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Towards a 21st Century
Of Tu B’Shevat, Purim and Feeding the Needy in our Community
As we begin a new secular year and the second decade of the 21st century, having said
our last good-byes to the “00s”, we find we are still are dealing with a world filled with
hungry people. Given the billions available in our society to bail out the bad boy banks or
as our President has called them, ‘the fat cats’, it’s hard to believe that people both here in
America and around the globe are still starving. Most of us equate hunger with a child in
subcontinent Africa, belly distended, wide-eyed and suffering, but right in our own back-
yards, right here in America, the land of plenty, there are millions who are classified as
‘food insecure’, the current buzzword for what we formerly used to call ‘hungry’.
According to the Princeton-based social research think tank, Mathematica Policy Re-
search, more than over seven million people use emergency food assistance every week. A
recent Mathematica report stated, “This paradox of hunger amid plenty is a threat to our nation’s prosperity and our collective well-being.” Surely, as Jews, we own a responsibility to being our ‘brother’s (and sister’s) keeper’ and doing what each of us can to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves. The months of Shevat
include both Tu B’Shevat
and offer us specific holiday opportunities to engage in aspects of Tikkun Olam
that focus on the hungry.
During Tu B’Shevat
we celebrate the first fruits in Israel and traditionally participate in a Tu B’Shevat Seder
. This year our Seder will be on January 23rd during Kiddish directly following Sabbath services This celebration of the splendid, abundant gifts of the natural world which give our senses delight and our bodies life marks the beginning of spring in Israel. Sustaining rains are at their peak and the earth responds, brimming with buds of fragrant life. To mark this moment, school children plant trees. Often these trees have been provided by the contributions of Jews in the diaspora through the good offices of the Jew-ish National Fund. For we Jews living outside of Israel, Tu B’Shevat
is a celebration of the renewal of vision and awareness, a celebration of connections and connectedness--to our own inner-selves, to the social world of human beings, and to the natural world and its Source. Given that basis for the Chag, Tu B’Shevat
is not only a good time to be mindful of Israel, to donate to JNF, and to observe the Chag
through a ritual seder as we do as a community every year with fruits and nuts and other tasty foods. It is an especially good time to reach out to those right in our midst who are less fortunate than we are. This year, I am encouraging everyone to bring canned food to the synagogue between now and Tu B’Shevat
so that we may make a food donation as a congregation to one of our local Jersey City food banks. Especially during the cold winter months, it is an important mitzvah to give food to those in need, so look in your pantries and bring those cans you haven’t used to the synagogue so we can donate them to those in need in our Jersey City community. You’ll find a receptacle right in our lobby.
And at the end of February on February 27th, Motz’ei Shabbat
, we shall celebrate Chag Purim
. While we enjoy the celebra-tion of our liberation in Persia so many centuries ago, reminding ourselves through the reading of Megillat Esther
how we were persecuted and then we triumphed in another part of the world with heroes like Mordechai and Esther defeating enemies like Haman, there are other important aspects to Purim
. One of the most important of tthese is the tradition of Shaloch Manos
(Yiddish) or Shaloch Manot
(Hebrew). Mishloach Manot,
literally, the sending of gifts, is traditional on Purim
and the law is actually described in the Book of Esther (9:22) as part of the proper celebration of Purim
. There is a rabbinic teaching that we should give gifts (usually food items of fruits, candies and snacks) not only to our friends and families, but also to those who are needy and to those whose spirits would be raised by knowing that someone cares. So in the month of February, we have a second opportunity to prepare a food donation to those less fortunate in our community. To this end, the food drive will continue during February so that by Purim
, Congregation B’nai Jacob will be ready to provide another ‘delivery’ of foodstuffs, now in the spirit of Shaloch Manos
to our neighbors in need.
As we broaden our giving horizons and reach out to our wider community and those in need during January and February, it is timely that our next speaker for our Friday Night Kabbalat Shabbat
Speaker Series will be a representative of the many Food Bank and Pantry initiatives in Jersey City. Our guest speaker will be at our services on Friday evening, February 5th, and following a Friday Night Live! musical service, will share with us the current challenges and opportunities facing the multicul-turally-diverse needy of Jersey City. A festive Oneg Shabbat
will follow Steve’s talk. I look forward to seeing all of you at the Tu B’Shevat seder
(1/23), the special Speaker Series event (2/5), our Purim
festivities (2/27) and the Shabbatot
inbetween. May you and your loved ones have a happy and healthy 2010!
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