Combating Hunger With Jewish Values

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is an organization that has been fighting hunger for over three decades. Originally, Mazon operated by providing funds to local food relief agencies, but now, it is solely an advocacy organization. Mazon advocates on hunger issues at all levels of government and provides grants to support the advocacy capacity of food distribution organizations and other anti-hunger groups throughout the United States and Israel. The grants — 179 of them this past year — fund advocacy efforts that benefit people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Rabbi Erin Glazer. Photo credit to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Rabbi Erin Glazer
Photo credit to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

In between busily preparing for Passover and responding to fast-paced government developments, Rabbi Erin Glazer, senior engagement officer of MAZON in Washington, D.C., took the time to answer a number of questions about the organization during a phone interview. Glazer served as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, New Jersey, and gained her legislative experience at the National Council of Jewish Women and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Mazon was founded in 1986 by Leonard Fein (z’’l), with a group that included Philadelphian Ted Mann, who still serves on the organization’s national board, along with Philadelphian Ruth Laibson, who joined the board in 2002. Fein’s conception was that we should donate 3% of the cost of each celebration a community holds, religious or otherwise, to the hungry. Today, over a thousand synagogues are engaged with MAZON in a number of ways, including encouraging their members to make donations in honor of a simcha.

Rabbi Glazer explains that Mazon represents a Jewish response to hunger. It is a modern take on the traditional commitment in shtetl life that a wedding feast could not begin until needy members of the community were seated and allowed to share in the bounty. Mazon’s approach is just a more contemporary and effective way to address hunger.

In addition to emphasizing the Jewish values of caring for the poor and the hungry, Rabbi Glazer focuses on the universalism of Leonard Fein’s vision to end hunger for people of all faiths and backgrounds. She notes that in the Jerusalem Talmud, tzedakah (righteous giving) was an obligation of all people and was to be distributed to all people. Similarly, Hillel taught that one should not separate oneself from the community. MAZON combines the values of tzedakah and tzedek (justice), linking thousands of donors with advocates who are working for government policies that enhance nutrition and fight hunger for all those in need.

A significant part of the federal government’s food security program comes from the Farm Bill. This legislation combines the array of price supports and market controls for famers, with domestic hunger programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), colloquially referred to as food stamps. The Farm Bill also covers school breakfasts in target neighborhoods and other important food and nutrition programs. MAZON is active in the legislative process to develop the Farm Bill. The organization’s vice president of public policy, Josh Protas, testified about SNAP to the congressional Subcommittee on Nutrition.

With a new administration in Washington, there is pressure to retrench all social programs, beginning with those that require annual funding. As the federal budget evolves this year, MAZON remains committed to fighting for a strong nutrition safety net and will continue speaking out for the millions of Americans who struggle to put food on the table. At the same time, Rabbi Glazer reminds us that each of us can do something to make a difference.

More information on participating in the fight to end hunger can be found on Mazon’s website. To raise awareness about the scope of the hunger crisis in America today, Mazon has also created a mobile exhibit, called This Is Hunger, which is traveling throughout the country.

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