Hundreds hold mock Seder to highlight hungry children plight

Protest attended by a handful of Knesset Members includes rocks and sand serving as the main course.

MOCK SEDER DEMO 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Under the banner “Hungry Children Cannot Be Educated,” hundreds of social rights activists gathered in the Rose Garden opposite the Knesset Wednesday to protest the government’s failure to provide thousands of children who live below the poverty line with hot school lunches or ensuring ‘food security’ for all its citizens.
The protest, which was attended by a handful of Knesset Members past and present, included a mock Seder with rocks and sand serving as the main course. The majority of the protesters were social work students and grass-roots activists from around the country and from all sectors of society.
Addressing the crowd, Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham, who on Tuesday inaugurated the Knesset Forum for Food Security, said: “It is shameful that in 2010 thousands of children around the country will have nothing to put on their Seder plates and will go to bed hungry.
“While the sand and stones that appear on your plates here today are symbolic of hunger in the State of Israel, for many people this is a reality,” continued Avraham, who has already started work on legislation that will enforce the current law to provide all school children with at least one hot meal a day.
“It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that that there is food security, especially for children,” Roni Kaufman, a professor of social work at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Chairman of the non-profit Center for Food Security and Hunger told The Jerusalem Post.
“Charities that fund soup kitchens and other food aid services should only exist for emergencies, it is up to the government to take control of this issue and at least make sure hot lunches are provided to all school-children.” While nutritional security is a concern for some 1,651,300 adults and 783,600 children who, according to the latest National Insurance Institute figures live below the poverty line, thousands of children turn up for school each day without having eaten breakfast and with no hope of having even one nutritional meal a day, said Kaufman.
“Once upon a time the government used to give to its people but now all it does is take from us,” lamented Moshe, a demonstrator from Beersheba. “If a child is hungry then we must do all we can to make sure he has something to eat.”
Gesturing to the plastic plates filled with sand and debris, another Beersheba resident, Eduard, told the Post that his own grandchildren were very often forced to go without a hot meal all day.
“They are citizens of this country just like adults; how are they expected to learn if they are hungry?” he asked.
Until the 1970s the government provided hot lunches to all school children. However, the program was disbanded and with sufficient social benefits poverty levels stayed low throughout the 1980s and early 90s.
However, Kaufman pointed out, a reformed government economic policy and cuts to welfare benefits in the late 1990s meant that many people began to struggle financially and the poverty rate has been growing ever since.
“We are at a crossroads,” he added. “Either we need to create a program that will provide meals to school children or we need to put funds back into social welfare programs. The problem is that the government is continuing a policy of denial and pushing the responsibility onto charities that run soup kitchens and distribute food packages.
“These should only be there for an emergency,” highlighted Kaufman.
On Tuesday, during the first Knesset Forum for Food Security, Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog announced that some NIS 22.5 million would be distributed to organizations working for nutritional security and food aid distribution.
In response to Wednesday demonstration and calls to increase theprogram for hot school lunches, the Education Ministry said thatcurrently 150,000 students receive a hot meal in school. All live inareas that have a longer school day.
Since the Hot Lunch Law was implemented in 2005, wrote the ministry ina written response, it has been expanded several times but will only beincreased in the future if additional budgets are approved by theFinance Ministry.
A report on the distribution of hot meals to school children by theState Comptroller’s office in 2007-2008 found that only about 60percent of eligible children and teens received the lunches as mandatedby law.