When I was a young girl -- long before the advent of take your daughter to
work day -- my mother, who was the head of public relations for the
Jewish Theological Seminary, would bring me with her on occasion. She
wanted me to see firsthand what women could accomplish in the workplace.
There, I had an opportunity to interact with various rabbis and
professors including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
, one of the foremost
Jewish thinkers of the 21st century. Rabbi Heschel believed that Jews
have a moral imperative to help all people along the path to freedom.
And it was when he marched alongside Rev. Martin Luther King in Selma,
Alabama that he said his "legs were praying."
Heschel's calling was social justice, and he inspired me to the same
calling. My work in government and international development/human
rights has always been informed by Heschel's teaching that "in a free
society, where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are
responsible." We do not have the luxury of being overwhelmed by the
monumental challenges of hunger, poverty and disease, all of which
result from the denial of peoples' basic human rights. Instead, we must
rise to the occasion, organize and struggle with those who are most
severely affected by these global inequities.
Recently, I completed a weeklong fast to protest proposed cuts in the federal budget
that would result in less food aid to the developing
world. I'm proud to say that instead of the 41% cut that was on the
table, international food aid was only cut 11%. Just as important,
Congress spared funding for programs that support grassroots efforts to
boost local food production in the Global South. This is vital to
ensuring that the cycle of dependence on aid is eventually broken;
people in the Global South must be able to feed themselves -- to become
food secure and food sovereign -- and and we can help. I like to think
that the action taken by myself and the tens of thousands of other
people who fasted, including members of Congress, clergy and other
activists, made a difference.
In my line of work, I do often feel challenged. It is tough, for
example, when I see that, after years of outstanding activism by those
concerned with genocide in Sudan, people are still being murdered and
raped in Darfur. It is hard to realize that when our planet produces
enough food to feed the world twice over, hundreds of millions of people
go to bed hungry every night. But this does not mean that I have not
been successful or that I should not devote my life to trying. Heschel
once also said: "A life without commitment is not worth living."
At my Passover Seder, this year, I set an empty place to symbolize the
absence of all those who cannot yet sit at the table of freedom. I hope
we all see the day when hunger is eradicated and there is no more
genocide and girls and women are empowered to lead. But if not, I feel
blessed in the knowledge that it will happen and that I will have played