Like so many Americans, the deaths of 20 small children in Newtown, CT woke me up to the intolerable scourge of gun violence in our country. As a rabbi, an American, and a mother, the death of so many children in what should be an absolutely safe place – their school – was unbearable. I could easily picture my own precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Truly, those children belonged to all of us. The state of our union is bereaved, shocked, and horrified by the problem of gun violence.
I soon learned even more disturbing facts. As tragic as were the deaths at Newtown, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, and Columbine, I learned that for my fellow clergy persons who lead congregations in large cities across the land, the tragedy of Newtown can happen literally any day. In America’s urban areas, clergy persons like myself bury children they had named, loved and educated, multiple times a year. Parents grieve their children – sometimes multiple children - gunned down in their teenage years or younger. Young people have attended two, three, five, or ten funerals of their friends and classmates. 30,000 Americans – half of them young people – die of gun violence in America every year. The state of our union is unconscionably violent.
My religious tradition - - as do many others – rightly names the protection of innocent lives as the very highest of moral values. What is wrong with our nation, that we allow the epidemic of gun violence to proceed unabated? How can the celebrated good heart of America abide the deaths of tens of thousands, so many of them children, on the streets of our nation’s cities every year? How can even the complexities of Second Amendment interpretation obstruct the enactment of common sense, life-saving gun violence prevention measures? The state of our union is tragically confused.
Jewish tradition and Islamic tradition both teach that one who saves a single life – it is equivalent to saving an entire world, and one who destroys a single life – it is like destroying the entire world. This means that even if we cannot prevent every death, we must prevent those that we can. While we must respect Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights, we cannot continue to abide the hemorrhaging of young lives throughout our country. The state of our union must be better than this. The state of our union must provide safety for all the children of America.
I admit it. I shop at Kowalski’s and Lunds and, though I buy things that are on sale whenever I can, if I really want something at the grocery store, I buy it. That includes tons of fruits and vegetables and lots of healthy, whole-grain foods, despite their higher price.
Last year, following the lead of a coalition of national Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations, I “took the Food Stamp Challenge.” As an educational experiment, I bought just $31.50 worth of groceries (the national average benefit given to recipients of SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly called “food stamps”) and pledged to eat just that for a full week.
I failed to live up to my pledge. I ran out of food on the fifth day and capitulated. I am a person of privilege. I had money in my checking account that allowed me to go back to the grocery store and buy all the healthy foods I love.
But I learned a great deal. I was reminded yet again how incredibly fortunate I am to have the resources I need to live a comfortable life, and then some. I learned that I have no idea what it would be like to live in poverty, to worry all week about whether I’d have enough money to feed my children, much less buy the healthy foods I prefer. I gained a tiny glimpse of the experience of food insecurity, that afflicts millions (yes, millions) of Americans of all ages, races, religions, and educational backgrounds.
This year, many local Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious and community leaders will be taking the challenge, to deepen their own understanding of the issue of hunger and to galvanize support for anti-hunger efforts in Minnesota.
Sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas and co-sponsored by 15 area religious organizations, clergy and community members will gather on Sunday, November 11th from 2-4 PM. Beginning at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 2730 East 31st St., in Minneapolis, we will head to a nearby Cub Foods and each buy $31.50 worth of groceries. Some of us will have promised to live on that small stash of groceries for the entire week.
On Sunday, November 18th, a small group of us will prepare and serve lunch to homeless families at The Family Place in St. Paul. From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., participants will gather next door at First Baptist Church, 499 North Wacouta St., to hear from the pledge-takers what it was like to live on a $31.50 food budget. Most importantly, we will learn from experts about local efforts to combat hunger in Minnesota.
Truly, none of us should sleep comfortably at night when so many in our own community are hungry. Join us as we learn about the experience of hunger and how to engage in meaningful efforts to end hunger in Minnesota. More details on the program are available at http://www.stthomas.edu/jpc/files/United_Against_Hunge.pdf.