Parashat Miketz: Famine Then and Now
Marc Suvall, a Wexner Heritage alumnus from New York, sits on the Boards of the JDC, Yemin Orde, and UJA, and is Chair of the Integration and Absorption Cluster of the Peoplehood Commission at UJA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week’s Torah portion, Miketz, reflects clearly on the times in which we are living. The portion begins with Joseph, who was wrongfully incarcerated, being released from prison due to his unique interpretive skills. It continues to focus on the meaning and importance of dreams. The portion goes on to discuss government intervention and central planning to deal with predicted economic cycles and enormous economic disparities. This is surely today’s story.
We are in the midst of very difficult economic times. The years of plenty, the fat cows and the fertile, verdant corn fields have surely been consumed by a period of “famine” and stagnation. To some, this is an inconvenient but hurtful phenomena; to others it is a disaster, a question of survival. We don’t know the impact of government intervention and stimulus but can only hope for it to be as efficient and well planned as Joseph’s intervention and leadership. Realistically, we know there will be drastic cuts in social services to our most vulnerable populations, both the Jewish community and the broader community, causing enormous hardships.
For the last ten years, I have been teaching math in an economically and socially impoverished school in the South Bronx, one of New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. I also have been teaching in a women’s prison. These experiences have truly opened my eyes and educated me about society. I have worked with so many people who cannot dream, who cannot fathom what opportunities are available to them. I work with people who have lost their self esteem and dignity long ago. I see people whose entire lives have been years of famine.
For me, this is a period of increased awareness, of appreciation, sensitivity, and gratitude for what I have and an increased desire to do more. As we approach Chanukah, the festival of lights, we can only hope that the light and warmth of our candles and our deeds illuminates the world around us particularly when so many are in dire need. Let’s hope that our journey forward will provide opportunity for all, renew our ability to dream, and help all levels of society live with dignity and respect.