Last week one of my bosses posed this question to me: “How do you access your Judaism?”
Immediately, I thought of more than a few ways: singing on Shabbat, Jewish courses in college, living tikkun olam through community service, my job, saying the sh’ma. I was about to respond with these, when I realized that one answer rose above the rest by far. I access my Judaism through food.
Yes, I love to eat traditional Jewish foods, but for me food represents so much more in Jewish life. We gather on Friday nights to eat a meal together, bringing family and new friends into our homes. The meal itself is so important that we even start the meal with a moment of appreciation for the food we are about to eat, with the kiddush and motzi prayers. Shabbat dinner gives us an opportunity to fill our homes full of families reconnecting after a long week, to fill our living rooms full of friends laughing late into the evening. Food brings us together.
In college I rediscovered a Jewish holiday that had slipped my mind for many years. I remember learning in my temple’s pre-school songs about trees and the earth and a birthday and some holiday I thought was just for kids. During my first year at college I revisited this holiday (lured by the promise of free food, like any college student) and Tu B’shevat quickly became my new favorite holiday. Tu B’shevat challenges us to look at food in a new way—to eat consciously and symbolically.
Symbolic food: now that’s something Jews can get into. Apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, Passover matzah, even not eating at all during Yom Kippur. All of these holidays challenge us to think about what we put into our bodies, to take that extra second before we bite into our meal to pause and reflect on our Jewish tradition and how it affects us on that day.
So although today might not be a Jewish holiday, we should not miss this opportunity to reflect on our Jewish tradition, its teachings about food, and how those teachings and traditions affect us on this October 24, this Food Day. Judaism has a LOT to say about food (check out the RAC’s resource guide for some examples). Today, though, I’ll be celebrating Food Day by choosing to focus on the lack of food, the devastating prevalence of hunger in our community.
The Torah and Jewish tradition are explicit in the commandment that we feed the hungry and help eradicate hunger from our society. There are too many in our communities suffering from hunger: over 50 million Americans and almost 1 in 6 children. The Talmud teaches that we must fight hunger not individually, but rather by working together as a community. Hunger is a problem we know how to fix, and we have the tools to do it if we work together with Congress. In June 2012 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alone lifted 3.9 million Americans out of poverty and closer to food security. Today, I ask you to join with me in fighting hunger. The Farm Bill, which governs anti-hunger programs like SNAP, is up for reauthorization. Urge Congress today to oppose cuts to SNAP and other anti-hunger programs in the Farm Bill.
On other holidays we gather together around a table and share a meal together. Today, I am asking you to gather with me around a cause and share in repairing our world together.
Image courtesy of Food Day.