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Newsletter Article

My most recent article from our congregation's November-December 2012 newsletter.

Years ago I participated in an Outward Bound survival course in coastal Maine.  Part of the program was a three-day solo.  Each participant was dropped off on an island.  My island was called “Little Thoroughfare.”  Little was an accurate description.  I could walk the circumference of the island in a mere 10 minutes.  I was expected to build my own shelter using only a plastic tarp and whatever other supplies I could find.  I was also expected to forage for food.  Fresh water would be resupplied every day when the instructors checked on me.  A tiny granola bar was provided as a treat.   I spent my days eating dandelions and wild peas.

My grandfather, who survived the depression and eked out a successful living despite the fact that did not graduate from high school, thought my adventure was among the craziest of my ideas.  (My daughter who is named for him agrees with this assessment.)  It was equivalent to prizing jeans that had holes in them and spending several months allowance on new wheels for a skateboard.  “You are going to pay money so that you can be cold and wet, tired and hungry?” he asked.  He vowed to rent a helicopter to drop food to me on the island.  He spent a lifetime working so that his grandson might never know hunger that he might have educational opportunities about which he only dreamed.  Now I was choosing the very fate from which he escaped, if only for a few days.

I still remember those discussions.  I remember then discovering two certainties about my grandfather.  He would always love me no matter how crazy my ideas.  And my Papa would never pay for me to go hungry.  I could always ask him to treat for dinner but not so that I could go without food.  Nothing gave him greater pleasure than treating me to a fine meal and then watching me enjoy it.  If I wanted an adventure that would not feed me enough food, then I was going to have to pay for that out of my own savings.  Anyone who knew hunger as intimately as he once did could never bless such a choice. 

I have been thinking about my grandfather, and that little island, as I near the week that I pledged to live by the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge.   For the week of November 11-18 I will eat only what I can purchase with $4.50 per day ($31.50 for the week).  This is the equivalent to what a person living on food stamps is provided.  I hope to discover what it means to live on such meager rations.  Given my many dietary restrictions (kosher and gluten free) I am unsure that I will be able to live up to the challenge.  Given that my average bike ride burns 2,000 calories I wonder how I will be sated following such a workout.  But that is the point.

45 million Americans are forced to live on this allowance.   How can they exercise if they can’t eat properly before, during and after a work out?  If they have dietary restrictions because of their health or religion how can they buy alternative foods?  Is it even possible to eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables on such a diet?  I wonder, will I always feel pangs of hunger during the week?  I hope to learn more by living according to this challenge, to discover more about those whose food choices are beyond their control.  Theirs are dictated by unfortunate circumstances.

Years ago my grandfather came to this country as a young boy.  He survived days and weeks and even years of hunger and discomfort so that his grandson would have to choose to go hungry so that he might better understand the troubles that surround him.  This is a choice that a life of privilege allows.  His sacrifices helped pave the way for my fortunes.  And I in turn must forgo such fortunes in order to better appreciate the troubles that ail our nation.

My hope is that my small sacrifices might make a difference.  Perhaps, I pray, it will serve to raise awareness.  In this great land, in which my family found success, far too many go hungry.  Their pain must become my pain. 

Until all are sated my bounty will remain unfulfilled, my hunger must know no end.  And I must still wander an island searching for food.    

If you wish to learn more about the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, visit its website.