rac staff at dc central kitchen

A Menu of Social Justice

Rabbi Michael Namath, Program Director here at the RAC, tells a story to our L’Taken students:

One day, as a few people were walking by the riverside, they saw babies floating down the river.  Several people jumped into the river and started pulling the babies out to try to save them, but more and more babies kept coming faster and faster. One of the men jumped out of the river and someone screamed to him, “Where are you going?”  He said, “I am going to see who is putting the babies in the river and try to stop them.” (Version from Congregation Beth Israel)

At the RAC we tend to focus on these “upstream” approaches: locating the source of an issue and working toward systematic change. This parable illustrates the importance of downstream approaches, as well—some people need to be pulling babies out at the same time as others go up the river.

Last Wednesday, the RAC joined with the downstream-ers. The RAC staff spent the morning preparing meals at DC Central Kitchen. We donned hairnets and aprons and set to work, opening cans of tomato sauce, chopping potatoes and preparing salads.

DC Central Kitchen is quick to point out to you that they’re not a soup kitchen. First, DC Central Kitchen doesn’t actually serve any meals; they distribute the 5,000 meals made daily around the city to different shelters and housing. But this (substantial) meal service is only one dish on a menu programs they operate. Their kitchen is staffed by unpaid volunteers and by professionals receiving job training and a path out of homelessness. Meals go not only to homeless shelters and transition housing, but also to DC public schools for healthy free lunch and also to corner stores to provide nutritious food in food deserts around the area. In addition, they empower and equip students across the country to set up similar models in 31 communities nation-wide. DC Central Kitchen realizes the interconnectedness of the downstream and upstream approach and successfully integrates the two.

For me, volunteering connected me even more to the policy work I do day-to-day. While fighting for funding for TEFAP in Congress, I got to see how this money actually works on the ground. Direct service keeps me motivated by giving me immediate results, whereas policy initiatives can take months and years to change.

There are many ways to “share our bread with the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7). How do you practice social justice in your life? Do you focus on the downstream or the upstream approach? One of the challenges we face is how to do both—how to work on immediate needs while addressing fundamental change—without detracting from either. What’s your solution? Share it below!

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.


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    […] a fellow Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, Raechel Banks, wrote yesterday, “There are many ways to ‘share our bread with the hungry’ (Isaiah 58:7).” She discussed a […]

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