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Steven Bayar
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Of Tikkun Olam and pork ribs

At a Texas food bank, Jewish and Muslim volunteers were surprised to learn just what kind of meat they'd be giving out

Never have I seen Muslims and Jews brought together by pork ribs — until I came to San Antonio.

Everything in Texas is supersized, including the Food Bank. It needs to be, as food insecurity is a very real phenomenon in these parts.

Community organizations reserve a date to bring the Food Bank to their neighborhood, and supply funds for food and for volunteers to unload pallets, pack bags and distribute food to vetted and registered clients.

So we asked, could Congregation Agudas Achim host? Could we get the funds and the volunteers and the interest?

The money was secured immediately. Scheduling presented the biggest obstacle, because a synagogue never had hosted and Sundays were not initially an option, but the Food Bank showed flexibility and vision and decided to give the day a go.

Now, we had to get the volunteers. No one thought we could get 40 people to come out on a Sunday afternoon in May to spend four hours in the Texas sun.

But we contacted the local Islamic community, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and the National Council of Jewish Women. They all enthusiastically joined in.

Volunteers had to register and take an online course to be accepted. We had 35 people signed up, but we needed at least 40.

G.K. Chesterton is given credit for the line, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” This became the mantra of the day. We didn’t have enough people. Rain was forecast. Our volunteers were more brains than brawn.

But I know from decades of experience that Mitzvah work overcomes all these obstacles. The job gets done, somehow.

In the end, 80-plus volunteers came. Two completely different religious communities stood apart as the food truck arrived. We watched as pallets of fresh produce (squash, peppers, onions, cabbage and more), rice, beans, canned tuna, peanut butter and bread were unloaded.

But the staff were excited that a special treat had been donated by our local food chain, H-E-B. Pork ribs!

Muslims and Jews were being asked to distribute pork! But we all laughed at the incongruity. The leader of the Muslim community and I addressed our now mingled groups and gave permission for anyone to stay away from the frozen meat.

But no one minded, for that is the nature of Mitzvot — when you are working to fix the world, there are no down sides.

And the ice had been broken. At this moment, two communities were united. Tikkun Olam fixes the world in many different ways.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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