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Why isn’t this night different?

by Abby J. Leibman

April 9, 2014 | 2:19 pm

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in Oxon Hill on March 6. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in Oxon Hill on March 6. Photo by Mike Theiler/Reuters

Predictably, the 2015 House Republican budget released by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on April 1 proposes devastating and monumental cuts to programs designed to help those among us who need it most. It would slash Medicaid; it would change the funding, eligibility standards and structure of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); it would repeal the Affordable Care Act. The same harsh proposals couched in the same tired rhetoric. 

And just as predictably, progressives are wringing their hands and describing the cuts as immoral. They invoke images of the seniors, children and disabled people who have done nothing to deserve their terrible lot but will feel these cuts most deeply. They cite independently verified statistics intended to dispel persistent myths about who actually needs these programs, because, the progressives proclaim, the political tides would change if they could just get everyone to actually understand the truth. The same hitherto ineffective counterpunches couched in the same tired rhetoric.

This is the time of year when we ask a very pointed question: “Why is this night different from all others?” The Passover seder is actually replete with questions — most of them ages old. But these questions, by their very nature, challenge us to stop and think, and to consider the range of possible answers to pinpoint why this night is different from all others — those during this year, or any other year. So I’m struggling to understand how this Republican budget and this progressive response are different from all others.

The facts about the astounding prevalence of hunger have remained essentially the same since the recession began in 2008: 

• 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure in 2012. That means 45 million Americans — nearly 1 out of every 6 of us — struggled to put adequate nutritious food on the table. 

• The rate of food insecurity in California — our great state where nearly half of the nation’s fresh produce is grown — is higher than the national average (15.6 percent).

• 1.7 million Angelenos are food insecure. That means the number of people struggling to feed themselves in our county is greater than the population of twelve individual states, and larger than that of the District of Columbia.

Despite the supposed recovery of our economy, the struggle of these vulnerable Americans continues to be the same. But the sameness of their struggle does not merit the same polarizing responses.

I have always embraced the rich Jewish tradition of asking questions, a custom that seems amplified during Passover. So especially now, when I consider the recent actions of our policymakers and lobbyists in Washington, I feel compelled to demand answers to questions that too often go unasked. 

Why, today, do the rhetoric and the overblown caricatures of “left” and “right” continue to remain so predictably the same? 

Why has it become more important for one or another side to be “right” than it is to do the right thing?

Why can we not be more courageous and willing to compromise?

What would it take for us to try a new and creative approach or framework that may yield a better result? 

How can we make today different from yesterday and all the days that came before it?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Today, we must stop the insanity. We cannot travel the same path and expect to reach a different destination. 

It is not in our Jewish DNA to blindly accept the status quo. We are a people that takes action to create change when we encounter injustice. And there is no greater reversible injustice than the oppressive persistence of hunger in our county, our state and our nation. That so many struggle to survive means that our policymakers are failing us. Our job is to continue to ask questions. It is their job to provide different answers.


Abby J. Leibman is president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

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