“Let all who are hungry come and eat.” This is the line from the Passover haggadah that was on my mind two weeks ago, in Clark. But I wasn’t at a seder. I was at the grocery store.
I hope by now many of you have read about the Supermarket Sweep, the “foodraiser” sponsored by Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. It was a wonderful afternoon, spent shopping for the food pantry operated by the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey and the Bobrow Kosher Food Pantry at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange.
As I went through the aisles, looking for bargains and for the hekscher (kosher symbol) on each package or bottle, I was so impressed by how helpful and enthusiastic the staff of the ShopRite of Clark was. We were a big group, and I am sure we were in the way of other shoppers, but they didn’t seem to mind. The staff made repeated announcements over the PA system explaining who we were and why we were there, and they set aside special checkout aisles to speed us along.
It was also just a lot of fun to see people I knew, meet their kids and spouses, and to trade information about where to find the items on our lists for the food pantries. After a couple of hours, however, I began to look beyond just our group of shoppers.
I noticed one elderly woman, not part of our group, carefully checking the items in her cart against her coupons. She did not seem to be having a good time; she appeared care-worn and distressed. I realized that among us shoppers might be people who are also clients of the food pantries we were helping to stock.
There is food insecurity and sometimes, outright hunger in our local Jewish community, and in Jewish communities around the world and in Israel. And I was reminded again that the work we do is about helping those we don’t see and may never meet, because of our collective responsibility to care for the Jewish people.
Every day, Federation and its partner agencies, through the dollars we give to the Annual Campaign, provide life-giving nutrition. I’ve seen it happen, at the hot lunch program for seniors at the Green Lane Y, at the Hesed center in Cherkassy, Ukraine, and at the feeding center in Gondar, Ethiopia. I’ve seen the difference our hot lunch and extended day program in Ofakim, Israel, makes, not only in the lives of the schoolchildren who participate, but in the lives of their hard-working parents.
In the haggadah, the portion that includes the command, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” is in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Aramaic was the common language of the Israelites, the vernacular. Everyone might not understand the Hebrew, but the Aramaic would have been easy.
Out of all of the passages in the Passover story, the rabbis wanted to be sure that the people understood this one. Why? Because it is about actions between people, actions that anyone can undertake. After all, it is in the actions between people that we create holiness, whole-ness, the repair of the world that we as Jews are commanded to undertake.
Through your gift to the UJA Annual Campaign, you participate in the mitzvah of feeding the hungry. You will have a great time if you participate next year in Supermarket Sweep, if you volunteer at one of the food pantries, if you help serve a meal at the senior center. But even if you can’t be there in person, you are there. You are helping repair the world.
Wishing all of you a zissen Pesach, a sweet Passover celebration of our people’s journey to freedom!