Yom Kippur and Campus Hunger

By: Rabbi Lily Solochek – Director of Programs and Education

Every year Jews around the world gather to observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. According to Jewish tradition this is the holiest day of the year, and is spent praying, reflecting and doing teshuvah (repenting) for our mistakes. On Yom Kippur we face the choices we have made during the past year, apologize for our missteps, and commit to doing better in the year to come. On Yom Kippur many Jews will fast by not eating or drinking for 25 hours (but if it is physically or mentally unsafe to fast, we are commanded to eat!). Fasting can be an intense physical process and challenging experience; it can lead to spiritual focus and/or to a distracted mind as our bodies feel the pain of missing our normal meals. When Yom Kippur ends communities break the fast together with a festive meal. 

For many people though, the pain of hunger is not contained to this day. 39% of college students in America experience food insecurity – they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Due to current federal regulations on SNAP benefits and other food assistance programs, many must choose between their education and working so they can eat. Unlike our spiritual choice to fast on Yom Kippur, their hunger is not a choice and it does not end when the holiday is over. Research shows that hunger directly impacts college students’ ability to focus, to learn and to be successful in college. There is more than enough food in this country to feed everyone, no student should have to choose between an education and food. It’s time to fix college hunger. 

Another custom of Yom Kippur is to read a confessional list of mistakes aloud together.  All of these prayers are written in the plural. We do not confess as individuals, but rather as a community that has made mistakes; on Yom Kippur we take responsibility for not only our own wrongdoings but those of the people around us. On Yom Kippur we acknowledge that as a community we are responsible for one another. It’s easy on Yom Kippur to be inspired towards communal change. 

The real challenge comes the day after Yom Kippur: we must continue to see ourselves as deeply connected to one another the next day. We must continue to see college hunger as our responsibility. We must continue to advocate for change, to support anti-hunger organizations, and to use our time and resources to make a difference in the lives of college students. Across the country each week Nazun chapters meet to bake challah, educate their peers on campus hunger, and advocate for change. These amazing student volunteers are keeping their communities connected – remembering that it is our responsibility to take care of one another, to ensure that no college student goes hungry, and to speak up and fight for a world without hunger. 

If you would like to get involved in ending campus hunger, please check out our website. You can join a current college chapter or start a chapter on your campus. You can do your B’nai Mitzvah service project with Nazun. You can host a community bake or donate directly to our work. We believe that college hunger is solvable and we hope you will join us in empowering student leaders to advocate and bake for change.