Comments from 4/5/2024: Gaza humanitarian crisis and World Central Kitchen

These are the comments I shared with the USH community on Friday April 5, shortly after the tragic killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza in an Israeli strike in error. 

פתחו לי שערי צדק. לעולם הבא אומר לו לאדם מה היתה מלאכתך והוא אומר מאכיל רעבים הייתי. והם אומרים לו זה השער של מאכיל רעבים הכנס בו. 

“Open for me the gates of righteousness.” (Psalm 118):   In the World to Come, a person is asked 'what was your occupation?' When one replies 'I fed the hungry,' they respond:  'this is the gate of those who feed the hungry; enter into it'.  (Midrash to the Book of Psalms 118

Among the vanishingly few matters of general consensus in the world concerning the Hamas-Israel war is that the World Central Kitchen is a truly heroic organization.  With a mission to bring food to troubled spots in the world, it is a rare organization that sees the humanity of all people who are endangered, displaced, traumatized or otherwise affected by this terrible conflict.  WCK has been distributing direly needed food in Gaza in an effort to address the monumental humanitarian crisis of its massive numbers of displaced residents -- just as World Central Kitchen has provided more than a million meals for displaced Israelis since October 7. 

Thus there are so many overlapping reasons why the killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in an Israeli strike this week is so catastrophic, including the tragic impact on the families and communities of those brave aid workers who took on this assignment, the impact on hungry people of Gaza if aid organizations do not feel safe to operate, and the impact on Israel’s already challenged reputation in the world following this attack, which resulted from a series of serious mistakes and breaches of protocol.  It was an "error" -- but not in the sense that it was simply an unavoidable accident.  It's the kind of "error" that prompts a serious reaction and serious soul-searching.  Israel has taken responsibility for this error and dismissed and disciplined several military leaders, and surely more details will emerge as investigations continue. 

Within hours of this tragedy, one of my colleagues set up a fundraising page for “Rabbis for World Central Kitchen” and it had raised over $20,000 within the first day. That campaign now has over $50,000 raised this week, mostly from rabbis all across the Jewish spectrum, from the US, Israel, and around the world, as a reflection of the deep grief and concern prompted by this tragedy.  (You can donate even if you’re not a rabbi.)  

The approaching holiday of Pesach is centered around the Pesach Seder, and the additional Torah reading we read this Shabbat (for Shabbat HaChodesh) describes how even at the earliest Passover celebration, families would come together to share a meal together. Towards the beginning of the Passover seder is a tragic reenactment of the experience of poverty and hunger: we take a meager piece of matzah, divide it in half, and hide part of it, as we might imagine someone who is food-insecure would do to make sure they will save some food for later.  

The current food crisis for the residents of Gaza is maddening for so many reasons - including that it results from a war that was started by Hamas, that the conditions in Gaza result in large part from Hamas’s cruel disregard for the needs of its residents, and that Hamas both exploits the crisis and steals food aid intended for Gazan civilians.  And at the same time, the key to ameliorating the conditions in Gaza lies with Israel, together with the international community.   The approaching Passover holiday is an opportunity to reaffirm our empathy with all who need food, and our prayers for safety and security for all, including those who devote themselves to the needs of the hungry.


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