By Zohar Grinvald, Erica Gordy, and Marissa Klass, NFTY GER
“I was lucky. I grew up in a home where I never had to question if there was food in the fridge or if I was going to have dinner. Yet, that is not the reality for almost 42 million individuals in America, with over a million in New Jersey alone.”-Zohar Grinvald
NFTY-GER’s social justice theme this year is hunger and homelessness. Zohar Grinvald and Erica Gordy have shared how they are taking action in their local communities:
Where Zohar lives in Marlboro, New Jersey, homeless people are looked upon as a burden. Anyone found sleeping outside on public property is immediately picked up by the police. They are interrogated until it is clear if they have family in a nearby city, and they are given a bus ticket. If not, they are driven out of the county bounds, and warned that a night in jail is next. By pushing people out who are struggling, Zohar fears that we, as a society, are content with the idea that if we don’t see it, it is not a problem. Although it may be more comfortable to ignore a problem like homelessness when it is not right in front of our faces, as Reform Jews, it is our obligation to act. As Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “The decency of a society is measured by how it cares for its least powerful members.” We cannot consider our society decent if we keep pushing those in need of help away.
Zohar recounts how she took action in her local community. “As a member of my temple youth group RTSY, I was able to help prepare for an event called the Midnight Run. The Midnight Run is a nonprofit organization that facilitates the collection of clothes, toiletries, and food for volunteer groups to dole out to the men and women of New York City. The nonprofit explicitly states that they are not the cure for homelessness or hunger. Rather, the Midnight Run works to form connections between the homeless and housed, and gives residents of a community like mine that bars homeless people from entry an opportunity to see real faces and exchange names, instead of just reflecting on statistics.”
NFTY-GER is thrilled to have Urban Mitzvah Corps in their backyard. The rich environment Rutgers University provides is the perfect place for Urban Mitzvah Corps’s focus: Community Empowerment. Throughout their month-long social justice experience, teens are able to choose two out of three unique work sites. Their options are: Regency Jewish Heritage, a Post-Acute, Rehab and Nursing Center; PLAY S.A.F.E. (Summer Activities For Everyone), a summer activities program for inner city kids run by the city of New Brunswick; and Elijah’s Promise, an organization where teens are able to work at a community soup kitchen and urban garden.
Erica Gordy had the awesome opportunity of spending part of her summer working at Elijah’s Promise, where she encountered poverty and hunger. “I found it interesting that even people with jobs had to come [to Elijah’s Promise] because the minimum wage isn’t high enough to sustain a normal lifestyle.” Erica’s time at Elijah’s taught her and her peers that the minimum wage is not a livable wage, and that hunger is a pertinent issue in America that still needs solving. In addition to becoming more aware of what is happening in her community, Erica’s experience at the soup kitchen and urban garden “taught [her] to greet everyone with a smile and treat them with respect and kindness.”
Hunger and homelessness are issues that cannot be resolved single-handedly, nor should they be avoided altogether due to their complexity. As Reform Jews, how will we act?
The resources listed below allow you to get more involved, and live one of NFTY’s 13 Principles: Nilmad V’na’aseh, meaning “To Learn and To Do.” It’s time to get to work.
Make a Difference this Summer with Mitzvah Corps
- Urban Mitzvah Corps: Community Empowerment
- American South: Civil Rights & Disaster Relief
- Pacific Northwest: Refugee Rights & Immigration Reform
- Costa Rica: Infrastructure and Economic Development
- Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands: Clean Water & Indigenous Heritage
- Israel: Civil Liberties
- Find a food bank near you
- Talk to your representatives about how you can affect change in your local district
- Talk to your temple about how you can provide for your local community