Walk for Hunger

By Joan Kurtz

Isaiah 58:7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.

With this quote in mind, I joined another like-minded person and walked to stop hunger.

Ken Johnston from Amherst, Mass., decided to walk around 45 miles in western Massachusetts to make people aware of the need to feed the hungry in our neighborhoods. He was asking people to make donations to three local food pantries, one of them located in the Easthampton Community Center (ECC) where I volunteer. When I heard about this, I decided to join him for part of the walk. I also invited some of my hiking friends to join us. Sadly, only my friend Helaine could join us that day.

On a cool (54 degree) but sunny morning, Helaine and I met Ken at 8:30am at the start of his walk in Amherst where Helaine lives. Since Ken was going to walk for three days, he carried a large backpack with a sign that read “Feed the Hungry” on the pack. I wore a bright red t-shirt, emblazoned with the words, “Stop the Hunger, Proceeds to Benefit the Easthampton Community Food Pantry.” There are bike and walking trails (formerly railroad tracks) connecting Amherst to Easthampton, so we did not have to walk on the road but under trees and along streams. Since the weather was perfect, the trails were packed with walkers, bikers, joggers and more.

We talked about our lives, past and present, and became more comfortable with each other. Ken’s passion for helping others was profound. My experience volunteering at our food pantry made me more aware of how many people in my own town have a need for food assistance. My pantry feeds 1,200 families, about 3,500 people, 700 of those children. It’s heartbreaking to see this, and they are so appreciative for all that we do to help.

After walking around four miles, Helaine decided she was getting tired so we said our goodbyes but I told Ken I would meet him at the ECC where he would be stopping for lunch. Helaine and I walked back, I got into my car and drove to the ECC. Ken was interviewed by one of our local TV stations on his way. He also posted videos on his Facebook page about his walk. Ken made it to Easthampton, 11 miles later, where we had lunch and chatted with the director. Afterwards, I headed to home and Ken continued his journey. Two days later, I saw that he completed his walk as planned.

Our food pantry, like all food pantries, is always looking for donations, both monetary as well as non-perishable foods. “Hunger does not take a day off” says our ECC director. So please think about either helping at your own food pantry or drop off some food. It will be appreciated and well used.


Oh, Those Fickle Gods

By Joan Kurtz

The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently hailed a new translation of Homer's "The Odyssey" by its first female translator, Emily Wilson. I signed it out of my public library along with another translation (for comparison) and a middle school-level book on "The Odyssey" (to refresh my memory of the story). So much of this book came rushing back to me as I read it in college as many of us had: the Trojan war with the Trojan horse; choosing to go between Scylla and Charybdis; hearing the Sirens sing; blinding the Cyclops; the constant praying and offering sacrifices to the various Greek gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Aphrodite, etc. The translation flows evenly and is enjoyable to read.

Now, as a secular Jew, I look at Odysseus's tragic adventure of trying to get home rather sad. No matter how many prayers and sacrifices he makes, if the god(s) is upset with a minor detail with Odysseus's actions or words, he is beset with storms, lightning, wind, blackness, death! The gods are as capricious and fickle as all gods are. And no matter what he says or does, sometimes they listen; other times they don’t. Trying to figure out where he went wrong is a total waste of time …as is prayer.

Fortunately, I discovered this out shortly after I left college. I will stick with my forging ahead, doing whatever I can wherever I am without relying or beseeching assistance from an entity that does not exist. Too bad that Odysseus didn’t come to the same conclusion as I did. Then again, "The Odyssey" would not be as much fun to read if Odysseus didn’t have all these obstacles to face and overcome.



Debrief from the Secular Social Justice Conference

By Adam Beardsley

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Secular Social Justice Conference in Washington, DC. It was hosted by the American Humanist Association. It was a very interesting and insightful conference to attend. There were a variety of secular social justice workers who spoke about their work and the issues that concern them. Many of them discussed strategies for non-violent direct action and protesting/demonstrating. Almost all of the speakers were people of color and focused on identity-based social justice issues.

There were presentations on differences in the criminal justice system between white people and people of color; harm reduction strategies, especially in regards to drug use and addiction; and the tie between the Evangelical Christian community and the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

This conference was especially powerful for me as someone involved in a couple of different social justice and political organizing spaces. Considering the current political climate, my big take-away is that social justice work is necessarily intersectional. In order for Black Lives Matter to be successful they need to fight against white supremacy and oppression as a whole. This means that ignoring the (especially negative) impact white supremacy and oppression has on other groups (Jews, atheists/Humanists, women, and any other persecuted/oppressed group) only hurts the effort by any of these groups to achieve liberation. In addition, almost every speaker highlighted the importance of people in the (mostly white) crowd to show up not as allies, but instead as co-conspirators (i.e., white people putting themselves between BLM protesters and the police instead of just being part of the crowd) in causes that don't directly affect them. When we are working for social justice, we need to consider everyone who is affected by oppression and not just ourselves.

I am planning on hosting a workshop discussing what I learned at the Secular Social Justice Conference during our annual CSJO Conference being held on May 25-28 in Chevy Chase, MD. Stay tuned for more information about this particular workshop, and make sure you register for the conference.