To:  All Who Eat.     If you are an eater and weren’t at the Shabbat service on December 5th, you really missed out!  We gathered at the Social Justice Shabbat where the lithe singing from the Rabbi and Cantor Lisa ushered us into the day of rest.

Debbie Field, Executive Director of FoodShare, spoke about the injustice of food insecurity (the lack of access to healthy food) and what we can do personally and collectively to remedy it.  Debbie encouraged us to think about food insecurity as a social justice issue rather than a charity issue.  She pointed out that the lack of access to good, healthy food looks very different in Canada than in the rest of the world, where a billion people are literally starving.  In Canada, food insecurity often manifests in the form of diet-related diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.  In Toronto, many people live in “food deserts”, where there are no, or very expensive, grocery stores in their neighbourhood, making it more expensive to procure vegetables and fruits than the junk food at their local fast food restaurant or convenience store.

Debbie spoke about the how the inability for people to access healthy food is related to poverty, low income, and poor social policy.  She challenged us to think about access to healthy food like we think about access to health care – as a right.  This means that rather than simply providing food for food-insecure people, the onus is on society to give them the tools they need – whether that is access to affordable housing, good-paying work, childcare, or any number of social supports – so people have enough money left over to cook and feed themselves good, healthy food.  Debbie linked this idea to Maimonides’ 12 forms of Tzedakah where the most noble form of giving is when we create the conditions so that people no longer need charity.

Debbie gave us a few personal challenges: to eat 10 fruits and vegetables every day, to cook as many of our own meals as possible, and, whenever we can, to shop at farmers’ markets or grocery stores where the food is local, or you know the farmers/producers have been paid fairly for their produce.

The service ended with a moment of silence to commemorate December 6th, the National Day of Ending Violence Against Women.  A heart-warming baby naming made the whole event even more special.

Following the service, a delicious vegetarian dinner was catered by FoodShare, and DJC social Justice Committee member Lynne Raskin presented a Riverdale report card.  She spoke about how this community is rooted in activism. In the past, the community was galvanized by advocating for the Ministry of the Environment to get rid of the lead in our soil.  We were successful, and this serves as a reminder of our capacity to come together to advocate for the right for everyone to enjoy good health.

Lynne also discussed the challenges of increasing income disparity, with more people using food banks and struggling to make ends meet at one end of the spectrum, and gentrification at the other end.  This environment can make certain people invisible as they are pushed to the margins of our community, unable to afford the nice condos and upscale restaurants that have replaced the establishments where they used to spend time.  We need to begin by making an effort to really see these people and to ensure they remain a part of our community.

Afterward, diners discussed the issues that resonated with them.  At one table, people talked about how to get the most out of rooftop gardens.  At another table, the discussion focused on food-insecure children and some great school-based programs and global best practices that people were aware of.

Everyone was energized to make change, and the Social Justice Committee will be meeting in the new year to plan our next steps.

We want to hear from you.  Would you like to participate in another Social Justice Shabbat?  Are there other social justice activities you want to engage in? Let us know by contacting

Via the following links you can find out more about FoodShare and/or make a donation.

If would like to further discuss the Jewish connection to justice, charity, and working to end poverty, please check out this upcoming event with Rabbi Miriam.

From:  Amy Steele, Social Justice Committee Member

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