“So, how fortunate are you? Are you free? Can you eat?”
-Excerpt from JCPA Hunger Seder Haggadah
On Thursday, April 14th, US Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon and several representatives from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships joined Members of Congress and members of the anti-hunger community to observe an annual “Hunger” Passover Seder in an intimate gathering at the Capitol Visitors Center. Sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), this third annual Hunger Seder, and over 40 others like it across 22 states, told the traditional story of oppression, struggle and ultimate liberation, but with a unique voice and group of participants. Similar Hunger Seders were held across the country, coordinated by JCPA. Collectively, the group reflected on an oppression still present in our communities today– that of hunger and poverty — and asked each person to renew their dedication to justice and pledge their efforts toward nourishing and protecting vulnerable people in our communities.
The Haggadah was customized to speak to the experience of hunger in our communities, led the group, cup by cup, through four new promises about hunger:
We will feed our communities today.
We will seek out those in need and act to nourish ourselves and our neighbors.
We will use our power to persuade our leaders to act to abolish hunger in our communities.
We will create a world where all Americans and all people are free from hunger.
Under Secretary Concannon highlighted the role of the Jewish community in advocating for important changes the Administration is leading to address hunger and improve access to nutritious food through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Various readers – from precocious school children, to respected Hunger heroes like Congressman Jim McGovern (MA) and Ambassador Tony Hall – read aloud reflective passages that called upon spiritual people to embrace the spiritual responsibility of addressing hunger. We were pleased to be joined by David Myers, who directs the DHS Partnership Center, Acacia Salatti, Deputy at HHS Center and Roxana Barillas, Deputy at the USDA Center. “Each drop of wine,” they read, “represents our humanity diminished by the presence of hunger.” Reciting their parts, children who participated walked in the shoes of individuals, other children and families who benefit from nutrition programs that provide them with a school meal at free or reduced price; pregnant women and their children with WIC benefits; and the more than 43 million whose next meal is better with the help of SNAP benefits (formerly Food Stamps).
The Seder closed as the group spoke about the tradition of filling the empty cup at the table – Elijah’s cup – a task that is accomplished only with drops of wine from each participant’s glass. The symbolism of this act was truly a call of action of for the group, and an embodiment of the individual as well as communal efforts required to create a world free from hunger.