Woman packing food

Tackling Food Insecurity During Passover

"This work of meeting local needs is core to CSR's mission, which is to address local challenges."

— Sheryl Parker

Matzah and flowers

April 3, 2023

“All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Passover with us.” Every year during the seder, these words are spoken when we break the matzah and remember the powerful thread that has followed the Jewish people since ancient times: the experience of hunger, of food insecurity. The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan will carry this sentiment throughout programs and events happening during Passover, April 5–13.

Food warehouse

Food insecurity is a powerful throughline in the Passover story. “The people of Israel, escaping the suffering of slavery, could not wait for their bread to rise; they rushed into the desert knowing they did not have enough food to face the unknown journey. Their hunger pains followed them; they never felt secure that their need for food, their most basic necessity, would be met,” explains Rabbi Yael Rapport, director of The Gottesman Center for Jewish Living. “For many of us, feelings of constant gnawing hunger and anxiety are just literary details. However, for others—many more than we realize—this aspect of the Passover story is very real. It touches those of us who are Jewish, those who are not, and those who recognize that until all of us experience liberation, not one of us is truly free.”

She continues, “Passover for so many of us is all about the experience of food and a full table in many senses. Yet our Haggadah says explicitly in the part of the Passover story, the Maggid, called Ha Lachma Anya: ‘Let all who are hungry, come and eat. All who are in need, let them come and share our Passover meal.’ In a moment when we celebrate our liberation we are reminded that comfort, security, and abundance are never given—not even on this day. Being free requires the responsibility to share our gifts so that as many people as possible can experience the basic necessities of survival, especially food.”

Packing food

During Passover, the JCC is partnering with the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), to help community members on the Upper West SIde who encounter food insecurity. “All who are hungry” are not faceless, nameless, or imaginary. They are our neighbors. And through volunteering and educational opportunities, the JCC and WSCAH will work together to make sure everyone has access, with dignity, to a choice of healthy food.

West Side Campaign Against Hunger is one of the largest emergency food providers in NYC and has been at the forefront of innovation for 43 years, developing the first customer-choice, supermarket-style pantry in the United States, which provides 70,000 customers with more than 4 million pounds of healthy food each year.

The JCC has two goals for working with WSCAH, explains Sheryl Parker, director of The Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility (CSR). “We want to raise community awareness of the powerful work that WSCAH is doing to address food insecurity, which is currently at record levels. And we also want to provide community members with concrete steps they can take to provide food to those who need it. This work of meeting local needs is core to CSR's mission, which is to address local challenges.”

In the days leading up to Passover, the JCC offered volunteering opportunities with WSCAH and throughout the holiday, will offer tours of their facilities, just blocks away. In a conversation between JCC CEO Rabbi Joanna Samuels and WSCAH CEO/Executive Director Greg Silverman, the two discussed what food insecurity looks like now for New Yorkers and Upper West Siders, and how the issue has grown since the pandemic began three years ago. Their full conversation can be viewed on the JCC’s YouTube account.  

Through this collaboration, the JCC has also created a seder supplement, Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat, a new resource that enriches the experience of the holiday, shares Rabbi Rapport. “You can include this in your Passover seder in the section where you read Ha Lachma Anya and the Ten Plagues, typically in the Maggid. Print it out or access it digitally, share the new interpretation of this ancient story, and refocus the ritual of the Ten Drops of Wine/Ten Plagues and the singing of ‘Dayenu’ on this modern chapter.” 

The JCC’s Passover site showcases a full Passover Haggadah and virtual guide for your seder
Beyond the partnership with WSCAH, the JCC will celebrate Passover with programs and educational events for all ages, including:

20s and 30's Matzah Party

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at the JCC year round, including monthly shifts at WSCAH and sorting of clothing donations for refugees. 

In celebration of Earth Day, Sunday, April 23, the JCC will host a Community Recycling Day, with stations set up on our sidewalk for recycling of e-waste, unwanted clothing and textiles, gently used spring and summer clothing, as well as composting. Visit the JCC site for more information on upcoming donation drives.

There are many other ongoing volunteer opportunities at the JCC including:

For more information on these and other opportunities, visit the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan website

Written by Lauren Magy. Lauren is the Director of Public Relations + Community Engagement at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. She has worked at theater and cultural institutions in DC and NY for the past decade.