Screen panels lined two walls of a 53-foot double expandable trailer temporarily stationed in Temple Emanu-El’s parking lot. Faces of different races and ethnicities lit up each panel: old and young, employed and unemployed, plump faces and ones with defined cheekbones.
“Hunger takes many forms,” Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum said.
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger’s 16-month touring exhibit, “This is Hunger,” stopped by the temple Oct. 21-23 showcasing an hour-long interactive exhibit that uses storytelling, activities and discussion to illustrate hunger in America. MAZON, a 30-year-old Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, advocates efforts to combat hunger across the United States. Temple Emanu-El co-sponsored the free exhibit with the Island Harvest Food Bank to educate students, congregants and community members about famine across the nation.
“We help educate the public after they see the exhibit,” Bar-Nahum said, “while Island Harvest instigates action.”
Along with members from East Meadow and the surrounding communities, more than 40 students from Temple Emanu-El’s religious school, along with students from Temple B’Nai Torah’s religious school in Wantagh, toured the exhibit on Monday. A group of seventh- and eighth-graders listened as voices described what hunger felt like.
“There was a period, before we got food stamps, when I was so hungry that it hurt a little bit in my stomach and kind of made me out of breath,” said a boy identified only as John. “If I didn’t get school lunches, I’d be a little disappointed because I might not have enough to eat.”
A screen filled with faces of seniors who told their stories about rationing fruits and vegetables, because produce is a luxury they could not afford. MAZON estimates that 1.1 million households in New York are food insecure —lack access to food at all times — while 1.7 households are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, available to low-income families. Food insecure seniors are 40 percent more likely to suffer congestive heart failure, and three out of five seniors who are eligible for SNAP do not participate.
“I was really shocked to find out that seniors are so food insecure,” said Roman Matchekosky, a student in Temple Emanu-El’s religious school. “It really made me sad to think about it.”
“Everything we eat is a privilege,” said Temple B’Nai Torah student Daniel Kusman. “We take it for granted.”
“I feel grateful,” said Ashley Ahman from Temple B’Nai Torah. “My parents or myself, we don’t have to sacrifice anything for food. Some kids have to sacrifice things that we don’t think about just so they can eat.”
The exhibit, which kicked off a 41-city tour last November and will wrap up in February, has stopped on Long Island once — in East Meadow. Bar-Nahum said that the exhibit not only made the temple a destination over the weekend, but it also allowed members of different faiths to gather together to learn about a common issue.
“The exhibit [helps] foster an understanding that those who are hungry may be your neighbor, coworker or your child’s classmate who can’t properly concentrate on their schoolwork because they may not be getting enough nutritious food at home,” said Randy Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank.
“I hope adults and kids alike walk away with a communal feeling of empathy,” Bar-Nahum said. “I want everyone to understand that hunger doesn’t just affect one group or one type of person. It can affect everyone.”