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Let all who are hungry come and eat...

Rosh Hashanah Reflections

by Rabbi Lisa J. Grushcow, D.Phil., Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal

This summer, I had the privilege of being on the faculty of Camp George, the Union for Reform Judaism’s camp near Parry Sound. The week I was there, the oldest campers were in a unit focused on giving back. I offered to teach them about Jewish approaches to hunger. In my first session with the kids, we went down to the waterfront. Explaining the notion of circles of obligation – the idea that we each have concentric circles in our lives, beginning with those to whom we have the closest connection and responsibility, and expanding outward – I asked them to trace circles in the sand, and explore what those circles were in their own lives. Who were they responsible to, and why? I was struck by how one of the teens had a circle for strangers, saying, “We never know how a stranger will impact our lives.”
In another session, we put ourselves in others’ shoes, with different teams of kids trying to figure out what food they would buy on different budgets. One group had enough for pizza dinners every night, while another quickly determined that they wouldn’t have enough for three meals a day. We spoke about the agricultural laws in the Torah in which our ancestors were instructed to leave dropped sheaves and the corners of the field for those in need, and we explored the notion that ultimately, what we have does not belong only to us. “But what if the farmer needs everything in his field for his own family?” one camper asked, leading to a discussion about how sometimes, our sense of what we need expands to include everything we own – but in fact, what we need and what we want are not the same.
More important than any of these conversations, though, was the experience the teens had. We left the camp one morning to bring donations from the camp’s food drive (all the parents had been asked to bring non-perishables for visitors’ day – a great idea!) to the local food bank, Harvest Share in Parry Sound. As they helped stock the shelves and clean out storage space, the kids listened to the people running the food bank. They were surprised by how small the food bank was, and how contingent its supplies. They learned about the extent of food insecurity in the community, in which many people have work in the summer but not in the winter. They heard how some of the people running the food bank had once been recipients, and how easily a comfortable life can be shaken by a crisis. They heard about how hard it can be to ask for help, and how even a small food bank can try to affirm the dignity of the people who pass through their doors. They learned how people who work in food banks want to put themselves out of business, and we talked about how our synagogues could be involved in advocacy, not just responding to immediate needs.
When we left, one of the counselors suggested leaving the group’s apples – which had been intended for snack on the bus ride back to camp – to supplement the food bank’s limited supply of fresh produce. The kids were happy to do so, showing the same generosity they had displayed all morning. I hope that when those same kids are eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, they think about the apples they left at Harvest Share in Parry Sound. I hope they wonder whose hands they ended up in, whose families they fed. I hope, as they wish their own families a sweet new year, that they look with new eyes on how they might sweeten it for others. I hope that they, like we, help create a world in which no one needs to go to a food bank for an apple, and everyone has enough.

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