This is an adapted version of my piece for the LJS’s monthly newsletter in March 2013.
Our celebration of Pesach this year is particularly poignant. Every year we pick up and read our Haggadah, the book that has developed with our history to be our guide book during the season of our freedom. Raising the matzah (the unleavened bread) we begin our night with those famous words, the words that hang over us for the whole meal:
“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover.”
Freedom, hunger and need – these words are the motifs of our celebration of Pesach. We are expected to see ourselves as if we had fled from Egypt, personally been enslaved and tasted freedom. It is absolutely central to a meaningful observance of Pesach that we feel connected to our sacred narrative of redemption from Egypt. But it is also absolutely central that we pay attention to the deprivations of liberty the Jewish people have experienced in history and the oppression, enslavement and hardship experienced by people all over the world today.
We begin inviting all who are hungry to come and eat, but the truth is if every Jew in the world invited every person in the world suffering from food poverty we would each, individually, share our seder night with 80 people. (This is based on estimates of 13 million Jews and 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night.)
The scale of the problem, when coupled with the gross wastage that was reported in January that half the food bought in the world is thrown away, is shocking. But we have never been a community that has let scale put us off a task; some of us are still working for the messianic age even though it feels particularly distant.
Taking on the challenge of global hunger is no mean feat and I am proud that two of the biggest Jewish charities working in aid and the developing world – World Jewish Relief and Tzedek – have signed up to the ‘Enough Food For Everyone IF’ campaign. This campaign was launched by a collection of some of the largest charities in the UK to tackle global hunger during the period that the UK holds the Presidency of the G8.
The campaign really asks us to imagine a world in which we no longer have a need to say ‘All who are hungry come and eat’ because there will be no hungry person in the world. The 80 people whom we each would need to invite to our seder night would not be going to bed on growling stomachs. They would be fed by food that the world already produces in over abundance.
The IF campaign is one that we, as Liberal Jews, should feel compelled to support. It fits with our universal outlook – concerned with people whether they are Jews or non-Jews. It couples our ritual observance of Pesach with a real sense of relevance. It prioritises one of the core principles of Liberal Judaism – the ethical imperative that finds its biblical roots in the prophetic voice, as articulated by Isaiah.
“This is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.” (Isaiah 58:5-7)
This is the prophetic voice written about by Rabbi Israel Mattuck, founder of Liberal Judaism and The LJS’s first rabbi:
“The emphasis which the Prophets put on the collective life of human societies does not exclude appreciation for the high significance of the individual in relation to God; and their concern for the spiritual and moral life of the individual does not ignore, or push aside, the moral value in the collective life of society…The law fuses the individual and the community into a moral unity. The dichotomy, individual and society, is dissolved under the dominion of the law of God. It commands respect for the life, dignity and rights of human being; it imposes social duties on individuals. Under the moral law, individual righteousness and social justice work together to give the individual his rights and society its righteousness.” (The Thought of the Prophets, p. 91)
It is our responsibility to take this forward. I pray that we can make the day when the words ‘All who are hungry come and eat’ solely refer to a spiritual hunger and there are no needy among us – speedily in our days. I wish you Chag Same’ach – a happy and fulfilled celebration of Pesach.
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