organizations discussed the Jewish community's role in hunger activism.

Judy Gilbert-Gould from the Jewish Council For Public Affairs' board of directors who discussed her organization's role with the issue, said "I think having all these generations was a wonderful way to show that hunger is an issue that has no boundaries in terms of age and that it's something that everybody at every age has to address and has to make sure that our government officials hear that this is actually something that people are interested in."

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Broad Civic and Interfaith Coalition Join Together at Sedar on Capitol Hill to Advocate for End to Hunger

by Ben Suarato, JCPA Press Release

Members of Congress, Administration officials, and leaders of faith and anti-hunger groups gathered on Capitol Hill today for the 3rd annual National Hunger Seder organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to raise awareness about hunger in the United States and the programs available to end it.


“I was thrilled by the diversity of the coalition that came together to raise awareness about hunger today,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow, who led the Hunger Seder. “It speaks volumes to the fact that this is an unacceptable condition in every community, one which demands an urgent response. Today’s Hunger Seder attendees came from both faith and civic organizations, from Congress, the White House, executive agencies, and from schools. Despite the Passover Seder being a Jewish custom, the universality of the message of freedom, including a freedom from hunger, attracted participants from across the entire religious spectrum.


“Each speaker throughout the seder remarked that though we have the tools to combat hunger, this nightmare is still a reality for over 50 million Americans,” continued Gutow. “That is why the effort cannot be limited to today’s seder. Over 40 Hunger Seders, including in Miami, Cleveland, Boston, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, are being held this year to help build local coalitions to confront poverty. It is only through raising awareness, both on the national stage and locally, that we can inspire others to act. The need for action to protect successful programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was underscored as the House of Representatives began debate today on a 2012 budget resolution that would cut and restrict access to them.”


“In this country, the wealthiest and most bountiful nation in the world, there are still many children who don’t have enough food to eat,” said Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI), who read at the Seder. “Too many children in my district suffer from illnesses attributed to the lack of nutritious food.” Rep. Clarke was joined by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), who said that Congress, with support from advocates like those participating in Hunger Seders, could stem this crisis. “I believe that hunger is a political condition,” said Rep. McGovern. “We have the resources to end it in our lifetimes, but we need the political will to make it happen. Faith communities are an essential part of our efforts.”


For the past 10 days, Rabbi Gutow had been fasting to protest cuts to human needs programs. His fast was part of the Hunger Fast campaign in cooperation with Ambassador Tony Hall of the Alliance to End Hunger and many others. “America faces tough choices about the long term fiscal health of our nation, but we shouldn’t’ balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people,” said Ambassador Hall, who stopped eating and began fasting eighteen days ago in response to proposed budget cuts, “I commend the national Hunger Seder movement for focusing attention on this matter of urgent moral concern.”

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CRC Commentary: Jewish Community Seder Promotes Advocacy on Hunger

by Judy Lackritz, Jewish Journal of San Antonio

On April 12, students in the Chai High and the B’nai Tzedek programs will hold a 2011 Hunger Seder at the Jewish Campus. It will be the third year that the teens have held a Seder using a Hagaddah that teaches about hunger in the United States and advocates for legislation that addresses food deficiencies.


The students who have participated in these Seders over the past couple of years may not realize the role they have played in reducing hunger in our country.  


Last year’s Child Nutrition Seders, which were coordinated by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and its Community Relations Council (CRC) affiliates, received particular mention for raising awareness throughout the country in an op-ed published in January in JTA by the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  


He praised the work of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), Mazon, and Jewish Community Centers of North America for their hard work at the forefront of support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which passed at the end of  the last Congressional session.


The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act provides healthy meals to hungry children at school each day.  According to a White House fact sheet “over 31 million children receive meals through the school lunch program and many children receive most, if not all, of their meals at school. With over seventeen million children living in food insecure households and one out of every three children in America now considered overweight or obese, schools often are on the front lines of our national challenge to combat childhood obesity and improve children’s overall health.”


The passage of the act continues the National School Lunch program, which has been helping low income families with their nutritional needs since 1946.  Children who participate in the School Lunch program have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not participate, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.


The 2011 JCPA Hunger Seder will include educational resources about the challenges of hunger in the United States and the importance of engaging in anti-hunger service and advocacy.  


The Chai High and B’nai Tzedek students who participate will also receive a one-page hagaddah insert that participants can take home and use during their family Seders.  If you would like a copy of the Hagaddah insert, please call (210) 302-6962 for a copy.  


The CRC is a program of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio.


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Doing What We Can: Anti-Hunger Seders All Across America

by Rabbi Steve Gutow, Huffington Post

In just a few days Jews around the world will begin the celebration of Passover by holding seders to tell the story of freedom from bondage and oppression in Egypt. In many communities around America this past week and next, seders will be held telling a different story: not the story of the slavery in ancient Egypt but rather the story of the slavery of the spirit and the body caused by hunger. As part of this national effort, joined by members of Congress, representatives from the Administration, and leaders of faith and anti-hunger groups, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs will be holding our 3rd annual National Hunger Seder in the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to raise awareness on behalf of those who live under the yoke of a hungry stomach.

We are doing this with a sense of urgency. As you read this, the U.S. House of Representatives is beginning consideration of the 2012 budget resolution. Programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly food stamps) which millions depend on just to make it through the week, will face the possibility of significant cuts and restrictions. We must do what we can to stop this from happening.

Our hungry neighbors and friends shall not stand alone in this fight to protect the safety net that protects them. For the past ten days I have been taking part in a hunger fast with religious, political, and civic leaders and others who are concerned. It is not hard, not debilitating, but it does make me think. For at least part of every day when I am skipping a meal, I feel for a brief moment the pain of those who are hungry in America and in the world. It is sort of like an MRI where for 30 minutes one is existing in a tightly sealed chamber, frightened that she or he may be experiencing a lifetime of what living in a straight jacket would be like-but knowing that the experience will only last a few moments longer.


The same is true during this short daily fast. For a few hours every day I know what it is like to not be able to eat and to do my best to imagine what it must be like to live that way every minute of every day. It is not a good feeling.


All of us need to spend some moments considering what the world is like for over 50 million Americans living in food insecure households, for more than one billion hungry inhabitants of the planet. The magnitude of the problem of hunger makes addressing it a daunting prospect. But when we realize -- when we feel -- we have the inspiration to do something, to make a change.


We probably do not have the ability, the time and the energy to change the whole world but we can do something. We can motivate our friends and neighbors, speak with our elected officials, or convince a newspaper reporter or editor to write something.


This is the motivation behind the National Hunger Seder and the Passover Hunger Seder Mobilization, and I am proud of the response from our communities. This year, more than 40 hunger seders are being held in more than 22 states across the country to raise awareness about hunger and the possible reductions in programs like WIC and SNAP.


I read recently in the New York Times of a favorite proverb of Mario Cuomo's about an Arab traveler who comes upon a sparrow in the desert, lying on its back with its claws outstretched toward the sky. The Arab asks the bird what it is doing, and the bird replies that he has heard the sky is about to fall, and he wants to be ready to hold it up. 'You foolish creature,' says the Arab laughing.' To which the bird replies, with resignation, 'One does what one can.'
It is time for us all to do what we can.


Rabbi Steve Gutow is the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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The JCPA's National Hunger Seder

by Elyssa Koidin

 

05:21 PM Apr 14, 2011

Last week, Representative Paul Ryan (WI-R), Chair of the House Budget Committee, introduced his 2012 budget proposal. This plan proposes to make $6.2 trillion in cuts over the next ten years, 2/3 of which will come from cuts to programs that serve low-income and vulnerable populations.

Potentially some of the most devastating cuts come in the area of anti-hunger and nutrition programs. Representative Ryan is proposing block granting the SNAP program, a move that would devastate this critical safety net program and take away its ability to respond to changes within the economy. In addition, the Ryan plan proposes to cut $127 billion in funds from SNAP over the next 10 years . The overwhelming majority of SNAP participants are households with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. The faith community has heard anecdotal evidence that many of the people currently on SNAP never thought they would need this assistance, but because of the current recession, their resources are limited and they have been forced to find alternative ways to provide their family with food.

This is precisely the reason the JCPA held our 3rd annual National Hunger Seder on Capitol Hill this morning. The National Hunger Seder, lead by Rabbi Steve Gutow, enlightened participants on the modern day oppression of hunger faced by too many Americans. In addition, we discussed the role community members must play in advocating for our neighbors on issues relating to SNAP, WIC, and other nutrition programs.

Leading portions of the seder were United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, Representatives James McGovern (MA-D) and Hansen Clarke (MI-D), advisors from the White House and faith-based offices of the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, JCPA Vice Chair Susan Turnbull, as well as leaders within the faith and anti-hunger communities and school children from the Jewish Primary Day School of Washington, D.C. Representatives McGovern and Clarke read from the specially-written hagaddah and made remarks on the need to work together and act now to put an end to hunger in America.

As our nation faces a serious budget battle and the need to protect human needs programs becomes greater, the Hunger Seder mobilization, with more than 40 community Hunger Seder events organized by JCRCs in 22 states across the country , couldn’t come at a better time. For more information on the Hunger Seder mobilization (including copies of the Hunger Seder hagaddah), please visit this website. To find a seder in your community, please go here.

For more information on anti-hunger advocacy opportunitie, please contact Elyssa Koidin.

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All Who Are Hungry...

by Editorial, New Jersey Jewish News

“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.

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