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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The bread of affliction

There's an old joke that tells of a bum (PC: Urban Outdoorsman) who approaches a wealthy, well-dressed woman on the street and says, "Lady, I haven't eaten in three days."   To which she responds, "Force yourself!".

The essential humor of this joke comes not (G-d forbid) from the idea that poverty or hunger are funny... but rather from the reality that so many of the 'haves' simply can't fathom what it's like to walk in the tattered shoes of the 'have nots'.

In the case of the wealthy woman in the joke, the concept of not eating for an extended period of time might seem reasonable - or even tempting - given the rich content of her regular diet and the need to fit into her expensive wardrobe.  And with the widespread scourge of eating disorders today, the idea of someone having to force themselves to eat is, sadly, all too easy to conjure.

In yesterday's post I made a passing joke about how pre-Passover menus tend to be rather odd; consisting of whatever odds and ends we have in our refrigerators and pantries that we somehow never got around to eating during the year.  I think the example I gave for a typical meal was "pickle & sardine sandwiches served with canned olives and a side order of Basmati rice... and a dessert of breakfast bars or fruit salad".

In response, my friend Jack offered the following sage comment:

"pickle & sardine sandwiches served with canned olives and a side order of Basmati rice."

Why, everyone knows that this is a delicacy and a major treat....if you are homeless and haven't eaten in three weeks.

This got me thinking, not only about how lucky we are to have refrigerators and pantries full of things we never got around to eating... but also about how casual our attitude towards food in general can often be.

I get a weekly shopping list from Zahava and invariably come home with 15% more stuff, simply because I walked into the store hungry and everything suddenly looked delicious.  We also occasionally splurge on exotic wines, cheeses, prepared meats and other such delicacies, just because we want to... and because we usually can.

But when every pre-Passover season finds us with pantries full of gourmet foods that struck our fancy while we were shopping, and which somehow never made it onto our tables... this is a clear sign that we are indulging our whims a tad too much, and perhaps not giving enough thought to families for whom a chicken meal on shabbat is a luxury.

I'm not suggesting that people with means should deny themselves the finer things that their good fortune and hard work have provided.  I'm just saying that maybe people who can afford to make jokes about being 'forced' to eat 'pickle & sardine sandwiches with canned olives and a side order of Basmati rice' can also make sure that at least some of their good fortune is shared with those who work at least as hard, but whose fortune has not been quite as good.

If you are doing a spring/Passover cleaning, maybe you could also:

  • give away any unwanted / extra food you might have to food banks and organizations that can distribute it after the holiday.

  • take a good look at the kind of wine and delicacies you are buying for your Passover/Easter table and ask yourself if some of the expense might better be offered to charity without the slightest reduction of your own holiday enjoyment.

  • involve your children in the distribution of assistance to organizations that support less fortunate families.  Giving charity is like any other exercise in that the more often it is done, the less it hurts.

We hold up the Matzoh at the Seder table and recite the words "This is the bread of affliction...".  But in truth, far too many of us (like the woman in the joke) fail to grasp what affliction really is, or that many would be pleased to eat even such meager fare.

It isn't that we don't want to do the right thing.  It's just that sometimes someone has to look us in the eye and say, "force yourself".

Posted by David Bogner on April 1, 2009 | Permalink

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Well said.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Apr 1, 2009 2:53:50 PM

Thank you so much for the reminder!

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Apr 1, 2009 4:10:19 PM

Thanks Trepp...I've been so wrapped up with saving every penny for Aliyah I've completely lost track of myself and the fact that I'm lucky enough to be able to save like that.

JFS here I come...

Posted by: Jesse | Apr 1, 2009 6:12:23 PM

You make an excellent point. We who have should remember those that have a lot less, especially at this time of year when we eat lechem oni.

As far as the dangers of food shopping on an empty stomach are concerned, my thoughts are set forth here.

Posted by: Elisson | Apr 1, 2009 11:28:08 PM

Great post, great reminders that will give me the motivation to keep us all going strong over the next few days!

As for husbands doing the shopping, when mine goes, I assume that about 85% of the list will make it home intact. The rest will be exchanged for other things (some on purpose, some not), and several extra items will make it home, prompting me to say things like, "How much tea do you think we actually need?!" At the end of the day, these gripes are really blessings.

Posted by: RaggedyMom | Apr 2, 2009 3:44:07 AM

Reminds me of the old joke:

A third-grade teacher at an expensive private school, in an attempt to raise her students' social consciousness, gave the class an assignment to write a paragraph about a poor child. The first assignment read: "Once upon a time, there was a poor little girl. She was really, really poor. Her mommy and daddy were poor, too. So were the maids, the nannies, the butler, the chauffer, the pool boy..."

All kidding aside, great post, and excellent suggestions. With all the griping about the economy, thank G-d most of us can still put food on the table. We should be grateful, and give to those who are less fortunate. And a Happy Pesach to you & yours.

Posted by: psachya | Apr 2, 2009 4:07:03 AM

It is a good reminder. The downside to sending our children to day school is that they have very little exposure to a world of people who are far less fortunate than we are.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 2, 2009 1:48:53 PM

It is a good reminder. The downside to sending our children to day school is that they have very little exposure to a world of people who are far less fortunate than we are.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 2, 2009 1:48:54 PM

Great reminder. You're very convincing.
As for the difficulty to access your blog the problem seems to have solved itself somehow.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Apr 2, 2009 11:29:15 PM

Thank you for taking the time to post this...I have just recently participated in my very first Seder meal and am delighted with the enlightenment it brings to my life...I also enjoyed the humor...again thanks

Posted by: Steven Cook | Apr 10, 2012 12:04:29 AM

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