Pulling Out My Hair

Pulling Out My Hair

I think I’m going bald.

No, not naturally. (I am getting just a few little gray hairs enough to be cute at this point. I look forward to the day when I have enough that people stop commenting that I look like a teenager…or a baby.)

No, I’m concerned about hair loss because lately I’ve been tearing out big chunks of hair from frustration.

According to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 50 million people in the United States are hungry (“food-insecure” is what we’re calling it these days). 17 million of them are children. Half a million of them have inadequate diets, even missed meals for lack of money to buy food.

Yes, you read that right. “in the United States.”

It’s not just the staggering scale of the problem of hunger that’s making me tear my hair out. It’s the location. I would not have believed this possible in my own country.

I’m also struck by the observation of a grocery store checkout clerk named “Mama” who lives in Washington, D.C. that those paying with SNAP, (the Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program, what used to be called food stamps) are better dressed than ever. It’s a disquieting sign that the problem is spreading, worsening, and affecting people that it didn’t before. Hunger is gaining on us, closer to home than we like to believe.

Naturally, people of faith like us consider it our sacred obligation, our mitzvah, to use the Jewish word, to feed the hungry as part of our mission to heal, repair and transform the world. Naturally, we’ll be out there to do our part this holiday season. From Dec.13-18, members of my congregation, Temple Emanuel in St. Louis, MO, will be assisting our neighbors of St. Elizabeth’s Parish in north St. Louis City to distribute food, clothing and toys to about 500, maybe 600 people a day…for a week.

There is nothing like seeing hungry people to jolt us out of our own doldrums, to make us realize how petty, even childish, of most of our complaints,

But feeding hungry people is not the whole issue when there are so many to feed. When did “the pursuit of happiness” cease to be an inalienable right? Who is free to pursue happiness when they are hungry? (or, “food-insecure”?) We can’t fail to answer the call to help others, because it’s in our Torah, in the call of our prophets, in our very nature, yet we know something is wrong. Something is all wrong when public policy fails so many of our fellow citizens so catastrophically and leaves it to organized religion to fill the gaps. Don’t we realize that by the terms of the founding documents of American civic religion, the situation is grounds for another revolution?

In the aftermath of yet another bitter and acrimonious political campaign that resulted in the usual tossing out of the bums, I don’t feel like proposing any political solution except to say that this is everyone’s problem. There are no winners in elections if our politics is so paralyzed that it becomes an irrelevant sideshow. Tzedakah is a mitzvah. But so is Tzedek, righteous action. “Justice, justice, shall you pursue,” exhorts Moses in the midst of Deuteronomy. This holiday season, please don’t just give to Tzedakah. Give to Tzedek. Demand real honesty in political discourse, and expect solutions, not posturing, from elected leaders.

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