On Monday, September 14, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had the opportunity to meet with 25 leaders of the Jewish community in America including representatives from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform traditions, as well as national service organizations. The meeting was a wonderful occasion for the Secretary to further President Obama’s efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Equally importantly, the meeting marked a continuation of USDA’s efforts to involve broad constituencies of individuals and organizations to meet the President’s goal of ending child hunger in America by 2015.
Secretary Vilsack spoke to the gathering about USDA’s commitment to feed hungry people at home and abroad. The Secretary told the assembled leaders that he and President Obama believe that collaborating with faith-based groups, among others, makes sense in pursuing this goal, as all faiths are instructed to care for the poor and the hungry. In the Jewish tradition, the laws of Moses demand compassion and justice for those who are in need, including not harvesting part of one’s fields to allow those who need to glean the crops in order to eat. Secretary Vilsack also stated that he and President Obama are both committed to ending childhood hunger in our country by 2015, but that the government alone cannot make that happen. As the President put it, “we all have to work together - Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike - to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Following the Secretary’s remarks, the assembled leaders engaged in discussion with Secretary Vilsack on how the Jewish community can work with USDA to address the challenge of domestic and worldwide hunger. The conversation was both thoughtful and substantive, and attendees afterwards expressed deep appreciation for the Secretary’s interfaith outreach efforts.
As the meeting came to a close, the Secretary presented each attendee with an apple and a jar of honey (both provided by our own Agricultural Research Service), in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Traditionally Jews eat these foods during this holy time as a symbol of a sweet new year.
At USDA, we’re proud of our history engaging broad constituencies in our work, and we look forward to continuing to reach out to Americans from all faiths and walks of life as we work to end hunger in our country and around the world.