An Interfaith Response to Hunger

If a picture is more powerful than words, I should stop writing right now. But there’s a story here, maybe even two, that calls for an explanation.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and John RuskayA few years ago, I was invited to a breakfast hosted by then-new-to-New-York Archbishop Timothy Dolan (he was not yet Cardinal), so he could meet a range of local leaders. Following the wonderful meal, the Archbishop bid farewell to each of us. I happened to be last in line. When it came to my moment of face time, I said, “Your Excellency, we share a commitment to the poor and it would be powerful for the Catholic and Jewish communities to stand together visibly to fight hunger and poverty.” The Archbishop, a charismatic and larger-than-life figure, responded, “Great idea. We should work on it.” I was almost certain that would be the end of it.

Months later, I got a call from a good friend and colleague, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, my counterpart at Catholic Charities. “The Archbishop keeps talking about the Jewish guy he met at breakfast. He liked your idea. Let’s do something.”

And so Feeding Our Neighbors: An Interfaith Response came to be, with the goal of collecting and distributing 1 million additional meals to feed the hungry across New York City. We began before Thanksgiving, when the Cardinal and I took part in giving out some 400 turkeys in Harlem and 150 on the Lower East Side. Last Sunday, two UJA-Federation events converged and were enhanced by our Catholic neighbors — Super Sunday, our annual volunteer-driven phone-a-thon and Pack it Up for Purim, where we collect and package food for the hungry.

This picture was taken as Cardinal Dolan and I loaded trucks with donated food outside of St. Patrick’s last Sunday morning. The food was later distributed by Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Catholic Charities. Colleagues from Catholic Charities also joined us here at UJA-Federation to support Super Sunday. Monsignor Sullivan even placed a few calls and closed a gift — an increase from last year, no less! And together — UJA-Federation, Catholic Charities, and Met Council — started packing it up for Purim.

In the weeks and months ahead, there will be more opportunities to jointly feed the hungry among us. Whether Jewish or Catholic, we share the fundamental belief that no one should suffer the indignity of hunger. If by standing together, we can raise awareness of the issue of hunger while also feeding more New Yorkers, we have lived the teaching to “feed the hungry.” And in doing so, literally multiplied our impact.

A final take-away — you never know what a 10-second encounter might produce. That was the length of my initial conversation with the Cardinal. Ten seconds. If you have an important idea and can communicate to someone who can join you in seeing it through — seize the moment. Good things can happen.

Shabbat Shalom

P.S. It’s a sad day for New York City as the leadership of UJA-Federation joins in mourning the death of Mayor Edward Koch. We celebrate his extraordinary life-force and remember his lifelong commitment to our city, our community, and the State of Israel. I’d like to think he’d be proud of us, New Yorkers of all backgrounds standing together to take care of one another.

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