Reflections on Hunger

by Belle Jarniewski, President, Manitoba Multifaith Council

Most if not all of us here today will thankfully never know what the meaning of real hunger is. The late Elie Wiesel spoke passionately on the topic of hunger because he witnessed the humiliating and dehumanizing effect that hunger has on human beings. In his words : “In Hebrew, the word hunger is linked to shame. Of all the diseases, of all the natural diseases and catastrophes, the only one that is linked to shame in Scripture is hunger—the shame of hunger. Shame is associated neither with sickness nor even with death, only with hunger. For human beings can live with pain, but no one ought to endure hunger.

Hunger means torture, the worst kind of torture. The hungry person is tortured by more than one sadist alone. He or she is tortured, every minute, by all men, by all women. And by all the elements surrounding him or her. The wind. The sun. The stars. By the rustling of trees and the silence of night. The minutes that pass so slowly, so slowly. Can you imagine time, can you imagine time, when you are hungry? And to condone hunger means to accept torture, someone else’s torture.”

Ladies and gentlemen – many of our religious traditions have in common a tradition of fasting. We have experienced what it is to go without food and water for a day at a time and then surround ourselves with family and/or friends for a meal. We use that time to seek introspection and compassion and to avoid negativity. Here in Canada, many of us have also adopted the habit of donating to food banks during our own periods of fasting. Give 30 for instance, was a Muslim initiative for all Canadians to donate to food banks during Ramadan.

Having just experienced the 25 hour fast of Yom Kippur, I can certainly admit that each year, as I look forward to breaking the fast, so fortunate to know this is but a temporary hunger, I am so saddened to think of all the people who are all too familiar with the ache of hunger in their bellies but not by choice . How can it be that in a city such as ours, a province such as ours, there are children and adults who go to bed hungry? How can it be that there are refugee parents who regularly skip meals so that their children are fed? We cannot accept that.

Our actions are what count most. The fast that we should ALL desire is to share our bread with the hungry each and every day. Every one of us must take upon us the responsibility of fighting hunger every day by replacing mere words with action. We can all take upon ourselves to set aside whatever amount we can afford each and every day – whether that is money or by volunteering our time.

I return to Elie Wiesel’s words about hunger before I take your leave:

“When we speak of our responsibility for the hungry, we must go to the next step and say that the expression, “the shame of hunger” does not apply to the hungry. It applies to those who refuse to help the hungry. Shame on those who could feed the hungry, but who are too busy to do so.