Feast and Famine
by Jordan Namerow
We’ve just experienced the most holiday-intensive time in the Jewish calendar, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, one word lies at the heart of our collective experience: food.
Food plays a remarkable, deeply sensory role in the lives of most Americans—and certainly in the lives of American Jews. In many ways, food is a map of our history. Meals, recipes and the acts of eating and drinking teach us about who we are, where we live, and where we come from. Think about it: Bubbe’s matzoh ball soup, Manischewitz, tsimmes, cholent, haroset from every corner of the earth. They all evoke powerful memories—on our holiday table, or each week on Shabbat.
Food has also been at the center of human relationships for thousands and thousands of years. Its consumption has been profoundly ritualized. A midrash teaches that our forefather, Abraham, saw the connection between eating and giving thanks long before the Pilgrims. In ancient Israel, Abraham would receive travelers, offer them food and drink and then invite them to say this blessing: “Blessed be the everlasting God of the world, of whose bounty we have partaken.”
Abraham taught his guests not only to be grateful for the food they enjoyed, but to be aware of the food’s source. As ancient travelers in the often harsh and sweltering Middle Eastern climate, Abraham’s guests likely experienced great anxiety around food and water, wondering how long they would need to wander before finding sustenance and drink again.
And that same uncertainty—a chronic desperation to find food and clean water—is still terribly acute and pervasive today. Nearly one billion people around the world are undernourished.
It’s virtually impossible for most of us to imagine the horror of not having access to the food we desire, let alone not having any food at all. We have grown up taking food for granted, which is why this coming Shabbat, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is re-ritualizing our Shabbat experience to focus on the root causes of global hunger—a devastating but fixable crisis.
A rallying moment in AJWS’s year-long food justice campaign, Global Hunger Shabbat is a weekend of nationwide solidarity, a time for learning and reflection around food justice. Nearly 200 communities around the United States have signed up to host Global Hunger Shabbat in their homes, synagogues, community centers, minyanim and havurot. It’s not too late to sign up for a gathering near you or to host your own. You can sign up here.
Rituals remind us of what we may have forgotten and can connect us to something we’ve never experienced. They cast light on the unseen and awaken us to live with intention and moral clarity. Our hope is that the rituals and readings of Global Hunger Shabbat will indeed awaken us all to injustices perhaps uncomfortably—and inspire action. In a world where the abundance of Shabbat is possible for all—where there is, in fact, more than enough food to feed the entire planet—there is no excuse for hunger.
Jordan Namerow is the senior communications associate of American Jewish World Service. A graduate of Wellesley College and former communications specialist of the Jewish Women’s Archive, she is pursuing a Master’s degree in strategic communications from Columbia University.