How is Global Hunger Shabbat Different from All Other Shabbats?

Originally posted on

What’s not to love about Shabbat? It happens every week, there’s not a super-sad story attached and it often involves food. Some say you just need candles, wine and bread and you’ve got Shabbat. Heschel’s book The Sabbath, is the only Jewish book I continually reference. It’s the way that Heschel describes Shabbat, the way that Shabbat separates not just space, but time. “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel. Shabbat gives us the time not only to separate the mundane from the extraordinary, but to connect to people that we care for and love.

The Shabbat meal is the centerpiece of Friday evening. I’ve experienced standard Ashkenazi Shabbat dinners with matzo ball soup and roasted chicken to wonderful and tasty soul food dinners with barbeque chicken, dirty rice, and collard greens. The food on the table is different from family to family, yet the tradition and the meaning behind the festive meal is the same. It’s the food that we share with the people around our Shabbat table that connects us not only to Jews in our home, but to Jews around the globe.

Since moving to New York six years ago I’ve given more thought to food and where it comes from. Big Box groceries equipped with super-sized grocery carts are the norm in my Ohio home town. I remember being fascinated by the itty-bitty carts and narrow aisle of places like Whole Foods. Along with shopping for organic foods came research into our food system. Movies like Food Inc. and reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma didn’t turn me into a vegetarian, it helped me to think about what I ate. I now try to shop locally, organically, sustainably, and eat seasonal foods. When I had access to a back yard (a New York dream come true) I grew vegetables. I buy produce from farmer’s markets. Joining a CSA is the next step on my list towards making sure that the food that I put into my body sustains me and local farmers. That is how I thought about food until joining the Pursue team in late September. Now I think not only about where my food comes from, but about the people who work the farms; Are they making a living wage? About the impact of industrial food on small farms and farmers in the U.S. and abroad. About creating an agricultural system that supports our eco-system, plant life, and the bees that make it all work. I think about the current food aid system in place – is it really helping the hungry or is it preventing the farmers in developing countries the ability to feed their children? Thinking about poverty and hunger in the U.S. is a daunting task, thinking about it on a global scale is nothing short of overwhelming. It seems that there is little that I can do to make a change.

As Jews we’re commanded to work towards social justice and repairing the world. On November 4-5 you can do your part by joining hundreds of Jews across the U.S. for AJWS’s second Global Hunger Shabbat, a weekend focused on food justice and tikkun olam. Community centers, synagogues, and college campuses around the globe have already signed up, but hosting Shabbat dinner at home with family and friends is the route that I want to take.

One of the most attractive aspects that drew me to Judaism is the focus on social action, social justice, tikkun olam – and love of Shabbat. Ahad Ha’am said: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” What a better way the marry tikkun olam and Shabbat then Global Hunger Shabbat. The Jewish holiday season has ended with Simchat Torah and we’re at the season of new beginnings. We’ve finished reading the Torah and started reading it again, reminding us that the cycle continues. With that continuation comes the renewed responsibility to create positive change in our communities-big and small.

Erika Davis is the Temporary Program Associate for Pursue. She also works as a freelance writer for Sh’ma, Jewcy, and TribeVibe while maintaining her personal blog Black, Gay and Jewish. Her work can also be found on The Sisterhood Blog, Kehila and AlefNext. Erika is a volunteer with Be’chol Lashon and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.