By Adam Francies
“It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin.” Isaiah 58:7
With these words, Isaiah demands that when we fast we do not ignore those around us, that we face the issues prevalent in our society. And what’s more, that it is our Jewish responsibility to tackle these issues.
Last Yom Kippur, I sat there, reading these words, and it really gave me pause for thought during my fast. Why am I depriving myself of food? And for what purpose?
At Limmud Conference 2014, the annual group study publication team focused on the subject of food. Of food and ritual, and prayer and hunger. And it was here that I first came across Robert Herrick’s A True Lent.
Herrick – a Christian poet writing in the 17th century – talks about the experience of fasting at Lent, and the comparisons are striking.
He muses on the reasons why we fast and what relevance it should have on our lives. And just as Isaiah says, it is not so we can focus on prayer, or our stomachs.
Instead, fasting gives us a chance to take action; to do something.
Each April, Tzedek asks people to ‘Live Below the Line’: To live on £1 a day for food and drink for five days. This is not to mimic poverty – which the World Bank sets as living on under $1.25 a day – or so we can know what it is like to be hungry.
Rather, this is an interesting chance to think about our relationship with food as consumers. It is a chance to have a conversation about what you’re having for lunch and why.
It is a chance to see what 500 pennies really feels like in a shopping basket, and the choices and questions that come with that. Are you going to buy free-range eggs or none at all? Organic chicken or go without?
As Isaiah says, we have an obligation to help those around the world in need.
Through Tzedek partners, the UK Jewish community has lifted 1,500 people out of poverty this past year.
• Adam Francies is the education programme manager at Tzedek, the Jewish community’s response to extreme poverty.
You can sign up now to Live Below The Line with Tzedek. To learn more visit www.tzedek.org.uk