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The Magnitude of the Challenge Doesn’t Give Us the Privilege to Do Nothing | Rabbi Steve Gutow

13 Apr Posted by in Tony Hall's Blog | Comments Off
The Magnitude of the Challenge Doesn’t Give Us the Privilege to Do Nothing | Rabbi Steve Gutow

Doing something with Tony Hall is always spiritually uplifting for me - he is such a wonderful soul. So when he suggested some kind of ‘fast’ to accentuate the concern many of us have about the tragic reductions in dollars allocated to legislation to alleviate hunger in America, I stepped up speedily. I have done this ‘fasting thing’ before and was not hesitant to do it again especially when the need felt is so great. A few years ago I took the food stamp challenge and lived on $21.00 for a week. It was harder, not much harder, but harder than skipping a meal a day for a couple of weeks. Why is this fast just before Passover, a holiday where we, as Jews, discuss our concern for the hungry, important?

At least, for one part of every day, I feel acutely for those who are hungry in America and in the world. I think about them. I know a little bit about what they must be feeling all the time. It is sort of like an MRI where for 30 minutes you are living in a tightly sealed chamber, where you know what a straight jacket would be like-but-after that half hour you are free. Same is true here—for a few hours every day I know what it is like to not be able to eat the food I want and I can imagine what it must be like to live that way every minute of every day. It is a fast of feeling. All of us need to spend some moments recognizing what the world is like, according to recent reports, for over 50 million Americans living in food insecure households, for more than one billion hungry inhabitants of the planet. When we realize, when we feel, we have the inspiration to do something, to make a change. We probably do not have the time and energy to change the equation in the meaningful way we would like, but we can do something. We can motivate our friends and neighbors, speak with our elected officials, or convince a newspaper reporter or editor to write something.

The problem is way too much for us to fully solve, but the magnitude of the challenge does not give us the privilege to do nothing. I read in the New York Times about one of Mario Cuomo’s favorite proverbs, about an Arab traveler who comes upon a sparrow in the desert, lying on its back with its claws outstretched toward the sky. The Arab asks the bird what it is doing, and the bird replies that he has heard the sky is about to fall, and he wants to be ready to hold it up. ‘You foolish creature,’ says the Arab laughing.’ To which the bird replies, with resignation, ‘One does what one can.’

Me too—me too.


Rabbi Steve Gutow is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy and community relations coordinating agency of the American Jewish community. In 2008, he challenged Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to join him in a “food stamp challenge” – committing to eat only as much food in a week as could be purchased with $21, the average food stamp benefit.

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