For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. In 2011, I partnered with the Temple Beth David Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and Long Island Cares, a major food bank, to collect and distribute fresh produce to local food pantries for Care to Share. This initiative, a collaboration of UJA-Federation of New York, AmeriCorps, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Hazon, aims to feed the hungry during the Sukkot and harvest season and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition. Volunteers helped promote and support this initiative in Suffolk County by spreading the word and donating fresh fruits and vegetables straight from their home gardens or purchased from a store. Two volunteers I worked closely with, Beth Needleman at Temple Beth David and Elana Sisson at Long Island Cares, played vital roles in helping collect 505 pounds of fresh produce to give to local food pantries, an amazing accomplishment that allowed us to help approximately 490 families on Long Island. We take pride in helping those in need by making their holiday season more abundant and special.
As the Jewish holiday season progresses from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur toward Sukkot, each holiday has a special relationship to food that builds on the preceding holiday. Rosh Hashanah is a time of feasting: succulent apples and honey and round raisin challah, a table of sweetened abundance. Yom Kippur, in contrast, is a day of fasting, and even though we are only hungry for a day, the holiday encourages empathy for those who face hunger every day, including 1.4 million New York City residents (according to the NYC Coalition Against Hunger) and millions of people world-wide. Finally, during the harvest festival of Sukkot, we combine feasting with our obligation to feed the hungry.
Leviticus 23:22 describes the harvest commandment of peah, according to which we must leave the four corners of our field to be gleaned by the poor and the stranger. In the system of peah, leaving the corners of one’s field unharvested provides for the hungry in a way that addresses their needs while simultaneously preserving their dignity: the hungry can take produce as needed without the embarrassment or shame that could accompany receiving charity. For those of us living in an urban area, where the majority of the residents are not farmers, we can use the tradition of peah as guidance for the way we address local food insecurity.
This Sukkot, a program called Care to Share is doing just that.