Breaking Bread on Broad

Have you ever seen the hashtag #firstworldproblems? A simple google search brings up some great ones like:

The struggle of finding storage for 20 bottles of champagne #firstworldproblems

I got really tan this weekend and now my concealer is too light!!!

My dog won’t eat that chip I dropped, so now I have to pick it up.

When it takes 6 weeks for the new iphone to come in #firstworldproblems

First World Problems are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.

I came up with a new hashtag for this week’s Torah portion: #WanderingJewProblems. In Numbers 11 we read about the Israelites once again complaining to God and Moses during their long journey in the wilderness:

4 The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!”

Talk about privilege and lack of gratitude?! These Israelites were freed from Egypt through miracles and wonders – from hundreds of years of slavery – and all they can think about is onions and garlic! And they are upset that all they have to eat is manna?! Manna, a miracle from God that appears every morning for free, that according to the Torah tastes like delicious sweet cream –  and yet still they complain.

You could imagine if they had twitter back then, a sarcastic Israelite might have written, “Ugh, another day of eating delicious manna #WanderingJewProblems”

Many of us, especially when we are hangry, often complain as well about our food woes, forgetting the privilege that we enjoy. When we can’t get a reservation at the hottest new restaurant or when Whole Foods has run out of our favorite flavor of vegan ice cream, we sometimes forget that there are many in our own neighborhood who struggle with food insecurity on a daily basis.

Some of you may remember a few months ago we hosted a special exhibit from Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The mobile exhibit called, “This Is Hunger,” gave the hidden problem of food insecurity in our very backyard a face and a name. The exhibit told the story of people like 13 year old Dylan:

Dylan’s mom was laid off from their local school district four years ago. The only work she can get these days is substitute teaching. It’s part time and not enough to pay for the basics. Recently their food stamp allowance has gone from $300 to $200 a month. Dylan writes, “Being hungry affects your appearance, how you act. When I’m hungry, I’m not in the mood for anything. I’m depressed. It’s not fair that we have to go through this. It’s not fair for anybody to have to go through this. You shouldn’t have to worry about where your next meal is gonna come from – especially people with kids.”

As you may know, many kids in our immediate neighborhood struggle with hunger. Thankfully many get free breakfast and lunch at their local public schools during the year. These meals are crucial to keeping these children healthy and giving them the nutrition to properly learn. But what do they do in the summer when school is out? This is where we come in.

This summer from June 26th – August 25th, Monday – Friday, we will be serving free meals to underserved children in our immediate neighborhood. With generous support from congregants Robert Schwartz and Judith Creed, and in partnership with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Nutritional Development Services and various neighborhood groups, we are excited to embark on a truly unique opportunity to engage with our community.

There is a story in the Talmud in which two rabbis debate the best way to ensure that Torah is passed down and taught to the next generous. The first argument from Rabbi Hisda says that the scholars in the yeshiva have the ability to preserve Torah in their ivory towers of Jewish education. The counter argument, however, has always stayed with me.

Rabbi Hiyya rejoined: What did I do? I went and sowed flax, made nets [from the flax cords], trapped deer, whose meat I gave to orphans, and prepared scrolls [from their skins], upon which I wrote books. Then I went to a town [which contained no teachers] and taught children. And I bade them: “Until I return, teach each other.”

Rabbi Hiyya gives us deep insight into the holistic way in which we must help our children to grow and prosper. He teaches us the in order to feed a child’s mind, we must first feed the child’s stomach. Just as Rabbi Hiyya understands that we need to not only feed the physical but also the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sides of the children, we are also planning on doing so much more than just serve free meals. This is where we need your help! Do you have a unique skill that you would like to share with the neighborhood children? Maybe you are a pro at yoga or you love pottery and want to share those passions with our neighborhood youth. Or maybe you just want to come in and do some summer reading with the kids.

We are calling the program “Breaking Bread on Broad” because the term implies a mutuality. This summer meal program is not about “us” helping “them.” It is about sharing a meal together, learning from one another as Rabbi Hiyya suggested, and understanding what it means to truly, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is about food, but it is also about so much more.

In this week’s portion, the Israelites failed to recognize just how lucky they were to have the miraculous gift of manna from heaven. However, our community does not take for granted our resources and understands not only that we must be grateful for what we have but that we must share that bounty with others and “leave the corners of our fields” for the underserved. Maybe we’ll even come up with a new hashtag out of this whole experience like #gratitudeonbroadst