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Jewish presence strong at ‘Responding to Hunger’
July 1st, 2012
Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter (1810-1883), founder of the Musar (ethical improvement) movement, once said that truly pious Jews are not concerned about other peoples’ souls and their own stomachs, but about their own souls and other peoples’ stomachs.
In that sense, some Jewish piety was clearly visible at the conference “Responding to Hunger: Creating Local Solutions” that took place June 3 at Marquette University, attended by 70 people.
This presence was manifest in the funding, the film shown at the start, and in the local organizations and people participating.
The event was funded by a grant from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. This is a national umbrella group of Jewish community-relations councils and other organizations.
The organizations that coordinated and ran the conference included the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Tikkun Ha-Ir (Hebrew for “Repair of the City”) of Milwaukee — in collaboration with the Hunger Task Force, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, the Marquette University Institute for the Transformation of Learning, and Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church.
Soon after the conference opened, participants saw the 2010 documentary film “Food Stamped” by Shira and Yoav Potash. This chronicled the California couple’s effort to live for a week on food that could be purchased by the equivalent of the weekly allowance provided by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a.k.a., food stamps.
That amounted to a little more than $1 per meal per person — and since they are Jewish, Shira and Yoav included a Friday evening Sabbath dinner with a guest in their plans.
One of the speakers after the film was Tikkun Ha-Ir executive director Judy Baruch, who was a member of the planning committee for the event; and Pamela Frydman-Roza, Tikkun Ha-Ir’s food justice coordinator, served as moderator for a session on “Preserving the Harvest Beyond the Growing Season.”
Finally, Liz Escobar and Heidi Salter were among the presenters at a session on “Congregations that Do” about hunger-fighting initiatives among Milwaukee-area faith groups.
Escobar and Salter are the volunteer coordinators of the Salinsky Program to Feed the Hungry at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun. This was created via a grant from the estate of Milwaukeean Louise DeCasseres Mayer Salinsky, who died in 2009.
Escobar and Salter explained that this program is not providing monetary grants as it has in the past, but is working on mobilizing congregants to volunteer for projects to fight hunger, like the Jewish Community Pantry.
They also handed out a list of summer volunteer opportunities, including participation in a Feeding America Food Sort on July 10; and a Hunger Task Force Food Collection at State Fair Park on Aug. 2.
All these efforts are important because Milwaukee has serious poverty and hunger problems. In the opening address of the event, Nicole Carver, program director at the Interfaith Conference, said that Milwaukee is one of the top ten most impoverished cities in the country.
Nearly 30 percent of its residents are considered to be living in poverty, as are nearly half of the city’s children, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures, reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 21, 2011.
And Jon Janowski, advocacy director of the Hunger Task Force, said in a policy update after the film screening that some 274,000 people in Milwaukee County are connected to the food stamp program, and some 83 percent of children attending Milwaukee Public Schools — “an all-time record” — are eligible for free and reduced price meals.
“The point that we are trying to make today is that hunger is real, hunger has a [social] cost, but hunger can be beaten,” Janowski said. “Becoming an advocate on behalf of the hungry is a critical step in the fight against hunger.
“We know that charity alone cannot and should not shoulder additional responsibility for tackling hunger in our community, in our state, or anywhere in the United States. On this issue and so many others, real change will only occur when citizens become informed and activated and challenge our elected officials to make this issue a priority.”