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Introducing: Kitchen Table Conversations


For many of us, things feel pretty dark right now. The act of giving charity, or giving Tzedakah, is in part about wanting to make right something that is wrong. And the more things that are wrong, the more individual giving decisions weigh heavily. In this moment, in this environment, how are you thinking about your support for Mazon?  

Judy:  Mazon is near and dear to my heart. You do such good grassroots work. I’m really fortunate that I’ve never been food insecure. And honestly I’ve always been more interested in helping at home, locally, rather than only supporting world-wide causes... The difference today [when it comes to my giving priorities] is just the awareness of the economic conditions that are putting more and more people into food insecurity. 

Do you remember how you first got involved with Mazon? 

Judy: I remember I chose to get more involved with Mazon, first because I loved the work, but second because Mazon is a small organization. I felt like my voice would really matter here. It’s not like trying to crack a large organization like the United Way… I knew Mazon was a place where I could really make a difference. The cooking that we did for Holy Blossom’s Out of the Cold program [a shul-run drop-in program serving hot meals and offering overnight beds once a week for people in need through winter, and a longtime Mazon partner] really brought home the importance of doing this sort of work… When we were starting up the program there was initially a lot of push back from the neighbourhood: “There’s no homeless people at Bathurst and Eglinton; why are we letting those people in?” 

Grant: Really? 

Judy: Oh yes. There was pushback. But across Eglinton Avenue there were people sleeping in the back doorways of stores. Yes! There were homeless people there.... The cameras were there the first day we opened in 1996, and one of the reporters asked us, “Aren’t you worried about your three year old going down to the basement when the program is on?” And I remember Cecile shot back, “If my three year old can get from the third floor down to the basement without anyone noticing, we’ve got bigger problems.” I loved her for that... I don’t remember how long it took for the whole community to settle down, but the thing that really surprised a lot of people was how many [food insecure] people identified as Jews. That was the real shocker I think to people. 

Grant: Definitely. Some Jews have difficulty wrapping their heads around the fact members of our community go hungry at the same rates as other groups in Canada.  

Judy: It was the same during the AIDS crisis. People would say, “There aren’t any Jewish homosexuals,” but of course there were!  

What happened at Holy Blossom after the Out of the Cold program launched in earnest? 

Judy: When we started up there was a feeling that some of the homeless people wouldn’t be comfortable coming into a synagogue… but then after a while, that changed! 

Grant: A sort of trust building process?    

Judy: I’m sure it was. Definitely a trust building process. And Holy Blossom has been at the forefront of social action for a very long time. 

Grant: I'd never heard about these early days at Holy Blossom. I'm loving this. Because honestly whenever I hear a Jewish organization doing "very good work," I feel a tangible sense of pride. I love to see Jews doing good work that's ambitious and exciting. 

Judy: I think that’s inherited. I remember my mother always saying, “Oh that’s good for the Jews, oh that’s not good for the Jews.” You know? 

Grant: Definitely. I do think the work you did at Holy Blossom is “good for the Jews.” Because when you start with a broader community that’s uncomfortable stepping into a Shul, and you build trusting human relationships, people start to understand the Jewish community as being caring and trustworthy. How can that be anything other than positive?  

Judy: Absolutely!  

Something that’s really special to me about Mazon is that we’re one of the only Jewish organization doing the sort cross-community bridge building you talked about at Holy Blossom - but nationally! The only other organization I can think is JIAS [Jewish Immigrant Services]. I think it’s so interesting that the two national Jewish organizations with an explicit mandate to support Jewish and non-Jewish people [Mazon and JIAS] focus on the immigrant experience, and food.  

Judy: If there’s six people for dinner, I’ve got to cook for twelve! Because God forbid someone should want something. I cannot imagine cooking four portions to serve four people. I mean we’re Jews! Food is community. You show people you care about them by giving them food. Maybe that’s why Mazon appealed to me in the first place. Because it was all about food. That could be. 


Grant: I think that’s a good note to end on.


 

In the next few months, members of the Mazon team will be conducting a series of informal interviews with supporters. Our aim is to start a community conversation about contemporary notions of Jewish charity and solidarity. What has changed when it comes to giving, and what has stayed the same? How do we decide between competing priorities? Do we turn inward and support our community, or build bridges? What about balancing local and global need?


If you have thoughts about giving in these strange times, or want to arrange your own kitchen table conversation: email me at grant@mazoncanada.ca. I hope you enjoyed the first kitchen table discussion in this series.




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