In the Midst of Plenty



"Let all who are hungry come and eat." It's a central tenet of our Passover seder, yet how often do we stop and reflect on the powerful message that this line imparts — the mandate to remember the hungry.

In all probability, most of us will not be sharing our seders with those who are truly hungry, those who don't know where their next meal is coming from or where they will get the funds to pay for it.

But invisible does not mean absent. As much as we like to ignore the issue, hunger exists — in our own community and beyond.

As we prepare to celebrate our most widely observed holiday — and most likely gorge ourselves in the process — Congress is about to embark on a huge battle over the 2012 budget.

If last week's Beltway brinkmanship that almost shut down the government was any indication, we're in for a bruising partisan battle. We all understand the need to reduce the deficit, but it is imperative that the basic programs that provide a critical safety net for our most vulnerable citizens not be slashed.

A group of religious and political figures recently staged a hunger strike to protest proposed congressional budget cuts to poverty programs in the United States and abroad, programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children).

Participants included Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service; and the senior staff of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. JCPA is also helping to raise awareness of the issue by coordinating "hunger seders" in 23 states across the country, including one this week on Capitol Hill.

The proposed cuts come as local food-relief agencies cite a growing demand for assistance. Lingering unemployment and rising food prices are continuing to squeeze seniors on fixed incomes and young families alike.

According to a recent Gallup poll, some 18 percent of Americans said they did not have enough money to feed themselves and their families. The level was slightly better — 16.2 percent — for Pennsylvania, but reached a devastating 31.2 percent in the First Congressional District, which cuts through Philadelphia.

For Jews in need, Passover engenders particular anxiety: How to pay for holiday food that is even more pricier than usual.

The good news, according to local Jewish relief agencies, is that giving is up around the holidays, but as Amy Krulik of the Jewish Relief Agency notes, "hunger is a 12-month a year problem."

So even as we celebrate Passover this year — and celebrate we should — let the "bread of affliction" that our ancestors ate in their haste to escape Egypt serve as a rallying cry to remember that we all were once downtrodden and that we can make a difference for those in need today.

A happy and kosher Pesach to all.


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