Many Maryland Jews, as they comply with the religious mandate to fast on Yom Kippur, plan to contribute the cost of the meals they won't eat this evening and tomorrow to an organization raising money to feed the hungry.
Rabbi Mark G. Loeb of Pikesville's Beth El Congregation said helping less fortunate people on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which begins at sundown today, "adds meaning to our fast and true holiness to our solemn Day of Awe."
It is one of a variety of ways that members of the Jewish community are carrying on an ancient tradition of the High
Holidays. They are working to "wipe the slate clean and fill it with goodness" -- which is a loose translation of a Hebrew greeting of the season.
The Day of Atonement is the last of the 10 Days of Penitence for the world's Jews that began with Rosh Hashana. As they pray and fast on Yom Kippur, Jewish people seek to be in harmony with God and mankind.
"It feels so right; it feels so proper," Rabbi Loeb said of the decision to link the Yom Kippur fast with the anti-hunger efforts of the Mazon organization.
The rabbi is national chairman of Mazon, which -- since its modest beginning in 1986 -- has given nearly $7 million to alleviate hunger in this country and abroad. Mazon, the Hebrew word for food, operates out of offices in New York and Los Angeles.
Arlene Hamburger of Pikesville is a longtime supporter of Mazon, not only at Yom Kippur but at other times.
"I feel it's very important for Jews to think about people who are hungry whenever they are thinking about food," she said.
"In our family, we give a percentage of what's spent on food at anniversaries and weddings. It is a way for the poor to share in our happy occasions."
She also praised the efficient management of Mazon: "Every penny goes to feed the poor."
"All major Jewish congregations in the Baltimore area are participating in the Yom Kippur project," Rabbi Loeb said.
Hungry Muslims in Eastern Europe are among the beneficiaries of the Jewish charity.
The rabbi pointed to Mazon's recent donation of $50,000 for food, medicine and firewood to war victims in the besieged Bosnia capital of Sarajevo as an example of the sympathy and cooperation between Jews and Muslims that so often has been the rule outside the Middle East.
This is an interfaith record that offers hope for eventual success of the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, he said.
Mazon's distribution of aid in Bosnia "to all those in need, regardless of religion or ethnic origin," is one more chapter in a long history of friendliness between the small Jewish population of Sarajevo and the Muslim majority there, the rabbi said.
Quoting the prophet Isaiah on the differences between the right and wrong ways to comply with the Yom Kippur fast, the rabbi said, "Fasting is not meant to be an end in itself, but to renew our commitment to improvement of the world."
He said that donating the cost of a meal to Mazon "means our voluntary fast is helping those who are fasting involuntarily," expanding the ritual's concept of piety to include social concern as well.