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. [Read more…]

Beware of New Food-Stamp Requirements

Adults between 18-49 years old enrolled in the SNAP/Food Stamp program who are considered able-bodied without dependents will be limited to three months of SNAP benefits in a 3-year period as of June 1.

However, these recipients can retain their current benefits if they fulfill a work requirement, complete required volunteer hours or qualify for an exemption, according to Act Against Hunger, a local Jewish communal initiative of the MAZON Advocacy Project and the synagogues of the Old York Road Corridor in Montgomery County.

This change in the program will affect residents in Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties who rely on SNAP as a critical lifeline. Philadelphia and Delaware County residents are exempt because the unemployment rates in these counties are high.

“Despite lower employment, people still are having a hard time finding work,” said Act Against Hunger co-chair Robin Rifkin.

Losing SNAP benefits when someone is already struggling is like pulling out the rug from under them. Our goal is to get the word out so that people know and have time to find more work, or a place to volunteer, or show they qualify for an exemption to keep their SNAP benefits.

To meet the work requirement, one would need to prove they are working or participating in a job training program for at least 20 hours/week; or volunteering 26 hours/month. Reasons someone can be exempt from the work requirement include: enrolled part-time in school; applying for or receiving unemployment; receiving disability benefits; enrolled in a drug, alcohol treatment or mental health program; homeless; has a medical condition that prevents someone from working; pregnant; or caring for a disabled family member.

If you are a resident of Montgomery County or from an organization that can provide volunteer opportunities, contact Kara Beck, SNAP outreach coordinator at Montgomery County’s Community Action Development Commission (CADCOM), at kbeck@cadcom.org or 610 277-6363 x140.

Act Against Hunger has been working with local anti-hunger groups, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to reduce the barriers to SNAP, the federal program designed to provide nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families and ease the burden of poverty in communities.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is sending a survey to those who may be affected by this change, according to AAH, which is calling on recipients to complete it.

MAZON Reacts to $40B in SNAP Cuts‏


President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights. The “Four Freedoms” on the Roosevelt Memorial.

A response to the U.S. House of Representatives vote slashing $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

— by Abby J. Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Today is a sad, sad day for America. Today’s vote confirms that far too many of our Congresspeople hold their loyalty to their ideology above all else — more important than their responsibility as our nation’s elected leaders and more important than the needs of their actual constituencies. This mean-spirited legislation was designed to provoke divisiveness and acrimony — and it has succeeded in doing just that.

Our faith, like so many other faith traditions, teaches that the community has an obligation to sustain its most vulnerable. SNAP is the epitome of this fundamental idea, successfully realized on a larger scale. SNAP represents our collective commitment, as a national community, that when times are tough, we will stand together and help families get back on their feet.

More after the jump.
More than 70 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his historic “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, asserting that Americans had a right to “freedom from want.” He understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights.

Now is the time to support smart policies aimed at strengthening our nation’s recovery, not taking food out of the mouths of hungry people. We can rebuild our economy, but not if our fellow Americans cannot meet their most basic need for nutritious food.

We at MAZON are dedicated to working with conferees to negotiate an improved nutrition title. We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that every American is able to meet his/her most fundamental need: to eat.

Splitting the Farm Bill Is Outrageous and Unacceptable


Only 12 Republican Congressmen joined the Democrats today in voting against the Farm Bill (HR 2642) without the traditional funding to feed the poor:
Reps. LoBiondo (NJ-2), Amash (MI-3), DeSantis (FL-6), Salman (AZ-5), Huelskamp (KS-1), Jones (NC-3), Cook (CA-8), Sanford (SC-1), Duncan (TN-2), McClintock (CA-4), Gingrey (GA-11) and Franks (AZ-8).

— by Abby J. Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Today, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives “split” the Farm Bill, and forced members to vote a bill stripped of the nutrition title providing funding for food stamps.

The bill passed with 216 Congressmen (all of them Republican) voting “aye,” and 208 Congressmen (196 Democrats and 12 Republicans) voting “nay.” (Five Democrats and six Republicans did not vote.)

This is a back-room political maneuver that flies in the face of decades of bipartisan consensus and rural-urban cooperation that have produced past farm bills and balanced diverse national priorities. This ideologically-driven and misguided effort, which is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to decimate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is outrageous and unacceptable. MAZON stands in strong opposition to this effort to split the Farm Bill and shred out nation’s vital nutrition safety net.

MAZON’s commitment to protecting full funding for SNAP remains steadfast. We will continue to rally our supporters and our network of synagogue leaders and grantee partners to stand up for struggling families in America. We look forward to engaging Members of Congress to craft a comprehensive, balanced, and just Farm Bill that provides food assistance to our nation’s children, seniors, working poor, and military families in need.

2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge Continues

— by Benjamin Suarato

Rabbis and cantors in communities across the country representing all four major denominations are committing to living for one week on a food budget of $31.50, the average allotment for individuals on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly SNAP), as part of the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, running from the lead-up to the High Holy Days starting September 7 and continuing through Thanksgiving. Participating clergy will take the challenge in order to educate congregations and communities about the realities of hunger and raise a loud collective Jewish voice about this crisis.

“Hunger and food insecurity touch every one of our communities, but it is rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood,” said Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a member of the JCPA board. “The Food Stamp Challenge is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community’s deep commitment to help those in need. This includes education about the programs and assistance available.”

More after the jump.
“The involvement of rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism, in every region of the country is a testament to the centrality of ending hunger to the work we do as Jewish leaders and the unity of our community in elevating the conversation on poverty,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “This will be my third Food Stamp Challenge and each time, I am reawakened to the true struggle faced each day by those who depend on SNAP to put food on the table. It is a lesson that is now being brought to communities across the country through this committed involvement of religious leaders.”

SNAP participation has been functioning as intended, steadily increasing with the needs of those still struggling during the slow economic recovery, yet the program, one of the key instruments to addressing hunger in America, has been facing proposals of severe cuts to funding.

“On a budget of only $1.50 per meal, many SNAP recipients must settle for unsatisfying meals that lack the necessary nutrition and energy to meet the demands of work and family,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “By trying to understand, even in a very small way, the challenge these families face, we will be better armed to protect SNAP from the threat of cuts.”

The 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge is being led by a unique partnership of organizations spanning the religious spectrum, including:

    the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,

  • MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger,
  • the Rabbinical Assembly,
  • the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,
  • the Union for Reform Judaism,
  • the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
  • the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association,
  • Uri L’Tzedek,
  • American Conference of Cantors, and
  • the Cantors Assembly.  

Resources created for this mobilization, include sample sermons, advocacy opportunities, programming ideas, and other tools for engaging congregations and communities. The Food Stamp Challenge is open for others besides clergy who are interested in participating in this experience.  More information and registration can be found online.  

The Steering Committee that is providing leadership for the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge includes:

  • Chaired by Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)
  • Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ and Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL  (both represent the Rabbinical Assembly)
  • Rabbi Harold Kravitz, Senior Rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, MN (representing the committee as Chair of the Board of Directors of MAZON:  A Jewish Response to Hunger)
  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO; Rabbi Neil Borovitz of Congregation Avodat Shalom in River Edge, NJ; Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Judith Siegal of Tempe Judea in Coral Gables, FL (representing the Union for Reform Judaism/Central Conference of American Rabbis)
  • Rabbi Shawn Zevit, who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI (representing the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)
  • Rabbi Ari Weiss, Executive Director of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek
  • Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles, CA
  • Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio (representing the Cantors Assembly)
  • Cantor Shannon McGrady-Bane, co-chair of the ACC Social Action and Justice Committee (representing the American Conference of Cantors); and
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

For more information about the 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, please contact Robin Rosenbaum, JCPA Poverty Campaign Coordinator, at: rrosenbaum@thejcpa.org or (202) 212-6037.

Jewish clergy in all communities have been weighing in about how the goals of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge have resonated with their varied experiences:

“I am taking the Food Stamp Challenge along with my family because it is important to not only talk about the fact that so many people in America are in need of food assistance, but also that we take action. When I take the Food Stamp Challenge I will have a better understanding as to what people who receive food stamps are feeling each and every day. By encouraging the members of my congregation to join me in this endeavor we will be making a statement that we must continue this important work of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and advocate on behalf of those who are in need. This is what Judaism asks of us and what we must do.”

— Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Temple Beth El in East Windsor, NJ

“With so much at stake in terms of how we are providing healthy, accessible and affordable sustenance in our country, inaction was not an option for me, challenged by my preparation for High Holy Days as visiting rabbi of Reconstructionist Congregation T’Chiyah in Detroit, to do more than only utter words and offer prayers for those in need. I have been spurred on by the wonderful response from friends, family, and clergy and members of faith communities everywhere. Let’s collect food for those in need this Yom Kippur and Thanksgiving and invite those who live with food insecurity to our sukkot, AND let’s work for systemic change for the millions who live on Food Stamps every day in our own communities, congregations and nation.”

— Rabbi Shawn Zevit who worked for the Reconstructionist Movement for fourteen years and now serves as the visiting rabbi at T’Chiyah Reconstructionist Congregation in Detroit, MI

“In my congregation, publicizing the Food Stamp Challenge has galvanized the community’s youth and social action leadership to make this a year to focus on hunger and food insecurity locally and in Israel.  Our students have adopted the slogan “Hunger is no Game” as the theme for the year (basing themselves on the recent movie, The Hunger Games”).  At a time when the social safety net is shredding and the alienation of rich and poor from their common humanity is increasing, taking the Food Stamp Challenge reminds us, in a small way, of our interconnectedness.”

— Rabbi Leonard Gordon of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA (representing the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism,  Lenny is also on the JCPA Board of Directors)

“We move about our communities like ships on non-intersecting courses across a vast ocean, not realizing how many among us are really struggling to feed themselves and their families on a daily basis.  The maze of public assistance in food and other resources is unknown to many of us — but is becoming known to more and more of us, even as powerful forces in our society seek to decrease the resources available to the growing number in greater need.  

“I hope that our involvement with this project will enable people to see and feel more clearly — and to remove the stigma attached to those who receive help.  I have long suspected that there are more needy among us than we know — that people internalize the idea that if they are Jewish they can’t be needy, so if they are needy, they mustn’t be Jewish — or full members of our Jewish community.  A project like this may shed some light and some heat.”

— Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio

“Our society is short on empathy for those in need. The Food Stamp Challenge is a tool to channel us away from indifference towards empathy for the food insecure. I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge as a personal reminder to avoid indifference and to work with others to fight food insecurity.”

— Rabbi Ed Bernstein of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach in Boynton Beach, FL

“The 18th century Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin said, ‘If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person and yourself out into the light.’

“As Jews we know that it is not enough to make sure that others have enough to eat. We need to challenge ourselves to experience what those in need actually experience- the anxiety, the pain, and even the humiliation- so that we always remain motivated to fight for economic justice for all. At this time, when more children in this nation are food insecure than ever before, I feel compelled to motivate myself to find solutions in every way I possibly can. The Food Stamp Challenge is one path I am taking to motivate and inspire me to do my part to bring more light and wholeness into this New Year.”

— Rabbi Nancy Kasten, an active teacher and volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community, board member of Hebrew Union College

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

Food Stamp Challenge: The Week The Rabbis Went Hungry


— by Eric Harris

This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of “Fighting Poverty with Faith’s” initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.

We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget – and why we must do better as a nation.

Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:

When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.’

Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.

All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.

Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.

Who else is taking the challenge?

Ask your Member of Congress to take the challenge too.

Thoughts for the Fast

It is a custom for firstborn Jews to fast on the day before Passover to commemorate the miracle by which firstborn Jews were saved from the plague which struck the firstborn Egyptians.

This year the fast falls on Monday, April 18. Let us take this fast of our choosing as an opportunity to share in the hardship of those who struggle through life, and do not have the means to feed themselves properly.

MoveOn is organizing a communal fast to protest the immoral budget cuts Republicans are pushing in Washington. 30,000 people including 28 Congressmen will be joining this fast.

Last week’s budget agreement-now public-contains cuts to critical programs but does little to make corporations and the rich pay their fair share.

More than half of the $38 billion in cuts target education, labor, and health programs.

The worst cuts and riders didn’t make it into the budget-but that was the Republican plan all along: propose the unthinkable, threaten to shut down the government, and then walk away with cuts that would have been beyond the pale just a few months ago.

Now Republicans are pushing a new round of proposals to abolish Medicare and make far deeper cuts to education, nutrition, health care, and other essential programs-while giving even bigger tax breaks to millionaires and corporations. And this time, after winning so much in the last round, the Republicans actually have a shot at getting every last cut they want.

We need to restore a moral dimension to the warped debate going on in Washington.

See video above for more information.

A letter from Abby J. Leibman of Mazon follows the jump.
— Abby J. Leibman, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger

This Passover as you gather with family and friends to retell the story of our people’s freedom from bondage, please take a moment to consider those Americans who are still enslaved – to hunger.  

Hunger in America is at an epidemic level, despite how it might seem at first glance.

50 million Americans – including 17 million children – struggle with hunger every day.

That’s more than the entire population of Canada.

Hungry people live in every community in the country and come in all ages, colors, shapes and sizes. They wrestle with impossible choices no one should have to make: buy my daughter’s asthma medication or feed my family? Whose turn is it to eat: the children or the adults?  

It breaks our hearts – it should break yours.

There is another way – an end to hunger is within our reach.  Early in the seder we say, “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat.” More than an invitation to join us at the dinner table, we at MAZON see these words as a rallying cry:

  • …to do more to help those who so desperately need it;    
  • …to fight for responsible government policies that promote the health and security of everyone in our nation;    
  • …to provide access to resources that allow people to pick themselves up and build (or rebuild) their lives;    
  • …to give every man, woman and child a chance not only to live their lives, but to thrive.

Please join our fight.    

Chag Sameach,


Abby J. Leibman
President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
 

This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon


— Kenneth Myers, Vice-President of JSPAN

The season of reflection is here, and it has to weigh heavily on those of us who ponder larger questions.

Our economy stumbles along, with unemployment far too high and too wide among a broad cross-section of the old, the young, blue collar folk and new college grads. The large financial prizes handed out to those in power in a few industries seem totally out of place in a society with pockets of 20% unemployment.

Peace in the Middle East seems no closer, and each year that it fails to materialize gives credence to a number of very wrong answers to the open question. As we depart Iraq and struggle in Afghanistan, American hegemony in world affairs seems only a dream of the distant past.

In this country we Jews have long enjoyed a golden age like few others in our history. We are empowered as never before to reach for the goals of Torah, Tikkun Olam, striving for the perfection of the world.

America is also striving, and our brilliance is that we do prevail in time. We are the most powerful, most respected and admired nation on earth. We will restore full employment, expand the reach of health insurance, continue to do good works around the globe, and stand by Israel while we work for peace in the Middle East. We will respond unselfishly to all the challenges, as the richest nation on earth should.

We wish you the best of New Years.

This Rosh Hashanah Remember Mazon

Many Jews eat apples and honey together during Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a wish for a sweet new year. Tashlich is another Rosh Hashanah custom, in which we symbolically cast away our sins by tossing breadcrumbs into a body of water, such as a river, ocean or stream. After the ritual observance, add a gift of food to the hungry or a gift of money to Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.

To donate, click here.