Friday, November 8, 2013

The True Meaning of Thanksgivingakkuh

Halloween is done and no sooner have we finished our last Kit Kat, the holiday season is thrust upon us. This year, it’s an epic one with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah falling at the same time on the calendar to make one monstrous super holiday: Thanksgivingakkuh. It is the perfect combination of thanksgiving blessings and gratitude with Hanukkah miracles. Visions of latke stuffed turkeys dance in my head. I am thankful for the blessings of food that will surely cover our table; more humbled by the simple gift of being able to feed the hungry mouths of family and friends that will fill our hearts and homes. Yet as American Jews prepare for this once in a lifetime season of starchy gluttony, I am struggling with the sharp contrast of how much we have in the face of how many have so little.

Indeed, the ability to put food on a table nowadays seems, in and of itself, something of a miracle. Who among us has a job, keeps their job, or whose partner suddenly falls ill, often seems arbitrarily determined in the largely randomized sequence of events that comprise life. And from this randomness the thin line is drawn between those who know where their next meal is coming from, and those who do not. In many ways, it reminds me of that favorite Hanukkah game we play each year. With each spin, the dreidel arbitrarily determines the haves and have nots; who gets some, who must share. In real life, there is slightly more control over our fates and fortunes and yet often, you can make all of the best choices, play all of the best cards dealt to you, and still get the wrong roll of the dice, the bad spin of the dreidel. You could end up with none. This year, the number of children and families struggling with little or no food is at critical levels, and the need to share seems more imperative than ever.
This November, Congress’ deep and devastating cuts to the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) went into effect. To be SNAP eligible, you must be living at or significantly below the federal poverty level. According to their own data, nearly 50% of all SNAP recipients are children. More than 75% of all SNAP households include at least one child. As of 2011, more than 48.5 million sought and received benefits[1]. In these difficult economic times, arguably the number of hungry mouths is going up, the cost of food is going up, and the federal assistance available to buy it is going down. I’ve been never been very good at math, but I can tell you that sure sounds a lot like a lot of hungry children this holiday season; kids no different from mine or yours. This Thanksgivingakkuh, there just won’t be enough latkes to go around.

I tried explaining all of this this past weekend, or at least the cliff notes version to my son. I know as parents we spend an awful lot of time talking about the silly and the frustrating and ridiculous things that come out of our children’s mouths, but just once in a great while they teach us.  After our conversation, Dylan got up and wrote a note that said this: “Because they need it and they are hungry. This is all of the money in my piggy bank.” And then he dumped the entire contents of his piggy bank out ($34.06) and put it with his letter in the mail. I have never been so humbled and inspired by a 5 year old before. He literally gave it all. I suspect because he gets at the tender age of 5 what so many of us grown-ups in the business of our lives and the holiday season seem to so quickly forget: the real miracle of the holidays is found when you celebrate your own commitment to love and honor your neighbor more than yourself.
And so this year, in this epic holiday season of both thankfulness and miracles, in a world and community that is deeply in need of repair, let’s make a few new miracles of our own. This year, let’s stand together and lead by example. Regardless of who you are, what you have, or what you celebrate, let’s make this the warmest and brightest Thanksgivingakkuh ever. Because what better way to commemorate a season of gratitude and miracles, than by standing together to share, heal, and nourish.

Below are some resources for folks nationally and as well as local to the Hartford, CT area who want to help feed hungry families this holiday season and all year round:

http://www.scarymommy.com/thanksgiving-2013/ (This is where Dylan sent his money. There are money families still waiting to be adopted for the holiday season!)

http://site.foodshare.org/site/TR/Thanksgiving/General?sid=1060&type=fr_informational&pg=informational&fr_id=1270#westhartford (Help support Foodshare’s Turkey and $30 campaign. Give a turkey for the holiday season plus $30 to support their efforts to feed our hungry neighbors all year round)

http://www.jfshartford.org/support_foodpantry.list.htm (Make a donation to Central Connecticut’s only Kosher Food Pantry, located within Jewish Family Services in West Hartford. This link will list the items they are most in need of)

http://www.hartfordfood.org/get-involved/ (Donate your time and/or money to Hartford Food System, working to find a sustainable way to help fight hunger and improve nutrition for Hartford’s poorest residents)

http://www.westhartford.org/living_here/town_departments/human_(social)_services/food_pantry/index.php (West Hartford’s local food pantry has seen a dramatic surge in the number of residents it serves. Click here for a list of what they need the most in their pantry. All donations can be brought to town hall)

 




[1] http://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/snap-frequently-asked-questions/#who

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