“Food and famine”
The national emblematic animal we have in Israel is undoubtedly the cow, the nourishing milky Israeli cow. One of the most conflicting issues we face today is “food” and how to eat properly, decently, with measure in order to avoid growing fat or “phat” and distort the image of human forms.
The “few extra pounds” can dramatically change into full overweight that endangers life and flexibility, even at the mental level. This is known, for example, that the Samoan people in the Pacific Ocean islands were put on a strict diet. North Americans have also their reputation connecting hours of television with junk food. Hebrew slang “jank/ז’אנק” corresponds to fat, unhealthy food basically due to laziness and absence of body motion.
Look at the children at 2 pm. in the Old City; small Arabs boys and girls, teens swallow over-sugar junk, always the same candies. The kids grow fat very quickly. Same hour, another day in a city bus, Jewish pupils and elder people “nosh” huge munchies, full of oil, French fries or choco-something with strudels and various cakes. Oily King and Queen Size pizzas…
In restaurants, the tables are still full of half-crunched plates. They will be thrown to the trash because the Law is very strict – at least it is health-centered! But what a waste of food and quite often of very expensive dishes. At the same time, all kinds of wonderful volunteering associations distribute more and more food to impoverished families that are more and more in dire indigence. I know families whose kids go every night to bed with only two yoghurts or so. This is in Jerusalem and other cities of the country.
In Europe, privation and poverty lead the association and benefactors to create Winter “food providing centers and points” and hunger is a major concern everywhere, also affecting so-called “wealthy” states as the United States…
It is a must and a real mitzvah to share meals, ot only to invite to banquets. Isaiah said that people could come and eat freely = gratis; it is not that clear in English. Matthew 10:8 repeats the basic rule “You received freely, give freely”.
Food and distribution of food to everybody has always been a major concern in the Jewish tradition. Middle-Easterners have suffered from hunger and famine throughout history. This is why the “Birkat HaMazon/ברכת המזון – Blessing (after) of Meal(s)” is a positive commandment that cannot be swallowed up speedily. “Eretz chemdahארץ חמדה – a nice (because nurturing) earth” whose fruit and plants are excellent.
As mentioned in the prayer’s psalm: “yachlu anavim | veyisba’uיאכלו ענוים- וישבעו – let the lowly eat | and be satisfied” (Psalm 22:27), food does not only aim to nurture or feed, but also to satisfy and rejoice the belly, i.e. individuals and collectivities. Food is a challenging question for survival. In the TaNaCH, “hunger/r”av = רעב-ה” is a significant plague that attacks a region on regular basis.
The Middle-East region has always been endangered by the conquest of desert and wilderness over nature and fields. The soil can become emptied or dried out and crops disappear. Hebrew makes no distinction between “hunger” and “famine” which is a rather high-level wide-spread epidemic catastrophe. “Ra’avרעב” means people are hungry or affected by a famine. Talmud Bava Bathra 8b states that “famine is a severer affliction than war”. Chapter 5:8 of the “Pirkey Avotפרקי אבות – Sayings of the Fathers” insists on the fact that the “sacrificial meat never became putrid” and that God always provided with space and abundance.
There is an insightful but so obvious statement in Sukka 52b: “a small organ is in man (stomach), when you starve it is is satisfied; when you satisfy it, it is hungry”. “Re’avonרעבון” also means “hunger, famine” as in Kohelet Rabba V:10: “Did the Lord give the manna as food of famine in scantiness?” whereas “ra’avtanרעבתון” is a voracious eater, a glutton and a greedy person that eats on his own, i.e. that he does not restrict his appetite for drink (Talmud Bava Betsia 25b).
In the Bible, famine and hunger alternate with periods of abundance appeared from Genesis and the warning to Joseph who interpreted Pharaoh’s bovine dreams. Somehow, he finally anticipated the miracle of manna in the wilderness; famines are indeed worse than wars and gave a push to conquerors when Jerusalem was besieged during the time of the two destructions of the Temples. The Book of Lamentation/Eycha-איכה cries out a profound distress as mothers were eating theirs kids (Lamentation 3:20). A horrible question that makes “swallow” or frentically eat up, a sort of disease made of anxiety and lust for short-term satisfaction that sways up between overweight or anorexia for young girls and women.
Eating is also the banquet like the “se’udah hashlishitסעודה השלישית – third Shabbat meal” when the tzadik shares the meat and delivers his teaching: word becomes a banquet or a festive “farbrengenפארברענגען” (ingathering). The same as when Jesus asked his disciples to feed the crowd on the mount and they were reluctant considering the people could go and buy the food (Matthew 14:13, Luke 9:13). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, one similarly uses to blessing five loaves, grains, oil and wine as sharing “lechemלחם – bread” that remains “lachmaלחמא-ה – meat, flesh” in Arabic and consists in distributing food to the full (cf. the plentiful measure of barley gathered by Ruth 3:15).
Harvesting is a feast everywhere and whatever religious beliefs. Thus, in fall 1621, the Mayflower pilgrims shared the bread with the native Indians who were having their Keepunumuk = harvest feast. Nice partaking of fowl, fish, wheat and corn as in so many parts of the world. President Abraham Lincoln’s intuition of a national day for all the Americans to thank God for the homeland’s wealth was a bit prophetic but not realistic at that time. It became possible in 1863.
Interestingly, Thanksgiving Day – which as in Canada is a harvest feast – was determined as the fourth Thursday of November by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, by the time of the Great Depression. The law came into force in 1943, during World War II. The day is a secular, national and international turkey festive harvest meal (earlier in October Canada because of the time for harvesting).
Curiously, the final date was defined during the hardships of the Great Depression in which lots of Americans lost their money, suddenly fell in need and meals were distributed all over an impoverished country. At this point, the Goldene Medineגאלדענע מדינה (“Golden State” in Yiddish) still reckons a huge number of needy and people who do not have enough to eat.
In Israel, huge portions of fat oily pizzas or greasy big hamburgers (that originally were the usual meals for the poor Jews on board to America! Cf. P. Kriwaczek: Yiddish Civilisation, p.311). They settled among nations that always need to chew or absorb food. But he waste is unbelievable.
Turning back to the East and looking to the Ukraine, November 25th is the official Ukrainian national Day of remembrance for all the victims who died of “Holodomor/Голодомор – famine killings, using famine for mass murders”.
The famine was projected as a political way to hunger and thus kill the Ukrainian inhabitants of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic. The word, in Ukrainian comes from “moryty holodomморити голодом – to let impose death through famine, hunger” as it happened in 1932-1933. Before the first World War, my family was exporting grains from the Ukraine to Europe and the Ukraine was known for “feeding Europe”.
After 1920, the Soviets favored the Ukrainians for a short while, then obliged by law to implement a process collectivization. In these wide regions of rich fields and harvesting where small family farms were normal and often rather big compared to Europe or in our region, collectivization suddenly introduced a system that stopped private properties. This allowed the emergence of less and less productivity.
The government of Moscow decided that a certain amount of grain supply should be delivered in 1932, but by the end of the year, it was clear that the target would not be reached. On January 15, 1933, more than 100.000 people were sentenced either to death or deportation. The government required to be given all the “harvest” and available grains, which drastically provoked the famine. It appears that, contrary to the other famines that afflicted the former Soviet Union from 1921 recurrently till 1947 etc., there has been a political decision to hunger the Ukrainian nation, in particular the peasants who had backed the independence movements in 1917 by the time of the Revolution.
The Soviet government never accepted to recognize this form of extermination of the Ukrainian people, mainly in the agricultural regions. It seems that some grains were provided, still in low quantity. On the other hand, the famine caused the death of ca. 3,2 million people, mostly Ukrainians, but also Russians, Jews, Poles, Volga German and Tatars.
The statistics are not clearly upgraded at the present. They show that these peoples were intentionally submitted to hunger in order to kill them. Nowadays, the Ukraine has defined this period as a “genocide”; other specialists speak of a “mass murder”. It is not possible here to explain all the elements that were interwoven in the backgrounds of the Ukrainian society at that time. Since the early days of this “holodomor/голодомор – famine mass murder” we have had here eyewitnesses who were multi-survivors as so many Jews lived in the Ukraine.
How peculiar that a lot of Jews first fled from the Ukraine to North America where the time of harvesting and getting the crops became a feast of “Thanksgiving”;or others arrived just recently to Israel. Faith often obliges to refrain from eating at certain periods of the year; but never to die of hunger.
Just the opposite: between feeling hungry and “malleמלא – full, satisfied”, there is the need for wellness. Bread and soup do save.
Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)