HomePresidents PickReligious LIfeKol Nidre Talk by Leonie Bennett

Kol Nidre Address 5777/2016

Kol Nidrei Appeal Oct 2016 by Penny Faust 

There's a phrase we use at regular intervals in the High Holy Day services, Oo tshuvah Oo tfillah Oo tzedakah  ma'avirin et ro'a hagtzerah – ‘And Penitence, Prayer and Charity avert the severe decree’.

It's interesting that the three go together without any indication of which might be most important. We can't cherry pick, we can't decide that we'll do only one or two. In our liturgy, hopefully in our practice, they're linked inextricably together.  

But they're not all put into action in the same way. Penitence may be a private affair but we can demonstrate it through what we do both before and during the High Holy Days, and most of that is done publicly. And we spend more time praying as a Congregation in these 25 hours than at any other time in the year - prayer for Jews is particularly public.

Charity is a different matter. Because that's what we do when we go home - in a way it demonstrates at a purely personal level whether we're serious about what we have said in shul.  And although we learn later how much the Congregation has raised overall here in Oxford, there's no public recognition of how much we have each given individually or as a family.  So charity at Yom Kippur is a matter for each one of us.

In Oxford it's our minhag, our custom, for the Council of the Congregation to choose two charities as the recipients of our donations, one Jewish and one from the wider community. 

This year there's a certain synchronicity in the choice that the Council has made. At a time when the standard of living in the West is as great as it's ever been, there are an increasing number of people who cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.

Perhaps this evening, when we have all arrived for Kol Nidrei having eaten well, may be having eaten too well, to prepare ourselves for the Fast, it's particularly appropriate that our chosen charities are two food banks; The Bet Shean Food Bank in Israel and the Oxford Food Bank here. They work in very different ways.

Let me start with the Bet Shean Food Bank, a small local charity which works under the auspices of the umbrella charitable organisation, My Israel.

As you may know, Bet Shean is a very low socio economic area in Israel with much more than its share of disadvantage. The food bank was set up over 20 years ago to help needy families, the elderly, underprivileged children and people who live alone. Its' brief then was specific: to provide hot meals on Shabbat and Holy Days for those in the community who otherwise would not be able to afford them. For us, it may be unimaginable - to be in a situation where it would be considered an impossible luxury to start the Fast with a special meal?  

Today there are more than 100 families who need the Bet Shean foodbank. They are drawn from across the local community and include Ethiopian and Russian Jews and those who come from Bet Shean's large Sephardi community. They are referred to the bank by the city's welfare department, local GPs and occasionally by local contacts who know they are in need. 

The Bet Shean Foodbank distributes more than 800 portions of hot food and dry goods every Friday afternoon or before Yom Tov. The food itself is largely donated by local kibbutzim, wedding venues and local families. The bank also buys in staple foods locally such as soft drinks, schnitzels, rice and challot.

The bank operates out of a community centre and is staffed entirely by volunteers, mainly teenagers, who meet on Friday mornings to collect, prepare and deliver the food.

In addition, the Food bank, recognising that food is very much part of any family's celebrations, has built a special facility with a kitchen and function room which can be used for family events when appropriate.

The Foodbank has become very much part of the local community extending its remit to meet local needs, distributing second hand clothing and eyewear, and giving assistance for marriage, brit and Bar Mitzvah celebrations.

A typical example of the range of its current activities is demonstrated in the story of Avraham a young man with mental health issues. Aged 21, he was expected to fend for himself in a small totally unfurnished apartment outside Bet Shean. A local contact alerted the food bank who provided a truck full of second hand furniture including a bed and fridge. They also filled his cupboards and the fridge with food. He now receives the standard food package on Shabbats and festivals giving him both nourishment and a feeling of self worth.

Currently the Bet Shean Food bank has set a target of £10,000 specifically to cover the cost of Shabbat and holiday meals.It costs just over £80 to donate a food package for a family of five, to give them appropriate celebratory meals for three days over the High Holy Days or Pesach. They have already raised just over £5000 and are delighted that half of our Yom Kippur Appeal will go as our contribution towards reaching their target.

Oxford Food bank is a very different operation.

Starting with the knowledge that 15 million tons of food are wasted in Britain every year and yet more and more people are going hungry, the Oxford food bank was started in 2009. The formal aims of the foodbank are straightforward: simultaneously to reduce both food waste in the Oxford area and reduce food poverty in the local community.

Its founders had a simple idea: take fresh food that's considered to be waste and destined for animal feed or a hole in the ground, and recycle it to people in need.

They start by collecting food from a variety of local suppliers. It's not food that's going bad but it may be past its sell by date in a supermarket or not quite in its prime enough to be sold on by a wholesaler. The Oxford food bank collects it, sorts it out and stores it overnight in its own chiller rooms. The following day it's distributed to around 60 local charities, large and small, across Oxfordshire that provide meals for people in need: from shelters for the homeless to mental health charities, from Childrens' centres to refugee and asylum seeker charities. Places such as Simon House, Asylum Welcome, and Emmaus, Donnington Doorstep and the Community Soup Kitchen.

All the organisations receiving food from Oxford Foodbank can choose what they want to take, what will be best for their specific needs. They can then plan their menus according to what is available on any particular day using the fresh ingredients. They benefit enormously.

Unlike the Bet Shean food bank, the Oxford food bank does not provide food directly to the needy. That's the responsibility of the Oxford Community emergency food bank which provides for people referred to them by social services, charities and medical practices.

Suppliers for the Oxford food bank include supermarkets, fruit and vegetable wholesalers, restaurants and food processing companies.

When I was there a couple of weeks ago, trays and trays of pineapples came in from a restaurant which had over ordered, there were lettuces, tomatoes, and other salad vegetables from the wholesalers and a rich variety of other fruit and vegetables, all being sorted and stacked away.

The food bank does not take in meat or fish for obvious reasons. But on the shelves were bottles of sauces still well within their sell by date but not fresh enough to go to supermarkets which need a 9 month lead in time. There were loaves of bread, both the ordinary sliced kind and from specialist bread shops. There were sacks of potatoes, flour, rice, packets of pasta and much more. I was simply astounded by the range of food - they recycle some 1.5 million pounds worth of food per year.  

There are two paid directors of the bank taking responsibility for raising funds and administration but the collection, sorting out and redistribution are all dealt with by volunteers, some 120 of them at the moment, each working half day shifts. There are 4 vans in circulation during the working day, collecting food and distributing it; the foodbank operates 7 days a week all the way through the year.  

And it's enormously efficient - for every £1 donated to the Foodbank, £20 of food is distributed.

In addition - remember this is part of the food industry - at the moment, there's a special offer! A local donor has guaranteed matched funding for all donations received before the end of this month. So if we can collect and donate the money from this Appeal quickly, our money will go twice as far. I'm asking you not only to give generously but also to do it as fast as possible. 

As I said previously, in Oxford our giving is anonymous. We trust each individual member of the congregation to go home and remember to give in the days following Yom Kippur. Inevitably some of us forget or simply decide that we’re not going to give this year. It might surprise you to know that less than half of the OJC supports the Kol Nidrei Appeal.

It would be great if it was a much higher proportion than this - that we all now make a personal commitment to send a donation to support these two foodbanks.

Please don’t just rely on good intentions, remember to send off your cheque, made out to the OJC Kol Nidrei Appeal before the end of this week – it can be for any amount, however small or large. There are Reply Paid envelopes in the lobby for you to take home but if you don't take one, just send it to the Treasurer at the OJC, 21 Richmond Road OX1 2JL. If you prefer to make an electronic transfer, you can use the bank details that you received with your subscription reminder, just identify the transfer as KN Appeal.

The Council of the OJC has chosen two worthy recipients. Food is not just a luxury but a necessity. Fasting for just one day can give us only an inkling of what it must be like not to afford to eat. Please be generous - our contribution right now can and will make a enormous difference.

Shana Tova to you all - and I'd like to wish everyone well over the Fast.

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