All who are hungry

April 2017
Rebecca Shapiro

This past week, I sat at the funeral of a friend, Susan-Bayla Waxman a’h. The sanctuary was full of hundreds of those whose lives she touched. I knew she was an incredible person, but I had no idea how far reaching her impact was. Her influence seemed to transcend generation gaps and religious affiliations. She related to everyone, with no judgement. When her son Lucas got up to speak, he said something that I have not stopped thinking about. As he talked about her kindness and generosity, he made sure to highlight that his mother valued community and having guests. And not just any guests, she made sure to include people who didn’t have anywhere else to go at all her holiday meals. As Lucas said, “My mother always said, no one should ever have to be alone.”

It got me thinking of our community, and a line in the Haggadah that has gnawed at me throughout my life.

Towards the beginning of the Passover seder we read the phrase “All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All those in need, come celebrate Passover.”

As a child, it was the timing of this paragraph that felt off. Like if I really wanted these people to come to my seder, if I really cared about them, wouldn’t it make more sense to invite them in advance?

The aforementioned line is from the famous “Ha Lachma Anya,” which begins by referring to matzah as the “bread of affliction.”  I never thought of this line in conjunction with it’s preceding line. Considered together, they can be loosely summed up as “come on over and join me in my affliction."

Figuratively, we can all relate. Everyone has struggles. We may not be literally hungry, but we are all “hungry” in some way.

In my childhood and egocentric innocence, I thought this paragraph to be insensitive. As I evolve in my understanding of myself and the needs of others, I see this paragraph as introspective and quite unifying.

Personal needs evolve over time, and so do communal needs. Having grown up in this community, I have watched the evolution of “hunger” and “need.”

Many of the founders of our synagogues and community organizations were peddlers who built themselves up after the Great Depression.  Many came with nothing, after surviving the Holocaust. The community became their family and they poured their efforts into it and their children equally. They turned their hunger into passion.

Their children, my parents’ generation, took up the mantle, inheriting this community and its volunteerism. Today, with dual-income families becoming a necessity for most, many in my own  generation are burning the candle at both ends. As a result, financial support for community institutions has become watered down due to inflation and family obligations.

Most of my contemporaries moved away, and those of us who are left, have been trying to balance between wanting to be as generous as the older generations (both in time and money) while keeping up with challenges of a fast paced world.

Many young families today choose to pour all of their efforts into spending quality time with their nuclear family whenever they have a spare second in their day. In this fast paced, over programmed society, that face-to-face social element is at risk of being lost. Since social media is fulfilling many communal needs, even Jewish ones, people feel they can afford that luxury of solely focusing on family. In past, Jewish day schools, summer camps and youth groups were of primary importance. As I said before, community was family. Today,  family is community.

But each generation, and each individual, is hungry in their own way.  I was talking to a group of millennials with young children who said that after they are done work and carting their children to extra-curricular activities, getting dinner on the table and homework, they are done. They know it’s a self-inflicted social isolation but the last thing they want to do is go to an event or board meeting.

I am participating in Hamilton Jewish Federation's YESOD leadership development course, developed by the Florence Melton Adult Mini School. This course, facilitated by David Shore, is attended by a cross spectrum of “the next generation” of Hamilton’s Jewish leaders. It is a fantastic opportunity to sit at the table and discuss issues facing our community, as demographics and circumstances shift.

One of the topics that comes up quite often is community engagement, work/life/community balance and apathy.

While evaluating how to empower a new generation of leadership, we look at past generations for inspiration. We look back to the evolving communal leadership structures as they evolved in biblical times. What worked for one generation, does not necessarily work for the next.

Each generation brings something unique and valuable to the table. Our challenge is to lead using an evolved model that engages, connects and empathizes, and reaches out to Jews who have become estranged, who don’t even know they are missing out.

The “bread of affliction” is all of ours to bear, but so is our liberation and our hope.

People like Susan-Bayla Waxman embodied the value of “all who are hungry, let them come and eat.” Our community leaders work tirelessly to make sure that everyone has a seder to go to, and a community to grow with. They provide a strong foundation for liberation and hope. But again, everyone needs something.

There are many people who are hungry, both literally and figuratively. This Passover, let’s remember to look inward and outward at the same time.  What will you do to be a part of this evolving story?

Rebecca Shapiro is a communications and marketing consultant. She's also a co-founder of Project Proactive, which helps break mental health stigmas in the Jewish community and the community at large.