Doing What We Can: Anti-Hunger Seders All Across America

In just a few days Jews around the world will begin the celebration of Passover by holding seders to tell the story of freedom from bondage and oppression in Egypt. In many communities around America this past week and next, seders will be held telling a different story: not the story of the slavery in ancient Egypt but rather the story of the slavery of the spirit and the body caused by hunger. As part of this national effort, joined by members of Congress, representatives from the Administration, and leaders of faith and anti-hunger groups, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs will be holding our 3rd annual National Hunger Seder in the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to raise awareness on behalf of those who live under the yoke of a hungry stomach.

We are doing this with a sense of urgency. As you read this, the U.S. House of Representatives is beginning consideration of the 2012 budget resolution. Programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly food stamps) which millions depend on just to make it through the week, will face the possibility of significant cuts and restrictions. We must do what we can to stop this from happening.

Our hungry neighbors and friends shall not stand alone in this fight to protect the safety net that protects them. For the past ten days I have been taking part in a hunger fast with religious, political, and civic leaders and others who are concerned. It is not hard, not debilitating, but it does make me think. For at least part of every day when I am skipping a meal, I feel for a brief moment the pain of those who are hungry in America and in the world. It is sort of like an MRI where for 30 minutes one is existing in a tightly sealed chamber, frightened that she or he may be experiencing a lifetime of what living in a straight jacket would be like-but knowing that the experience will only last a few moments longer.

The same is true during this short daily fast. For a few hours every day I know what it is like to not be able to eat and to do my best to imagine what it must be like to live that way every minute of every day. It is not a good feeling.

All of us need to spend some moments considering what the world is like for over 50 million Americans living in food insecure households, for more than one billion hungry inhabitants of the planet. The magnitude of the problem of hunger makes addressing it a daunting prospect. But when we realize -- when we feel -- we have the inspiration to do something, to make a change.

We probably do not have the ability, the time and the energy to change the whole world but we can do something. We can motivate our friends and neighbors, speak with our elected officials, or convince a newspaper reporter or editor to write something.

This is the motivation behind the National Hunger Seder and the Passover Hunger Seder Mobilization, and I am proud of the response from our communities. This year, more than 40 hunger seders are being held in more than 22 states across the country to raise awareness about hunger and the possible reductions in programs like WIC and SNAP.

I read recently in the New York Times of a favorite proverb of Mario Cuomo's about an Arab traveler who comes upon a sparrow in the desert, lying on its back with its claws outstretched toward the sky. The Arab asks the bird what it is doing, and the bird replies that he has heard the sky is about to fall, and he wants to be ready to hold it up. 'You foolish creature,' says the Arab laughing.' To which the bird replies, with resignation, 'One does what one can.'

It is time for us all to do what we can.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. For more information and updates, visit and follow @theJCPA on Twitter.