As We Celebrate Thanksgiving, Let’s Not Forget the Hungry
On Wednesday, I am flying home from Washington, D.C., to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving. One of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions is to wake up a little earlier than my younger brother and sister would like and volunteer for Little Brothers of the Elderly, a non-profit that sends volunteers to the homes of elderly men and women throughout the Boston area to ensure that they have a happy Thanksgiving
After getting our assignments, volunteers then go to the Northeastern University cafeteria to pick up mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and cranberry sauce for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner. We make sure to add one of the homemade cards volunteers’ kids made about the event and a flower to brighten up their homes. Then, we deliver the food and visit with the people. We hear the elderly individuals talk about their families, their past experiences, their hometowns if they are not originally from Boston. Sometimes there is a language barrier, but nevertheless they all still enjoy the company. It’s not just giving them the food, but there’s also a personal interaction that makes the visit so incredibly special. Instead of celebrating the holiday solely within our own family units, Thanksgiving is also a great opportunity for us to reach out and make a difference in our community. On Thanksgiving, we can bring food to the vulnerable individuals who need food the most.
Yet helping the one elderly individual who my family will be visiting this Thanksgiving will not solve the broader problem of hunger in America. Nearly 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, and 47 million Americans, or 15% of the population, receive SNAP benefits. According to 2013 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food in 2013, and 15.8 million children struggled with food insecurity issues in the past year. Additionally, 50% of U.S children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before they reach the age of 20. Hunger is still taking place on a massive scale, both in the United States and around the world.
Jewish tradition is explicit in the command that we feed the hungry and help eradicate hunger from our society. The Talmud explains that each Jewish community must establish a public fund to provide food for the hungry, and our sages explain that feeding the hungry is one of our most important responsibilities on earth: “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17). Deuteronomy 15:7-10 elaborates on our commitment to helping the hunger person amongst us. The text states, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
This Thanksgiving, we need to consider how we can go about helping others and making providing food for all who are hungry. Learn more about how you can incorporate themes of economic justice from a Jewish perspective by checking out the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Thanksgiving Holiday Guide for ideas for readings, programs and discussion topics.