Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fragility and Food: Idaho Statesman Column--September 28

Thursday, September 19, marked the first day of Sukkot, the week-long Jewish harvest festival. For seven days, we eat our meals in a sukkah, a fragile outdoor hut, exposed to the elements, specially constructed for the holiday.  Sitting beneath the open sky, we feel life’s transience and our vulnerability.  This Sukkot observance imposes a moral obligation to care for the needy: since all that we have is a gift of grace, just as easily lost as it was gained, we who are blessed with abundance are bound to share with those who are less fortunate.

It was, therefore, almost unimaginable to me when, on that very same day—Thursday, September 19—even as the Jewish community gathered to celebrate Sukkot, a practicing Jew, Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, pushed a bill through the House of Representatives that would cut $40 billion dollars from the food stamp program over the next ten years and limit recipients’ benefits to three months.  Almost four million people currently receiving food stamps would lose them next year.  As Timothy Egan noted in a recent piece in the New York Times,
“This is almost the exact amount of people who have managed to remain just above the poverty line because of that very aid, according to the Census Bureau.”
This is both unconscionable and foolish.  The primary beneficiaries of the food stamp program—the most basic part of the social safety net—are the elderly, disabled, working poor families, and children.   Ironically, these targets of the Republican plan—the ones who would feel the most pain from the proposed cuts—come disproportionately from overwhelmingly Republican states like Idaho, where so many hard-working individuals and families cannot earn a decent living due to the low wages.  The insidious ideology that drives the Republicans’ policy—the notion that the poor are somehow lazy and deserve their fate—is as self-defeating as it is cruel and unmerited.
It is no coincidence that Sukkot comes on the heels of Yom Kippur.  On that day of fasting, the most sacred occasion of the Jewish year, we read from the book of Isaiah.  The prophet lambasts those whose fast is not accompanied by a roused sense of social responsibility and reminds us of the real significance of the day:   
"’Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, why did You pay no heed?’ Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! . . . No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free; to break off every chain.
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.”

Shame on Representative Cantor and all of those in positions of power who would use their authority to punish children and working families.  In forgetting that, were it not for a lot of unearned luck and privilege, they might easily be in the place of the poor, they have defaulted on their most basic moral obligation and lost their essential humanity.

No comments: