When Jews across New Haven head to Rosh Hashanah services Sunday night and Monday, they can add feeding hungry families to their list of reasons that year 5777 might be a sweet new one.
That’s the idea behind high holiday food drives taking place across the city and the state as Jews head into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also known as the Days of Awe.
On Rosh Hashanah, families will leave the synagogue services with an order to fill a grocery bag or a cardboard box (or many) with nonperishable items — dry pasta and rice, canned vegetables, cereal.
On or before Yom Kippur, they should return to synagogue with the food. Then the items will travel to food banks and outreach agencies, feeding families who may not have the money to get through a month of nourishment.
On Rosh Hashanah, congregants celebrate the Jewish new year. On Yom Kippur they atone for their sins, asking God to inscribe them in the book of life for another year.
These days (and the month of holy days they kick off) often double as opportunities for contemplation and discussion about how to apply religious tenets to daily life, such as tikkun olam—literally, “repairing the world.”
As rates of hunger and food insecurity rise across the U.S. and Connecticut, these have begun to really include national food drives like Operation Isaiah, through the Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, or a High Holy Day Food Drive through the Union for Reform Judaism.
That’s where New Haveners, and Jews (and non-Jews) who want to help come in. Steve Werlin, a congregant who runs an Operation Isaiah Food Drive at Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI) in Westville, had been watching food insecurity grow in New Haven as he did work for the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, FISH of greater New Haven, and Columbus House. So when he and his wife joined BEKI several years ago, he jumped at the chance to join in tikkun olam outreach efforts like Isaiah.
“Food is an easy gateway drug to social action because it is so basic,” he said in an interview for WNHH’s “Kitchen Sync” and “Chai Haven” programs. “But I think it’s a mistake to not understand it as part of something much larger. People who will be the recipients of this food ... Then don’t have to spend more of their money on that. So now they have more money to spend on utilities. So it eases the overall burden for people who are in low-income households.”
Will Sherman, who organizes an annual High Holy Day Food Drive for Temple Emanuel of greater New Haven—and has done so for the last 23 or so years—agreed with Werlin. At 70, the psychology professor can’t imagine not doing something about a growing hunger gap that “we must never forget.”
“Anyone who doesn’t see it, anyone who doesn’t realize the need in Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, just doesn’t have their eyes open.” he said.
To listen to an accompanying mash up between WNHH’s “Kitchen Sync” and “Chai Haven,” click on or download the audio above.