Food and Family (November 2020 KOL)

Food and Family

On our American calendar, the month of November usually brings a focus on family and food.  With Thanksgiving as a highpoint, many people plan opportunities to see relatives, near and far, and orchestrate elaborate festive meals.   While this year may require a little more creativity, I have no doubt that food and family will get their usual attention.  Having managed to Zoom for all the rituals of a Passover Seder, gathering for Thanksgiving dinner should be much simpler!

On the Jewish calendar, November often coincides with the reading of the Torah portions about Isaac and his sons, Esau and Jacob.  These portions also have a focus on family and food.  Older brother Esau comes in from hunting and is famished.  He sells his birthright to younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34).  Later, Jacob serves Isaac a meal in the guise of Esau, securing his blessing (Genesis 27:18-23).  The familial strive between brothers will play out over the next several chapters and shape our ancestral history.

Esau is often chided for giving up something as precious as a birthright for a quick meal.  But I’ve sometimes wondered if Esau wasn’t just so hungry that he couldn’t think straight.  We know, sadly, the effect that hunger can have.  A study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that students at schools with a universal free breakfast program have higher math grades, fewer absences, fewer behavioral problems, and higher levels of attentiveness than students at schools without breakfast programs.  (It’s hard to pay attention to your teacher when your belly is grumbling.)

Food insecurity, a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, was a problem before coronavirus and is only getting worse with the pandemic.  An estimated 27% of households with children in America are now food insecure.  That’s more than 1 in 4 families with kids who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

Our Jewish values here are clear.  Our mission is to care for those in need and help those who are hungry.  And many parts of our TBS community are already providing ways for us to do that.  Join our Crop Walk team, raising funds for local and global agencies that fight hunger.  Donate to our Sisterhood Thanksgiving Grocery Store Gift Card drive.  Support our religious school’s yearly Tzedakah Mitzvah Mall on November 22.  And please be sure to attend online our 34th annual TBS and Abiding Presence Thanksgiving Eve Service on Wednesday, November 25, at 7pm.

In this land of abundance, at this season of family and food (whichever calendar you use), there are too many who are in need.  As you make your arrangements for Thanksgiving this year, be sure to include among them some steps to put our values into action.


Rabbi David S. Widzer