JFS Food Sort: The Joy of Filling our Neighbors’ Plates

By Rabbi Laura Rumpf, Director of Project Kavod

There’s an old Yiddish parable that depicts heaven and the underworld as two great big banquets. Both feature people sitting around a table with a gorgeous spread of food, but elbows that won’t bend, and incredibly long forks. The difference is, in the underworld each person only spears their own food with their own cumbersome, impractical fork and no one can reach their mouths. Everyone goes hungry and is miserable fending for themselves.

In heaven, on the other hand, each person spears some food and feeds it to someone across the table. In this way, everyone is fed and actually has fun using their incredibly long forks. It’s a silly image, and it doesn’t match most Jewish conceptions of the afterlife (that’s for another day). However, I do love the visual this parable provides, and the reminder of both the joy and utility we experience when we engage in the timeless mitzvah of ensuring that all people have good food to eat and the ability to access sustenance with dignity.

I can think of no better hands-on illustration of this value at work than the annual JFS Community-Wide Food Drive & Sort. Our largest volunteer event of the year is our Food Sort which engages over 300 people from across many diverse Jewish communities who help us sort and stock our Polack Food Bank with thousands of pounds of donated food.

Though it may not be the banquet depicted in the parable, when we gather at the Food Sort warehouse, the joyful din of old friends and new volunteers connecting while unloading boxes, kids and grandparents working together to sort peanut butters and cereal boxes, is palpable.

We organize this food drive and sort not only to ensure that all JFS clients can fill their shelves with healthy items this year but also to bring generations of Jews closer to the values we espouse, especially around the High Holiday season.

As the rabbinic sages of the Talmud remind us, “Providing sustenance for hungry people weighs as heavily as all the other commandments of the Torah combined.” (1 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 9a.) 

The 2023 JFS Community-Wide Food Drive begins Friday, September 15, with announcements at Rosh Hashanah at many participating synagogues, and culminates with the Food Sort on Sunday, October 15.

Join us and other members of our JFS family to volunteer at the Food Sort on Sunday, October 15. Space is limited so please sign up below! Please note, the sorting event will take place at a new space this year located in North Kent (address will be provided to registered volunteers).

If you would like to supply food, and are a member of a synagogue, please donate to your synagogue’s food drive starting September 15 or collect and bring in food items with you on the day of the Food Sort.


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