You don’t have to be Jewish to perform a mitzvah — a good deed.
For decades, the congregation of Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester has run a food drive this time of year to benefit the needy.
And for many years, they have invited other Manchester houses of worship to join the effort, a refreshing act of unity and common cause in a world increasingly divided.
Called Religious Response to Hunger, the food drive coincides with the High Holidays that began last week with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and continues with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins at sundown Wednesday.
Rabbi Beth Davidson said the program was already well established when she arrived at Temple Adath Yeshurun in 2005. She has embraced it.
“I think that too often religion is used as a divider and can be divisive, but for me, what it means to be a person of faith is to take care of those who need help,” Davidson said. “I really believe we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
Rosh Hashana, Davidson said, “is a celebration of the birthday of the world.” At Temple Adath Yeshurun, those who attend services are given shopping bags and asked to fill them and return them on Yom Kippur.
Last year, because of the pandemic, most religious services were being held online. But Davidson said the faithful continued to contribute food.
Religious Response to Hunger collected 8,420 pounds of food from about 10 congregations, Davidson said.
“It was really a way to unite the entire religious community in feeding the hungry,” she said.
The food is donated to Families in Transition, which opened an expanded food pantry on Lake Avenue at the beginning of the year.
Some of those who contribute have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that makes the generosity even more impressive, Davidson said. “Everybody knows what it means to be hungry.”
Temple Adath Yeshurun will be accepting food donations at its 152 Prospect Street location on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Donations from the public are welcome.
On Friday, the other participating congregations will deliver their own collections of food, and Families in Transition will pick up the food that day at noon.
Judith Jolton, a past president of Temple Adath Yeshurun, is the chair of the Religious Response to Hunger.
Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, she said. “So anything that we would have eaten in that period of time, we try to give away,” she said.
Including other communities of faith in the food collection, Jolton said, “brings us all together.”
“It is a great example for the world,” she said. “We can work very well together, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
The Rev. Barb Brawley, president of the Greater Manchester Clergy Association, said the project has been rewarding for all the congregations that participate. “And I think it really demonstrates that God is the God of all people,” she said.
All faith traditions share a responsibility to care for those in need, said Brawley, who is a chaplain at Elliot Hospital. “We’re all the children of God,” she said. “That’s our call, to care for each other.”
The Rev. Barbara Papagian, associate pastor at First Congregational Church, said her congregation has participated in the project for many years. ”We’re always looking for opportunities to reach out and help people,” she said.
Church members have witnessed the city’s homelessness crisis up close, she said.
“We have many people who are now camping out on our doorstep,” she said. “Part of that is because of the closing down of some of the encampments that the homeless had down by the river.”
Many of those who are homeless have addiction or mental health issues, she said. “They need help, and they need more help than what we can give,” she said. “But what we can give is support and food.”
The Rev. John Bucchino, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, said there’s a dual purpose for the Manchester congregations that participate in the project. “Of course we want to help the needy in the community but we also want to show our presence to the community at large,” Bucchino said. “That we’re working together, we’re helping each other.”
“It’s really important because one can get overwhelmed if you try to face these things alone,” Bucchino said.
Members of the clergy association meet monthly, he said, and often bring in guest speakers who work on issues important to the community. They also gather for food and fellowship at an interfaith prayer service at Thanksgiving time.
“It’s the greatest thing, to learn from those who are different from yourself,” he said.
Papagian, too, said she’s glad that city churches and the temple are working together.
“Especially these days, we need all the unity we can get,” she said. “There’s so much divisiveness in the world.”
Rabbi Davidson said she hopes next year’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services can be held in person. But she also prays that someday there will be no need for the annual food drive.
“My hope is that ultimately we create a community and a society where no one is dependent on Religious Response to Hunger and no one is food insecure, where everybody has enough,” she said.
Or as the prophet Micah put it: “Where everybody can sit under their vine and fig tree in security, in comfort and in peace,” she said.