Interfaith Hunger Seder Spotlights Food Insecurity

Interfaith Hunger Seder Spotlights Food Insecurity

Atlanta holiday program is the longest running event of its kind in the country.

This year’s Interfaith Hunger Seder was held at a time when food insecurity has sharply increased in America.
This year’s Interfaith Hunger Seder was held at a time when food insecurity has sharply increased in America.

Atlanta’s Jewish Community Relations Council presented its on April 28 at the Selig Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. The annual event, which is now in its 14th year, is said to be the longest continuing observance of Passover in America that focuses on the need to fight food insecurity.

It was led this year byof Temple Kehillat Chaim in Roswell with the participation of Venerable Carole Maddux, Archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and founder and executive director of the Georgia Interfaith Policy Center.

The featured speaker at the interfaith event was the Rev. Dr. Lisa Heilig, executive director of the Toco Hills Community Alliance. During the pandemic, the organization distributed nearly 900,000 pounds of fresh food to more than 63,000 community members.

The seder incorporates an adaptation of the Hunger Seder Haggadah of Mazon, the national Jewish organization that works to end hunger in America. It is based on the message of taking a stand against hunger and emphasizes the reinterpretation of several key passages.

The food pantry at Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta has seen demand sharply increase in recent years.

The four questions, which are traditionally recited by the youngest participant at the seder to initiate a discussion of the symbols of the holiday, focused instead on the issue of hunger. Those same issues were also discussed in a program that preceded the event which was sponsored by Interfaith Atlanta Youth. Four students, representing the Catholic, Hindu, and Jewish communities wanted to know the answers to these dilemmas.

One asked, in a country of such abundance, why do we waste up to one-third of the food that is available, particularly when so many in this country are not getting the nutrition they need. Why is the wasting of food resources not given more attention?

Another asked how do we encourage the wealthy and those with so much to give to those less fortunate, particularly the children in this country.
In revisioning the plagues that are spoken of in our scriptures as afflicting the ancient Egyptians, the emphasis was on hunger today.

Among the 10 plagues of hunger now is the indifference to the problems that hunger poses. There is also the shame we place on those who are in need of food. The persistence of misinformation about the problem is another plague. However, the “hunger” Haggadah says that the greatest plague of all in today’s America is the apathy that has developed about doing something about the problem.

In the Dayenu, which pays tribute to our gratification for what we have achieved in our lives, there is mention of being grateful for those who take on the cause of hunger. Working alone our results are limited, the passage in the Haggadah reads, but together we are powerful advocates for change.

In a concluding quote from the prominent modern Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, the miracle of having enough to eat is recalled as extraordinary and as miraculous as those Israelites in ancient times who were able to cross the Red Sea and escape Egyptian slavery.

The seder was preceded by an opportunity for the 14 organizations that participated in what was called The Marketplace to talk about the ways they are fighting hunger in the community. Among those organization were the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Second Helpings Atlanta, and Meals on Wheels Atlanta. Another participant in the program, the Jewish Family & Career Services Food Pantry, has over the last few years, greatly expanded in its program to provide food for needy households.

A report last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that more than 44 million people in America had difficulty getting enough food to eat in 2022, which is a jump of almost 25 percent in 2021. That figure includes 13 million children which was an increase of 45 percent as compared to 2021.

The report points up a reversal to the trend of a decline in hunger and food security that had been occurring in the previous decade. According to the Food Action and Research Center, which advocates for better nutrition in Washington, from 2021 to 2022, the Supplemental Poverty Measure increased by 60 percent overall and more than doubled among children. This significant increase in poverty is likely due to the end of pandemic-era programs and is one of many indicators that hunger is also on the rise.

Food prices and housing costs have increased dramatically in recent years. In its report, the USDA noted that the increase in prices meant that that seven million families in 2022 had to skip meals because they were unable to afford food.

Poor nutrition, according to the report, can contribute to poor health overall. It notes that not getting enough to eat can have significant long-term effects on psychological and physical development and lead to high rates of hospitalization.

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