On September 10, HOPE Community Services, UJA-Federation, Met Council and Feeding Westchester joined local rabbis and elected officials to dedicate New Rochelle’s new kosher food pantry.
With UJA-Federation grants, HOPE Community Services created a separate space to carry kosher products. Since its April opening, 150 families have benefited from this new facility.
Beth El Synagogue Center’s Rabbi David Schuck explained how a theme of Rosh Hashanah’s Torah reading is the pain of being invisible. When Hagar and Ishmael were exiled into the wilderness and ran out of water, “Hagar places her son beneath a bush, because she can’t bear to see the pain of watching him die.”
Rabbi Schuck highlighted, “God heard his prayer and as a result opened his mother’s eyes and discovered a well. Hagar and Ishmael were invisible until God heard the cry of the boy. Being seen literally saves their lives.”
Rabbi Schuck continued, “We read this on Rosh Hashanah because we’re reminded that people all around us cry out, but their cries are often unheard. They cry out in hunger, they cry out in fear, that one unplanned expense will throw their family into poverty. The shofar we blow imitates the sound of those cries so that we can’t claim we don’t hear them. It’s our call to action.”
He added, “Expansion of these services into the observant Jewish community is a critical development. People who keep kosher no longer have to compromise their religious convictions to put food on the table. This is a remarkably important development for our community.”
UJA’s CEO Eric Goldstein explained, “Before COVID, 1.2 million New Yorkers were food-insecure. Today, it is closer to 1.6 million, a heartbreaking and unacceptable statistic that we should think about all the time. In Westchester, food insecurity has quadrupled since the start of the pandemic.”
Goldstein added, “When we were going around to community leaders to find out what can be done to support the community, we heard from neighborhood rabbis that there was this challenge of congregants who didn’t have appropriate food. This issue is now being addressed in Westchester.”
Congressman Jamaal Bowman explained that he “wants to live in a world where one day we don’t need food pantries, but unfortunately we still do. I’m grateful for all the work that’s been done to get us to this point. We can provide kosher options to people and don’t have to compromise their values for them to be food-secure.”
Met Council’s CEO David Greenfield announced, “It’s been an incredibly challenging 18 months. We couldn’t have done the work without the partnership of UJA-Federation. This year, we’re on track to distribute 18 million pounds of food.”
Met Council receives food from Feeding Westchester and the Food Bank of New York. However, Met Council also purchases kosher products privately, with resources from government leaders.
Greenfield channeled Mr. Rogers: “I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. Today is about people looking out for their neighbors. That’s what you have here in this community, a wonderful neighborhood. I’m privileged today to be your neighbor.”
State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins added, “During times when the challenges are greater than any one person, for us to come together and say ‘we’ve got to’ is one of the most important things that we can do. It’s always hard enough to ask for help, but to know that if you’re asking for help, the help can be given to you in the way you require. It’s something extraordinary.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer declared, “We will work with you together side by side. You’re doing the right thing. We’ll help you do that because, at the end of the day, we want to help all the people that need it.”
Walter Ritz, executive director of HOPE, noted that HOPE stands for Help Our People Eat. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to eat. That’s what we do at HOPE. The mission is simple, yet not simple. It’s not enough just to provide food, you have to provide it with dignity.”
He added, “When someone makes the decision to ask for help, they don’t do it lightly; often it’s a last resort, and often comes with an internal struggle. Our kosher pantry allows any Jewish person in Westchester County to get food from HOPE the way the rest of the community is able to. This is just the start.”
President and CEO of Feeding Westchester Karen Erren recalled Helen Keller who once said “alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
To learn more about the HOPE pantry visit www.hopecommunityservices.org.
By Judy Berger