Monday, April 18, 2011

The 5th Question

Passover -- which commemorates the Israelites' flight from slavery in Egypt -- begins at sundown tonight and continues for 8 days.

I don't offer a traditional seder [SAY-der], which is a very elaborate and ritualized event during which the story is re-told. You know me -- I'm always about the food, secular creature that I tend to be! So I just prepare a special dinner with symbolic foods such as matzah ([MAH-tzuh] = unleavened bread), and I'll share some recipes from tonight's meal later on this week.

At the Seder, the youngest child who is able to recites four questions:

1. Why on this night do we eat only matzah?

Matzah is a reminder that the Jews fled Egypt quickly, and did not have time to let bread dough rise.

2. Why on this night do we eat bitter herbs?

Bitter herbs remind us of the cruel way the Pharaoh treated the Jews when they were enslaved in Egypt.

3. Why on this night do we dip our foods twice?

We dip bitter herbs into charoset ([hah-ROH-set] = a sweet, sticky mixture of fruit, nuts and wine) to remind us of the mortar used in erecting the Pharaoh's buildings. And we dip parsley into salt water, with the salty water reminding us of the tears the Jews shed while the parsley reminds us of Spring and of renewal.

4. Why on this night do we lean on a pillow?

We lean on pillows for comfort, to remind us that the Jews were once slaves but are now free.

And Mazon [mah-ZONE]: A Jewish Response to Hunger (and one of my very favorite charities) is hoping that we will all ask ourselves a fifth question:

"Why on this night are millions of people going hungry?"

According to Feeding America:

•In 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children.

•In 2009, 6.8 million households experienced very low food security.

•In 2009, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.3 percent compared to 11.4 percent.

•In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure.

Sometimes it seems as though the tragedy is so overwhelming that it's insurmountable. There are many, many answers to that 5th Question and none of them can be addressed quickly or easily. No one person can solve the problems of poverty and hunger in this country or throughout the world.

But one person can get up early and help to serve breakfast at a church.

One person can deliver meals to the homebound.

One person can organize a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a food-related charity.

One person can forego birthday gifts and collect items to give to a charity that feeds the hungry.

So, why on this night -- and so many other nights -- are millions of people going hungry?

I hope to ask myself this question with great frequency and to follow through with action rather than just intent. I am able to feed myself every single day, and even prepare special meals for holidays and for loved ones.

But may I -- we -- never forget that there are those who don't have the security of knowing what, or whether, they'll eat tonight. And may we take it upon ourselves to be a part of the answer to that truly life-threatening problem.

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Candace said...

Thank you for this beautiful and thought provoking post, Mary. I have a charity in Louisiana that is dear to my heart that helps those in need with food, clothing and shelter. David and I have been hooked up with them for years now and continue to be from our new home. May I be even more reminded of this great need in my local community, as well. *hugs* Have a beautiful day, my friend.

Jenn said...

Fantastic post, Mary! I loved hearing what is spoken at the Seder. And yes, I know I take for granted that I have food on the table each and every night. I try not to, but it happens...thanks for the reminder that not everyone is as fortunate!!

Cranberry Morning said...

Love the history behind the Seder, Mary. And you have great ideas that even one person can use to help avert hunger. With commodity prices rising sharply due to turning corn into ethanol, plus the problem of wheat rust which is destroying crops, millions more around the world are in danger of starvation.

Mrs B said...

Great post Mary! It's so true. We really do tend to take for granted the abundance of food we've been blessed with. Hubby's workplace participates in Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale each year, and we bake our butts off for 3 days straight. SOS is a great organization that succeeds in feeding thousands of hungry kids and families all year long.

Even though I grew up Catholic, my best childhood friend is Jewish. She went to church with us and I went to shul with them. Because I was the youngest I was privileged for many years to be the one to ask the 4 questions. Sadly, the only one that I remember in Hebrew now is the first.

I don't get the opportunity to celebrate Passover these days, but one of my fondest food memories of the Seder dinner is her mother's Brisket. I'm making it tonight. Just the aromas coming from my oven as it braises, bring back wonderful memories.

Wishing you a Blessed Passover,

~Mrs B

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