One of the central themes of Purim, which we celebrate today, is the concept of v’nahafoch hu — what is true in one moment can turn entirely upside down. It explains how Haman’s plot to wipe out the Jews leads to his own downfall. And how the Jews of Shushan, once powerless subjects, become powerful actors in control of their own destiny. The lesson: life is uncertain and precarious, and can change in an instant.
It’s a theme we can relate to as a community perhaps more this year than ever in our lifetimes. Last Purim, at the very beginning of the pandemic, I referenced the same concept in my Friday message, hoping for a quick reversal of the virus, a reprieve from greater tragedy. Little did we know then how challenging this year would be. Please God by next Purim we'll have completed a full reversal, a return to normal.
For now, we can focus on two Purim mitzvot listed in the megillah that carry particular weight in these times: mishloach manot, sending gifts of food, and matanot l’evyonim, giving to those in need.
I'm glad to report that UJA's Board of Directors fulfilled both mitzvot earlier this week. On Wednesday the board approved approximately $2.8 million in additional emergency funding to support food programs. With this latest grant, our emergency Covid relief allocations in grants and interest-free loans totals nearly $67 million.
From its earliest days, the pandemic triggered a dramatic increase in food insecurity. When senior centers shut down, the low-income elderly who had gathered daily for hot lunches lost access to a dependable source of nutritious food. Most of these clients don’t have the tech skills or the equipment, let alone the financial resources, to order food online. At the same time, growing numbers of unemployed New Yorkers and others facing business reversals were inundating food pantries with requests for help.
What people facing food insecurity have in common is, well, nothing. They are all ages, all backgrounds, all faiths and ethnicities. Some have jobs, others are in college or are small business owners. You may never guess that they or their families are not getting enough to eat, so if they do have one commonality it’s that their suffering often goes unseen.
That's why, since March, UJA has granted $6.8 million in emergency funds to supplement the nearly $5 million we allocate annually to support food programs. As a measure of both need and the impact of our support, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, UJA’s primary partner in kosher food distribution, provided over 15 million pounds of food in 2020, as compared to 5 million pounds distributed in 2019 — triple the amount.
Our latest round of funding is supporting the essential work of Met Council, as well as programs run by the Marion and Aaron Gural JCC, Mid-Island Y JCC, and Suffolk Y JCC. The funds are going to support increased food distribution, and will also enable delivery of prepared meals to homebound elderly and Holocaust survivors.
Every year, we fulfill the mitzvot of Purim as a reminder of the reversals that spared us as a people. Life may be precarious and uncertain, but in one another we find strength, which steadies our world.
Wishing you and your families a happy Purim and Shabbat shalom