Global Hunger Shabbat puts food issues on the table

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We Bay Area residents sure do love food conversations. Whether it’s a question of ethically raised chickens or the locavore movement, there’s no shortage of opinions to be had or impassioned positions to be taken.

But for one weekend, more than 40 Bay Area congregations and other Jewish organizations ask their members to look beyond their own backyards, toward countries where hunger — the simple challenge of getting enough food — is always on the table.

The third annual Global Hunger Shabbat, a program of the New York–based nonprofit American Jewish World Service seek to call attention to the realities of the hunger crisis in the world’s poorest nations.

Ruth Messinger

For two days starting on Friday, Nov. 2,  Jewish groups throughout the Bay Area will host interactive workshops, conversations and Shabbat services focused on the root causes of hunger. There will be an emphasis on how what we do here — such as pushing for a change in U.S. food aid policies — can help those suffering elsewhere.

The event is just one component of the organization’s “Reverse Hunger” campaign, which Ruth Messinger, AJWS president and CEO, described as an effort to “rally the American Jewish community” to change U.S. food and agriculture policies that the organization believes are “major contributors to global hunger.”

Raising awareness about the limitations of the current version of the farm bill — which is passed with revisions roughly every four years — is a crucial aspect of the AJWS campaign.

Under the current legislation, policy dictates that food donations made by the United States to other countries be purchased, processed and transported by U.S. companies. According to critics, that means it often takes months for food to reach those in need, and once it does arrive, it can undercut local farmers, hurting rather than helping the local agricultural infrastructure. Revisions to the current bill stalled in Congress two months ago.

“Global Hunger Shabbat is about ensuring that people in developing countries are able to grow their own food and feed themselves with dignity,” Messinger said.

Erica Hymen, who works in San Francisco for the AJWS advocacy agency Pursue, said Bay Area congregations and other organizations have been incredibly eager to get in on the action in 2012 — a clear sign that Global Hunger Shabbat made an impact locally last year.

“It’s so exciting to see all these different communities getting involved,” said Hymen, who will be speaking at San Francisco’s indie-Shabbat community The Kitchen on Nov. 2 and at Berkeley’s Urban Adamah on Nov. 3. “To me, it says a lot about how we’re putting our Jewish values into action on this issue,” she noted.

At Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, the weekend will serve as the kickoff to a year of programming around food justice and hunger issues, said membership coordinator Carrie Rice. Shabbat services Nov. 2 will include a talk by John Koeppel, a board member at the San Francisco Food Bank who has been active in AJWS lobbying around the farm bill.

In the East Bay, Contra Costa Midrasha students are staging a “Carnival Day” with the nonprofit Shelter, Inc. as their way of focusing on hunger issues. At the event, which will be held Nov. 12, they will make and serve lunch to homeless and borderline-homeless families in Concord, and also lead kids in activities and games.

At Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, the Nov. 2 Shabbat service will feature Aaron Dorfman, vice president of national programs at AJWS, discussing the politics behind the food crisis. At services the following morning, congregants will continue a discussion about how to get involved in advocacy.

 “This is who we are as Jews,” said Beth Jacob ritual director Bill Futornick, adding that the congregation is making a special outreach effort to young adults, including waiving the $27 dinner fee for Shabbat on Nov. 2. “We have a responsibility to take care of the world. That’s who we are as a people, that’s Torah.”

AJWS, of course, will continue carrying the ball well beyond this weekend. In fact, at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in San Francisco, the agency will host “Local to Global: Building a Sustainable Food System for All,” featuring Oran Hesterman, president of the Fair Food Network and author of “Fair Food.” For more information, visit

Global Hunger Shabbat runs Nov. 2-3. Most events are free and open to the community. Information and a map of events at

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.