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More than 110 people gathered for the Hunger Seder on April 9. – Photos by Leah R. Harrison

By Leah R. Harrison

More than 110 people of various faiths came together April 9 at Ahavath Achim Synagogue for the fifth-annual Hunger Seder. Some were advocates. Some represented hunger-related organizations. Some were children. Some were homeless.

Hunger Seder participation began even before the event with an email of action steps the day prior. In addition to asking registrants to encourage others to accompany them to the seder, the message entreated participants to begin thinking in Passover terms, speaking of the plague of hunger and of ways to help others out of that bondage and into the freedom of food security.

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Seder attendees were encouraged to take home edible centerpieces in Mazon tzedakah boxes.

Co-chair Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of AA welcomed attendees and led the seder. He said the four cups of wine symbolize the promises of freedom made to the Israelites as they were led out of slavery and four new promises about breaking the shackles of hunger today, as listed in the Mazon/Jewish Council of Public Affairs Hunger Seder Haggadah:

  • We will not turn away from the plight of those struggling with hunger and food insecurity.
  • We will educate ourselves and then others about the real dynamics and causes of food insecurity and not allow ignorance and bigotry to fuel uncompassionate and punitive actions.
  • We will urge our policymakers to make it a priority to end hunger, especially for children and seniors.
  • We will work to ensure that everyone has access to enough nutritious food.

Rabbi Rosenthal encouraged those at the seder to formulate questions about food insecurity and hunger, then try to answer them. The questions posed included: When the United States is so effective at growing food, why is there so much hunger? How do we locate people who are hungry? Why does our government subsidize unhealthy food? How can I help get food to the hungry?

Harold Kirtz, seder co-chair and executive board member and past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, said the Hunger Seder and the original haggadah were created as part of the JCPA’s national efforts to combat hunger. The haggadah has been updated and modified each year.

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(From left) Voncile Hodges, Frieda Minga and Esther Levine help conclude the seder with a reading.

Representatives from partnering and sponsoring organizations spoke throughout the seder about their efforts to inform the community and combat food insecurity, including Ahavath Achim’s Hunger Project, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Atlanta Food and Farm, Atlanta Mobile Market, Challah for Hunger, Concrete Jungle, Gideon’s Promise, Helping Feed Atlanta, JCRCA, JCPA, Jewish Family & Career Services’ Kosher Food Pantry, The Temple’s Blessing Box Project, Limmud Atlanta+SE, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, ModernTribe and Second Helpings Atlanta. Many offer opportunities for involvement in the anti-hunger effort.

Before dining, we were assured that the leftovers from the meal, as with all meals at AA, would be taken to a shelter that night.

Those at the seder did not go hungry. Jodie Sturgeon, an Atlanta Kashruth Commission-certified executive chef and the owner of For All Occasions & More catering, prepared the meal under the auspices of AA. From the refined charoset and handcrafted gefilte fish to the plum-size matzah balls, flavorful chicken, three types of kugel, flourless chocolate cake and oversized macaroons, the food was bountiful and delicious. Options for vegans and vegetarians abounded as well.

The presenters made clear that in America the issue is not so much an adequate food supply as the delivery of those resources to people in need. “G-d provides plenty of food,” Rabbi Rosenthal said. “We have a distribution problem.”

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Personal Action

Throughout the thoughtful, empowering and inspiring Hunger Seder, we were encouraged to think of and act on the many ways each of us can make a difference in the fight against hunger.

My piece of the puzzle? With a volunteer plate that is already quite full, I hesitated to put my name in the baskets of organizations that would follow up with attendees after the event. But I connected with Pastor Maggie Leonard of Mercy Community Church, a homeless congregation in the basement of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church.

Pastor Leonard told of the challenges of providing food, fresh produce, and, to the extent possible, meals, which she herself prepares, to her congregants. While I cannot compete with the thousands of pounds donated to other organizations by Costco, Kroger and the like, the overage from my garden this year will be put to good use in helping to provide fresh meals for the congregation.

Pastor Leonard allowed me to leave the seder with a satisfied stomach and a full heart.

Now the charge: What questions will you create and act on in the battle against hunger and food insecurity?

— Leah R. Harrison