Rabbi Ira Stone, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City, Philadelphia, serves as president of the VAAD/Board of Rabbis and is appealing to his colleagues throughout the Greater Philadelphia area to encourage their congregants to fully support Federation's Jewish Community Hunger Relief Campaign.
"As we begin to prepare for High Holiday services, I call upon each and every one of our community's spiritual leaders to think about those in our community who have so little. These men, women and children look to the rest of the community -- albeit very quietly (our people are very proud) to help them in their time of need. Our community is collectively the wealthiest in Jewish history. Despite this fact, we're facing some of the most disturbing realities in our history.
"Many in our community have been blessed with good fortune and have moved to suburban communities where we are more isolated from our fellow Jews in need. Just because Jews who are poor, hungry and frail are not in our immediate eyesight, we cannot assume that they don't exist. We must share our blessings with others.
"During these Days of Awe, as we resolve to become more caring and compassionate people, we must take action to help our children, families and older adults at risk. Urge your congregants to support Federation's Jewish Community Hunger Relief Campaign and, together, we can make 5769 a better year for our people.
"The needs are compelling! There is a hunger crisis mere miles away from where we live and work. Ten thousand local Jewish households are facing food insecurity right here in Greater Philadelphia. In addition:
· Almost one quarter of Jewish households in Greater Philadelphia are low-income.
· Based on 2000 Census data, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of older adults in all of the 10 largest American cities. An estimated 15,444 seniors live in our community, 34 percent of these low-income men and women are currently being served by a variety of our Federation food programs.
· More than 5,000 seniors receive some food assistance from our community. Of these, a mere 6 percent receive nutritional meals on a weekly basis. They receive only the basics -- a hot entrée, a small supply of bread and one small cookie. Our community is aging at a staggering rate. Therefore, these statistics are not going to improve. Indeed, unless we take action now, the situation for our older adults is only going to get worse.
· Federation's Mitzvah Food Project has experienced a 63 percent increase in the number of food packages it distributed this year. Fifty-two percent of these recipients are elderly, 21 percent are children. The Jewish Relief Agency added 100 new clients from September 2007 through January 2008. Over the past year, food costs increased 5.8 percent, and this year are projected to go up further. It's a real shonda -- parents, grandparents and young children going hungry.
· Federation must raise $3.5 million this year to provide meals to more than 1500 seniors at risk -- a fixed income population that is significantly impacted by rising food, medication and utility costs.
"We owe it to our elderly to provide for them. All of our fellow hungry Jews -- our low-income elderly and our children -- deserve to be fed. The Federation is committed to realigning its resources to significantly alter this very serious issue.
"I call on all of us to join forces during this season of reflection and renewal. Our congregations can demonstrate the power of marshalling our collective resources -- just like we all did during the Israel Emergency Fund Campaign -- by working with Federation and holding a major fundraising drive during High Holiday Services. Area synagogues will soon be receiving flyers, posters and pledge cards to publicize this campaign.
"The Book of Leviticus tells us to leave the corners of our fields and the gleanings of our harvest for the poor and the stranger. Through our participation in Federation's Jewish Community Hunger Relief Campaign, we embrace our ancient Jewish tradition of feeding the hungry and intensify the significance of our Yom Kippur fast. For the vast majority of us, our fast will be broken after the final shofar sounds. This campaign will go a long way towards relieving the involuntary fast of thousands in our community whose hunger will continue long past sundown.
"Together, we can and must make a difference!
Rabbi Ira Stone