The obligation to aid Jews in need is integral to the practice of Judaism and the fabric of American Jewish life. But most of us are accustomed to thinking of such aid as being a function of our responsibility to support our co-religionists in remote locations around the globe, not in our own hometowns.
Yet, we need not look across the ocean to find poor Jews. They are right here in Philadelphia.
The economic downturn has affected more than the Wall Street portfolios of those who are well-off. The sharp rise in food prices has put serious pressure on those who are least able to fend for themselves.
In particular, those on fixed incomes are caught in a bind, as the higher costs of groceries must be balanced against rises in the prices of other necessities, such as medications. As a result, thousands of older Jews in our own community are facing economic insecurity. Poor families with children are also affected.
This means that we must confront the reality that some of us, including those whose life of labor should be rewarded with ease and not further travail, are literally hungry. All too many now depend on local groups, such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Mitzvah Food Project and the Jewish Relief Agency, for assistance. But the growing number of clients for these agencies, combined with the rising costs of helping the hungry, puts tremendous pressure on our social services safety net.
As the High Holidays approach, it is appropriate for every member of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community to think long and hard about the dismaying notion that elderly Jews are going hungry while the rest of us carry on with business as usual.
Fortunately, the Jewish Federation's Community Hunger Relief Campaign has been organized to respond to this crisis. It deserves the generous support of every congregation, family and individual Jew in Greater Philadelphia.
Addressing this problem isn't a matter of rocket science. The plain facts of the case are that, in order to provide regular meals for more than 1,500 Jewish seniors at risk, the Federation must raise approximately $3.5 million.
Whether or not that goal is met is not up to community planners, institutional bureaucrats or any other scapegoat. It is up to each one of us to decide whether or not we will do what is needed.