223rd Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren
San Diego, California — June 29, 2009
H. Eric Schockman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger opened his speech at the Global Ministries Dinner with a story from the rabbis:
According to the ancient sages, a righteous man was given the chance to look into heaven before he died. In one room he saw people seated at a table heavy with a great banquet. Their arms were shackled so they stretched out straight. Unable to feed themselves they were emaciated and groaning. In the next room the people also had their arms shackled so they could not feed themselves, but they were full and happy. That’s because they chose to feed the person next to them.
“The difference between hell and heaven is a matter of serving one’s fellow,” Schockman said.
MAZON (“food” in Hebrew) enlists 1,400 congregations and issues grants of $4 million annually to over 300 hunger relief agencies at home and abroad. It grew out of the response to starvation in Ethiopia decades ago, and gives grants without regard to faith or cultural background.
In a talk titled, “Repairing the World: Creating Communities of Justice and Compassion,” Schockman said, “Scripture must be put into social action. Scripture must live in our lives, especially in the issue of hunger. The notion that we have hunger in American is an oxymoron. There are 12- probably 13-million children who are food insecure. It means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Schockman travels throughout the world to promote justice. He has a doctorate from the University of California in Political Science and International Affairs and taught at the University of Southern California for 17 years, where he also served as associate dean. In addition he served a stint in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in Africa.
Citing the Hebrew scriptures, Schockman said that the centrality of human life and justice is a central concept in the Old Testament. “The people had a relationship with God that became covenant…. God invites us to be stewards of creation. We manage God’s possessions, not our possessions.”
Elements of the Passover Seder were distributed at the meal:
— Matzoh bread was broken as a symbol of the brokenness of life. The question of justice enters into the blessing of the Matzoh, Schockman said. “This is the bread of poverty and persecution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry come and eat. All in need come and share the Passover meal.”
— The Haroseth, a mixture of apples, walnuts, and spices, and a symbol of the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in building palaces and pyramids in Egypt, called to mind the era of bondage. “People who are continually oppressed in a food insecure state are living in a state of oppression,” Schockman said. “The Seder gives us the opportunity to reflect on this every year and to act on it. Symbolically you help the hungry through your gifts. Those who are not at the table deserve to eat.”
He closed with a passage from the Midrash. “God said to Israel, my children, whenever you feed the poor I consider it as though you have fed me.”
–Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.
The News Team for the 2009 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Melissa Troyer, Rich Troyer; photographers Kay Guyer, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, Glenn Riegel, Ken Wenger; staff Becky Ullom and Amy Heckert. Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, editor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.