In Israel, our national emblematic animal is 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 a mental level. For example, the Samoan people in the Pacific Ocean islands are on a drastic diet because they eat too much. They got so wealthy with nickel production that they just don't work and import hungry labor manpower and drown in fat. 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 lack of motion.
I look at the children at 2 pm. in the Old City; small Arabs boys and girls. They are teens and swallow over-sugared 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. In restaurants, dishes are still full. Plates have to be thrown to the trash because the Law is very strict and at least, health-centered! But what a waste of food and sometimes very expensive dishes! Just a shame. It is forbidden to distribute the remaining dishes for reasons of protection and health security. At the same time, all kinds of wonderful volunteering associations distribute more and more food to impoverished families. I know families whose kids go every night to bed with only two yogurts or so.
Food and providing 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 chemdah\ארץ חמדה - a nice (because nurturing) earth" whose fruit and plants are excellent.
As mentioned in the prayer's psalm: "yachlu anavim | veyisba'u\יאכלו ענוים וישבעו - let the lowly eat | and be satisfied" (Psalm 22:7), food does not only aim to nurture or feed. The main goal is to satisfy and rejoice the belly, i.e. individuals and collectivities. Food is a challenging question for survival. In the TaNaCH\תנ"ך - Hebrew Bible, hunger is a significant plague that attacks a region on a regular basis.
The Middle-East is constantly carrying out a huge combat against desertification. The area has often faced such destruction of crops. Hebrew makes no distinction between "hunger" and "famine" which is a rather high-level wide-spread epidemic catastrophe. "Ra'av\רעב" 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 Avot\פרקי 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’avon\רעבון” also means “hunger, famine” as in Kohelet Rabba V:10: “Did the Lord give the manna as food of famine in scantiness?” whereas “ra’avtan\רעבתן” is a voracious eater, a glutton and a greedy person that eats on his own, i.e. that he does not restrict his appetite or drinking (Talmud Bava Betsia 25b).
In the Bible, famine and hunger then nourishing and abundance appear from Genesis and the warning to Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s bovine dreams to 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 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 frenetically 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 shlishit\סעודה שלישית – third Shabbat meal” when the tzaddik shares the meat and delivers his teaching: word becomes a banquet or a festive “farbrengen\פארברענגען” (ingathering).
The same is shown 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 loves to bless five loaves, grains, oil and wine as sharing “lechem\לחם – bread” that remains “lachma\לחמא – meat, flesh” in Arabic-Aramaic and consists in distributing food to the full (cf. the plentiful measure of barley gathered by Ruth 3:15).
Harvest 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 Medine-גאלדענע 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). Today, the waste of food is often unbelievable in times that are very similar to the crash in 1929.
Turning back to the East and looking to the Ukraine, the fourth Saturday of November has been chose for the commemoration of the hideous "Holodomor - голодомор" OnNovember 17th, this, year, President Viktor Yushchenko called all the country to remember all the victims who died of “Holodomor – famine killings, using famine for mass murders”. The famine was projected as a political way to hunger the Ukrainian nation and the numerous other ethnicities living on the territory. The killing aimed at physically erasing the inhabitants of the then-Soviet Ukrainian Republic. The word, in Ukrainian comes from “moryty holodom\морити голодом – to let impose death through famine, hunger”. The project was implemented 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, they obliged by law to implement a weird process of collectivization. In these wide regions of rich fields and harvesting, there were traditionally a lot of small family farms were normal and often rather big compared to Europe. Out of the sudden, collectivization introduced by force a system that prohibited any possibility of private properties. This allowed the emergence of less and less productivity. The Moscow government 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 caused 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 but in low quantity. On the other hand, the famine caused the death of ca. 3,2 million people, mostly Ukrainians, but also Russians and 1,4 Jews, then Poles, Volga German, Tatars. Statistics are not clear. Updating surveys are carried out at the present. They show evidence that these people 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”. In Israel, we have a lot of eyewitnesses. They are multi-survivors as so many Jews lived in the Ukraine. How peculiar that a lot of Jews firstly fled from the Ukraine to North America and met with the local “(Harvesting)Thanksgiving days”. Others arrived 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 “malle\מלא – full, satisfied”, there is the need for wellness. Bread and soup do save.
How peculiar! This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor mass-murder. The Ukraine joyfully commemorates the 1020th anniversary of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus'. Indeed, God works marvels and is faithful. Again, this creates a strong link between the Jewish calendar and Shabbat reading portion, this week "Chayei Sarah\חיי שרה - Living Sarah". The readings account in Genesis 25 the passing away of Sarah and Abraham, both buried in the cave at Machpelah. In fact, it calls to remember that death is not a deadline, but a life point with numerous seeds of life and generation. We ought to remember the departed but we are born to live with the powerful feeling of resurrection.
Indeed, we come to new month Kislev and the miracle of oil that allowed the light of the dedication of the Temple, Hanukkah on the 25th of Kislev. There are times when dispair and estrangement separate us from the others. The miracle is similar to the one we shall share over December 6 to 19: Saint Nicholas of Myra saved the three little girls. He did save small kids from the danger of prostitution. The danger is much real in our Ukrainan and Israel and international environments. It has been denounced with much insights by late Metropolitan Sheptyts'ky, in particular in his letter "Thou shalt not kill - не убий" dated November 21st, 1942. It was exactly 66 years ago!
Saint Nicholas of Myra also miraculously got meat in a time of dire famine. It is our duty, a positive good action to point out with insistence that Israel and the Ukraine share the miracle of life, in prticular this year: 1020 years of the Baptism of the Kievan Rus and 75 years after the horrible "ban to die through famine", there is hunger and thirst to live and to encounter positively for the best of life.
Av Alexander [Winogradsky Frenkel]
November 21/8, 2008 – 23 Cheshvan 5769 - כ"ג דחשון תשס"ט