Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner gave this speech and concluding prayer representing the Jewish community at the End Hunger Fast vigil in Westminster on Wednesday 16 April.
The newspapers are reporting our national shame of hunger. But it’s not just about our national shame. It’s about individual shame – mine or my neighbours, our families, friends or our children. When someone has to go to a stranger, an institution – however supportive – to ask for food, it makes you feel ashamed. Judaism teaches that shame is so powerful that it makes us go pale as the blood drains from our faces. To cause shame to a person is equivalent to spilling their blood.
We must take it seriously.
We’re right in the middle of the Jewish festival of Passover – we’re celebrating the freedom of our ancestors, the Israelites and their release from slavery and of course hunger. At Passover we eat this bread that has not risen. It is the bread of poverty – it reminds us that it is not a long-long-time-ago story but is also the story of today’s Britain. It’s not just the past. It is our present day. Parents – hard-working, decent, honourable, dignified parents are feeling ashamed that they are unable to be fulfil their basic function as parents, that of nourishing their children. One in five parents in the UK regularly skip meals to feed their children. It’s like Oliver’s ‘please sir, can I have some more?’ Just like Oliver, people are asking for essentials, not for excess. We’re demanding today the fair portion that everybody deserves.
At Passover, Jews say, ‘Let all who are hungry come and eat.’ Many synagogues have soup kitchens for the wider community, but we know that an increasing number of Jews are among those who rely on food banks now. As Jews, we must deliver on our Passover promise – we must enable everyone to eat with dignity.
I’m proud to join our partners in calling on Britain’s political leaders of all parties to recognise the shame that so many people experience, and to work with us to eradicate food poverty in the UK. Now. It’s urgent.
Source of life who created a world that can nourish everyone. We are today as children of many traditions, united by the call for dignity for all.
May we have courage to follow our convictions.
May those in positions of power here in Westminster, use that power wisely and urgently to restore a basic right as citizens of Britain to live without hunger.
May we not turn aside from the needs of others, nor ignore their cry for food. Open our eyes and our hearts and our hands so that we may share your gifts, and help remove hunger and want from our world.
Eternal God give us strength as we strive to repair our world – together.