At congressional seder, pols add hunger to their plate

(From left) Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) participated in last week’s National Hunger Seder. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

About 50 people representing Congress, the White House and numerous interfaith social action organizations gathered in the Capitol to retell the story of Exodus, with a strong emphasis on ending childhood hunger in America.

The sixth annual National Hunger Seder was sponsored by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and included adaptations to the traditional parts of the seder.

In this 21-page Haggadah, the fourth question is, “How could so many children still suffer from hunger when we live in a society of tremendous wealth and abundance?” and the 10 plagues include “a single mother who gives the last bits of food to her toddler while she goes hungry” and “APATHY, the greatest plague of all – the failure to make ending childhood hunger a national priority.”

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow, who led the March 26 seder, said Passover is “not only what happened in Egypt. It’s about today.” He said, “There is a slavery in this country called hunger.”
Many of the attendees read a paragraph aloud, including Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), who said,

“For today’s seder we choose to recognize that while the Jewish people may be free, not everyone has cause for celebration. Many people, even in a free society such as ours, are bound by the hardships and challenges of their circumstances.”

Explained Abby Leibman, president of Mazon: “This is our obligation. To speak out for what is right.” People are doing “God’s work” when they “bring a voice to those who are most often voiceless.”

The Haggadah authors called it “unacceptable” that “more than 16 million children” live in households that cannot afford daily nutritious meals, and they urged everyone to work for the passage of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which is set to expire
in September.

Besides Jenkins, Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Keith Ellison (D-Min.) attended the seder.

When asked why the majority of congressional attendees were the same ones who did not attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, Gutow said all members of Congress were invited, regardless of their politics.

“There is not a Congress member here that doesn’t support Israel,” Gutow said, adding, “They may not be in lockstep with somebody’s idea” of support for Israel.

This seder was about hunger, explained Leibman. “We look for members of Congress willing to stand up for hunger,” she said. “We are not looking for a litmus test.”

Seder attendee William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, added: “We look for allies where we find areas of common agreement. We cherish that.”

Other seder attendees included representatives from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program, the United States Department of Agriculture, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Islamic Relief USA and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

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