By Joel Lazar
Chametz (loosely defined as: leavened food products; grains) has always been the poor sod to draw the short straw. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy of biblical proportions. Every year the season of freedom arrives in haste, our Tradition dictates, and many will follow:
…No chametz shall be seen within your houses…
…Rid yourself of it…
Anyone would think it was a bad disease or a Communist in Reagan’s living room. It has always been that thing we get rid of. Lock away. Throw out. Something we don’t give much conscious thought to other than to eliminate it.
Enter globalisation. Enter mass food production and consumption. Enter unprecedented food wastage along every. Single. Stage. Of. The. Food. Production. Link. And the consequence for how we might view chametz is interesting. Traditional characteristics of this great festival are still present in all their fastidiousness and joy; the cleaning, cooking, inviting and sharing of knowledge and narrative. But now an unprecedented opportunity has arisen; the possibility of a new tradition. A new voice can be added to an ancient conversation. And if it became a tradition, practiced year in year out, chametz could become a new friend.
The conversation of Pesach, in spite of its many accents, has always lead to an unequivocal message of freedom. It is the experience that the Haggadah, the text that recounts our story from slavery to freedom, encourages us to re-live each year:
“In every generation one must see himself as though he personally left Egypt”
The obvious extension of this imagination imperative is the litany of passages throughout the Torah that command us to protect the ‘widow, orphan and stranger’; the historical outcasts and adjuncts of a biblical community. And why should the Jewish People, of all nations, be called upon to especially empathise with this vulnerable subclass? The Torah explains:
“(Because) you know what it was like to be slaves in the land of Egypt”
It has always been clear to me that our story of freedom was meant to be echoed around the world and pursued relentlessly; justice, justice you shall pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20). Which is precisely where a rare and new(ish) opportunity arises. To transform what was once a spring-cleaning of unwanted food into a yearly opportunity to make food donations to the poor part of the Pesach preparation ceremony; part of the ethical obligation that this festival calls upon us to perform.
Which is why Jewish Aid will be teaming up with Fare Share this Freedom Season to help break bondages of hunger; a relentless slavery of the body and mind.
FareShare is a not-for-profit organisation that has been fighting hunger since 2001, giving away healthy, nutritious meals to the hungry and homeless in Victoria using donated food. By rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted or end up in landfill, FareShare moves one step closer to achieving its goal of one million meals a year.
What is remarkable about this year’s “Chametz Drive” campaign is that for the first time it will involve the combined efforts of high school students across almost every Jewish day school in Melbourne. As collection bins are planted throughout schools this week and next, students will be asked to bring from their homes all non-perishable, unwanted grain products and canned legumes and vegetables for collection. And with the help of Informal Jewish Education department staff, enthusiastic social action student committees and Jewish Aid and FareShare volunteers, Jewish aid hopes to deliver thousands of non-perishable, nutritious food packages to FareShare in order to contribute to that goal of one million meals.
With the knowledge that 4.45 million tonnes of food goes to landfill every year in Australia, now more than ever do we feel the importance of conscious eating and our place within a broader community where many cannot rely on shelves of food when they open their pantries and fridges.
When we being our Pesach seder, we begin with a somewhat confusing declaration:
“Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need
come and share our Passover (meal)”
If we have already begun our meals, isn’t it already too late to make such an invitation? And when we say it within the confines of our homes, levitating in aromas of chicken soup and family banter, who would hear our call anyway? And if someone is truly hungry, would it be easy for them to seek us out and find our meal?
It seems that the overtly impractical timing and nature of this declaration in fact sheds light on its essential nature and our ethical obligation. That our meal has already begun. That we can’t rely on the hungry to come to us. And if we have sat down to our meals and there still remains one hungry person who is out there who has missed our belated, symbolic invitation – we have failed to prepare for Pesach properly. This declaration is meant to fall on deaf ears.
Jewish Aid, Fare Share and our Jewish students are starting that work now, so that when the sun sets and the first night of Pesach begins, there will be no one left to invite. Everyone will have a meal.
Joel Lazar is a volunteer with Jewish Aid.