Rachel marries. Robert buries his father. Jonathan celebrates his bar mitzvah and Karen her bat mitzvah. The events share a trait: All are life seasons.
These participants mark the seasons in part by "inviting the poor to their table of celebration."The "invitation" is a donation to Mazon Institute, an organization that makes grants to soup kitchens, food pantries, multiservice organizations, advocacy, education and research groups to combat hunger.
Members of the Jewish faith are asked to donate 3 percent of the cost of any life celebration to Mazon, which means food in Hebrew. While the funding comes from the Jewish community, it goes to combat hunger wherever it can, without regard to religious or political lines.
Utahns Against Hunger, for instance, relies heavily on a grant from Mazon Institute.
The Los Angeles-based institute was born five years ago out of recognition of "deepening poverty, the growing numbers of people in need and the growing desperation," said founder and director Irvin Cramer. Cramer was in Salt Lake recently to meet with members of the Community Kol Ami Synagogue, a partner in the program. "The level of need is rising up through the middle class, where millions of people are underemployed and working for minimum wages that don't lift them above poverty."
Forty thousand children around the world die of hunger and related disease every day, Cramer said. "I don't know if it's a good idea to have troops in Saudi Arabia. That's not my field. What I do know for certain is our government, in such dire financial straits, has been able to find $2 million an hour to finance that effort, justified or not. Every day, while we spend $48 million there, another 40,000 children die. That juxtaposition is scandalous."
Hunger breeds desperation, Cramer said, and "besides the inhumanity, it's not in any of our personal best interests." He said desperate men do things that threaten the safety of others.
President Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" is "not enough to light the flames of justice," Cramer said. "It's an inadequate concept and a fantasy to believe the private sector can be empowered to deal with problems of this scope."
Government keeps cutting. During the Reagan administration, for instance, subsidized housing for the poor was cut by 83 percent. They "virtually finished it." But subsidized housing for those who aren't poor still exists, according to Cramer, in the form of tax breaks "that subsidize our housing. To those who say it is not government's business, I say we all have subsidized housing."
America's richest 1 percent have a combined income equal to 40 percent of the population on the poor end of the scale, according to Mazon documents. Taxes rose for those earning $20,000-$30,000 by 3 percent. Those who make $200,000 or more saw a .3 percent increase.
"That only continues and expands the inequity. It's not in anyone's best interest to do that, not even the rich," Cramer said.
A panel reviews applications. For every dollar Mazon has, there are $5 in requests. But the program is growing. The first year, it granted $20,000; this year it granted $1.1 million.
Rabbi Frederick Wenger, head of Salt Lake's Community Kol Ami synagogue, said his congregation is anxious to be a part of the program.
"No one who has heard about it effectively has said no. We're new at this and not satisfied yet with what we've been able to do. We are but lately coming to full participation in this work, but we are in it with all of our hearts. It is my pride, pleasure and honor to share in it."
Truly amazing, according to Cramer, is the response of donors. With the checks come letters, thank you notes and cards saying donors are "pleased to be able to invite the poor to their table in this way in their celebrations."