Last year, the Damascus Reform synagogue Congregation Or Chadash packaged 10,000 meals to help feed the hungry during Yom Kippur. That was at the height of the pandemic. This Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sept. 15, they’re hoping to top that.
“This is one of my favorite programs. I love it, love it, love it,” said Rabbi Alison Kobey. “Part of why I love it is because we are literally helping to feed the hungry around the globe, and part of why I love it is because we do it on Yom Kippur, so it has even more meaning for our congregation.”
Kobey said the project, which is now going into its fifth year at the synagogue, is a good fit for Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of fasting, atonement and repentance.
“Obviously, on Yom Kippur, people are moaning and groaning about being hungry, but they’re actually really blessed. They’re only hungry one day a year … and yet we know there are people who are food insecure, and who go hungry all year long, so they feel that, there’s that feeling, so that makes it more impactful for the congregation,” Kobey said.
“It ties into the bigger themes of Yom Kippur, of introspection and self-awareness and looking inward, and I think this project helps all year round of going beyond ourselves,” Kobey added.
Kobey said Or Chadash works with Rise Against Hunger, a Raleigh, N.C.-based international hunger relief nonprofit that coordinates the packaging and distribution of food to people in developing nations, according to its mission statement.
The meal kits that congregants assemble include enriched rice, soy protein and dried vegetables, according to the Rise Against Hunger website.
“If there’s an immediate crisis that has just occurred, like, God forbid, there’s a tsunami or a hurricane, they’re more likely to send it there. If there’s not an emergency, then they send it to some of the more food insecure places around the globe,” Kobey said.
Last year, Kobey said, the food went to Honduras. Previously, Madagascar was among the recipients.
In 2020, Kobey said, due to the pandemic, volunteers were limited to two groups of 20 individuals. This year, there are no restrictions on the number of volunteers, although Kobey said that could change based on updates in CDC guidance due to the spread of COVID-19 and its highly contagious delta variant.
“In previous years, we had upwards of 60 volunteers,” Kobey said, adding that she expected the number of volunteers might be slightly less this year due to concerns over COVID.
Kobey said anyone with an interest can participate in the project, and it does not require a specific skill set.
“It’s a project that kids can do, grownups can do, and open to all physical limitations. It’s just a win-win for everyone,” Kobey said. “I love the energy of it. It moves us out of ourselves.”