“Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger, who pined away, stricken by want of the yield of the field.” Lamentations 4:9.
These words are in the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible, which guides the Jewish people in their interactions with others.
They are also the words Yad Ezra, a kosher food pantry in Berkley, followed when it held a “Hunger Seder” during Passover week to draw attention to the thousands of people in metro Detroit and across Michigan, especially veterans, who don’t have enough food to eat every day.
This Seder lacked the usual matzah, karpas, or any food at all. The plates were empty. Still, it attracted more than 35 legislators, students, and community, who celebrated Passover and its message of freedom and renewal and prayed for an end to hunger in our communities.
“Traditionally, the Seder in Jewish households is marked by great quantities of food,” says Lea Luger, executive director of Yad Ezra. “The empty plates at our ‘Hunger Seder’ remind us that not everyone has enough to eat even a decent meal on a daily basis let alone a food fest. We see it every day in our food pantry.
“It’s heartbreaking when we live in the most abundant country in the world. America certainly grows enough grains and vegetables and raises enough cattle to feed every man, woman and child in our country Therefore, it is incumbent upon all of us – legislators, community leaders and the community at large — to make ending hunger a state and national priority,” Luger says.
Especially disconcerting is how many of those in need are veterans.
Many veterans have difficulty transitioning back to civilian life and the workforce and wait extended periods of time for disability determinations or struggle to make ends meet with the disability pay is low. Across the country there is a disproportionate reliance on food banks and food pantries near military bases.
This was not the first year the “Hunger Seder” was performed. It is usually held in metro Detroit but this was the first time it was “taken on the road” bringing Michigan legislators to the empty table in East Lansing.
Legislators attending from metro Detroit were Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park). Also attending were Jim Ananich (D-Flint), Mike Callton (R-Nashville) and Andy Schor (D-Lansing). They were joined by MSU students and community leaders as they prayed together and learned about the tragedy of hunger and their responsibility to use all means necessary to eradicate hunger.
Yad Ezra partnered with the National Council of Jewish Women, MSU Hillel and the Jewish Community Relations Council to take the Hunger Seder to Lansing. It was underwritten by the Judge Michael L. Stacey Trust.
Yad Ezra opened its doors in 1990 to provide kosher food to impoverished Jewish families living in Southeastern Michigan who relied heavily on government assistance programs, including food stamps. Currently, it provides an average of 1,300 impoverished families, or almost 3,000 individuals, with food, health care items and household goods every month.
Rabbi Dana Benson concluded the “Hunger Seder” with the words, “We pray that, at this time next year, our fellow men, women and children will be blessed with abundance and free from the yoke of hunger and poverty.”
The Hunger Seder was held at the Lester & Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center in East Lansing.