By Irene Sharon Hodes
Originally published in the IsraTimes, December 2008.
Having lived through two, I feel can safely proclaim Israeli winters to be a North American’s dream. For one, we have the privilege of locally grown thick, leafy greens, crisp, colorful fruit, bulbous roots, aromatic herbs, and hearty legumes almost year round. The shuks are cornucopian playgrounds, and the organic scene is alive and kicking. Hardly the fad it once was, not a day goes by when I’m not sent an email about an organic orchard, farm, flock, or other such agricultural community enterprise. But as I considered which mouthwatering vegetable-box service to subscribe to this week, I became aware of another pressing food-related issue.
As we become more and more health and environment conscious, it boggles the mind to think that hunger is still one of the planet’s major long-term concerns. It’s estimated that over one-billion worldwide are chronically undernourished, and that 20 million people die of starvation every year, 75% of which are children. In 2007 there was a 50% rise in child hunger in the USA. And here in Israel, the 2006 statistics show that one in three children are hungry— over 600,000.
Global economic crisis or no, we live in a world we’ve practically conquered; we’ve cured deadly illnesses, sent people to the moon, and communicate face-to-face on tiny pocket-sized machines. And still, people go hungry. It is our responsibility as Jews to leave a portion of what is ours to the poor and to the stranger, as we are commanded to do several times in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I give tzedakah as much as I think I can, but in the face of these staggering statistics, I find myself asking if I’ve done enough, and if we Jews, collectively, are doing enough.
While I know of many Jewish soup kitchens and charities both here and abroad, I wanted to know if a more progressive approach to address the issue of world hunger existed. That’s when I discovered Hazon (http://www.hazon.org/), an organization whose “vision is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all.” Their work includes the first CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture programs) in the American Jewish community and educational work in schools. Delving deeper, I discovered a CSA farm right here in Israel. Or-Gani (http://www.or-gani.org.il/), describe themselves as a socially conscious business that “believes that it has a responsibility to the community it serves.” They use their revenues to support important community programming, and they provide organic produce to Fat Meir (http://www.fatmeir.com/), a kitchen and community center that provides warm meals and lunches to hungry schoolchildren in Bat Yam.
As the joyous Chanukah season descends, sufganiyot flooding out of every bakery, I’ll be thinking of more concrete ways that I can be a part of the solution to this staggering problem. It’s winter. Hard times for some. As it says in Isaiah (32:17), “And the work of tzedakah shall bring peace.” Something in the core of my being knows how true and essential this statement is. As Jews, as human beings, we have a duty to act responsibly towards each other. We have been blessed with so many miracles. I’m hoping we can use Chanukah as inspiration, and bring some comfort to those among us whose very existence is yet very difficult. My organic veg box will taste all the better for it.